ST. LOUIS — If the 2020 season had been a normal one, I bet right about now we'd be discussing Dylan Carlson anyways.
It's late June, and if a member or two of the outfield wasn't performing and Carlson was continuing to rake in the minors, Cardinals fans would be clamoring for the rookie to get a shot.
Well, 2020 is anything but normal thanks to COVID-19, but here we are in late June talking about Carlson.
Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday there would be a season. It's going to be 60 games starting on either July 23 or 24, with training camps to open July 1.
In a 60 game sprint of a season where every individual game counts even more, the Cardinals can't afford to field anything but their best lineup. Simply put, Dylan Carlson needs to be a part of that lineup.
In a normal year, you could afford to give some veterans or projects 100 or 200 at-bats or so to see if they can figure things out. Now, in just a 60 game sprint, that luxury isn't available if you want to make the postseason.
Yes, Carlson has never competed in an MLB regular season before, but everything he's done to this point signals it should be a smooth transition. And when Cardinals President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, puts you in a class of prospects with Albert Pujols and Oscar Taveras, doubt tends to diminish.
The 22-year-old switch-hitting prospect tore the cover off the ball when we last saw him in version one of 2020 spring training. He was 10 for 32 with three doubles, a triple and six walks. That gave him, by far, the best stats of any Cardinals outfielder in spring with similar playing time, including Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas and Tyler O'Neill.
There are things that could help Carlson crack the lineup.
Teams will have a 30-man roster to start the season, with that number slowly decreasing. The expanded roster could allow the Cardinals to bring everyone they think might be able to compete for a spot. Bring all those outfielders in and see who rises to the top.
The inclusion of the DH in the National League could help Carlson as well.
We know the Cardinals want to get Tommy Edman in the lineup. Now, he'll be able to play third base with Matt Carpenter at DH. Edman won't need to possibly take up a spot in the outfield to get at-bats as he did last year.
We've seen how loyal Mike Shildt can be to his guys. Fowler is going to get playing time. Bader's defense has made him a favorite of the manager. And on a team with not much pop, O'Neill is intriguing.
But if any of those guys come out of the gate slumping, it could make the difference in a game or two in a season where every game means more.
The Cardinals need to come out swinging with their best possible lineup every day. And for this roster, Dylan Carlson is penciled in that best possible lineup every single time.