Can the Cardinals Afford to Lose Fowler, Grichuk, or Piscotty?

The Cardinals are rolling into Spring Training with their Opening Day outfield all but certain. Randal Grichuk will slide over to left, Dexter Fowler will take Grichuk’s old spot in center, and Stephen Piscotty will remain the constant in right with Tommy Pham sliding into either of the three spots when an off day is needed.

But after those four, the Cardinals’ outfield depth looks like a big question mark heading into the season even after the Cardinals signed Cuban free-agent, Jose Adolis Garcia, 24, to a minor league deal. Who do the Cardinals call on if (god forbid) someone goes down? Let’s look at their options:

Tommy Pham

As stated above, Tommy Pham will start the season as the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder and will receive the bulk of at-bats when any of the starters need a day off. But can the team really rely on him in an everyday role for perhaps an extended period of time?

Ability-wise Tommy Pham could probably play everyday in most outfields around the league as he has an above average wOBA of .339 to go along with a WAR of 1.6 in just 136 Major League Games (via Fangraphs).

The problem here is that Pham has never been healthy enough to play in more than 114 games in his professional career dating back to 2006. So the Cardinals would be fine replacing an injured outfielder with Pham but they would have to be ready at any given moment with a plan B since history suggests it’s a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ for an injury to Pham.

José Adolis Garcia

The newest guy to sport the Birds on the bat arrives to Major League Camp with a lot of intrigue, but a lot of uncertainty. The younger brother of Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia was 24 years old last August when he evaded his homeland of Cuba looking for an opportunity in the MLB. Over his past 380 plate appearances in Cuba, Garcia slashed .315/.395/.517 with 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases (17 attempts) while ranked as Baseball America’s 20th ranked prospect yet to defect from Cuba in April 2015.

His question marks regarding his transition to Major League pitching stem from his performance this past summer playing for the Yomiuri Giants’ farm team. He was released from his Japanese team after slashing .234/.274/.396. Scouts have concerns about his free-swinging approach accompanied with his long swing and difficulty recognizing off speed pitches.

He will likely start the season in Double-A or Triple-A but if he can work on his deficiencies then he can become an intriguing Major League prospect. However, he is no safe bet to reach the big leagues this year, let alone be productive. Leaning on him to take over full-time in the outfield should injury strike would be a huge risk for the front office, especially if the team is still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Look for him to spend the year in the upper minors and become a serious option for the Cards in 2018.

Harrison Bader

Entering at number 83 on MLB.com’s list of top 100 prospects, Harrison Bader has drawn comparisons to current Cardinal Stephen Piscotty after being drafted as a polished college bat and producing at every level of the minors through Double-A. After slashing a below average clip of .231/.298/.354 in 49 games after a call up to Triple-A last season, Bader is expected to open up the year in Memphis and prove himself there before getting the call to St. Louis.

Like Piscotty, Bader doesn’t excel at any one thing but is average to above average in every facet of the game with good instincts and a high baseball IQ. If he performs well in Memphis then expect him to get a call up sometime this year.

However, like Garcia, Bader would be a risk to lean on full-time if injury strikes. He’s an intriguing option and many fans in St. Louis will be pulling for a call up if an injury strikes but don’t expect to see Bader in St. Louis before June should an early injury strike.

Other In-House Options

Currently on the 40-man roster, the Cardinals have Jose Martinez, Anthony Garcia, and Magneuris Sierra listed as outfielders. Only one of them, Martinez, has Major League experience. Last year, the career Minor Leaguer made his Major League debut and in a small sample size went 7-16 at the plate with only one strikeout.

However, Martinez needs to show more big league success across larger sample sizes to draw consideration for a starting role in the Cardinal outfield. Likewise to Martinez, Garcia is a career minor leaguer who is yet to make his big league debut and is likely viewed as nothing more than a depth piece and at best a serviceable fourth outfielder should injury strike.

Sierra on the other hand factors into the Cardinals’ future outfield plans as the 20 year old comes in at number 6 on the Cardinals’ MLB.com Top 10 prospects ranking. The speedy prospect figures to find himself on the 40-man as protection from this past winter’s rule 5 draft. Don’t plan on seeing Sierra in St. Louis in 2017 barring catastrophe or an other-worldly performance on his end.

So Who’s Up Next?

Depending on the timing of a potential injury in the Cardinals outfield, expect the team to call up Jose Martinez to serve as the club’s fourth outfielder while Tommy Pham takes over every day duties. However, if Harrison Bader continues progressing then expect him to share time with Pham in the outfield should injury strike.

Within the organization, some combination of Pham, Martinez, or Bader would see a spike in playing time if someone gets hurt. But given the lack of depth, don’t rule out the possibility of a deadline move for a rental should the Cardinals find themselves within striking distance of the Cubs