The day pitchers and catchers report is always a special day in the baseball community. It marks the symbolic end to the offseason, but another special day approaches this weekend to mark another step toward the birth of another baseball season.
The St. Louis Cardinals will open their exhibition schedule at 12:05 p.m. Saturday against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. That will officially mark the beginning of spring training that more fans can follow, rather than breathlessly waiting on reports of how a second baseman looked while fielding ground balls or how a pitcher looked during a bullpen session.
Admittedly, spring training games aren’t a huge step up from regular spring training workouts. Pitchers will each throw just a few innings and batters who will eventually fill the regular-season lineup will take only one or two at bats, if at all. This year’s Cardinals roster is relatively set for Opening Day, but these will still be baseball games that will gloriously fill the afternoons throughout the rest of February and March.
Some fanatics will surely try to analyze these early games and try to draw conclusions about how a pitcher such as Shelby Miller will perform this season based on a two-inning performance in the first week of March. That outing won’t mean anything in the grand scheme of a season, but hey, it gives fans something to talk about that isn’t contract negotiations or performance-enhancing drugs.
Fans also get a bonus this year because the games will start about a week earlier than normal because the World Baseball Classic will take place during the first half of March, and teams needed some extra time with their players who would be gone for a couple of weeks because of the tournament.
The Cardinals will lose catcher Yadier Molina, rightfielder Carlos Beltran and reliever Mitchell Boggs to the World Baseball Classic, but those three already have defined roles that would only change if they got hurt, which is a whole other issue that comes with the World Baseball Classic.
Otherwise, minor leaguers will fill the field for much of the spring games, but this year fans will likely recognize several of the names in those box scores.
Outfielder Oscar Taveras is one of the Cardinals most highly touted prospects. He hit .321 with 23 homeruns and 94 RBIs with the AA-affiliate Springfield Cardinals last year, and MLB Network recently ranked him as the third-best prospect in all of baseball. In fact, the Cardinals had six players make MLB Network’s list of the top 100 prospects.
Miller came in at 25th, and he will be a strong contender for the fifth spot in the Cardinals starting rotation this year. Trevor Rosenthal ranked 43rd, and he figures to be an important part of the Cardinals pitching staff in 2013.
The other three Cardinals players on the list are unlikely to make the team, but the spring training games should give fans a chance to see second baseman Kolten Wong, as well as pitchers Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, for the first time.
Folks have talked about those prospects for more than a year, and this year’s exhibition schedule should allow fans their first chance to see how excited they should be about the Cardinals No. 1-ranked minor league system.
Miller, Rosenthal and Joe Kelly will compete for the fifth and final rotation spot, and Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter will battle for the second base job. Otherwise, not much of what takes place during the 32-game schedule will have much of an effect on the Cardinals’ 2013 season.
And that’s OK. The Cardinals will be playing actual baseball games.
While temperatures in St. Louis remain in the 30s and 40s, that is good enough for now.