2014 St. Louis Cardinals Offensive Outlook
The Cardinals had an incredibly prolific offense last year and will likely continue to put up runs in 2014. With MVP candidate Matt Carpenter entrenched in the leadoff spot, and fantasy studs Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina filling out the middle of the order, there are a plethora of solid fantasy options in the Cardinals lineup. The two main question marks this year are: who will hit second, and when will Oscar Taveras make it to the show? The answer to the first question is a real crapshoot. Tony LaRussa always liked to have power in the two-spot, and Mike Matheny maintained that approach by hitting Carlos Beltran there for the majority of the season. However, after the departure of Beltran it appears that unless he wants to hit Allen Craig or Matt Adams in the two-hole, Matheny will have to take a different approach this year.
The natural candidate to hit second for the Cardinals this year is Kolten Wong. Wong will take over as the starting second baseman this year with Matt Carpenter moving over to his natural third-base position. Wong injects a much-needed dose of speed into the Cardinals lineup (41 stolen bases over the last two seasons in the minors) and has the ability to handle the bat and hit both right-handed and left-handed pitching. Wong is a career .301 hitter in the minors, and although he struggled last year in limited duty, there is no reason why he can’t have a breakout year in 2014 and provide some production at second base, where solid offensive numbers are always at a premium.
That brings us to the burning question for the Cardinals this year: when will baseball’s #2 rated prospect, Oscar Taveras, make it to the show? My guess is that the Cardinals will wait until his arbitration clock resets in late June to call up Taveras to the big club. However, his limitless potential makes him a tempting fantasy option despite the logjam in the Cardinals outfield. If and when the Cardinals call up Taveras he will have to get at bats. The most likely way for this to happen will be to play Taveras in right field against lefties, and play him in right or left against righties when Craig or Holliday need a day off. While this may seem strange since Taveras hits left-handed, he-- like Wong-- has demonstrated the ability to hit lefties in the minors. The player whose fantasy stock would take the biggest blow from Taveras’s ascension would be Matt Adams, who showed last year that he could mash right-handed pitching, but struggled against lefties.
Here is my projected St Louis Cardinals lineup for 2014 with each player's 2013 stats and fantasy projections:
2014 St. Louis Cardinals - Projected Lineup
1. Matt Carpenter 3B
2013 Stats: .318 Avg 11 HRs 78 RBI 126 R 3 SB
Analysis: Carpenter led the majors in both runs and hits last year, and should continue to put up big numbers out of the leadoff spot in 2014. He finished the season last year as the third-most valuable fantasy second baseman, behind only Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis. Although it is unfair to assume that he will repeat his unbelievable 2013 season, Carpenter certainly has the ability to hit for a high average and score a lot of runs for your fantasy team, and his 78 RBI out of the leadoff spot last year was impressive. The only negatives for Carpenter owners are his lack of speed and power, and the fact that he will likely lose his second base eligibility with the Cardinals having two second basemen on the roster in Wong and Ellis.
2. Kolten Wong 2B
2013 Stats at AAA Memphis: .303 Avg 10 HRs 45 RBI 68 R 20 SB
Analysis: Wong has had an impressive minor league run for the Cardinals, capping off his time in the minors by winning the organization's minor league player of the year for 2013. Although Wong seriously struggled in his brief time with the big club last year (.153 in 59 ABs), he has been a remarkably consistent minor league hitter, posting a .301 career average, and there is no reason that his success should not continue for the Cardinals in 2014. Wong injects a much-needed dose of speed into what was an abysmally slow Redbirds unit last year. He stole 2o bags in the minors in 2013 and was only caught once, and he and Bourjos should steal plenty of bases for the Cards this year. Although it is unlikely that Wong will put up stellar fantasy numbers in his first full season, he should be able to give owners production in the average, runs and stolen bases categories. He is a low-risk high-reward type player that will probably be available in the late rounds of many drafts this year.
