Fantasy Baseball Team Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

grichuk15

There certainly aren’t many guarantees in life with the exception of death and taxes, but try telling that to a St. Louis Cardinals fan. In 2015 the Cardinals led the majors with 100 regular season wins on their way to winning arguably the toughest division in baseball, in the National League Central. The Cards led the NL Central for 175 straight days before clinching the division crown in September. It was the fifth consecutive season and sixth time in seven years that the Cards made the playoffs. The only thing that changed for the Cards in 2015 was that they failed to win a postseason series for the first time since 2009. Considering the Cardinals lofty standards last year was a disappointing season based on how it ended after losing three out of four games versus the surging Chicago Cubs. Things won’t get any easier in 2016 for the club considering they’re in a division that is loaded with talent.

In the offseason, Cardinals die-hard fans had to deal with the departure of Jason Heyward and John Lackey to their arch rival Chicago Cubs. To offset the losses of both players the Cards did very little over the winter to improve their chances of repeating as division champs. They lost out on landing lefty ace David Price and failed to lock down highly coveted free agents Chris Davis and Johnny Cueto. The Cardinals also failed to make any worthwhile trades similar to the Heyward deal the previous winter. So how will the offseason inactivity affect the Cardinals in 2016? Despite their failure to catch a big fish they still have a talented core of players and a good farm system to work with so they will remain competitive. Just remember that it’s the Cards we’re talking about and they always seem to find a way to put themselves in a position to make a deep postseason run. The smart money is on the Cards finding a way like they always do to play into October.

AL East

AL Central AL West NL East NL Central NL West

Baltimore

Chicago WS Houston Atlanta Chicago

Arizona

Boston

Cleveland Los Angeles A Miami Cincinnati Colorado

New York Y

Detroit

Oakland New York M Milwaukee

Los Angeles D

Tampa Bay

Kansas City Texas Philadelphia Pittsburgh

San Diego

Toronto Minnesota Seattle Washington St. Louis

San Francisco

Key Additions: Jedd Gyorko (2B), Rueben Tejada (SS), Brayan Pena (C), and Seung-hwan Oh (RP) and Mike Leake (RHP).

Key Losses: Jason Heyward (OF), Jon Jay (OF), Mark Reynolds (1B), Steve Cishek (RHP), John Lackey (RHP), Matt Belisle (RHP), Randy Choate (LHP), and Carlos Villanueva (RHP).

Projected Lineup

  1. Matt Carpenter – 3B
  2. Stephen Piscotty – RF
  3. Matt Holliday – LF
  4. Randall Grichuk – CF
  5. Matt Adams – 1B (vs. RHP) Brandon Moss (vs. LHP)
  6. Kolten Wong – 2B
  7. Yadier Molina – C
  8. Jedd Gyorko – SS

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter is a top-5 third baseman and extra-base machine. (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Carpenter is a top-5 third baseman and extra-base machine. (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

Perennial All-Star Cardinals third baseman, Matt Carpenter, has been rock solid since breaking out in 2013. In that magical season Carpenter finished fourth in National League MVP voting after leading the majors with 199 hits, 55 doubles, and 126 runs scored. After regressing in every category in 2014, Carpenter took a more aggressive approach at the dish in 2015 and the results were better than anyone expected. Carpenter blasted a career-high 28 dinger’s last year after only hitting 25 homers total in the previous three seasons combined. He also set a career-high with 84 RBIs while scoring over 100 runs for the second time in the past three years. In addition, Carpenter was a doubles machine leading the majors in that department with 44. Carpenter managed to put up these monster numbers despite leading off for the majority of the season. Needless to say Carpenter silenced all his doubters while proving that his 2013 season wasn’t a fluke. In the fantasy world Carpenter is a rock solid second-tier player at his position after the likes of Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado. His current ADP is sitting at 56 overall on FantasyPros making him a player to target at the hot corner in the fifth or sixth round of your drafts.

Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Piscotty wasn’t really on anyone’s radar last year until he finally got an opportunity for regular playing time after the injury to Matt Adams. In the second half Piscotty played in 63 games for the Cards and during his short stint he established himself as one of the club’s keys of the future. It was a small sample size but in 256 plate appearances Piscotty mashed 26 extra-base hits, including seven home runs. In the minors Piscotty displayed average power but like Carpenter was known more for being a gap power hitter. Piscotty displayed more pop last year launching a career-high 18 home runs between Triple-A and the majors. Piscotty is still only 25 so if he bulks up he likely has room for growth in the power department, possibly topping out with 20-homer upside. He has good on-base skills as his .359 OBP indicates and even if his power doesn’t improve he offers a decent floor with a respectable batting average while hitting in a lineup that will allow him to score plenty of runs. Piscotty is also versatile having played all three outfield positions as well as first base. He’s an interesting late round target for fantasy owners looking for a cheap outfielder option given his current ADP of 186 overall on FantasyPros.

Randall Grichuk

Randal Grichuk proved that he belonged in the big leagues in 2015.(Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports)

Randal Grichuk proved that he belonged in the big leagues in 2015.(Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports)

It’s possible that the Cardinals made Jason Heyward expendable due to the emergence of Randall Grichuk last year. Grichuk is very talented and appears to be have established himself as a potential long-term contributor for the Cardinals. The former first-round draft pick of the Angels came over in the David Freese trade in 2013, but at the time seemed more like a throw-in player in the deal. Grichuk dealt with a laundry list of injuries to begin the year including foot, elbow, and groin problems. After finally getting healthy Grichuk came up on May 16th and hit the ground running. He quickly seized a starting role with the club and finished the season with a ridiculous 47 extra-base hits in just 103 games and 350 plate appearances. Grichuk displayed off-the-charts power hitting 17 homers in only a half-season worth of at-bats. His power is his best attribute but with his big hacks comes a sky-high strikeout rate at 31.4 percent. Grichuk has holes in his swing so don’t expect a high batting average, but assuming he plays a full season he has 30-homer upside. If you’re looking for a cheap power later in the draft look no further than Grichuk who is going outside the top 150. He’s a player you want to target in fantasy drafts and who deserves to be at the top of everyone’s sleeper list.

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday is no longer the superstar that he was early in his career with the Colorado Rockies. Holliday had been a staple of consistency and high-level production over the past decade until last year when a quad injury limited him to only 73 games. He finished his 2015 campaign with career lows in OPS, home runs, hits, RBI, and runs scored. Holliday maintained a quality average and OBP but never could get it going. Over the past two years the rapid decline has started for Holliday sapping his power and making him an afterthought for most fantasy owners. It’s hard to watch given how consistent Holliday has been over his 12-year career. It remains to be seen if he has anything left in the tank at the age of 36, but there is some optimism given his clean bill of health. Holliday is in the final year of his contract and will be playing for a contract meaning he should have plenty of extra motivation to bounce back. He’s no longer the annual 20-homer, 80 run, and 90 RBI producer he was over the past decade, but it’s possible that he has at least one more fantasy-relevant season left in him. If you believe this is possible he presents an excellent buy-low option considering he’s going outside the top 200 players in drafts. I’d rather not gamble on Holliday in standard mixed leagues due to the depth at the outfield position.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong broke out in 2014 making him everyone’s favorite sleeper pick last year. Wong was well on his way to reaching the high expectations set for him before the All-Star break hitting .280 with nine homers, 44 runs, 37 RBI, and 10 steals. During that time Wong was promoted from the bottom of the order to leadoff after his hot start, but the wheels fell off for him in the second half. It was a tale of two seasons as Wong regressed in the second half hitting only .238 with two homers, 27 runs, 24 RBIs, and only five steals. He was promptly demoted back to the bottom of the order where he finished the season. Wong’s disappointing 2015 season left a sour taste in the mouths of his fantasy owners. In his case it’s pretty clear, if he’s hitting near the top of the order he’ll produce and hold substantial fantasy value. On the other hand if he’s struggling and buried at the bottom of the order he’s not rosterable in standard size mixed leagues. So which Wong will we see in 2016? If the first-half version of Wong shows up he’s got 20/20 upside and will be valuable in all formats. I’d be willing to bet on a player with the power-speed potential that Wong possesses because if he finds his swing he’s easily a top 10 player at his position.

