St. Louis Cardinals must face three tough questions before breaking camp

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The excitement of the World Baseball Classic has pushed some of the gloom of spring training into the background, but the calendar continues to march on.

just weeks out from opening day, St. Louis The Cardinals have entered a phase of spring in which questions around the team are becoming increasingly well-defined, and answers to those questions will follow in short order.

With just over 20 additional cuts to make and without any significant injury concerns to date, the Cardinals will find themselves making some tough decisions — as well as some decisions that are easier than they might seem at first glance.

is the backup catcher?

Andrew Nizner leads Cardinals catchers in starts in 2022, and he enters the spring in firm control of the backup job behind Wilson Contreras. contest between Nijner and non-roster invitee Trace Barrera Might develop into a surprise, but the way the club telegraphed their winter, it’s really more of the same message.

Nizner was not taken seriously as a full-time starter option, despite his success working with some of the team’s most important pitchers. His pairing with Miles Mikolas was strong enough that there was at least some consideration that Nijner started a playoff game, and yet from day one, team decision makers were adamant that he should be seen outside the organization. was required. help in catching

Barrera performed adequately as a backup for the Washington Nationals in 2021, but took a big step last season. The team likes his ability to handle pitchers, and given that Nijner is already 28 and only has one year of team control after this season, they may be looking to speed up an inevitable decision to move on. You can see the opportunity.

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One player whose role in this decision should not be overlooked – Pedro Paige, was not protected from the Rule 5 draft last time but was also not selected, and who has established himself as a short-term fill-in. I have shown more than enough is necessary. Nijner could find himself squeezed from both sides.

What is the best way to handle djong?

With a new stride, a new swing, and fresh optimism for a new beginning, the Cardinal was eager to give Paul DeJong got every opportunity to prove himself to be a reliable depth piece at multiple positions. To do so, however, would require playing rep, and de Jong has struggled to stay on the field.

Previously slowed by arm pain, which was explained as the result of overloading his offensive line, he is now out of the lineup with lower back tightness. He hasn’t appeared in game action this spring at any position other than shortstop, and on Thursday, Brendan Donovan made his first start at that position since last season. As roster decisions develop, Donovan’s flexibility could give the Cardinals an opportunity to buy some time.

If de Jong’s sore back is severe enough to keep him out until day one, he would have effectively bought himself a full month to make a decision about his place in the team. Some time off, some time to ramp up, and then a rehab assignment to Memphis could make a final call by mid-April. In choosing that path, the Cardinals will to have a more complete picture of whether DeJong’s changes will allow him to reclaim his spot.

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Will they take the plunge with Jordan Walker?

The biggest decision of the spring is likely to be one of the last he makes, and it will be one that will garner attention and attention from around the sport. Jordan Walker The first three weeks of game action have undeniably displayed a hitter is ready for the next level and who will improve his team. There’s room in the lineup and some at-bats.

Whether he maintains that pace through the end of spring — and there’s no reason to believe he won’t — will help determine the resolution of that dilemma. The Cardinals have advertised an open contest and have, in fact, compared that contest to previous years in which they said a contest was open but they knew it actually was not.

Making the team to Walker would have downstream effects. Some teammates will lose playing time, and at least one will lose a roster spot. Still, the temptation to allow Walker to take the league by storm as of Opening Day will be strong, and it looks like the Cardinals won’t be able to avoid it. The ball hit his bat. He looks more than ready to make the leap of levels.

When it does, fans will be able to store their No. 67 jerseys and T-shirts safely in the back of the closet. An open 25 is ready to hang in the clubhouse; It is expected to read “Walker” on the shoulders on opening day.