MLB Sports

St. Louis Cardinals breakout candidates

Cardinals

The 2018 MLB season is kicking into full gear and teams are taking shape. The St. Louis Cardinals had a rough go of things the first couple days, facing the two-headed monster in Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom. Since then though, St. Louis has begun to show more promise offensively and pitching wise.

What is special about St. Louis is their ability to find guys with that “it” factor. Something about the fairy dust they sprinkle on guys is able to work wonders for them. The only thing is that the Cardinals have now gone two years without reaching the postseason, which is only the second time it has happened since the turn of the century.

With that being said, the Cardinals are due for another postseason appearance. Seeing as they don’t have the same sort of superstars you might see on other teams, their path will be paved by guys who don’t have as big of reputations. Here is a look at some under the radar players who could make that big difference in 2018.

Jose Martinez

Cardinals
Jose Martinez may be one of the best hitters on the Cardinals in 2018 (VivaElBirdos)

Martinez is one of those guys that bounces around minor league systems for years but never is able to quite make it to the majors. That all changed last year when he finally got the chance to show his stuff in St. Louis. The 29-year-old had some sporadic appearances throughout the beginning of the season, where he made his mark as one of the best pinch hitters in the league. He really started to settle in during the summer though. He finished the year with 14 home runs and a .309 batting average. Also, he took home the NL Rookie of the month in September.

Martinez has picked up right where he left off so far this season. He may be one of the best contact hitters the Cardinals have so far, so it will be exciting to see if he is able to continue that trend.

What is also surprising about this 29-year-old sophomore is that the Cardinals already announced that Martinez will be the solidified first baseman going forward. They mentioned at the beginning of the year that Matt Carpenter will more likely be used in a “super utility role”, so you will see him being moved all over the place.

Despite being 6’7″, Martinez does not have the prototypical power you may see from a first baseman. One thing is for sure though, the guy knows how to hit. If the Cardinals are in a 9th inning situation and need a base hit to tie or win the game, Martinez may be that guy for the Redbirds.

Yairo Munoz

Cardinals
Munoz forced his way onto the Cardinals roster (STL Today)

Yairo Munoz was acquired by the Cardinals in the offseason as a part of the heartwarming Stephen Piscotty trade. While the trade certainly looked to be centered around getting Piscotty back home to be closer to his family, the Cardinals may have known what they were doing by getting Munoz.

The 23-year-old infielder made his mark in the Spring, where he may have been the best offensive performer for the Cardinals. He finished the Spring with a slash line of .323/.364/.516, along with three home runs and 10 RBIs. That performance was good enough for him to earn a spot on the Cardinals bench the begin the season.

Two years in a row now the Cardinals have had breakout infielders. In 2016 it was Aledmys Diaz, and in 2017 it was Paul DeJong. While Diaz is gone now, it certainly looks like DeJong is here to stay with his six-year contract. This presents a problem for Munoz who is looking for room in the crowded Cardinals infield.

What should be watched for is any injuries that may arise where Munoz may get an opportunity to play. If this guy gets some extended playing opportunities, he could certainly be this year’s version of Paul DeJong. Even though the power isn’t there, he is another good candidate for bringing in a high batting average.

Jordan Hicks

Similar to Munoz, Hicks performed too well in the Spring to justify the Cardinals leaving him off the opening day roster. Hicks showcased his ability to strike guys out as well as keep the walks down. What Hicks provides is the sort of late-inning power arm you see in closers these days. Many Cardinals fans were calling for him to fill in the closer role, this of course came before the signing of Holland.

With Holland in the picture now, fans shouldn’t expect to see Hicks occupying that closer role anytime soon. Seeing that Holland only signed a one year deal though, it is a good opportunity for Hicks to be groomed as a closer of the future.

What is surprising about Hicks, is that so far in 2018, he is throwing the fastball even harder than Aroldis Chapman. That may sound hard to believe, but FanGraphs breaks down the stats here. Holland is the perfect signing in this situation as he will likely be taking the ball from Hicks after the eighth inning. Either way, the Cardinals have something special in Jordan Hicks.

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