The outfield was a problem for the St. Louis Cardinals last season. Harrison Bader posted an above average offensive season, but was inconsistent, while Tyler O’Neill hit well below the Mendoza line, and Dexter Fowler did not offer much in right field while Dylan Carlson struggled upon making his MLB debut. However, the early results of the Cardinals outfield in Spring Training are encouraging.
To begin with, Tyler O’Neill is raking. The Cardinals’ starting left fielder last season has hit a pair of opposite field home runs in his first 18 at-bats, while also batting .389 with an OPS of 1.199. The most encouraging part of his start, is that both of his home runs were hit to the opposite field. Both of his home runs came on pitches that were on the outer half of the plate, and it is good that he was able to hit them to the opposite field, instead of try to pull them and not hit the ball square. Additionally, O’Neill’s second home run came off what looked to be a slider from Joe Smith, which is encouraging since he posted just a .258 wOBA and a 41.2% whiff rate against breaking pitches last season.
If O’Neill can improve hit bat control and his eye at the plate, then he could tap into his power more frequently. It appears he has made some improvements this season, but it is still early and he has had just 18 at-bats. Thus, it will take more time to see if O’Neill has truly become a better hitter.
Additionally, Lane Thomas is off to a strong start this spring as he is batting .294 with a .721 OPS and some strong plays in the field. He currently looks to be O’Neill’s main competition in left field, although it seems that O’Neill will get the first crack at the starting job. Additionally, Austin Dean is also hitting well (.316 BA, .771 OPS) as he competes for a job in St. Louis this season.
The outfielders that are not hitting well are Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, and Justin Williams. It is important to note that it is still early, and that Spring Training results do not really mean much. However, both Williams and Carlson have hit a couple of balls hard while Bader has had just 10 at-bats and, encouragingly, has only struck out once.
The early returns from this positional group have been solid, and this is a group that the Cardinals need to perform well. Last season the Cardinals did not get much offensive production from its outfield. However, if the Cardinals could get more production from the outfield in 2021, then the team would be in a good position, especially after adding Nolan Arenado.
As a whole, this group needs to reduce its strikeouts and make better contact. This is something that Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader have struggled with, and Dylan Carlson struggled with last season. Of the projected starting outfield in 2021, Tyler O’Neill had the best strikeout rate in 2020 (27.4%). This is something that needs to improve. The Cardinals outfield cannot strike out in nearly 30% of its plate appearances this season if it wants to provide solid production. There is plenty of power in the bats of O’Neill, Bader, and Carlson, and by making more contact, they would become more dangerous hitters.
This is something to watch as Spring Training continues, but so far, the Cardinals outfield is looking stronger than last year.