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Cardinals 2024 Projections: Catchers and Outfielders



Welcome back to my 2024 Projections, Part III here has catchers and outfielders under the microscope. Again this year, I will be looking to give you the Good, the Bad, and The Cerutti projections. The Cerutti is what my system projects for players this year. While the Good and the Bad aren’t necessarily the 90th and 10th percentile projections, respectively, or anything that mathematical. They are kind of the range I see these guys falling into with anything higher than THE GOOD or lower than THE BAD completely destroying my projection system. So to speak.


This year during my projections, like last year's, I will not be predicting playing time for each individual. Instead, this is what my system spits out for plate appearances or innings pitched, so when you see a guy in the minors (like a Chase Davis) who could likely not even sniff a major league debut in 2024, take it as just what this guy could do given the opportunity in 2024 alone, not that he will get (checks notes) 349 plate appearances in 2024 with the MLB club. Please don't take this as his ceiling either. Literally only what my system spits out for this year prior to him playing any games in the minors at all.


If you want to read more about my process than that, please refer back to the 2024 projections primer for more details.

 


Willson Contreras had quite an interesting first year with the St. Louis Cardinals. He went from largest outside free agent contract in Cardinals history, to starting quite terribly at and behind the plate, to pitchers calling him out, to actually getting benched, to finally being one of the best hitters in the entire league for the last half of the season.


Contreras' 2023 season in it's entirety was basically almost exactly what you'd have expected - a 120ish OPS+/wRC+ at the plate with some fairly mediocre defense. It was the pitching in front of him that really was the problem for the 2023 Cardinals. Unfortunately, perception is reality at times and if the pitchers perceived Contreras as a problem then he was...at least for them. It's a shame that was the case and let's hope that with everyone in camp this year it's a lot smaller issue.



As far as offensive projections go, my THE GOOD projections have him doing about what he did last year...when at 31 years old he had one of the best offensive seasons of his career. I would love to see his fifth straight full season with 20+ HR from the catcher position...but I believe he'll be getting some of these from the DH spot as we're looking at Herrera getting ~40% of the time behind the plate this year from all reporting. Speaking of Ivan Herrera...


 


Ivan Herrera will be the primary backup catcher to start the 2024 season and if all breaks well for him, he could end up being the primary catcher, period, in 2025 or even as early as late 2024. Of course, the Cardinals would love for either that to happen or for Contreras' improvement on defense and game calling / pitcher managing behind the plate to allow Herrera to ease his way in a bit more than expected.


Herrera had a 297/451/500/951 line in 375 PA in Memphis last year in conjunction with a 297/409/351/761 line in St. Louis last year (good for a 112 OPS+). He has followed that up with an incredible Caribbean Series with an OPS near 1.200 with more RBII than games played.


My projections have him with an incredibly good OBP and a SLG just higher than that with 400+ PA - a line that he would find most acceptable I'm sure even if the "Best Fans in Baseball" would scoff at his .250 projected batting average. If Herrera has these numbers this year along with Contreras' similar OPS that is built more slugging heavy, it could be the best offensive backstop combo in my lifetime (unless you just count full seasons of Yadi in 2011-2013 as a "backstop combo" all by himself.


 


Pedro Pages was added to the St. Louis Cardinals 40-man roster this offseason. Kyle Reis would be able to tell you a lot more about Pages than I, but here's what I can tell you.


Pages played all of 2023 at AA after playing AA and AAA and AFL ball in 2022. He hit decently in AA and the AFL but really struggled hitting at AAA. He then came out with his best offensive season in 2023 at AA. He is sitting at about league average age at this point so it seems with Herrera being promoted full time to the majors, Pages will get a second shot at AAA in 2024 and be the "next man up" this season at catcher were one of the top two to go down.



Obviously were any of these projections to come to pass, you'd lose a lot offensively from either of the top two catchers. If Pages has to put up even 50 plate appearances this year and they can be at the level of THE GOOD, then it'll be a huge win during that stint.


 


My projections have jumped on the Lars Nootbaar bandwagon. THE CERUTTI is basically the better OBP that Lars put up in 2023 with the better SLG that Lars put up in 2022 combined.


