Spring Training – What To Be Looking For In 2012?

Your 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals are about to start their 2012 Spring Training games.  I’m not sure about you but just saying that gets me excited!  After winning the World Series you better believe every team will be looking to knock us off and put just a little more effort into doing it.  So what has happened since I was by the RF foul (or fair) pole for the last out of Game 7 of the WS?  Unless you have lived on a different planet for the past number of months you know the answer to that question is a TON!

No more TLR.

No more Pujols.

No more Dunc.

Waino is BACK!

WOW!  I’m not sure that many teams could lose 3 Hall of Famer’s after winning the WS and have a feeling they can repeat.  Well not many organizations are run as well as the St. Louis Cardinals either.  So what should we be looking for in Spring Training in 2012?  That’s what I’m here for!

First and foremost keep a close eye on our new leader.  Mike Matheny has never managed a baseball game…at any level.  That scares a lot of people…and to some degree I can understand it.  But Mike Matheny is not your normal human being.  What type of manager will he be?  How will he differ from TLR when it comes to bullpen use?  Will he use the running game more?  Will he work better with young players?  These and many other questions will take time to answer.  One thing I know for sure is we have a new leader that was a fan favorite as a player, carries himself well and seems to say all the right things.  I will keep a very close eye on him in Spring Training to see if he begins to answer any of these questions.

Secondly how will the club atmosphere be without Pujols being present?  Many said Pujols was stiff, all business and didn’t embrace other players very well.  Who knows how true that is…but one thing was sure for many years:  Pujols was the leader for better or worse.  The Cards will look for Puma, Holliday and Beltran to play that role on the hitting side this year.

Next:  How do you replace possibly the best pitching coach in the history of the game?  Enter Derek Lilliquist.  He filled in for Dunc when he was on a leave of absence late last year and players, coaches and front office staff all had good things to say about him stepping right in during a crucial stretch.  Will be interesting to see how well he works with the staff and catchers.

And Next:  Did I mention Waino is back!  How will he bounce back?  Is he fully healthy?  Will his stuff and feel for pitching take some time to come back?  I see a big year from Waino though I doubt he gets more than 180IP so it will be interesting to see how we use him throughout the year.  But let’s keep things simple in Spring Training…Ease him in, get him comfortable and most importantly keep him healthy.

The next thing I will be keeping an eye on is some of your typical Spring Training items.  Position battles, young prospects, new players, etc.  The obvious position battle to keep a close eye on is the battle for the starting 2B.  Descalso, Greene and to some degree Skip will battle it out with Greene being given the label of “It’s his to lose”.  I personally think Greene will step up and show he can be a productive MLB player…though I PRAY he has worked on his defense in the offseason.  Other Spring Training battles include a crowded bullpen with a number of very worthy pitchers.  This is a great problem to have.

How about the new additions to the ballclub?  First Cards Spring Training for Furcal will be interesting to watch.  Does his bat look like it will bounce back?  Do his legs still have something left?  I liked the Furcal signing as it gives us stability at a position we have had a a carousel of players at for years.  Always been a Furcal fan and feel he can still hit .275 and provide a spark that will energize other players.  Beltran is the other big signing and I also loved picking him up.  A switch hitter that can hit .300+ and knock 20+HR’s and play CF at least part time?  Sign me up please!

The last thing and most exciting for me is watching all the young prospects trying to make an impression on the veteran players, coaches and front office.  This is the best crop of prospects the Cards have had in my lifetime so to say there will be plenty of players to keep an eye on would be an understatement.  Miller will get the headlines but it should be telling that Matheny convinced the front office to invite Jenkins to the big league camp.  There are too many exciting guys to mention but the moral of the story is don’t blink!

Baseball is back and I couldn’t be anymore happy.  I suffer through wintertime knowing that spring is around the corner which means Cardinal baseball.  I will be fortunate to witness Spring Training live for the first time in my life this year.  I will be in Jupiter starting this Wed and getting to watch at least 3 games before coming home.  I will have a more detailed post on my observations as well as a slew of new photos.

There is only one more thing to say:  GO CARDS!!!