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By Corey Noles of the Daily Statesman

As Spring Training draws to a close, the final shape of the St. Louis Cardinals 25-man roster is beginning to take shape.

Cuts have been made, bags are being packed and once again we reach the time of the season when every team has hope.

With Opening Day just around the corner, it's time to take another look at how the Cardinals should look early in the season. Who will make the team? Who isn't living up to expectations? Who is far beyond expectations?

Outlook
The Cardinals overall look to be stronger in 2014 than they were at the end of 2013. With improvements at shortstop, third base and centerfield, the front office addressed each of the team's position weaknesses. The addition of Mark Ellis also helps to address both middle infield depth and the Cardinals weakness against left-handed pitching.

Spring Training Recap
Standouts: Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty, Matt Adams

The youth was the story for the Cardinals in Florida this season. After bumbling a leadoff in the 2013 World Series, Kolten Wong appears to have arrived at spring training seeking redemption. He started off slow, but through March 23 Wong is batting .372/.426/.674 with five doubles, two home runs and eight RBI.

Stephen Piscotty carried his success from the Arizona Fall League directly into spring training. Piscotty is hitting .333 with seven RBI, six walks and nine runs scored. While he may not make the team, expect him to make an impact in 2013.

Matt Adams impressed in 2013, and is already smashing baseballs in 2014. With four home runs and 11 RBI through 45 at bats, Adams appears ready to make the jump to everyday first baseman. Assuming he's made the necessary adjustments to the hole in his swing that was exploited in October, combined with his above average defense, he has the potential to be among the league's elite first baseman.

Struggling performances: Jon Jay, Tyler Lyons, Oscar Taveras
Just a few months removed from his role as a starting centerfielder, Jon Jay has gotten off to a rough start this spring. Batting only .167 with two RBI in 13 games, Jay hasn't made a case for why the Cardinals should make him the starting centerfielder. With that said, Jay is a career .293 hitter and could become a valuable fourth outfielder in 2014.

Tyler Lyons, who could have been the Cardinals fifth starter for the coming season, saw early struggles that led to his eventual reassignment. Despite his value to the 2013 Cardinals, his 14.63 ERA through eight innings during spring training is too much to overlook. He may still very well find himself with the major league team this season, but in all likelihood it won't be early.


Oscar Taveras
is undoubtedly the biggest disappointment of this spring training. For Taveras to begin the season at Triple-A Memphis is not chocking, however, his continued struggles to recover from last season's ankle injury are a cause for concern. With any luck, the additional time at Memphis will allow him to get healthy while at the same time furthering his development as a hitter.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day
Jaime Garcia

Garcia, despite being shut down early in spring training due to shoulder discomfort, was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Sunday. While he won't be available for opening day, he could possibly impact the major league club by May. Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in February that Garcia has no structural damage, but he questioned whether pitching through discomfort wasn't something to which Garcia would need to adjust.


Jason Motte
Jason Motte, recovering from Tommy John surgery in early 2013, is progressing even ahead of schedule at this point. Motte recently pitched in a third batting practice session bringing him considerably closer to pitching in a game, according to a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Lineup Preview
1. M. Carpenter LH
2. J. Peralta RH
3. M. Holliday RH
4. A. Craig RH
5. Y. Molina RH
6. M. Adams LH
7. P. Bourjos RH
8. K. Wong LH

Bench
D. Descalso
J. Jay
M. Ellis
S. Robinson
T. Cruz

While there could still be some juggling within the lineup, the above batting order is likely what we will watch through much of 2014.

Despite the addition of Jhonny Peralta to replace Carlos Beltran's spot in the lineup and Peter Bourjos giving the Cardinals some added pop and speed deeper in the order, overall the lineup will look much like it did in 2013.

Rotation Preview
1. A. Wainwright RHP
2. M. Wacha RHP
3. S. Miller RHP
4. L. Lynn RHP
5. J. Kelly RHP

Much like in 2013, the Cardinals pitching depth will be their saving grace for the coming season.

Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha will hold down the top two slots creating the necessary anchors in the rotation—and they've earned it. From stellar October performances to showing up in spring training looking like they haven't skipped a beat, the two belong in the top and are as close to a "sure thing" as the Cardinals could ask for.

Expect Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn to pitch in the three and four slots, but not necessarily in that order.

With Garcia's injury, the battle for the fifth starter spot became quite the struggle during spring training. While Carlos Martinez was dominant throughout March, in the end the slot went to Joe Kelly, Jr.

