HomeMLB RumorsCardinals Notes: Gray, Middleton, Center Field

Cardinals Notes: Gray, Middleton, Center Field

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New Cardinals ace Sonny Gray will throw in a “simulated pregame situation” on Sunday as he works his way back from a hamstring strain, according to John Denton of MLB.com. If all goes well, Gray could be ready to pitch in the team’s opening series against the Dodgers from March 28-31. However, manager Oliver Marmol told Denton that he has not yet decided on his Opening Day starter. That suggests the skipper isn’t optimistic about Gray’s availability for the very first game of the season.

The AL Cy Young runner-up in 2023, Gray signed a three-year, $75 million deal with St. Louis this winter to be the club’s new No. 1 starter. If he were at full strength right now, there would be no questions as to who would take the ball on Opening Day. Ultimately, however, the Cardinals won’t care who makes the symbolic game one start as long as Gray is healthy enough for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

In a much less positive injury update, right-hander Keynan Middleton will be shut down for 10 days as he nurses a forearm strain in his pitching arm (first reported by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). While Gray was the Cardinals’ biggest free agent acquisition for the rotation, Middleton was their biggest free agent acquisition for the bullpen. As Marmol told Lynn Worthy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this “will obviously set [Middleton] back several weeks,” essentially guaranteeing that he will start the year on the IL. According to Katie Woo of The Athletic, St. Louis plans to be without the righty for at least the first two weeks of the season.

Middleton was a strong middle reliever for the White Sox and Yankees last year, pitching 50 2/3 innings and putting up a 3.38 ERA. He has spent time on the IL in almost every season of his career, and 2023 was no exception; he missed most of September with a shoulder injury. Still, his 51 appearances were his most in a season since his 2017 rookie campaign. He also posted a career-high 30.2% strikeout rate (his previous career average was 22.1%), a career-high 56.6% groundball rate (his previous career average was 32.9%), and ranked among the top 10% of pitchers in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant. As a result, he finished with a 3.71 xERA, the lowest of his career.

While the Cardinals will hope Middleton doesn’t miss too much of the regular season, they will have to consider new bullpen options in his place. Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Kittredge, and JoJo Romero are locks for the Opening Day roster, while Andre Pallante is a safe bet as well. After those five names, Denton mentions Riley O’Brien, Nick Robertson, and Rule 5 draft selection Ryan Fernandez as contenders for the final three spots in the ’pen. Woo suggests the team has also considered a six-man rotation, which would mean running with a seven-man bullpen.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals have a decision to make in center field. As Tommy Edman continues to deal with pain in his wrist after offseason surgery, he will not be on the Opening Day roster. Dylan Carlson might have seemed like the obvious choice to fill in for Edman, but Marmol told Denton that the starting job in center field is still up for grabs. Carlson is a contender, but so are prospects Victor Scott II and Michael Siani.

Scott is the No. 83 prospect in baseball, according to both Baseball America and FanGraphs. He boasts incredible speed and plays phenomenal center field defense. Siani has a similar skill set but doesn’t have the same upside, which could end up helping his case to win the job; the Cardinals will be less inclined to rush Scott to the major leagues. Siani also has an edge because he is already on the 40-man roster. Carlson has better offensive abilities than either of the rookies, but he’s coming off a disappointing season at the plate. Moreover, while he is a capable defensive outfielder, both Scott and Siani have elite defensive potential. If Marmol isn’t convinced Carlson can figure things out at the dish, he might prefer to prioritize defense up the middle.


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