In addition to having the coolest name on the team, if he puts up the numbers in THE GOOD over the entire season (600+ PA), he might end up being the Cardinals best and most important player.



With a career hitting line between THE BAD and THE CERUTTI, I honestly believe that if Nootbaar stays healthy and puts up any of these three lines, that Cardinals fans should just get excited about that...but man THE GOOD really looks enticing doesn't it?

 


I'm sure if you are reading this you know the story of Tommy Edman. He came up as a (mostly) infield backup in 2019, then ended up playing a larger percentage of outfield his second year to go along with adding shortstop to his utility resume in 2020 before becoming a gold glove second baseman (who also played 30+ games in the outfield) in 2021. He then spent 2022 and 2023 playing almost all middle infield - until the end of 2023 when he began playing center field more often.


Tommy Edman is a switch hitter who has a career 117 wRC+ against left-handed pitching (as a right-handed hitter) but only has a 93 wRC+ against right-handed pitching (mostly as a left-handed hitter) While he's significantly better against left-handed pitching, Edman's bat is about league average - which you can take at 2B, SS, and CF so long as his glove is really good - which his is. Edman's Outs Above Average (OAA) is a positive at all 3 positions for his career:

  • 2B: +21 in 969 attempts

  • SS: +16 in 554 attempts

  • CF: +5 in 127 attempts



Tommy Edman's career .727 OPS is in between THE CERUTTI and THE GOOD. I don't know that you can expect that coming off of an injury like Edman. The last four years, Edman has averaged a .706 OPS - right in line with THE CERUTTI. It's .708 over the last three years (non-COVID seasons). I think that THE CERUTTI is about what to expect from him this year, maybe slightly worse as he takes over in CF - a different position than he has typically played in for the majority of his career, learning the ins and outs from Willie McGee and the rest of the staff.


 


The Cardinals need Jordan Walker to take the next step in his development - in a big way - in 2024. Whether that's because you can't expect Willson Contreras to be 2nd half 2023 Willson Contreras or whether that's because Goldy and Arenado are aging or whether that's because as good as the Cardinals offense was last year by wRC+ and OPS+ and OPS it just didn't put up the runs it should...any way you look at it, you need him to step it up as the guy with the prospect status that Walker had entering 2023.


Walker had a good rookie season batting 276/342/445/787 in St. Louis, and at the age of 21 to boot. He did it in under 500 PA and was terrible defensively. Not only do the Cardinals need him to make gigantic strides in the outfield defensively (which I believe he started to make in season last year and reportedly spent the winter doing), he could stand to be better at the plate as well and really solidify himself a middle of the order (top 5) batting spot.



My projections like the 22 year old to jump to 550-600 PA and basically have him at the minimum being who he was last year. I like him to take the next step and be THE GOOD at this point in his development. I do not personally see a sophomore slump season coming from Walker. I think he's too good and hits the ball too hard, with enough regularity, that he will not drop off. If anything, I see more like THE CERUTTI or THE BAD in the OBP department as his slugging improves to THE GOOD or better numbers. I wouldn't be shocked to see a 270/345/485/830 type of line out of him this year as he lets the power play with pull side fly balls more often. This might lead to a little more elevated K rate, but I think that's what the Cardinals will want out of him with Noot and Donovan and Goldschmidt's OBPs setting the pace near and at the top of the order. Then again, maybe Walker is THE GOOD version and sets his own OBP floor at a much higher number instead and allows Arenado and Contreras to drive him in repeatedly.


 


Dylan Carlson is about to enter year 5 somehow, only at the age of 25. So I feel this is unlike when Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill were trying to figure it out entering their age 28 seasons in their last years with the organization (still under control for longer). I'm not so sure that Dylan's in his last year here. Nor should he necessarily be.


A lot of players don't figure things out until year 5. A batting slash line of AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS at 274/352/439/791 would be 10% above league average at Busch III in all 4 categories based on 2021-23 numbers. Now, I'm not sure Carlson is putting THAT up necessarily, but he's been 11% above league average before in a season (2021) by wRC+. Unfortunately, the 2021 numbers that were his career best still only got to the SLG numbers above and not the rest.



