SportsPulse: The start of spring training is right around the corner, and many of the offseason story lines will carry into camps.
USA TODAY Sports
As the 2018 fantasy baseball season approaches, we take a look at the biggest news and story lines from each club. We’ll feature one team each weekday … and we’ll finish up on Feb. 16, the first day all teams will have their pitchers and catchers on the field for workouts.
Series index:Schedule for all 2018 team previews
Thanks to a farm system that somehow keeps turning out solid everyday players, the Cardinals always seem to field a winning team. Last season was no different as two of their top performers weren’t even on their opening day roster.
A big trade with the Miami Marlins cost them a couple players who could have provided a similar spark this season, but getting one of 2017’s top run-producers seems worth it.
2017 at a glance
Record: 83-79 (3rd in NL Central)
Hitting: 13th (4.70 R/G)
Pitching: 10th (4.01 ERA)
Park Factor, scoring: 25th (0.889)
Park factor, HR: 24th (0.849)
OF Marcell Ozuna
SP Miles Mikolas
RP Luke Gregerson
The Cards needed a big bat in the middle of the lineup and they found one in the ex-Marlin, Ozuna. He’s coming off a monster season in which he hit .312 with 37 home runs and 124 RBI. His arrival made both Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk expendable.
Mikolas, 29, returns to the majors after three seasons in Japan. During his time away, he rediscovered his control, went a combined 31-13 and never had an ERA over 2.45 in any season. A classic late-round gamble.
Gregerson is the front-runner to close — unless the Cardinals sign free agent Greg Holland.
Players to watch
OF Tommy Pham
SP Carlos Martinez
Pham was one of last season’s most pleasant surprises. Called up in early May, he went on to post a .306/.411/.520 slash line with 23 home runs and 25 steals in just 128 games. At 29, he’ll finally have a full-time job from Day 1.
As did many pitchers, Martinez gave up way too many home runs last season: a career-high 27. As a result his ERA jumped by more than half a run. He was one of just 10 pitchers last season to throw 200 innings and record 200 strikeouts.
SP Luke Weaver
SS/2B Paul DeJong
Of course you can’t just take away certain games, but … without his final two starts of last season, Weaver would have finished with a 7-1 record, 2.05 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 11 appearances. His draft stock and the SpaceX rocket would have been indistinguishable. He dominated in the minors too. Don’t be afraid to dream.
DeJong, 24, took the Pham path to playing time — waiting until May to get the call, hitting a home run in his first MLB at-bat, winning a starting job and eventually finishing second in the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year voting. Between the majors and minors, he hit 38 home runs, which isn’t bad for someone eligible at both middle infield positions.
Three seperate Paul DeJong projections:
Source: AB, HR, AVG
Pub #1: 523, 22, .275
Pub #2: 563, 34, .263
Pub #3: 555, 24, .252
Difference of 12 HR and 23 points of AVG. Someone will be high on him.
— Jeff Zimmerman (@jeffwzimmerman) February 11, 2018
Closer: Luke Gregerson
Next: Tyler Lyons
Gregerson had 31 saves for the Astros in 2015 and has ramped up his strikeout rate over 10.0 K/9 the past two seasons. Despite a fastball that hardly gets above 90 mph, he could hold onto the job all season.
Lyons has steadily lowered his ERA in each of his five MLB seasons. The lefty struck out 11.3 batters per nine and could fill in as closer should Gregerson be bitten by the home run bug again. Manager Mike Matheny does have a tendency to lose patience with closers.
Along those lines, Kolten Wong has flashed occasional upside but never has seemed to win Matheny’s confidence. He posted career highs across the board with a .285/.376/.412 slash line in 2017, but played in just 108 games due to elbow, triceps and hip injuries. He figures to get another shot at the everyday second baseman’s job, but could cede time to Jedd Gyorko vs. lefties.
SP/RP Alex Reyes
SP Jack Flaherty
A potentially dominant starter with one of the highest ceilings in the minors, Reyes missed all of 2017 after tearing an elbow ligament in February. He’s ready to begin throwing and the Cards plan to use him in relief until he’s closer to 100%.
Improved control and a jump in velocity took Flaherty, 22 from High-A in 2016 to a five-game cameo with the Cardinals in September. He’ll likely start at Class AAA but be the first starter called up.
Projected batting order
1. RF Dexter Fowler
2. CF Tommy Pham
3. 3B Matt Carpenter
4. LF Marcell Ozuna
5. C Yadier Molina
6. 1B Jose Martinez
7. SS Paul DeJong
8. 2B Kolten Wong
1. RHP Carlos Martinez
2. RHP Michael Wacha
3. RHP Luke Weaver
4. RHP Adam Wainwright
5. RHP Miles Mikolas