As Cardinals open camp, Tommy Edman’s health will be key spring storyline

JUPITER, Fla. — Spring training is a time of year usually reserved for standard clichés and catch phrases. Perhaps no word is used more often than competition, as players, coaches and executives attempt to describe their spring intentions.

This season in St. Louis Cardinals land, things are a bit different. As pitchers and catchers officially reported to Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday morning, much of the presumed Opening Day roster seems easy to piece together. The rotation shouldn’t be a surprise, the infield corners are set and at least five bullpen spots are all but claimed. However, where the Cardinals could run into trouble — as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak explained — is factoring in health.

“I think the biggest thing for us is really going to be our health,” Mozeliak said Wednesday morning. “When you look at our every day club, we have a pretty good idea of what that’s going to look like. But there are some health question marks as we enter this camp.”

Now, injury concerns are not unique to St. Louis, of course. In fact, every team is likely to cite player health as some sort of early apprehension as baseball begins to ramp up over the next week. But for the Cardinals, the health status of Tommy Edman is bigger than just one roster spot.

After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist last October, Edman’s usual spring training routine will be delayed this year. Just how long remains to be seen. Edman initially expressed optimism that he would be ready for Opening Day — slated for March 28 against the Los Angeles Dodgers — but his spring campaign will have the final say. Given his defensive versatility (including the promise he showed as a legitimate center fielder last year) how the Cardinals deploy him as a switch-hitter, and his overall importance in regards to the organization’s roster construction, starting the year without Edman would be considered a major blow.

“We still have a decent amount of time before we open up (the season) so you do have to make sure you’re progressing through that properly,” manager Oli Marmol said. “(Edman) is limited at the moment. We’ll continue to monitor his process. As we get closer to breaking camp, we’ll see how close he is to taking at-bats and feeling comfortable in the box and we’ll go from there, but it’s too early to tell at the moment.”

Edman, who signed a two-year, $16.5 million contract to carry through his remaining years of arbitration in January, has been cleared to do some baseball activities. However both his throwing and hitting programs are likely to take most of, if not all of spring to complete. While Edman was one of the first position players to report to camp last week, his workload will be impacted by his recovery progress, especially early on in the spring.

The Cardinals had planned for Edman to be the team’s Opening Day center fielder dating to November, and while Edman was optimistic about being cleared to play by then when asked in March, nothing will be official until the spring is through. In an ideal world, St. Louis would slot Edman in at center field and hand over the keys to the starting shortstop job to Masyn Winn, leaving Dylan Carlson as the reserve center fielder, and Edman as the reserve shortstop.

For now however, the Cardinals will give playing time to an array of players while Edman rehabs.

“Tommy is going to be limited,” Marmol reiterated. “Masyn, we’re going to see a decent amount of him at short and then there’s a combination of guys who can fill in (in the outfield).”

Of those options, Carlson is the logical favorite to see the most reps in center field. He is coming off season-ending ankle surgery, but is not expected to be hindered this spring. Intriguing prospect Victor Scott II, who will be in big league camp after earning a non-roster invite, will see extensive playing time once games begin as well. Brendan Donovan, who missed the second half of last season after undergoing flexor tendon surgery in his left elbow, is clear to return to game action, but Marmol would prefer to play Donovan at one position (second base) for the first few weeks of spring as he ramps up his throwing arm. Keeping Donovan, who can play all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots, out of the outfield for now clears more playing time for Alec Burleson, who is expected to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Thomas Saggese, another exciting prospect, will also see time around the diamond.

Using Carlson in center field is the blueprint if Edman is not cleared to play by Opening Day, but that blueprint is only solid if 21-year-old Winn can solidify his offense to win the shortstop job outright. Winn spent the offseason fine-tuning his swing and reported early to camp alongside Jordan Walker, who spent the offseason in Jupiter. There is virtually no question about Winn’s defense, but the Cardinals would like to see more consistency from Winn’s bat before promoting him to the shortstop job full-time. If Edman’s recovery stretches into the regular season, the team can use Donovan as a back-up shortstop behind Winn, but if Winn struggles the Cardinals will find themselves in a bind early.

Still, with seven weeks remaining until the regular season, there is no use panicking on Day 1.

“There is some uncertainty in what our everyday lineup will look like when we get to Opening Day,” Mozeliak acknowledged. “Now over the next couple of weeks or month, we should have more clarity in that. But I do think there are guys today that over the next three or four weeks will have a lot of opportunity to show where they’re at.”

(Photo of Edman: Rick Ulreich / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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