Fantasy baseball: Seeking some steals in St. Louis

Can Masyn Winn help ignite the running game of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2024? Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals come off their first last-place finish in more than 30 seasons looking to instill youth and speed into their offense. Last season's team, winner of only 71 games, stole a mere 101 bases despite the new, appealing MLB rules. That was well below the league average and a far cry from the Vince Coleman Runnin' Redbirds days. Perhaps young SS Masyn Winn and OF Victor Scott II can restore things back to that era a bit and aid fantasy baseball managers as well.

Winn led off Sunday's spring training game against the Houston Astros, reaching via base hit in each of his three plate appearances, and he also stole a base. Winn, 21, has stolen 62 bases over the past two seasons in the majors and minors combined. Scott, hitting at the bottom of the lineup for the second consecutive game, drew three walks over the weekend and created havoc on the bases, including his first steal. Scott, 23, stole 95 bases by himself across two minor league stops in 2023.

The Cardinals boast a solid power core of 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 2B Nolan Gorman and 3B Nolan Arenado. Additionally, C Willson Contreras and OFs Jordan Walker and Lars Nootbaar surely will contribute. However, after that, things are unclear. 2B/SS/OF Tommy Edman, 2B/OF Brendan Donovan and OF Dylan Carlson are all established veterans, but low-upside statistical options. Meanwhile, Winn and Scott are fast, excellent defenders and enticing hitters, and they should be a large part of the club's future -- including this season.

Winn struggled at the plate upon his big league promotion last season, hitting a punchless .172 over 137 PAs, all of it while batting ninth, but we should ignore those numbers. Winn has plus bat speed and draws walks. Though Donovan offers the lineup a better on-base profile and versatility, and Edman is still mending from offseason wrist surgery and might not be ready for Opening Day, Winn should earn the starting shortstop role. He might lead off, too. Winn is not yet a factor in ESPN standard points leagues, but he is an intriguing later-round selection in NFBC formats.

Scott might be this season's Esteury Ruiz, but he is also a considerably better baseball player. Ruiz stole 67 bases for the Oakland Athletics, but he struggled to reach base and was quite terrible defensively. Scott, a left-handed hitter, posted a .367 OBP across two minor league seasons and he thrives in center field -- a Cardinals need. Scott starred recently in the Arizona Fall League, drawing 12 walks (versus eight strikeouts) and stealing 18 bases over 23 games. He might not win a big league job initially, but it should not be long. Remember the name in roto formats for sure.

Update: Brandon Crawford signed with the Cardinals on Monday afternoon. He joins a new franchise after 13 seasons with the Giants. However, those investing in Winn should not panic. Crawford, 37, is most likely a depth signing, as he hit only .194 last season with seven home runs. This may be a sign that the versatile Edman will not be ready for the season. It is possible Winn struggles to hit during the spring and gets more minor league time, but even if Crawford starts in April, fantasy managers must do better.

Spring training injuries

  • Kodai Senga, SP, New York Mets: Fantasy managers should not pay too much attention to spring statistics. Look at which players have adopted different approaches at the plate, and which may be throwing new pitches. Look at lineups. Ultimately, big league teams just want to escape the six-week slog of spring training without injuries. Senga, a top-20 fantasy starter last season, has been shut down because of a shoulder strain. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection over the weekend and will not be ready for Opening Day. Drop him down your draft lists but, as of now, not too far. He might pitch in April, and he might be great ... or it might be months. Who knows? No other Mets starting pitcher warrants attention in the thin ESPN standard leagues.

  • Kyle Bradish, SP, Baltimore Orioles: Bradish was diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his pitching elbow two weeks ago, and often this tear leads directly to Tommy John surgery. The Orioles are not quite at this juncture yet, though it might be inevitable. Pitchers can continue pitching with partial tears. Bradish, a top-30 starter last season, is throwing in anticipation of avoiding surgery, but for now he deserves a more significant drop in rankings than Senga does, if not removal from shallow-league consideration.

  • Jonathan India, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: The 2021 NL Rookie of the Year has plantar fasciitis in his left foot and seems destined to start the season on the IL. Fantasy managers were already wondering how India fits into this young, powerful infield featuring SS/3B Elly De La Cruz, SS/2B Matt McLain, 1B/3B/OF Spencer Steer and 3B Noelvi Marte or whether he would end up traded to another franchise. India can be a solid points-league option, but not if injury or a crowded lineup keeps him off the field.

Other notes

  • The Chicago Cubs and OF/1B Cody Bellinger are reuniting on what might end up being a one-year deal, with Bellinger heading back to free agency after the season. Bellinger hit 47 home runs in 2019, was dreadful for a few seasons afterward and then surprised for the Cubs last year, one of only four players to hit .300 with at least 20 homers and 20 steals. However, many remain skeptical of a repeat, thanks to underwhelming hard-hit and barrel rates, or else Bellinger would be a top-30 fantasy option. That is not where he is going in drafts. This re-signing affects 1B Michael Busch, OF Mike Tauchman and OF prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong the most. Bellinger will play. The others have to hit in order to play.

  • New Astros manager Joe Espada made news with his proposed new lineup, which moves OF Yordan Alvarez to the No. 2 spot nestled between 2B Jose Altuve and 3B Alex Bregman, with OF Kyle Tucker hitting fourth. That might be the only big league lineup to rival the Los Angeles Dodgers at the top, and it has fantasy ramifications. Alvarez and Tucker should bat more, at the least, and they should produce more. Alvarez is, on a per-game basis, arguably a top-five run producer. Tucker, foolishly, was placed fifth in the order 56 times last season. The likes of SS Jeremy Pena and 2B/OF Mauricio Dubon do not belong batting at the top of any lineup.

  • Milwaukee Brewers OF Jackson Chourio turns 20 in a few weeks. With only 24 PAs at the Triple-A level, he might not make the big league club out of Spring Training, but it is interesting how the Brewers might manage their wonderful collection of young outfielder riches. OF Sal Frelick started at third base in the spring opener. He singled, doubled, walked and stole a base. Chourio hit second and delivered a few hits. 3B prospect Tyler Black hit third, playing first base. Pay attention to lineups because, often, managers show what they are thinking. Frelick should hit and run in the majors, just like Chourio and Black. They have to play somewhere in the field.

  • The Washington Nationals have played two spring games and OF prospect James Wood launched impressive home runs in each one, including Sunday's mammoth blast off Marlins journeyman LHP Devin Smeltzer. We all need context when we look at spring numbers. Some fellows will hit .400 off a collection of Double-A hurlers. Some pitchers will dominate Double-A lineups. Wood bats left-handed and took a big league lefty deep. Nobody doubts Wood's power potential. Part of the haul from the Juan Soto trade, Wood has yet to appear at Triple-A, but he should debut in the majors this season, perhaps with OF Dylan Crews. It should be fun.