With Opening Day just under three weeks away and the roster beginning to take shape, the St. Louis Cardinals will hit the regular season with few question marks regarding who will be on the MLB club. One of these question marks is who will be their fourth outfielder. The starting trio of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty is locked in. Fowler and Piscotty are firmly in place for the season, and Grichuk will get every opportunity to hold on to his spot. Behind these three, it will be either Jose Martinez or Tommy Pham who ends up on the Opening Day roster.
Predicting The St. Louis Cardinals Fourth Outfielder in 2017
This spring, Martinez has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Cardinals. Martinez was a late season call-up last season, and did well in his limited time. He started only four games, all in the outfield, and had seven hits, including one double, through 18 plate appearances.
Martinez came in to camp stronger this year, hoping to crack the roster out of spring training, and he is certainly making his case. Up to this point, he has been a highlight for St. Louis. Through 33 at bats, he’s hitting .424 with an OBP of .500. He’s also got three home runs and 10 RBI, leading the Cardinals in a number of offensive categories this spring. It is a small sample size, but his emergence this spring is worth noticing. He seems to be putting it all together at the plate right now, and could be a great depth piece for the Cards. Keeping in mind that he can play first base, too, Martinez has the potential to be an important player for this team if he makes the roster.
The other candidate for the Cardinals’ fourth outfield spot is Tommy Pham. Pham got his first extensive stint in the big-leagues in 2015, when he was promoted mid-season and showed his worth. He started 35 games through the end of the season, and finished with a slashline of .268/.347/.477 while hitting five home runs to go along with seven doubles and five triples. His excellent defense made him a viable option at any spot in the OF and his combination of on-base ability and speed made him a solid top-of-the-order hitter for the second half of the season. He even came through with a key home run in game one of the 2015 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs.
Come 2016, Pham saw himself hitting second and starting in left field in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He injured his oblique in that game and missed a large chunk of games to start the season. He spent some time in Triple-A Memphis once healthy, before eventually rejoining St. Louis. Although he did not replicate his 2015 success (he slashed .226/.324/.440 and hit nine homers in 2016), he still remained a solid fill-in option, and started a number of games due to Grichuk’s struggles and injury problems for the Cardinals. That being said, Pham only started one game over the final month of the season, and did not contribute in a very meaningful way last season overall.
If healthy and playing up to his potential, Pham provides the Cardinals with a strong fielder, fast runner, and a solid hitter with surprising pop at the plate. However, he struggles to stay on the field, which has been the case for his entire career. His time in the minor leagues was marred with injuries which kept him from reaching the majors for some time. However, he is still only 29, and offers the Cardinals with a dependable fourth outfielder.
This last outfield spot is an important one in St. Louis. As the Cardinals learned the hard way last season, injuries can do a lot of damage to a team at any given time, and the current Cardinals outfield has some guys who are no strangers to this fact. Grichuk has had his share of injury issues, including elbow, back and knee problems over the last couple of years. Fowler appeared in 156 games in 2015, but other than that, he only has one season where he has played in over 135. If either of these guys (or Piscotty) goes down, the Cardinals need insurance behind them. Somebody will need to step up and fill that spot. Further, Grichuk, although given a renewed vote of confidence to be the team’s everyday left fielder, has struggled over the course of his young career with inconsistency. The potential is there for him to be outstanding, but as we saw last season, he may not be the most reliable option. This means that the fourth outfielder could have to fill in more than normal, sharing the load with Grichuk to provide more consistent offense.
The fact that Pham has been with the Cardinals each of the last two seasons means that he came into spring training the front-runner for this spot. While Martinez’s play has opened up the door for some discussion, Pham still likely has the upper hand in this competition due to his more extensive past in the majors. The position is still Pham’s to lose, although Martinez is turning heads and closing in fast.