Marcell Ozuna is off to a brilliant start. He entered Wednesday hitting .293/.339/.707 in his first 15 games — and that was before launching a home run, his eighth, early on against the Milwaukee Brewers. An impending free agent, Ozuna seems determined to raise his stock ahead of the winter, all the while erasing memories of .
Unfortunately for the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna’s employer, he’s about the only bright spot they have in the outfield. On Wednesday, the Cardinals placed Harrison Bader on the injured list due to a strained hamstring. Less than a day earlier, they’d deactivated Tyler O’Neill over elbow concerns. The Cardinals recalled Lane Thomas from the minors in a corresponding move, but what once looked like a deep outfield now has the appearance of one just trying to get by.
Consider that the Cardinals trotted out a starting three on Wednesday of Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, and Jose Martinez. With due respect to each, that trio has to form one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball. Fowler isn’t what he once was and Martinez is what he always has been: a hitter. To make matters worse, both Fowler and Martinez have struggled at the dish this season: Fowler entered the game sporting an empty .351 on-base percentage (with just three extra-base hits on the year) while Martinez held a 55 OPS+ in 34 trips to the dish. Presumably Martinez’s bat will perk up, but even if it does it’s a combination that leaves much to be desired.
The Cardinals don’t have many alternatives at this point, either. They optioned Drew Robinson earlier in the week, and Thomas is the best choice of the prospects available given Adolis Garcia’s struggles at the dish. (Note that this doesn’t include Justin Williams, who is on the IL due to a fractured hand.) The Cardinals seem to have a knack for getting the most out of players, but most scouting reports paint Thomas as a modest contributor — one whose fringe bat and above-average wheels and defense could result in a fine career as a fourth outfielder. He isn’t, then, likely to pull a Bader and turn into a starting-caliber player seemingly at will.
As such, the Cardinals need Bader and/or O’Neill to get healthy quickly. Otherwise, they run the risk of having one of baseball’s least productive outfields — no matter how hot Ozuna remains.