Five topics from columnist Ben Frederickson that St. Louis sports fans should be discussing:
1. Will the Cardinals' outfield logjam get sorted out in 2020?
The Cardinals want to resist picking and choosing between their up-and-coming outfielders until they have a sense of which ones to put their faith in for the future.
The Cardinals can’t know which up-and-coming outfielders to put their faith in for the future until they see how these guys perform in the majors.
The clock is ticking.
Is 2020 the season it finally gets settled?
Well, it’s complicated.
That’s the best word to describe the Cardinals’ outfield at the moment. And that’s the best word to answer how the Cardinals believe a lackluster lineup in 2019 will improve for 2020 without impactful additions from the outside.
Asked this week what positions are open for offensive upgrades, Mozeliak pointed to the organization’s deep depth chart of outfielders.
“When you look at our outfield, getting some of our players the opportunity to play,” Mozeliak said. “That’s the most important, as you think about this offseason. It’s a little bit hard to answer that question, as well, because of the timing. Things could happen. There could be trades. Who knows what could happen over the next three months?”
It would not be shocking to see the Cardinals deal from their well of young outfielders to fill a Major League need. Many expect they will. But before the Cardinals do something like that, they need a confident grip on how to prioritize these players. And that mission has already been named an important task for the 2020 season, not the offseason before it.
“That’s part of why we are trying to create some opportunities,” Mozeliak said. “So we do know.”
It’s fair to wonder how much can be learned in one season. Especially if last season is any indication. Those same promising outfield names were a part of the organization then. Few got much meaningful playing time in the majors, for various reasons. Let’s review the innings played in the outfield by Cardinals in 2019:
Dexter Fowler played a team-high 1,138 outfield innings in 2019 despite an adjusted OPS that was two points below league average.
Cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna (1,112 innings) would have led that race if he did not miss time with broken fingers.
Harrison Bader (909.2 innings) checked in third as his elite defense toiled with his regression at the plate.
Jose Martinez (561.2 innings) was fourth as his threatening bat battled with his flawed defense.
Only then on the list appears Tyler O’Neill’s 279.2 innings. O’Neill counts as one of the up-and-comers. He’s the first to appear on this list, unless Bader still counts.
Moving on down, utility players Yairo Munoz (117.2 innings) and Tommy Edman (82.2 innings) played more outfield innings than up-and-comers Lane Thomas (81.2 innings) and Randy Arozarena (43.2 innings).
Thomas’ broken wrist, like O’Neill’s two trips to the injured list, contributed to his lack of chances. Arozarena totaled just 20 at-bats, never finding much traction in manager Mike Shildt’s lineup. The up-and-coming outfielder Cardinals fans are most excited about, top-ranked prospect Dylan Carlson, was passed over for September roster expansion altogether.
If Ozuna departs for a better offer elsewhere, opportunity for up-and-comers emerge. Even more playing time could be made available if Bader stays stripped of his starter’s tag. Even more if Fowler is asked to compete for innings.
Under it all remains the question: If these guys are realistic candidates to drastically alter the 2020 lineup, where were they in 2019?
Maybe one year makes that big of a difference. The Cardinals seem determined to bet on it.
2. It’s Berube’s team, in case you didn’t know
In case any Blues players needed a reminder, another message has been sent that general manager Doug Armstrong will be siding with coach Craig Berube on pretty much any hint of player-coach friction moving forward.
Just as signs of Robby Fabbri’s growing frustration with a continued series of healthy scratches started to bleed out into the public eye, Fabbri was gone, traded to Detroit. Armstrong’s glowing comments about Fabbri did everything but send the former first-round draft pick out with a fruit basket. Berube? He pieced together a few sentences, the equivalent of slapping a skydiver on the parachute before throwing open the airplane door.
Fabbri, full of promise but limited by bad knees, never seemed to convince Berube to buy the hype. And if you thought Berube was going to find meaningful reps for Fabbri after he asked for a trade, well, think again. When Vladimir Tarasenko went down, and Fabbri still wound up watching from the press box, this became a situation that could have caused some problems. Credit to management for stepping in. Armstrong didn’t try to force Fabbri on Berube. And he didn’t let a frustrated Fabbri linger for long. Armstrong turned what could have become a bad situation into the addition of Jacob de la Rose, who should help.
Memo to Blues: Stay on Chief’s good side, and don’t get comfortable if you can’t.
3. SLU can shoot?
I don’t want to read too much into St. Louis University’s season-opening win against an overmatched Florida Gulf Coast opponent. What used to be “Dunk City” has been more like “Doink City” since former coach Andy Enfield left for USC.
But these two numbers, because of the context of last season, were impossible to ignore: 11 and 40.7. The Billikens made 11 3-pointers in their 89-67 win. They shot 40.7 percent from deep. Remember, this is a team that made 11 3-pointers just once in 36 games last season. They made more than eight 3-pointers just three times all season. And every time they made eight or more – it happened seven times – they won. SLU’s 3-point percentage last season as a team? It was 30.4 percent. That was the worst by any team that made the NCAA tournament.
So, the fact that SLU seems to be shooting it better early is a good sign. Especially when newcomers Yuri Collins and Gibson Jimerson were leading the way in that department. If SLU can shoot the three AND hold on to the defense-first mentality, Travis Ford will have a dangerous team.
4. Mizzou can pass?
Different team. Different stat. Similar pleasant surprise. The numbers: Two and five. Two Mizzou Tigers – finally-eligible transfer point guard Dru Smith and matured sophomore Xavier Pinson – each totaled five assists in MU’s season-opening thumping of blood donor Incarnate Word.
Yeah, I know, not exactly Duke the Tigers beat. But consider this. Unless I missed it, a quick scan of the box scores from last season shows zero games in which two Tigers teammates each totaled five or more assists. None in 32 games. The Tigers should move the ball better this season. Smith is a veteran visionary. Pinson can see lanes others don’t, and he’s starting to pinpoint the passes that used to sail into the stands.
This group should be able to get the ball in to big man Jeremiah Tilmon better than last year’s team. That’s if foul-prone Tilmon can stay on the court.
5. Missouri State steps in it
CBS Sports college basketball writer Matt Norlander probably wants a do-over. His annual ranking of the best Division I men’s basketball teams in each state favored Dana Ford’s Missouri State Bears over all challengers. Whoops. While SLU and Mizzou cruised to easy season-opening wins, Missouri State dropped a home game 67-66 to the mighty University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
No shame in losing to the Arkansas Razorbacks. But the UALR Trojans? Ouch.