While the Cardinals appear to be more excited than ever about top outfield prospect Dylan Carlson, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the club isn’t giving consideration to promoting him to the majors in the month of September.
As ever, it should be noted that plans can always change. The 20-year-old’s present capabilities are already known well to the Cards, so he’s not likely to change the situation by his play. But it’s possible an injury or other development at the MLB level could create a surprise need.
As Goold notes, Carlson does not need to be added to the 40-man roster in advance of the December Rule 5 draft, so putting him there now would constrain the club. It seems only a run of misfortune involving existing players, or a major change of heart, would create the circumstances for a Carlson promotion. But we have seen that sort of thing occur, as when the Nationals surprisingly promoted Victor Robles back in 2017.
Regardless of how things shake out late in 2019, Goold says that the Cardinals will allow Carlson a full shot to compete in camp next year for a significant role at the major-league level. Service-time considerations and other factors will obviously weigh into the decision; the 20-year-old likely has a high standard to clear to head north out of camp.
While it would still rate as a surprise to see Carlson on the Opening Day roster, particularly if he doesn’t end up seeing any big-league time this year, it seems the St. Louis org isn’t shying away from putting expectations and dangling opportunity in front of the highly regarded prospect. Carlson has already laid waste to upper-minors pitching this year, turning in a .281/.364/.518 batting line at Double-A (which isn’t a hitter-friendly stop on the circuit) and slashing .385/.439/.654 since arriving at Triple-A (good for a 164 wRC+ even in the offensively prolific Pacific Coast League).
As president of baseball operations John Mozeliak puts it, Carlson “does it all” and is a “very complete player.” While prospect evaluators haven’t really hyped Carlson as one of the top pre-MLB players in baseball, Mozeliak says Carlson’s showing this year at Double-A suggests he’s “truly an elite player.”
The focus now is obviously on the Cards’ efforts to win a division title. But it’s hard not to look ahead. The club has already undergone immense change in the outfield in recent years and figures to have more on the way. Marcell Ozuna will be a free agent. Dexter Fowler will be a significant part of the mix (barring a trade). Otherwise, there are a large number of possibilities — Jose Martinez, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, Rangel Ravelo, Randy Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, and others — but little in the way of clear answers.
It’s likely some players will end up in other organizations, whether that occurs over the offseason or in Spring Training. Keeping Carlson off of the 40-man will help preserve options. But his presence in the organization could ultimately allow the Cards to be more aggressive in parting with other young outfielders, perhaps opening the door to improvements in other areas of the roster.