JUPITER, Fla. -- Second base and center field were the primary position battles for the St. Louis Cardinals entering spring training.
There might have been another one if prized prospect Oscar Taveras had been able to play in any early games. The 21-year-old outfielder apparently isn't confident enough in his surgically repaired right ankle to go as hard as he needs to go to compete for a job.
Taveras' first season at Triple-A Memphis short-circuited by a high ankle sprain in 2013. He sat out several weeks and tried to come back but eventually opted for surgery after having played just 46 games.
In the offseason, Taveras rehabbed the ankle and it was thought he would be ready for top speed at or near the start of camp. He wasn't.
Manager Mike Matheny said he wouldn't use Taveras until he was mentally ready to go 100 percent, and it seems the mental side is more of an issue than the physical.
"That's what we're seeing," general manager John Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch. "There is not a physical cause. It's just more human nature -- you want to pull back and not do something that you may feel is going to injure yourself.
"Originally when we came out and said he'd been cleared to do all baseball activity, he was," Mozeliak said. "And then right after that happened, he was out on the back fields, doing some running drills, and apparently did not look very good, and was quite apprehensive in the drills he was currently doing. So at that point, all of a sudden, the trend line changed a little bit.
"He hasn't had any setbacks. He hasn't re-injured himself in any way. It's really just a confidence level of pushing himself. And what our medical staff does not want to see is him doing something he's not quite ready to do mentally."
Taveras hit .306 with 32 RBIs last season. However, if he doesn't get much time in the last three weeks of the exhibition season, it would seem very likely he will start this season at Memphis, too. Matt Adams would be at first base and Allen Craig in right field in St. Louis.
"When you look at our everyday lineup right now, we have proven performers at those key positions," Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch. "So for him, it's a little bit about patience and maturity and understanding what lies ahead of him."
--RHP Trevor Rosenthal, previously held back because of a groin strain, threw batting practice without incident and was pronounced ready for the final three weeks of the exhibition schedule. After going through some fielding drills, Rosennthal said, "I had to get out there and show I wasn't limited."
--2B Kolten Wong, the Cardinals' top draft pick in 2011, continued to struggle at the plate, going hitless in his first 10 spring at-bats, but he was playing well in the field. Manager Mike Matheny meet with Wong basically to tell him to enjoy himself more and not to fight himself so much.
--SS Jhonny Peralta hit two homers in two at-bats against his former team, the Detroit Tigers, at Lakeland, Fla., "It's not because I came here that I tried to hit the ball like that," he said. "I try to hit the ball everywhere I go." Rather than trying for home runs, he merely wanted to work on his swing. "They're waiting for offense at shortstop," Peralta said.
--3B Matt Carpenter was in discussions with the Cardinals about a multiyear contract. Carpenter, who will be starting his third full season in the majors, led the National League in runs (126) and doubles (55) last year. There is precedent for him receiving a big contract. The Cardinals gave slugger Allen Craig, who had similar service time as Carpenter, a five-year, $31 million deal last year.
--RHP Jason Motte, rebounding from Tommy John elbow surgery performed last May 7, is participating in normal throwing sessions and is reporting no pain. He had yet to face hitters, but that was expected to occur early in the week of March 10-16.
--LHP Kevin Siegrist (soreness in left side) skipped what would have been his third bullpen session in mid-February. Siegrist said he was "not overly concerned" by the discomfort. He made his spring training debut March 2, throwing a scoreless inning against the Mets.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's almost like he can look right into a hitter's soul." -- RHP Shelby Miller, on All-Star C Yadier Molina, speaking about Molina's ability to call a game from behind the plate.
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Michael Wacha
LHP Jaime Garcia
RHP Shelby Miller
RHP Lance Lynn
Wainwright, a 19-game winner last year, is the acknowledged leader of this young staff. Other than Garcia, who missed much of last season after shoulder surgery, the rotation could consist of two second-year pitchers in Miller and Wacha and a third-year starter in Lynn.
Right-hander Joe Kelly, who always seems to come to the rescue, will step in if Garcia is not healthy or Lynn struggles. Rookie Carlos Martinez, who was the eighth-inning man in the postseason last year, will be conditioned as a starter this spring, too, and might end up there if Jason Motte, the former closer who is coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, is ready at, or near, the start of the season.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal (closer)
RHP Carlos Martinez
RHP Jason Motte
RHP Joe Kelly
RHP Seth Maness
LHP Kevin Siegrist
LHP Randy Choate
Rosenthal emerged as the closer in the last month of the 2013 season after veteran Edward Mujica faltered. Motte, the 2012 closer and who threw the final pitch of the 2011 World Series, will be back early in the season after having had Tommy John elbow surgery last May but, when he returns, it likely will be as the eighth-inning man. Martinez, outstanding in the 2013 postseason, will be penciled in as the setup man so far although he will be conditioned as a starter this spring just in case Motte is ahead of schedule.
1. 3B Matt Carpenter
2. CF Jon Jay or Peter Bourjos
3. LF Matt Holliday
4. RF Allen Craig
5. C Yadier Molina
6. 1B Matt Adams
7. SS Jhonny Peralta
8. 2B Kolten Wong or Mark Ellis
The Cardinals should boast considerably more base-stealing potential this year if Bourjos and Wong receive ample playing time. The Cardinals had just 45 steals last year. Peralta, signed as a free agent from Detroit, will provide more pop at shortstop, where there was little thunder last season. Matt Adams, who had 17 home runs in roughly a half season's worth of at-bats, will be the regular first baseman unless rookie Oscar Taveras has a big spring and wins a job as the right fielder, which would move Allen Craig back to first base and Adams back to part-time status.
TOP ROOKIES: RF Oscar Taveras, 22, had his fast track to the majors cut short by an ankle injury that required surgery last season when he hit .306 in 46 games for Triple-A Memphis. But he could gain a regular job this year. 2B Kolten Wong, who hit .303 at Memphis with 20 steals in 21 tries before failing in a late-season trial, should emerge as the regular at second base unless he stumbles this spring. OF Stephen Piscotty, a fast-rising 22-year-old Stanford product, hit 15 home runs and batted .295 in Class A and Double-A and might not spend much time at Triple-A. He could be a right-handed-hitting force off the bench later in the season.
--LHP Jaime Garcia (left shoulder surgery in May 2013) might not be ready for the start of the regular season.
--RHP Jason Motte (right elbow surgery in May 2013) was expected to throw to hitters in mid-March. He is on target for a return in late April or perhaps sooner.
--OF Oscar Taveras (sore right ankle) had not played in a spring game through March 6.
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