Organizational depth and competition have made the Cardinals the envy of most rival franchises.
When Colby Rasmus lost interest in playing here, Jon Jay was ready to step in. When Allen Craig started last season on the disabled list, Matt Carpenter stood ready to produce.
When reliever Eduardo Sanchez lost control, Mitchell Boggs finally graduated into the eighth-inning relief role. When perennial prospect Tyler Greene failed to take charge at second base, Daniel Descalso settled into the everyday role and finished well.
This spring, Carpenter and Kolten Wong will push Descalso at second, and first baseman Matt Adams and outfielder Oscar Taveras will vie for big league attention, as will pitchers Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller.
The overriding goal is to make prospects work their way up the ladder and earn their opportunities at the big league level.
By acquiring shortstop Jake Lemmerman from the Dodgers in the Skip Schumaker trade, the Cardinals created more depth and competition at a need position.
The team did not have an obvious shortstop candidate to slide behind Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson in the developmental chain. Lemmerman should fill that void.
Will he ever make it to the majors? Maybe, maybe not — but the organization became stronger with his arrival.
General manager John Mozeliak is confident Rafael Furcal will come to spring training ready to regain his starting role. For the time being, the Cardinals have refrained from adding more established help at the position.
(Your cyber-correspondent helpfully suggested Dodgers speedster Dee Gordon, who is currently trapped behind Hanley Ramirez in LA. But Mozeliak hasn’t felt compelled to spend a major asset to gain better protection at that spot.)
Skepticism abounds, in this corner of cyberspace and elsewhere, about Furcal's viability this season. Whomever plays behind him will be very important.
Kozma gained manager Mike Matheny’s full attention after driving the Cardinals into postseason play with his September heroics (.349, 14 RBIs, 1.005 OPS). Kozma’s National League Championship Series performance took an ugly turn, reminding fans why he failed to find much traction during his six-year minor league career.
But he has some pop in his bat and a bit of base-running speed. Unless Kozma self-destructs this spring, he should get every chance to back up Furcal this season.
Jackson followed a good showing at Springfield (.278) with a solid first year at Memphis (.272), displacing Kozma as the regular shortstop there. He earned his first major league look but failed to spark much interest from Matheny.
During spring training, he must compete for at-bats on the big stage. Should he excel, Matheny will have to give him more serious consideration.
Our prediction: Kozma will win the utility job at the big league level, leaving Jackson as the everyday shortstop in Triple-A Memphis and Lemmerman as the choice at Double-A Springfield.
While the Cardinals have stacked up plenty of future third basemen — adding Stephen Piscotty, Patrick Wisdom and Carson Kelly in the 2012 draft alone — they lacked similar numbers at shortstop.
Lemmerman changes that. He hit well (.335 with a .987 OPS) during his third season at Duke University. He hit well in rookie ball (.352, earning league MVP honors) and at the high-A level (.292) as well.
But he struggled in the Arizona Fall League (.156), then hit just .233 at Double-A Chattanooga last season to stall in the Los Angeles organization.
He isn’t a “toolsy” prospect, but his plate discipline and defensive steadiness should make him useful in the Texas League in 2013.
Second baseman Greg Garcia slid over to shortstop last season for Springfield to accommodate Wong’s arrival. Down at high-A Palm Beach, Ronny Gil hit just .224 while failing to progress as an everyday shortstop.
Former Liberty shortstop Matt Williams should advance one step after a solid showing (.269, 23 stolen bases) at low-A Quad Cities. Once Alex Mejia recovers from a torn ACL suffered last summer, he could play at low-A Peoria this season.
The former University of Arizona star played 23 games for Batavia last season before suffering the serious knee injury. Mejia hit .357 during his final college season and earned Pac-12 Player of the Year and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
His injury was a setback. But with Lemmerman joining the mix, the Cardinals gained a bit more long-range strength at a critical position.