More than a month ago, I took a look at several Cardinals hitters who had limited avenues to big league playing time by virtue of the team’s veteran roster. The sudden likelihood of a universal DH gives those players another notable chunk of at-bats to display their MLB readiness. The Cardinals’ depth perhaps makes it unlikely that they’ll go with one or even two players as their primary DH like the D-backs will, but they’ll be able to cycle through a blend of veteran and rookie options in a matchup-based approach.
Matt Carpenter graded out well at the hot corner both in Defensive Runs Saved (+5) and Outs Above Average (+6) last year. But as he approaches his 35th birthday, he could see some more time at the DH slot or at first base on days when Paul Goldschmidt needs a breather. Either scenario makes it easier to slot Tommy Edman in at the hot corner. The 25-year-old Edman was the Cardinals’ 2019 out-of-nowhere breakout du jour — they have one every year, it seems — and manager Mike Shildt will want him in the lineup as much as possible after he hit .304/.350/.500 in 349 plate appearances.
Given Edman’s ability to play virtually anywhere on the field, though, he’d have been worked into the mix regularly with or without a DH. That’s less true of young outfielders like Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas, who were vying for at-bats in left field in the wake of Marcell Ozuna’s departure. O’Neill has long been awaiting a legitimate opportunity in the Majors. Soon to turn 25, he’s shown some swing-and-miss throughout his career but has clear light-tower power. Thomas is more defense-oriented than O’Neill but has had his share of success at the plate in the upper minors, too.
The Cardinals’ trade of Jose Martinez this winter may seem ill-timed now, as he’d have been well-suited for DH duties, but part of the reason for the trade may have been that the club believes in the also-right-handed bat of 28-year-old Rangel Ravelo — an out-of-options first baseman/outfielder who was squarely behind Goldschmidt on the depth chart. Despite a .293/.369/.452 slash in 1652 Triple-A plate appearances, Ravelo only has 49 big league plate appearances. That number wouldn’t have gone up much as a pure bench bat, so the implementation of a DH slot in the NL would be music to his ears. Waiver claim Austin Dean, another right-handed bat with a big Triple-A track record, carries a similar skill set. The left-handed-hitting Justin Williams is yet another option.
Of course, the player who excites Cards fans the most is top prospect Dylan Carlson, a 21-year-old 2016 first-rounder who ranks among the game’s very best prospects. Carlson was hoping to break camp with the Cards and might’ve been a long shot, but the uncertain minor league season could make him likelier to land on the Major League roster and get his at-bats in left or center. The addition gives the Cards the opportunity to get a look at Carlson without those at-bats coming at the direct expense of O’Neill, Thomas, Ravelo and Edman. Carlson surely would’ve gotten a lengthy audition sooner than later, but a DH allows the organization to evaluate him and other young options in simultaneous fashion that would’ve otherwise been difficult in the past.
With Edman and Brad Miller filling versatile super-utility roles, plus several intriguing younger and/or inexperienced bats who have been waiting for a chance (Carlson, O’Neill, Ravelo, Thomas, etc.), the Cards should be able to find a productive mix.