COMMENTARY | With major league teams already making roster cuts and spring training play heating up, here's a look a how how things are shaping up for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras leads all St. Louis players in spring training at-bats with 24 through Monday. That shows that the club is not only giving the young outfielder a serious look as a contributor who will be in the big leagues sooner rather than later. But also that Taveras has been passing the tests placed in front of him. He's got a .292 batting average with a homer and six RBIs.
Pete Kozma was almost released more than once in 2012, according to Redbirds general manager John Mozeliak. But he gave the Cardinals a much-needed boost when starting shortstop Rafael Furcal was injured, playing the most demanding position on the infield down the stretch and in the playoffs. Kozma trails only Furcal with 22 at-bats and he's hitting a ridiculous .409 with a homer and 4 RBIs this spring. He's certainly taking some of the pressure off the Cardinals with Furcal's season in doubt thanks to a recurrence of the veteran's elbow issues.
Pitcher Michael Wacha stormed through the minor leagues in his professional debut last year. Now he's opening eyes in major-league camp as he leads all St. Louis pitchers -- by a long shot -- with 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings of work. The next closest guy is starting pitcher Jaime Garcia with six whiffs in five innings of work. Wacha has allowed four hits and one run. Opponents are batting .143 against him and Wacha could be on the fast track to the majors. While it would be a shock if he made the club out of camp, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him at Busch Stadium later in the year.
Let's not look past Garcia on the highlight list. He missed the last third of the 2012 season with a shoulder strain. With Chris Carpenter likely out for the season, the Cardinals need Garcia to be healthy and effective. So far, so good this spring. He's 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA after two Grapefruit League starts. While he's given up eight hits and two walks in his five innings, attribute that to him working on getting his pitches ready for the regular season as opposed to trying to round up stats in meaningless games. He looks healthy and physically unlimited, which is the important thing at this point.
The Cardinals' gamble that shortstop Rafael Furcal could rebound from elbow issues with a winter of rest was apparently a complete bust. Furcal wasn't unable to uncork a full strength throw from the time spring training started until he was shut down completely over the weekend. He made it into one game as a designated hitter and was didn't get a hit in two at-bats. I'd be shocked if Furcal is able to contribute anything the Redbirds in 2013.
The guy the Cardinals signed as insurance for Furcal, former Cubs infielder Ronny Cedeno, has shown little promise so far this spring with a .167 batting average and one double in 16 at-bats. He had the inside track to being the starting shortstop if Furcal couldn't play. But he seems that Kozma is making a much stronger case than the veteran infielder to start at short.
Another Redbirds offseason pickup hasn't done much to inspire confidence at the plate, either. Ty Wigginton, who is expected to improve the offense available from the bench, is batting .095 in 21 at-bats. He's got only one extra-base hit, a double.
It's unclear if his contract situation is a distraction or if Adam Wainwright is just tuning up his breaking balls in live game action. But his numbers are a little scary so far. He's allowed 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings or work and opponents are batting .444 against him. Four of the five runs he has allowed have been earned.
Scott Wuerz has been a reporter and columnist at the Belleville News-Democrat, located in suburban St. Louis, since 1998. During that time he has covered three St. Louis Cardinals World Series appearances, the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game and Mark McGwire's chase to break Roger Maris' home run record. He has penned the View From the Cheap Seats Cardinals fan blog for the News-Democrat since 2007.