After getting to D-Backs pitcher Ian Kennedy early in the first, the Cardinal offense faded and Arizona cruised to a 6-2 win. It was not a happy opening day for baseball fans on either side of the Show-Me state.
Arguably, the Cardinals are still in a “transition” period. In consecutive seasons, St. Louis has lost: Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, Kyle Lohse, and Chris Carpenter.
Normally those kinds of veteran losses would cripple an organization, but St. Louis and GM John Mozeliak have done a phenomenal job locking up the important core players and surrounding them with promising young talent.
Matt Holliday is locked up until 2016 with a team option for 2017.
Yadier Molina signed an extension last year that keeps him a Cardinal through 2017 with a club option for 2018.
Allen Craig just signed a team-friendly extension to keep him in St. Louis through 2017 with a club option for 2018.
Wainwright just signed a deal that should take him to the twilight of his career in 2018.
(David Freese, are you next?)
But what will really make this a seamless transition into a new era without Pujols and LaRussa is the young, ascending talent ready to provide significant (and cheap) contributions around those core players.
The bullpen is stocked with 20-somethings that touch 95+ on the radar gun: Mitchell Boggs – who will fill in as the de facto closer while Jason Motte tends to a sore elbow to begin the year, Trevor Rosenthal, and Joe Kelly.
Waiting in the minor leagues to fill-in immediately if needed are promising young arms like Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Eduardo Sanchez, and Seth Maness.
Wacha, a 2012 first round pick out of Texas A&M, pitched 24.2/3 combined innings this spring in the major league and minor league camps. He allowed 13 base runners, one unearned run, and struck out 28 hitters. Ridiculous.
For the longest time, Shelby Miller – a first round pick out of high school in 2009 – has been considered the crown jewel pitching prospect in the organization. Miller, in fact, was good enough in camp this spring to earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation that opened after Carpenter’s injury.
Wacha, however, may be even better.
Then there is OF Oscar Taveras.
Just 20 years old, Baseball Prospectus claims Taveras has the “best pure bat” in all of minor league baseball. This is a hitting prospect the caliber of which the St. Louis Cardinals have not had since Albert Pujols began his quest to the major leagues.
If you’d like to read more about Taveras and his status as one of the elite prospects in all of the game, click here to read Jenifer Langosch’s thorough article on MLB.com from early March.
St. Louis is good enough to compete this year. I think this team is back in the playoffs again in 2013, whether it be as NL Central champs or as one of the two NL wild cards.
But the Cards have positioned themselves to be most dangerous in the years to come.