Lots of questions and optimism as pitchers and catchers report

The 2012 season has finally arrived as pitchers and catchers report today in Jupiter, Florida for the St. Louis Cardinals. Adam Wainwright, along with all of the Cardinals starters and a few relievers arrived early, eager to get a jump on doing something that hasn’t been done by a National League club since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds, and that’s to repeat as World Series Champs.

A lot of questions remain as to what team the Cards will open the season with, most notably in the bullpen and at 2B. Tyler Greene seems to be getting the support of new manager Mike Matheny and GM John Mozeliak as the favorite to win the bulk of the playing time at 2B. Greene will be in competition with Daniel Descalso, while Skip Schumaker will make his way back into the outfield as the 4th or 5th OF’er. Over the last few months, it’s become evident that Matheny will do everything possible to give Greene something he never received under Tony LaRussa, regular playing time to get into a groove.

Wainwright threw a simulated 2 innings of work to batters the other day, totaling 40 pitches. Wainwright says he feels great, and hasn’t had any setbacks on his road to recovery from TJS as he threw every pitch in his arsenal. Chris Carpenter, who doesn’t say much, is speaking up about the 2012 season:

“It’s a different feel, a different year, but there’s a lot of excitement going on.”

According to Bernie Miklasz, those words say a lot, as Carpenter isn’t one to talk about much unless he feels strongly about it.

The Cardinals have a lot to prove in 2012. With the loss of LaRussa, Albert Pujols and Dave Duncan, a lot of experts are already writing them off and handing the NL Central to Reds. I still think the Brewers are the team the beat in the end, but it will be a 3 team race. The players have to feel that, and I’m sure the desire to compete will continue to build as they will be asked repeatedly about how they can survive with so much turnover.

Jim Edmonds will once again be with the Cardinals, this time as an instructor in ST. It looks like Edmonds will be more than that, but the details haven’t been worked out yet says Mozeliak on his official job title moving forward. LaRussa’s departure has opened the door for Ozzie Smith to be back with the Cardinals as well. Other former Cardinals who will be at ST include Willie McGee, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst.

The bullpen will be interesting to watch. With Jason Motte set to be the closer, Scrabble and J.C. Romero set to be the LOOGY’s, the Cards currently have 2 arms too many if you include newly acquired Scott Linebrink. Linebrink was signed to a minor league deal, but I think his signing was to have a constant veteran presence for all the young guys. Matheny has said he plans to carry 12 pitchers, which leaves 3 spots open with 5 more than capable options in Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn and Kyle McClellan. Salas, Sanchez and Lynn still have options, so there might be a shuttle between AAA Memphis and the Cards during the season.

Another option which seems possible is a trade involving McClellan. He was being shopped for a while, and still might be shipped. I think a lot of it will depend of the health and need of the Cards and other teams as ST gets going. Roy Oswalt is still without a home and wants to pitch for the Cards, so it might only take an injury to the Cards or another team where Jake Westbrook and McClellan are dealt and Oswalt is a Cardinal.

Allen Craig says he’s going to be ready for opening day, but it appears the Cards want to take the safe road where Craig may not play until May. The decision on Craig will have an impact on the Cards Rule 5 pickup Erik Komatsu. If Komatsu performs well, the Cards may be willing to deal a player for him when Craig returns.

The only thing that seems possible to derail the 2012 Cards is health. The Cards are going into the year with a lot of key players that have a serious history of injuries, most notably Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Kyle Lohse and Carpenter. Carpenter is coming off a season in which he pitched over 270 innings at turns 37 in April. Another concern is Jaime Garcia, who pitched 220 innings and is just a couple of years removed from TJS. Sanchez missed time with shoulder problems late in 2011.

One of the positives from the offseason was the farm system rankings. With many expert lists to choose from, one thing was constant. The Cards were in the top 5 on most lists, and they had 6 or 7 players in the top 100 prospects overall. We all know of Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, but others are making strides, including Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyrell Jenkins, Zack Cox, Oscar Tavares and Matt Carpenter. Add to that Brandon Dickson who seems to fly under the radar and Adam Ottavino who might still have value as a bullpen arm, and the system is looking as good as it has been in years.

With the new rules on the MLB draft that will take place starting in 2013, the 2012 draft for the Cards will be as important as any for years to come. No longer will teams receive draft pick compensation for in year pickups for players, so the 2012 draft will need to land the Cards a lot of talent. The Cardinals have 5 picks in the first and supplemental first round. The picks are 19, 23, 36, 52 and 58. The 2013 draft is heavy on high school talent, so with the Cardinals having a top ranked system now, they can take the chance on high ceiling type players.

Finally, the sweet words of pitchers and catchers report have arrived. Vegas has the Cards at 18-1 to win the World Series in 2012. That’s 10th on the list. However, as we all learned from 2011, just get in, and anything can happen.

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