Kelly was invaluable to the Cardinals in September and October 2013. If he can perform at the same level, he would arguably give the Cardinals one of the strongest number five pitchers in baseball this season.

Bullpen Preview
Trevor Rosenthal RHP
Carlos Martinez RHP
Kevin Siegrist LHP
Randy Choate LHP
Keith Butler RHP
Jorge Rondon RHP
Seth Maness RHP
Pat Neshek RHP

When the Cardinals break camp, the above list should be a fair representation of the bullpen to start the season. While it will look somewhat different from late 2013, the early bullpen should be quite solid for the defending NL champions.

Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal will head up the eighth and ninth innings, much like they did during the postseason.

Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate will continue their roles managing left-handed batters in late innings. After finishing 2013 with a 2.25 ERA, Siegrist has already upped the ante in spring training with a 1.29 ERA and only one run surrendered over 7 IP.

Rondon is likely the biggest bullpen surprise coming out of spring training. Not even among the Cardinals' top 30 prospects according to the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Rondon has been quite impressive through his first eight appearances—effectively forcing his way into the lineup.

Prospects to Watch
Oscar Taveras: As he continues to battle with a nagging ankle, Oscar Taveras could still make a substantial contribution to the 2014 Cardinals. The fact that he never spent a significant amount of time at the Triple-A level means that he could most likely benefit from spending the first half of the season getting back into shape before his eventual arrival in St. Louis.

Stephen Piscotty: Undoubtedly the organization's second most exciting offensive prospect, Stephen Piscotty is showing the same success he had in the Arizona Fall League during spring training. While Taveras may carry more hype, it's quite possible Piscotty could be the first of the pair to impact the major league club.

A team with extensive outfield depth, any organization would be fortunate to have these two in their future.

Breakout Candidates
Kolten Wong: Even though the Cardinals signed Mark Ellis, Kolten Wong is and will be the everyday second baseman—and rightly so. Wong brings to the Cardinals an above average glove, a capable bat and some much needed speed. Every aspect of his game is ready for the big leagues, so expect to get a better idea of what he brings to this club early in 2014.

Matt Adams: One of the most exciting bats to come through the Cardinals organization in recent years, Adams is capable of hitting for both average and power—serious power. During October, opposing teams capitalized on Adams' constant pull to right field, but an adjustment in his stance toward the end of the postseason showed promising results. As the Cardinals everyday first baseman, we should be able to get the first truly long-term look at what Adams can do for this lineup.

Carlos Martinez: Carlos Martinez might have expected to begin the season in St. Louis as a starter, but in the end his success in the eighth inning late in 2013 dictated where he belonged early in 2014. However, there is little reason to expect that he will stay in the bullpen all season. At the first hint of an injury, Martinez would most likely be the first move made.

Top Keys to Success

1. Kolten Wong must step up at second base. While Matt Carpenter wasn't a natural second baseman, he did leave Wong with some big shoes to fill. There's little doubting his glove, but a major key to the Cardinals success will require Wong's bat to come to life at the major league level as well. Wong's main offensive role will be to give the Cardinals some much needed pop deep in their lineup—likely in the eight slot.

2. Matt Adams must adapt to every day role. Adams' bat isn't a secret, but can he keep it going all season when he is the team's every day first baseman? If so, this team will be even more dangerous than expected. It will be a change from his role as Allen Craig's backup in 2013, but Adams is built to handle first base. While his bat gets all of the attention, it's important to remember that he is also a talented defensive player.

3. Peter Bourjos needs own the centerfield role. After a disappointing early career, Bourjos has a chance in St. Louis to become the player that everyone hoped he would become back in Anaheim. Defensively, he's a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder—something the Cardinals needed badly in 2013. His speed around the basepaths will also make a nice addition, assuming his bat can warm up enough to keep him on base. If he can hit .280, Bourjos' overall game could be a vital key to the Cardinals' success.

Previewing the St. Louis Cardinals Opening Series
March 31
St. Louis Cardinals @ Cincinnati Reds
Adam Wainwright vs. Johnny Cueto

April 2
St. Louis Cardinals @ Cincinnati Reds
Michael Wacha vs. Homer Bailey

April 3
St. Louis Cardinals @ Cincinnati Reds
Lance Lynn vs. Mike Leake

Prediction: Cardinals win two of three.

2014 St. Louis Cardinals Season Outlook
Final Record: 91-71
NL Central Division finish: First place
Playoff prediction: Rematch with Dodgers in NLCS and advance to third World Series in four seasons.

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