JUPITER, Fla. -- On the eve of the Cardinals' official spring report date for pitchers and catchers, the club's Jupiter complex is already teeming with activity. Players arrived early to get a head start on their season preparations, and the staff has been busy at work doing their best to script how the next six weeks will unfold.
The Cardinals come into camp with much already determined. The club filled its only glaring hole in the field with a November deal for Jason Heyward and has a returning group of starting pitchers that, if healthy, could make the rotation one of the league's most formidable. But that doesn't mean that all is settled.
While the next six weeks will be dedicated to preparing players for the upcoming season grind, it will also be an opportunity for the staff to sort out roster battles and determine how the pieces will all fit together. That will begin by assimilating the new faces with the returning ones before Grapefruit League play offers a setting with which to evaluate performance.
As the Cardinals navigate through it all, here are three prominent questions that they'll be looking to answer in advance of Opening Day:
1. What will be the look of the five-man rotation by the time the Cardinals break camp?
While the Cards have a healthy number of starting pitching options, they still need affirmation on the individual health of several within that group. Michael Wacha must prove himself past a shoulder stress reaction, while Adam Wainwright will look to confirm that an offseason elbow procedure addressed a nagging injury. Jaime Garcia, somewhat forgotten because of the trouble he's had staying on the field the last two years, could reassert himself as an option with a healthy spring.
Then there is the issue of filling out the back end of the rotation. Carlos Martinez arrives as the favorite to win the fifth rotation spot, but he has to show controlled emotions and command of the strike zone. Marco Gonzales or Garcia could also factor into the rotation plans if anyone slips or has health concerns.
2. Who will emerge as the utility infielder following Daniel Descalso's departure?
This is likely to be the most notable position player battle the Cardinals will have over the next several weeks since the club's starting eight have all but been determined. While the role they're fighting for may not be glamorous, it is one that St. Louis needs filled. The club will likely do so by choosing one from a pool of four -- Pete Kozma, Dean Anna, Ty Kelly and Greg Garcia.
Kozma brings value by playing shortstop and could also benefit from being out of Minor League options. Anna and Kelly joined the organization this offseason and would both bring decent versatility. Anna opened 2014 on the Yankees' Major League roster. Kelly would offer the potential for some power on the offensive end. Garcia, too, can play across the infield and has already gotten his feet wet in St. Louis.
3. Will the lineup undergo an overhaul?
Manager Mike Matheny has noted that he will sample various lineups this spring in an effort to determine which one will best maximize the skill set of his eight position players. There will be debates about whether Matt Carpenter's best fit is in the leadoff spot, or if he could be a boost in a run-producing hole. Matt Holliday's run as the team's No. 3 hitter could continue, or perhaps the Cardinals will choose to move him down a spot in the order. Will this be the time for Kolten Wong to move from being a bottom-of-the-order hitter to a tablesetter near the top?
Much will be determined once Matheny finds his fit for Heyward, who plugged various spots in the Braves' lineup during his time in Atlanta. The simplest fit would be to use Heyward as the team's No. 2 hitter, but if Matheny chooses to make more than just a few tweaks, the right fielder could end up almost anywhere in the top two-thirds of the order. The Cardinals welcome that flexibility.