ST. LOUIS -- This is the second of a seven-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. Last week, we took a look at the catching position. Up next: corner infielders.
A year after moving Matt Carpenter to third base and offering Matt Adams his first chance as an everyday Major League player, the Cardinals prepare to enter 2015 with the two returning as lineup linchpins and corner-infield anchors.
While Carpenter is more firmly entrenched in the Cardinals' long-term plans, Adams hopes to prove himself capable of being discussed in that same breath. That will hinge particularly on his ability to hit left-handed pitching, something that he still has yet to conquer at this level.
Despite an offseason of work dedicated to having him ready to face lefties, Adams had little success until the National League Division Series, when he had a pair of key hits against the best left-handed pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) in the game. However, Adams' regular-season numbers -- .190/.231/.298 with six extra-base hits and 36 strikeouts in 121 at-bats against lefties -- were enough of a concern to warrant the Cardinals' search for a platoon partner this winter.
The club found that in Mark Reynolds, who will add experience, power and a right-handed bat to complement Adams in case Adams can't improve in his production against lefties. Reynolds won't necessarily take those at-bats away from Adams immediately, but the Cardinals thought the coverage was critical enough to commit a $2 million base salary to the free-agent first baseman. Xavier Scruggs is another internal option at the position.
What remains most intriguing about Adams, though, is that natural power potential. Playing for a team that ranked last in home runs a year ago, Adams has the capability to lead the Cardinals in that area. Of course, that would require he do enough to warrant continued everyday at-bats.
Though perhaps underappreciated for his defense, Adams did emerge as one of the best first basemen in the field last year. His steadiness netted him a Defensive Runs Saved of eight, third highest among National League first basemen.
There are fewer questions across the diamond, where Carpenter readies for his third straight season as a starting position player. The only true unknown is where he'll be hitting, as the Cardinals do have the flexibility to move him down in the order if desired.
There is hesitancy to mess with something that has worked, though, as Carpenter has shown incredible value at the top of the lineup. Since the start of 2013, only Shin Soo-Choo has a better on-base percentage than Carpenter's .386 mark among leadoff hitters. No one in the NL has more hits than the 361 Carpenter has tallied in two years.
Carpenter started 155 games in 2014, and the Cardinals would be thrilled to see him approach that total again. Behind him, they'll have Reynolds and likely one other utility infielder (Ty Kelly, Dean Anna, Pete Kozma or Greg Garcia) who emerges from a Spring Training competition.