ST. LOUIS — With a National League pennant to defend and a 12th World Series championship to chase, the Cardinals are relocating to Jupiter, Fla., where Spring Training opens this week.
Players and staff have been arriving in waves, with some heading south as early as mid-January. By Wednesday, all 33 pitchers and catchers — 12 of whom are non-roster invitees — are required to report. A day later, they will take the field for the team’s first official workout.
It is a group anchored by veteran catcher Yadier Molina, an MVP finalist a year ago, and highlighted by a deep starting staff that is the envy of the league. Adam Wainwright returns as an ace, and Trevor Rosenthal arrives as closer on a staff teeming with young talent. The pursuit of another October run begins with the bullpen sessions these pitchers will throw this week.
“I think when you look at what we have going in there … we have a deep mix of players and pitchers,” Wainwright said. “I just think we have a great team. We have a great chance to go far into the playoffs and make another World Series run at this thing. We just have to go out there and believe that and make it happen.”
The Cardinals made no notable additions to the pitching staff this winter, though storylines still abound within the unit. There is a rotation battle to settle and questions about where all of the young arms will find a fit. Jason Motte, who suffered an arm injury last spring, will continue his road back from Tommy John surgery.
The first full squad workout, which will include 58 participants, will then be held on Feb. 17, though several position players have already reported to the club’s spring complex. The unit is not that much changed from 2013, though newcomers Jhonny Peralta, Mark Ellis and Peter Bourjos all fill needs identified after last season.
Kolten Wong will begin his quest to reward the Cardinals for their willingness to give him an opportunity to secure a starting job. His spring results will, no doubt, be closely scrutinized. Bourjos andJon Jay will battle it out for playing time in center field.
But the most anticipated viewing will likely come when outfielder Oscar Taveras takes the field. Taveras, the organization’s top prospect, returns to game action after spending months recovering from August ankle surgery. Though he is a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster, Taveras can position himself for a callup by proving himself healed and hungry this spring.
“I think for all of us, including myself, I’m just excited to see where he’s at and where he may fit in,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “I think the one thing you always have to remind yourself is to be patient.”
The process of finalizing a 25-man roster will take place in the weeks leading up to the Cardinals’ March 31 season opener in Cincinnati. Leading up to Opening Day, 28 exhibition games will help manager Mike Matheny piece together that roster.
The first Grapefruit League game is scheduled for Feb. 28, when the Cardinals will host the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT. The exhibition schedule wraps up with a March 28 visit to Memphis, home of the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate.
“There’s nobody who’s necessarily going to walk in and throw their glove in the locker and say, ‘I’ll be ready Opening Day,'” Matheny said. “There’s a process, and the process is going out and playing and proving what you can do. There’s a lot of speculation. We all have a job to do to predict where a guy could fit here or there. But when it comes down to it, that guy has to perform and somebody else always has the opportunity to come in and open eyes, force the hand, force the issue. Come in here and show us by how you play and how you prepare.”
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It’s Langosch, and follow her on Twitter@LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.