Jedd Gyorko

Jedd Gyorko was aquired by the Cardinals in the offseason in a trade with the San Diego Padres. He was originally expected to play a part-time utility role and add some pop to the team. This all changed when starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta broke his thumb this spring. The injury will keep Peralta out until the All-Star break and opens the door for Jedd Gyorko to get regular playing time at shortstop. Jedd is about as streaky as they come but possesses plus power at a power-starved position. In 2015 Gyorko got off to a slow start and was demoted to Triple-A El Paso. He found his swing and when he returned to the Padres he looked like the hitter that smacked 23 homers in 2013 as a rookie. In the second half Gyorko cut down on his strikeouts and ranked second among second basemen in homers (13) and RBIs (43). Gyorko will never hit for a decent average but has 30-homer upside if he can improve his contact rate. The change of scenery and guaranteed playing time should help him blossom entering the prime of his career at age 27. Gyorko is worth a late round flier given his power upside and dual-eligibility at second base and shortstop.

Projected Rotation

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. Jaime Garcia
  4. Carlos Martinez
  5. Mike Leake

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright is motivated to show everyone he's still an ace in 2016. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Adam Wainwright is motivated to show everyone he’s still an ace in 2016. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

The Cardinals were without their ace Adam Wainwright last year after he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon running out of the batter’s box in April. Wainwright is as competitive as they come and rehabbed diligently all summer in order to make it back with the team in October. Wainwright made a miraculous recovery and pitched in relief during the postseason, making six appearances. The three-time 19-game winner has lost some velocity over the past few seasons due to his heavy workload.  Last year in limited action he averaged less than 90 mph on his fastball. It’s unlikely that Wainwright will regain the velocity he once had but he could be one of the better value picks if he regains his excellent control and stays healthy. Wainwright might not have the heater to consistently generate whiffs; he still possesses one of the best curveballs in the game. He also has the ability to induce a lot of ground balls behind a strong defense which should help keep his ERA and WHIP on par with his career averages. I wouldn’t recommend counting on Wainwright as your SP1 or SP2 but he’s an excellent third starter in your rotation.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha was borderline unhittable out of the gate starting last year with a 7-0 record and 1.87 ERA in his first nine starts. Wacha made 30 starts for the first time in his career while pitching a career-high 181.1 innings. He was phenomenal in the first half going 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA. Wacha faded in the second half and wasn’t quite as effective going 7-4 with a 4.01 ERA. These splits are misleading considering that Wacha had a terrible September posting a 7.88 ERA while allowing seven home runs. I’d chalk it up to normal fatigue after Wacha ran out of gas due to the heavy workload. Wacha has the stuff to be an elite starter and proved that in the first half of last year. His K rate isn’t elite (7.59 K/9) but he’s shown flashes and is still very young and talented. I’d recommend cashing in on his discounted price tag due to his late-season struggles. If Wacha returns to his first half form and doesn’t wear down in the second half he could easily finish in the top 20 this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with better numbers than Wainwright when it’s all said and done.

Jaime Garcia

After missing most of 2013 and 2014 seasons southpaw Jaime Garcia finally rewarded Cardinals’ fans last year by starting 20 games. Spending time on the shelf is nothing new for Garcia who has made eight career stints on the DL. Despite numerous shoulder surgeries Garcia hasn’t experienced any drop in velocity. When healthy, he’s a good pitcher capable of generating a high groundball rate and solid source of whiffs. In 2015 Garcia went 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a 97 strikeouts in 129.2 innings pitched. By utilizing a deep arsenal that included a tailing fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, and a plus changeup, he generated 61 percent ground balls. Garcia is the perfect pitcher to target late but he comes with the baked in risk of going down at any time. If you like to gamble at the casino Garcia is your kind of player who will produce when he toe’s the rubber. The question with owning Garcia will always remain the same and that’s always how long will his arm hold up? Don’t expect a full season from Garcia but he’s useful enough to be owned in all mixed leagues.

