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Shildt: Cardinals top prospect Carlson 'can compete' for outfield spot

Shildt: Cardinals top prospect Carlson 'can compete' for outfield spot

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Cardinals prospect Dylan Carlson admires artwork of himself, painted by the fan he met at Winter Warm-Up. (Photo by Benjamin Hochman)

Mike Shildt still thinks of Marcell Ozuna as one of his guys — “In my head he’s still here,” the Cardinals manager said Sunday at Winter Warm-Up.

Shildt has a close connection with the outfielder Ozuna, and since the free agent hasn't signed with a club yet, Shildt is holding out hope.

But if Ozuna signs elsewhere, that opens up a clear opportunity for Dylan Carlson in left field. Carlson, 21, was the Texas League (Class AA) player of the year in 2019 — and excelled in a Class AAA stint, too.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with any other possible additions to the roster,” Shildt said. “If it doesn’t happen (with Ozuna), we’ve got guys who can compete and definitely Dylan is one of them. Based on not only spring training — I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to come in and hit whatever. He’s just got to go play. Go play. Play the game the right way. Continue to evolve. Get better. Be a part of what we’re trying to do, and then see where he fits in the greater picture of where we compete.”

How the Cardinals outfield shakes out is one of the more intriguing story lines this winter. Dexter Fowler will return in right field, and Harrison Bader in center, but Lane Thomas and Tyler O'Neill are two players with big-league experience right on their heels. If Ozuna doesn't return, it's possible O'Neill could start in left, with Thomas or Bader in center. Carlson has only 79 plate appearances at Class-AAA. But he's so good already.

Can he play all three outfield spots in the big leagues?

“We’re comfortable he can start in left and right,” Shildt said. “And then there will be evaluation of getting him some time. But it’s similar to the question about the pitching. We only play so many games, so many innings, and we do have thankfully a lot of options in center field. So you look at Harrison getting some time. Clearly. And Dylan will get a few opportunities out there. Some other guys will get some opportunities as well. Lane. (Tommy) Edman is going to get an inning or two there. And Yairo (Munoz). Yeah, I can’t rule out the fact that Dylan could be a center fielder. But I haven’t seen him enough to say, yes, he can definitely be an everyday guy at all three positions. …

"Dylan obviously did a great job starting in big-league camp. He had a wonderful big-league camp — in the clubhouse, on the field clearly — and the he just went through the season and did his part. Had a nice year, Texas League, and got to Triple-A and had opportunity to compete there and did very well. Just saw him a little bit ago, looks great, in a good place.”

Carlson, who is 6 foot 3, said he's around 215 pounds right now.

Hicks starts throwing, eyes July

Closer Jordan Hicks, extending his right arm and then his left arm to show the health and flexibility he has in his rebuilt elbow, has relocated to Jupiter, Fla., and has started throwing. It's not much. He's not throwing far, or hard, or a lot, but he's making strides. And by the time his teammates leave for the start of the season, he could be throwing off a mound.

"I think so, yeah," he said. "I'm pretty confident about that."

Hicks advanced to throws at 60 feet on flat ground in the past week. He's throwing two or three times a week. He also has started taking fielding drills and working with Jose Oquendo at the team's complex.

Midway through this past season, his first as closer, the ligament split in Hicks' right elbow and required Tommy John surgery. The usual recovery timetable is set for 12 months, and that would allow him to work his way through a rehab assignment to the majors by around the All-Star break. The Cardinals have built in some flexibility in his schedule due to the uncertain impact his Type 1 Diabetes will have on the healing process.— Derrick Goold

Gorman, 2.0

As part of his offseason work, slugger Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals' top teen prospect, spent a week at the advanced-tech Driveline facility in Seattle and attending some of the other camps the Cardinals held in Jupiter, Fla. Gorman said he wanted to become familiar with the tech the team and baseball at large is using now to aid hitters — and he wanted to get a head start on the new philosophy being installed in the minors by way of a new hitting coordinator, Russ Steinhorn.

Steinhorn and Jeff Albert worked together in Houston. The hope for the Cardinals is that there will be more synergy between Albert's approach in the majors and what Steinhorn is charged with bringing to the minors.

"A big focus on the new philosophy of hitting for us," Gorman said. "We’ve got a new hitting coordinator, and all that. The hitting camp was my introduction to what we’re doing, and I kind of got to get the ball rolling early before instructs. And then instructs came around. It was more teaching guys that haven’t been to the hitters’ camps. And letting us try to figure out a routine for the guys who have been doing that stuff this offseason with technology and whatnot. It’s getting us into a routine and figuring out what we need to keep our swings in line."

— Derrick Goold

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