COMMENTARY | There's nothing better in spring training than watching spirited battles for roster spots. And the St. Louis Cardinals' youngsters certainly came to camp ready to play.
In the early going, they've all shown reasons to believe they're ready to make a contribution.
While its doubtful that the Redbirds will take the organization's top prospect north before the middle of the season, Oscar Taveras is at least making manager Mike Matheny take notice of his skills. Taveras collected three hits Tuesday in St. Louis' 15-4 win over the Boston Red Sox Tuesday to raise his spring batting average to .600 in four games.
While Taveras is trying to make the jump from Class AA Springfield to the majors, slugging first baseman Matt Adams would like to to return to St. Louis permanently after a couple cups of coffee in the big leagues in 2012. Adams hit a three-run homer Tuesday in a pinch hitting appearance to match Taveras' .600 Grapefruit League mark.
Maybe the most interesting battle in Camp Cardinals is the three-way competition to be the Redbirds' starting second baseman. Utility player Daniel Descalso would like to upgrade to become the Redbirds' starter at second. Meanwhile, corner infielder Matt Carpenter also has designs on landing a full time job. But first round draft pick Kolten Wong would like to leapfrog both more established players to give St. Louis some stability at second for the first time in years. Descalo is hitting .250 for the spring. But he's got a home run under his belt to continue a late season power surge, Plus he's playing strong defense. Carpenter is hitting .375 with a pair of walks Tuesday to show off his ability to get on base and justify the need for the Cardinals to find a place for his bat in the lineup. Wong is hitting .333 as he tries to join Taveras in the leap from Class AA to the big leagues.
Five strong candidates are fighting over the last spot in the starting rotation and two bullpen slots. Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal are battling Shelby Miller for the rotation job with a spot in the bullpen a possible fallback for all three. Meanwhile Eduardo Sanchez has looked very sharp as he tries to establish himself in the major league bullpen after a pair of up and down years between St. Louis and Memphis. He hasn't allowed a base runner in two appearances while striking out four hitters. Fernando Salas, slowed by kidney stones last year after a strong 2011 as fill in close, is also in the mix. Salas has pitched one perfect inning. Rosenthal had a rough first appearance. But he's the only guy of all the Cardinals' bubble players who has had a bad game. And it's tough to hold a first spring training start of 35 pitches or so against a hurler.
It's early. So nobody is close to winning a job yet. But, so far at least, I'm thrilled with what I have seen from the Cardinals' competitors. And it's a lot of fun to watch them battle it out.
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.
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