5 Cardinals with the most to prove this Spring Training

These are the Cardinals who have a big chance to justify their role in 2020, but no one wants to prove something more than Carlos Martinez.

Sam Masterson
February 10, 2020 - 6:45 pm
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JUPITER, Fla. (KMOX) - If you dropped someone out of nowhere and into the Twitter replies and Facebook comments of posts about St. Louis Cardinals baseball, they'd probably think the 2019 team finished third in the division missed the playoffs. Cardinals Nation, mainly from the Show Me State, clearly won't take the positive vibes coming from the Cardinals front office – they say "prove it."

Thus is the curse and blessing of being in baseball heaven. The expectations sometimes can only be answered by the most holy of baseball gods. 

Although the 2019 Cardinals were in the final four – losing four straight games to the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals – this team has no guarantees to improve or even make the postseason this year. It's a 26 man roster, but there are a handful of players who's 2020 season could make the difference between October baseball or golf. 

Here's who I believe has the most to prove this season:

Matt Carpenter - Maybe the Houston Astros should take a page from the Cardinals third baseman in the art of admitting mistakes and apologizing...

That's what the 34-year-old told us he did after last season. He says he apologized to the Cardinals front office for not performing but says he's been searching probably as intently as anyone to find a solution to his swing. He explained that he hasn't been pulling the ball in the offseason and wants to find his identity as a hitter, which he seems to think is more like 2013's doubles machine Matt, rather than 2018's 35-plus HR crushing Carpenter.

March will be time for the show of Carpenter's new swing to shine.

Tyler O'Neill - He put it pretty bluntly himself when asked about what he needs to do to win the open starting position in left field: "Stop swinging at balls in the dirt." 

And if he does that, the pop is there to hit fourth and replace free-agent departure Marcell Ozuna. But the spot is far from his to lose. Lane Thomas, Justin Williams, Austin Dean and – if he shows he's ready to make the jump to the big leagues – Dylan Carlson. 

If he shows he's improved his discipline at the plate, then his ability to leave the ballpark at any moment will be tough to keep out of the lineup. But if he can't cut down on the wiffs, he could find himself as another outfield piece the Cardinals move in the near future. 

Ryan Helsley - He's already proved he can pitch in the highest of high-leverage situations, as he allowed zero runs in 5 1/3 postseason innings in 2019. Specifically, you might remember the Game 4 comeback in the NLDS when the 25-year-old struck out the side in the 8th to hold the Braves lead to one run. 

He was one of the first pitchers called up from Memphis last season, but he's in prime position to begin his 2020 in the majors. The addition of Kwang Hyun Kim and/or placement of Carlos Martinez in the bullpen could make it crowded, but if Helsley is healthy and continues to light up the gun this spring we'll see him in Cincinnati on March 26.  

Just to mention it again, here's his 2019 Postseason stat line: 5.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk and 8 K's. 

Harrison Bader - Obviously being sent down to the minors to improve his swing isn't the ideal season for a guy who has at times looked like the sure centerfielder of the future.

His glove and the pressure he puts on the opposition when on the basepaths will keep the manager and company satisfied if he hits a slump, but Bader has to at least hit above his career .236 average. If he can just reach first, the base-stealing competition he agreed to with Kolten Wong in 2020 should take care of the rest. 

Bader is not the only guy in this organization who can play centerfield and we'll see a lot of guys getting a look in February and March. Just like O'Neill, he has pressure to show his worth early this spring with Thomas, Williams and the like ready to make the jump into the majors.

Carlos Martinez - I think no one wants to prove something more than Carlos Martinez. He wants to be a starter, but his stuff seems perfect for closing and St. Louis needs one of those. 

No pitcher will be scrutinized more than the 28-year-old who can throw as wild as his hairstyles, but is as powerful as his natural disaster nickname. Health more than anything could be what keeps Martinez out of the Cardinals rotation in 2020. 

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