With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com takes a look at a different aspect of this year's Cardinals squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals like to conjure up spring competition, believing that giving players positions or roles to fight for enhances the focus and intensity of work during camp. The way the organization built its roster this offseason, however, doesn't lend itself to much of that competition occurring organically.
On the position player side, there's one job -- third base -- up for grabs. There will be more intrigue on the pitching end, though most of those spots can be predicted with a high level of confidence seven weeks ahead of the Cardinals' season opener.
Molina remains a pillar of this organization and, assuming he's healthy, he will make his 13th straight Opening Day start. That would tie him with Lou Brock for the most consecutive starts at a single position in franchise history. Molina, 34, started 142 games behind the plate last season, and the Cardinals have not indicated any intent to reduce that workload this season.
First base:Matt Carpenter
Carpenter, who has been the Cardinals' Opening Day third baseman for four consecutive seasons, is poised to make his season debut across the diamond this year. Carpenter made 35 starts at first last season, but this will be the first time he enters the year with that being his primary position. He's also poised to take a new spot in the batting order after years as a leadoff hitter.
Second base:Kolten Wong
Though Wong's 2016 season was interrupted by inconsistencies and a midseason demotion, the Cardinals have reaffirmed their commitment to him as part of their efforts to stabilize the infield defense. While the Cardinals are hopeful that Wong can make strides at the plate, the bigger emphasis will be on consistent play in the field.
Diaz was the Cardinals' surprise emergence last season, and he's the team's permanent shortstop now. The Cardinals are counting on defensive improvements from the 26-year-old, and he'll likely slot back in as the team's No. 2 hitter. Last season, Diaz became the first Cardinal since Albert Pujols to be named an All-Star in his rookie season.
Third base:Jhonny Peralta, Jedd Gyorko
As far as positional competitions, this will be the one to watch in spring. Peralta, who is entering the final season of a four-year contract, was bypassed at short by Diaz and is now trying to reassert himself as a third baseman. Gyorko, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which he led the Cardinals with 30 home runs while filling in at a variety of infield positions. The two will jockey for playing time as soon as camp opens.
Starting outfield:Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty
Fowler will anchor the new-look outfield and take over as the team's leadoff hitter after signing a five-year contract in December. Piscotty returns to right field for a second full season and will likely slot into the cleanup spot. Grichuk, on the heels of a tumultuous 2016, will shift to left field, where he profiles as an above-average defender.
Bench:Matt Adams, Greg Garcia, Tommy Pham, Eric Fryer
Fryer, a non-roster invitee, is likely to open the year as Molina's backup since the Cardinals would prefer to give top catching prospect Carson Kelly regular playing time in the Minors. Adams no longer has a starting spot, but he can be a valuable piece off the bench. Garcia is out of options and would offer needed defensive versatility. Pham will slot in as the team's fourth outfielder.
Rotation:Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake
The first four on this list have solid spots in the rotation, as long as each gets through spring without any injury issues. Lynn is 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery and is not expected to be inhibited in camp. Wainwright and Leake are seeking bounce-back seasons, while Martinez is looking to build upon a breakout one. Alex Reyes showed late last season that he is ready to be in a big league rotation, but he was sideliend this spring by season-ending elbow surgery. Michael Wacha to start the year there. If Wacha can convince the Cardinals that his shoulder is strong and stable again, he could nudge his way back into this mix.
Bullpen:Seung Hwan Oh, Brett Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Bowman, Jonathan Broxton, Wacha
Oh returns as closer, while lefties Cecil and Siegrist are expected to slot in as the team's primary setup men. Bowman, a Rule 5 player last year, is the bullpen's ground-ball specialist, and Broxton is its experienced veteran. Rosenthal, who spent two months on the disabled list in 2016, will make multiple-inning appearances this spring as he seeks to find a new fit in the 'pen. That final spot could go to Wacha, if the Cardinals believe a bullpen role is what's best for his health. Others like Sam Tuivailala or Miguel Socolovich, who is out of options, could also receive strong consideration.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.