Carlos Martinez

Can Carlos Martinez become a top-25 pitcher in 2016?

Can Carlos Martinez become a top-25 pitcher in 2016?

Martinez has elite velocity and was lights out after being moved from the bullpen to the Cards starting rotation last year. Last year Martinez pitched a career-high 179.2 innings posting 14 wins, 184 strikeouts, and a 3.01 ERA. Martinez sports an electric mid-90s fastball that can get close to triple digits in addition to a plus slider and change-up. At 24 Martinez is just scratching the surface and has the look of the Cardinals next ace. The only thing holding Martinez back from reaching the next level is the possibility of an injury. Martinez is worth the gamble on draft day since his ceiling is through the stratosphere and because he’€™s got 200-strikeout potential. He’s an ace in waiting and I truly believe the wait will be over in 2016. I made a strong case for Carlos Martinez in FakePigskin’s Top 25 Starting Pitcher column by the 60 Feet and 6 Inches crew so check it out. Take my advice to draft Martinez in all of your leagues and you will thank me later.

Mike Leake

After being traded from the Reds to Giants last year at the trade deadline Leake signed a five-year $80 million contract with the Cardinals. It was most likely a panic move after losing John Lackey to free agency and Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery in the offseason. Leake has been durable over his career making 30-plus starts four seasons in a row.  At  the age of 28 he’s only had one minor arm problem. Leake’s nothing special but is a reliable innings eater who survives on good control and modest strikeout rates. If he can generate more groundballs and cut back on home runs allowed he could put up a very solid season in St. Louis. In fantasy his roto value is limited due to his low strikeout rate (5.58 K/9) but he can be of value in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only leagues. He’s a better real life player than fantasy player who should provide the Cards a reliable mid-rotation starter.

Closer

Trevor Rosenthal

Rosenthal is locked and loaded as a top-5 closer. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

Rosenthal is locked and loaded as a top-5 closer. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

In his second season as the Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal enjoyed his best season of his career, earning an All-Star berth. Rosenthal recorded a career-best 2.10 ERA and 48 saves. By regaining his control he managed to cut back on the amount of free passes by 2 fewer batters per nine. When Rosenthal is dialed in he’s downright filthy and one of the most reliable closers in the game. It helps that he’s only given up five home runs over the last two years. When the smoke cleared from a 100-win season Rosenthal finished second in saves (48), eighth in strikeouts (83) and seventh in ERA (2.10) among closers. At 25 years old Rosenthal is well on his way to becoming one of the top closers in the game with 96 career saves. His fastball hits triple-digits and secondary offering is a plus changeup. Rosenthal is entrenched as the Cardinals closer and has just about as long of a lease as anyone at his position. He’s primed for another top-5 fantasy finish easily making him one of the first five closers off the board on draft day.

Prospect Watch

Alex Reyes – RHP

Alex Reyes is the Cardinals top prospect and has some of the most electric stuff in the minor leagues. Reyes dominated hitters in the Florida State League during the first half of last season posting a 2.26 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 62.2 innings. He struggled with control walking 4.4 batters per nine innings over that span but the good outweighed the bad helping him earn a promotion to Double-A in late July. He continued to mow down minor league hitters in the Texas League striking out 52 batters in 34.2 innings while posting a 3.12 ERA. Reyes money pitch is the triple-digit heater but his arsenal also includes a sick 12-to-6 curveball that generates lots of whiffs (career 11.9 K/9). The only real problem is that Reyes failed a drug test and will begin the 2016 season by serving a 50-game suspension for smoking weed. When he returns rest assured that he’ll be smoking his fastball past hitters. If you can stash a high-upside minor league arm on your bench Reyes is right up there with the Glasnow’s and Giolito’s of the world in terms of athleticism, size, and power arsenal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>