Baseball is back and ready to take over your life once again, but this month is the time where lingering questions have to be answered for aging prospective talents.
As the St. Louis Cardinals attempt to deflect every kind of injury known to baseball players, the team also is shaping up its roster for opening day.
When it comes to the 2017 Cardinals, will the roster hint more towards the future than the past? John Mozeliak's ballclubs contend like the weather turns warm every spring, but the makeup of this team is slowly starting to change. A youth movement is in the works, but it is still a little ways off from taking shape. With this team, the final outfield spot on the roster carries the most intrigue and juice. The infield may be crowded as well, but the Cards need protection in the outfield. For my money, it comes down to Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham.
Here you have a couple professional baseball players with over ten years of experience, but little major-league exposure. Pham has carried the tool-box of a big show type for years, but his body simply hasn't cooperated. He flourished briefly near the end of 2015, but came up hurt in the opening game of the 2016 season, and was a bystander in the rigorous month of September. When you are being passed over for Brandon "couldn't hurt the broad side of a barn" Moss in a playoff stretch, your cards have been flipped over on the poker table. Pham will be 29 on Wednesday, and fighting for a spot on this roster.
Enter Martinez: a player who finally got a taste of the big league late summer humidity last season, and impressed with his bat off the bench. Martinez's September cup of coffee with the club included seven hits in 16 at bats and an ability to produce after a dry spell of inactivity. Like Pham, Martinez turns 29 this season, and is running out of time to find a place on the Cardinals.
The first week of spring games have shown a tilt in Martinez's direction, with his .389 batting average and three home runs in 18 at bats. Pham, on the other hand, is hitting just .200 in 20 at bats. But spring training is only an exhibition, so why should you look so closely into what these two players are doing. It's simple: as much as March is a place to fine tune some skills, it's a competition for players like Pham and Martinez. Two quadruple-A-type talents who are hanging onto the idea of producing in the show before fading into the minor league glaze. If you hit 30 years of age without much success in the Majors, you can kiss your career goodbye, because the percentages don't support pipe dreams.
What about Anthony Garcia, a 25-year-old journeyman outfielder with 2,216 at bats in the minor leagues and 77 home runs and a .441 slugging percentage to show for it? Can he leap over Pham and Martinez, and challenge for the fourth outfield spot? Garcia, born in the minors in 2009, didn't impress in 70 games with the Memphis Redbirds last season, but is a fresh face with less mileage on the resume than his two cohorts. Without any MLB experience though, can Garcia crack the roster?
What about Harrison Bader? The talented top prospect is enjoying a nice spring, but he needs more Memphis tuning before he is ready to reach the big leagues, and he wouldn't even be playing much this year without a major injury.
Adolis Garcia is a beast with a big swing, but he needs some spring exposure before consideration.
In my opinion, it's time to see what Martinez has in store. He showed a potent bat during a pressure-cooker batch of games last season, and isn't getting any younger. Pham's time has passed, and unless he out-swings Martinez to finish the month, he should be reaching the end as a Cardinal. With Bader and Garcia waiting in the wings, there's no time to waste on 29-year-old, past-their-prime, injury-prone players for the Cardinals.
By going with Martinez, the Cardinals give more time to Bader and Garcia, and start a transition towards a younger leaner roster. Martinez's second pot of coffee in the Majors may not be as eventful as the first, but it's time to find out what he can do with a few more at bats.
Jose Martinez deserves a shot, so it's time to turn the page on Tommy Pham.