My projections actually have his OBP not far off from the desired line and my SLG on THE GOOD approximates that line as well. It would take a lot - like Carlson staying healthy and realizing more of his potential - for him to be that 10% over league average guy, but my projections seem to think he could have it in him. Then there's THE BAD line, which isn't terrible but it's not good either.


 


Alec Burleson at AAA and Alec Burleson at the MLB level were not the same person statistically last year. Not even the slightest. Now, I don't have AAA data but the MLB data for underlying numbers - hard hit rate, barrel percentage, exit velocity, etc. all say that he should have been better than he was in 2023. That bodes well for 2024. The AAA actual numbers (what he finished with not what he should have finished with) also say he should be a better hitter at the MLB level.


Of course, this was the case with Marcell Ozuna and Randal Grichuk and Tyler O'Neill and a host of others who have come through the system and not been what the team thought that the should be or could be or would be. They are now gone because of what they ended up being in actuality. What will Burleson's fate hold with the Cardinals? Will he go the way of Luke Voit or will he slug his way to stay on the team like a Matt Adams - at least for a few years?



If we're to believe my projections, then we're to believe he's going to go the way of Luke Voit and others. THE GOOD is the only one potentially good enough to really stick around even if you have no positional value on the defensive side of the ball anywhere. Let's hope that's not the case. Let's hope THE GOOD is when he's struggling in 2024.

 


Victor Scott II is taking spring training by storm - at least the hype of Victor Scott II is doing so. He has made a couple of really nice plays in center field, he's made a couple of trips around the bases in which it reminds fans of Vince Coleman (or at least Willie McGee/Ozzie Smith in the 80s, if not Coleman), but his overall line is still somewhat disappointing.


I don't say that because of expectations I have set on Scott or anything, but if you have a center fielder on the opening day roster (were Scott to make it), you'd love for him to have a higher OPS than .667 or a higher wRC+ than 86 - although the four runs and two steals in just 18 PA is pretty darn nice. In 600 PA that prorates to 133 runs and 67 steals. I think if you told him he got that this year he'd be pumped and not care about the rest too much.


My projections see Scott not being much better than that 667 OPS this year, even in a good year - and likely worse than that jumping the AAA level. However, look at those 67 SB if given a full season of reps and look at those 29 extra base hits as well. If he gets 113 hits and 29 go for extra bases, that's 84 singles...and it has him with 67 steals. That's basically 96 times he's no longer on first base. Speed kills.


 



Michael Siani is an outfielder the Cardinals grabbed last year to play mostly at AAA and had a cup o joe at the major league level. He had a -100 wRC+ in his 5 nearly fruitless trips to the plate in 2023 (I say nearly fruitless because he somehow got a stolen base out of his 5 trips to the plate all ending in outs). The projections don't see him being much better this year, but they don't have him with a goose eggs (000/000/000/000) line for the second straight year (at least with the Cardinals last year that's what his line was).


Jared Young is a 1B/OF acquired from the Chicago Cubs (pardon my language) this offseason. He is a guy whose bat could replace Alec Burleson's if the numbers here compared to above prove to be true. While neither can really play defense, an extra 40 points of OPS is huge in that scenario. No, his batting average is not looking to potentially be as good as Burly's but with a bit more pop in the bat he'd probably be the one to stick. Between Noot, Donovan, Goldy, Contreras, Herrera, Walker, and Carlson there should be enough OBP in the lineup to carry that end of things.



Alfonso Rivas is joining his 4th team in 3 seasons. These numbers look like very 2013 Galveston Grinder (Matt Carpenter) type of numbers if you look at THE GOOD. If Alfonso Rivas can do that, there's no reason to keep him out of this lineup. The issue here is that his career line so far is well under THE BAD - so my projections being quite high on Rivas is quite intriguing to me. Why might they be high on him? He has a career 306/409/451/860 line in the minors and last year in AAA that jumped greatly to 332/462/582/1.043. That puts him about 15-20% better by OPS than he'd ever been before. If he's this guy now? Watch out. He's 3rd-4th OF good potentially (although that puts Noot in center and I'm not sure anyone wants that besides Noot).



 

Links to other posts in this Projection Series:


 

Next time, I'll be back with the infielders in Part IV of the projection series. But until then, have fun discussing any and all projections that you love, hate, or were waiting for with me on Twitter or Facebook!

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