As the 2017 season fast approaches, it’s safe to say that the Cardinals organization as a whole is under quite a bit of pressure to show that the NL Central still runs through St. Louis. However, a few select players may be more scrutinized than others.
1. Kolten Wong
It may be hard to believe, but the 2017 season will be Wong’s fifth at the big league level, and for some, it still feels like he has yet to even come close to reaching his full potential. His performance in the 2014 playoffs had many fans dreaming of a franchise cornerstone at second base, but the last two seasons have been a bit rockier than expected. 2016, in particular, didn’t go as Wong had hoped, with a minor league demotion sending waves throughout the organization in June.
Even upon returning to the bigs, Wong’s playing time was diminished due to a crowded infield at times, and he never managed to establish himself at the plate. In 2017, Wong is going to have to stake a claim to the second base position, and prove that he’s worth the $25.5 million the Cardinals guaranteed to him through a five-year extension just before the 2016 season.
2. Dexter Fowler
It’s never easy to be the new guy, especially when the new guy is being paid $82.5 million over the next five years to essentially replace former fan favorite, Jason Heyward. Dexter Fowler had unquestionably the best season of his career in 2016, and he will now be asked the shoulder more of the responsibility in a lineup that lacks the same firepower as his old teammates in Chicago.
Hitting atop the lineup and manning center field, Fowler is expected to make a seamless transition across a division rivalry, and anything less than that likely won’t be met with much sympathy
3. Everyone in the rotation not named Carlos Martinez
You can bet that come spring training, this is a group of players that whose every move will be carefully watched and analyzed. The questions that follow them around seem to be endless. Can Adam Wainwright prove that last year was just a bump in the road and not the beginning of his decline phase?
Will Alex Reyes cut down on the free passes and become a top-of-the-rotation starter? How will Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn return from injury-riddled seasons? There’s a ton of volatility in the rotation, and while that means there’s a ton of potential if things all go according to plan, there’s also a chance it all falls apart if they catch a few tough breaks.
4. Trevor Rosenthal
Speaking of heavily scrutinized pitchers coming off of injury, Rosenthal’s fall from greatness last season was abrupt and hash. He began the year as an elite closer, and six months later he was barely trusted with middle relief.
Much has been made about Rosenthal’s role on the 2017 Cardinals, but no matter when he’s used in a ballgame, he still needs to prove that he’s still capable of being the Trevor Rosenthal of old. Velocity wasn’t the issue with Rosenthal last season, so be on the lookout to see if he’s commanding his fastball and painting the corners early on in spring training
5. Matt Carpenter
Lastly, even though Carpenter still managed an to have excellent season amidst all of the drama in 2016, he’s going to be counted on more than ever this year. He’ll be moving across the diamond permanently to a position that’s more offensively demanding than any other. Since he won’t have as much of an opportunity to provide value with his glove at first, he’s going to have to make up for it with the bat.
Matt Carpenter is an outstanding infielder, but at his past levels of production, he’s just an average first baseman. Obviously, the Cardinals can’t ask much more of a guy like Carpenter, but here’s to hoping that the less demanding defensive position may end up leading to a big season at the plate.
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