One question that has been leave!any in Cardinals camp since the departure of Marcell Ozuna is, who will play Left Field?
The list of Candidates has grown over the off season to include;
Tyler O'Neill, Rangel Ravelo, Lane Thomas, Tommy Edman, Austin Dean and of course Dylan Carlson.
Would that I had to rank these options I would say that it goes.
O'Neill (24) - He is the odds on favorite and I would say it is his job TO LOSE. First he plays very good defense. He has good OF and base running speed. Very good Home Run potential 25+. His downside has always (at least at the MLB level) has been hitting for average and a high Strikeout rate (37.5% last year). Early this spring he did seem to have better plate discipline which did relate to a Spring slash of .280/.438/.560. Curiously his SO rate was still around 37%. However he has declined lately to .219/.359/.438 and his SO rate ballooned to 43.7%. To be an effective run producer with that high of a SO rate and low Avg he would in MY opinion, need to be in the rare air of 40 Home Runs.
Dean (26) - I put Dean second because
1. Because Left Field is his position
2. He has MLB experience
3. His Defensive metrics are good
4. He has good power, possibly in the 20-25 HR range.
After a rough start he has rebounded well with a .250/.368/.563 with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs in 32 ABs. He as approximately the same MLB ABs career wise as O'Neill (271 for O'Neill 291 for Dean). however his career numbers are not eye catching .223/.268/.388. So his Spring numbers seem to indicate he could be headed for a breakout. HOWEVER they are SPRING numbers, so take them for what they are. There are a couple of scenarios where Dean could be the starting Left Fielder. Although,I do think he is probably more likely to be a back up than a starter.
Carlson (21) - Probably the most talked about outfielder in the Cardinal system since Oscar Tavaras. He had his best season last year .292/.372/.542, 26 HRs, 68 RBIs. 62 extra base hits in 489 ABs between AA Springfield .281/.364/.518 21 HRs 59 RBIs in 417 ABs and AAA Memphis .361/.418/.681 5 HRs 9 RBIs. in 72 ABs. It is the limited amount of AAA time that had tongues wagging all over Cardinal nation. His Spring slash line .313/.436/.468 he as scored 11 runs in just 32 ABs, but 0 HRs and 1 RBI. Carlson is a 5 tool player strong arm, good speed hits for AVG, base running and a fine defensive player. There are many that are saying the Cardinals will wait to bring him up because of starting his arbitration time clock. Now while there may be some truth to that, I do think that his small sample in AAA is a legitimate cause for wanting to see more. That is one reason he has gotten so much work this Spring. I personally think he will benefit a lot by getting consistent ABs at Memphis. Also Carlson is more of a Center Fielder but some have indicated he might be better in the long term as a corner Outfielder. I do think we will see Carlson up with the club this year. Also at this point he is ONE injury away.
Thomas (24) - Thomas last year in a albeit small sample showed what he was capable of doing. slashing .316/409/.684. He also slugged 4 Hrs and 12 RBIs in just 38 ABs. He had shown good power in both AA and AAA the last two years. (37 HRs in 396 ABs) Thomas to me, has similar skills to Carlson in terms of his defense, hitting and base running. I think Carlson may have the better arm and is a little faster. Not by much though. At this point I think Thomas has more power. Thomas also is primarily a CF but is able to play the corner spots. So far this Spring he is slashing a respectable .250/.400/.563 with 3 Hrs 6 RBIs. I can see him playing any one of the 3 OF positions or even be the 4th OF. I think Thomas makes the club, but in what role is to be determined.
Ravelo (27 he will turn 28 in April) - The Cuban born Ravelo had a cup of coffee with the Cardinals last year playing 1B and pinch hitting. He slashed .205/.246/.410 with 2 HRs, 7 RBIs in 39 AB. This Spring he has been given some time in the OF because of Paul Goldschmidt at 1B. He plays a good defense, Although not at the level of Thomas, O'Neill or Carlson, but he is not a liability. He has shown he can hit in the minors 3 years at Memphis he has hit .306/.388/.480 with 33 HRs and 164 RBIs. I don't see Ravelo as a starter but possibly a day off to LF and Goldschmidt.
Edman (24) - Tommy made a HUGE impression last year splitting time between 3B, 2B and RF He also had 1 game each in CF and LF. He flashed a better than average glove. He showed a good ability to get on base and cause havoc while there (15 stolen bases). He also runs the bases very well. He also showed he could hit MLB pitching .304/.350/.500 he also showed more power than one would expect from someone 5'10" and 170lbs. he hit 11 HRs along with 17 doubles and 7 triples. He drove in 36 runs to boot. While Tommy has not had the best Spring .237/.310/.342 and only 2 XBH, he does have 6 RBIs. With Carpenter likely to be the starter at 3B, Mike Shildt will have to be creative to get Edman ABs. Like Ravelo I would be surprised to see Edman get a lot of OF work. I see him more as an super-sub In fielder. If people falter either in the Infield or outfield who knows.
With the abrupt end to Spring Training I don't think anything has really been answered. Carlson was making his case as was Dean and Thomas. O'Neill seemed to have the best shot coming into camp. However, Thomas has been a little more steady in terms of hitting power and defense. The lack of real power to me is the one thing that could hamper Carlson. On that note there really is NO clear cut power hitter with any OF in camp. At least not in the 30+ HR category that most think of when you say power hitter. Also If Bader or Fowler continue to struggle we could see Thomas, Dean or even Carlson as well as Edman make their way into the starting outfield. Given the gap between now and the EXPECTED start of the season. We may not know the real answer until May or even June.
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