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National League Gets DH: Cardinals Options For That Role

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred: Photo Credit: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the media this morning about the lockout, spring training, whether he believes the regular season will be affected, as well as announcing that the two sides have agreed on a universal DH and eliminating draft compensation for draft picks.

While there are still several terms that will have to be agreed upon for MLB activities to resume, the fact that the National League will finally have the designated hitter is good news.

I admit, I wasn’t always fond of the idea. I enjoyed the NL style of play where it seemed to be a more strategic brand of baseball. Having that “old-school” mentality that with seeing pitchers hit, separated the two leagues and gave the National League an identity.

But that being said, in recent years I’ve changed my tune as I believe the DH in the NL is good for the game. Pitchers aren’t groomed to hit in lower levels anymore, and I can’t honestly tell you the last time I was excited to see a pitcher in the batter’s box. This also allows for more players to have an impact in the game, where aging vets could extend their careers, young players could get some reps without being thrusted into everyday duties, and it could be used as a way to rotate and rest players already in-house for an organization.

I think that is what the St. Louis Cardinals will do for the 2022 season.

Here’s a look at some of the team’s options for the role of designated hitter this season.

Juan Yepez

Juan Yepez Photo Credit: Juan Yepez (@Little_Juan07) Twitter

Yepez was acquired via trade in 2017, where the Cardinals sent 1B Matt Adams to the Atlanta Braves for the then 19-year old prospect.

Starting in Peoria, Yepez played in 80 games in 2019 slashing .260/.308/.388 with 7 HR and 47 RBI. The following season he split time between Palm Beach and Peoria then moved up the ranks again in the 2019 season playing for those same clubs as well as the Springfield Cardinals. He slashed .269/.343/.446 between the three teams. He did not play during the 2020 season.

Juan Yepez Photo Credit: Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

2021 is where Juan Yepez started gaining some name recognition. The now 23-year old was seeing time in the outfield as well as the corner infield positions, not known as a great defender, his bat is what was attracting eyes.

In 19 games for Springfield, Yepez had a .270/.387/.571 slashline with 5 HR & 14 RBI in 19 games, got promoted to Memphis where in 92 games slashed .290/.382/.589 with 22 HR & 63 RBI. His 154 wRC+ across AA and AAA was 8th highest in the high minors. He has a high exit velocity and tight launch angles that potentially makes him a feared bat going forward.

In 23 games of the Arizona Fall League at season’s end, Yepez slashed .302/.388/.640 with 7 HR & 26 RBI. He was selected and named an All-Star for the AFL.

With Paul Goldschmidt & Nolan Arenado manning the corners, and already a set outfield, it will be the DH position that Yepez could benefit from and ultimately help the slugger find a spot on the 2022 roster.

Lars Nootbaar

Lars Nootbaar Photo Credit: USA Today Sports Images

Lars Nootbar was selected by the Cardinals in the 8th round of the 2018 MLB draft. He played for the State College Spikes where he appeared in 56 games hitting .227 with 2 HR & 26 RBI.

He began the 2019 season with the Peoria Chiefs before being promoted to both Palm Beach and Springfield that year. Nootbar slashed .264/.349/.364 with 7 HR & 38 RBI between the three levels. Due to the cancellation of minor league baseball over the Covid-19 pandemic, he too did not play in 2020.

Lars Nootbaar Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

Lars began the 2021 season at the alternate site before being reassigned to Triple-A Memphis. In 22 games prior to be called up to the big league club, Nootbar was slashing an impressive .329/.430/.557 with 5 HR & 17 RBI. He ended up playing in 58 games for St. Louis (seeing action with injuries to Harrison Bader & others) where he put up a .239/.317/.422 slash with 5 HR & 15 RBI in 129 plate appearances.

At season’s end, Nootbar played in the AFL where he also earned an All-Star nod this past season with a .314/.437/.643 slash, 5 HR & 13 RBI in 18 games.

Nootbar being a lefty is a valuable player for the Cardinals to have come off of the bench in 2022. The possibility of alternating rest for the other three outfielders along with righty/lefty matchups, might slot Lars into an occasional DH for St. Louis.

Nolan Gorman

Nolan Gorman Photo Credit: Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Last but not least, Nolan Gorman. Many Cardinals fans are as hyped, if not more so over Gorman as a top prospect, as they were Dylan Carlson.

Gorman was drafted with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft by the Cardinals. He smashed at Johnson City over the course of 38 games, hitting 11 HR & 28 RBI slashing .350/.443/.664. Those numbers slowed down after a call-up to Peoria where he had a slashline of .202/.280/.426 with 6 HR & 16 RBI in 25 games.

He returned to Peoria to start the 2019 season and appeared in both the Midwest League All-Star Game & Homerun Derby as well as represented the Cardinals (with Dylan Carlson) by playing in the 2019 Future’s Game. Gorman was called up to Palm Beach and between his time there and with the Chiefs slashed .248/.326/.439 with 15 HR & 62 RBI in 125 games.

Again, no 2020 stats to report as there was no minor league baseball due to Covid.

Nolan Gorman Photo Credit: San Navarro USA Today Sports

With the acquisition of Nolan Arenado prior to the 2021 season, the organization had Gorman taking reps at second base. He started the year with the Springfield Cardinals getting off to a hit start in Double-A slashing .288/.354/.508 with 11 HR & 27 RBI in 43 games, Nolan was promoted to Memphis where in 76 games he slashed .274/.320/.465 with 14 HR & 48 RBI for the Redbirds. He also appeared in his 2nd Future’s Game with Matthew Liberatore.

Like Yepez & Nootbar, Gorman too was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League at season’s end and was named an All-Star. In 6 games, he hit .375.

Of the three I named, I think Gorman is more the long shot. The Cardinals are going to want him to continue getting him reps at second base and I can’t see them rushing him up just to be the designated hitter.

Nootbar, as I said, I think gets some appearances in the DH role, but primarily if the Cardinals decide to use it as a revolving door to rest players or keep bench bats sharp. If St. Louis doesn’t sign an impact bat when the lockout ends, I can see Lars getting a good share of the DH at-bats this season.

In my opinion that might leave Juan Yepez to have the clearest path to becoming the team’s DH for 2022. Depending on the amount of Spring Training games that St. Louis has this year and whether or not they entertain bringing in a player when free agency resumes, the newly acquired designated hitter position is one of uncertainty at this point.

What say you on the potential candidates for DH of the St. Louis Cardinals for 2022? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think.

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