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WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?

If two of the three projected Cardinals outfielders break through offensively, that might quiet a lot of the discontent in the fan base. But which two?

Switch-hitting Dylan Carlson wound up hitting cleanup last year in the playoffs, but he batted just .200 for the season. Carlson didn’t hit appreciably above that for much of spring training, although he came on strong near the end of camp. With the addition of Nolan Arenado to the lineup, Carlson doesn’t necessarily have to be a middle-of-the-order hitter at the start of the season.

The switch-hitting Carlson projects best as either a right fielder or left fielder but will play center field for a month at least now that Harrison Bader is out with a right forearm injury. Ideally, the club would prefer Bader play the position because he is the best defender among the outfielders and one of the top center fielders in the league, although his batting average has dipped to .205 and .226 in the past two seasons. Hampered by his bad arm, Bader was hitting .107 when he went on the injured list. 

But Carlson has shown himself athletic enough to handle center field in the past and got a week's worth at the position before spring training ended.

To replace Bader, the Cardinals probably will go with some sort of platoon involving lefthanded-hitting Justin Williams, who had more hard-hit balls than anybody else this spring, and righthanded-batting Lane Thomas or Austin Dean. Williams and Dean particularly had good camps. There is even a chance that righthanded-hitting John Nogowski, usually a first baseman, could see some outfield time this season, if not at the beginning.  

The big news of the spring was that Gold Glove left fielder Tyler O’Neill finally seems ready to approach expectations since being acquired from Seattle four years ago. O’Neill seemed determined this spring to show better plate discipline, and that helped him display his power to all fields. He was the Cardinals’ best hitter for much of camp and could hit higher in the lineup than the sixth or seventh that had been forecast.

Williams has the advantage of being one of the few true lefthanded batters on the club. He and Dean have power and are capable outfielders. 

If Bader isn't out too long, he could be a 15-15 man (home runs, stolen bases) if he could stay in the lineup often enough. O’Neill also runs well, as does Carlson, and Thomas is speedier than adequate.

WHAT IS THE LIKELY REALITY?

If a couple of the regular outfielders don’t pan out, second baseman Tommy Edman could come into play. Edman has made many starts in right or left in his career, but none in center.

Carlson could hit second but probably will start out seventh. Williams/Dean/Thomas probably will hit eighth, as Bader would have. O’Neill seems ready to hit fifth or even fourth.

The outfielders don’t have to produce a lot ... but they do have to produce something to make this a complete lineup.

Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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