3. Matt Holliday LF
2013 Stats: .300 Avg 22 HRs 94 RBI 103 R 6 SB
Analysis: Holliday has been a remarkably consistent offensive performer since joining the Cards in 2009. Barring injury, Holliday is a lock to provide fantasy owners with a high average and a ton of RBI and runs. Although his HR totals have been modest since joining the Cards, he should be good for 25 or so HR in 2014. Although Holliday remains outside the elite tier of fantasy outfielders, his consistency and ability to stay on the field make him an attractive early-round pick in most leagues.
4. Allen Craig RF
2013 Stats: .315 Avg 13 HRs 97 RBI 71 R 2 SB
Analysis: Craig was putting up MVP numbers before his season was derailed by injury in September, 2013. Even hitting on one foot during the World Series, Craig showed the ability to make consistent solid contact and drive the ball to all fields. According to reports, Craig is ready to go and is suffering no ill affects from the foot injury that shut him down for the first two rounds of the playoffs last year. Assuming he stays healthy, Craig is on track to put up monster numbers out of the four hole for the Cards in 2014. He has established himself as a high average and high RBI player, and I would not be surprised if his home run totals increase as he gains more experience in the big leagues. Craig should have both outfield and first base eligibility in 2014, and could be a steal in many drafts if potential owners are scared away by the foot injury.
5. Matt Adams 1B
2013 Stats: .284 Avg 17 HRs 51 RBI 46 R 3 SB
Analysis: Adams showed massive power potential for the Cards in 2013, and could be a breakout fantasy player in 2014. The main question mark for Adams is whether or not he can hit left-handed pitching at the major league level. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Derrick Goold, Adams has been working extensively on his approach against lefties this offseason in an attempt to improve on his .231 mark vs. lefties last season. This is the key for prospective fantasy owners: if Adams can produce against lefties during the spring and the early part of the season, then he should get enough at-bats to make significant contributions for fantasy owners looking for HR and RBI. If he struggles against lefties, he could turn into a platoon player, which would significantly reduce his value.
6. Yadier Molina C
2013 Stats: .319 Avg 12 HRs 80 RBI 68 R 3 SB
Analysis: Molina had a monster year in 2013, and even if he cannot reproduce his 2013 numbers, he should still be a top-three fantasy catcher. It will be interesting to see whether the Cardinals try to limit Molina's innings a little more in 2014 after Matheny took a lot of heat for overworking Molina in 2013. Like Holliday, Craig and Carpenter, Molina is a sure bet to produce average, RBI and runs for your fantasy team, and the fact that he plays catcher and can hit makes him a valuable commodity for any fantasy team.
7. Jhonny Peralta SS
2013 Stats with Indians: .303 Avg 11 HRs 55 RBI 50 R 3 SB
Analysis: Along with Wong and Adams, Peralta is a wildcard for the Cardinals in 2014 in terms of fantasy production. Peralta was having a stellar 2013 before being suspended 50 games for performance enhancing drugs. However, Peralta returned from suspension and provided offensive production for the Tigers in the playoffs. He should get a ton of RBI opportunities out of the seven spot or wherever he hits in the Cardinals lineup, and considering the lack of good offensive shortstops in today's MLB, Peralta could be a valuable mid- to late-round pick in most fantasy drafts.
8. Peter Bourjos CF
2013 Stats: .274 Avg 3 HRs 12 RBI 26 R 6 SB
Analysis: Bourjos is not a very attractive fantasy option for 2014 unless your team desperately needs stolen bases. He will probably hit eighth for the Cards, which is always a tough position to hit in with the pitcher batting ninth. Bourjos was acquired primarily for his glove and legs, and the fact that he will likely split time with John Jay seriously limits his fantasy potential for 2014.
The future for the Cardinals is blindingly bright, and fantasy owners should reap the rewards of a very productive Cardinals offense in 2014. The potential addition of Oscar Taveras to the Major League roster could change the fantasy situation of some players (particularly Matt Adams), so that is something to keep an eye on for the first part of the season. All in all, the Cardinals potentially have seven hitters who will seriously contribute for fantasy teams in 2014, and that is something that very few teams can say.