photo: Dylan Carlson via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
One of the biggest positives during a difficult 2020 season in so many ways for the St. Louis Cardinals was the long-awaited arrival of their top minor league position player and top 25 prospect nationally, 21-year old Dylan Carlson.
However, his adjustment to the major leagues did not go smoothly initially. But after a reset in the minors, less than a month later, the switch-hitting outfielder became his club’s number four hitter in the Wild Card Series.
With less than three weeks of Triple-A experience coming into 2020 and the major league staff trying to sort through their other young outfield options, Carlson was not expected to make the big-league club out of summer camp – and did not.
But as the regular season lurched ahead in fits and spurts, the conditions changed. Outfielders ahead of him in the pecking order began to go down and it was clear that the Cardinals listless offense clearly needed a spark, so the door opened.
On August 15, after the team’s extended outage caused by the loss of 10 players and eight staffers to COVID-19, Carlson received “the call” as the Cardinals prepared to resume play in Chicago.
Carlson was already in the 60-man player pool but at that point, required a 40-man roster spot as well. He picked up his rental car and drove from Springfield to the Windy City to join his new teammates.
After playing almost every day since his arrival, Carlson’s situation changed in early September. Sabermetric measures suggested he had encountered significant bad luck at the plate, but his modest results were declining with particular troubles against breaking pitches. As a result, his playing time diminished until he was optioned out on September 8.
Specifically, Carlson only started two of seven games to open September, extending his then-current skid to 1-for-19 (.053) with no walks. His aggregate slash line over his first 79 MLB plate appearances was .162/.215/.243/.458. Further, Carlson’s strikeout rate of 29.1% was only exceeded among team regulars by another struggler, veteran Matt Carpenter at 29.4%.
Recalled from Springfield 10 days later, Carlson began to put his game together. To conclude the regular season, he batted .278 (10-for-36), including four doubles, a triple, two home runs and a .936 OPS. His 11 RBI during that season-concluding period was the most among MLB rookies and fourth among all National League hitters.
In the final regular season game, Carlson was installed as the cleanup hitter and he continued there for all three games of the Wild Card Series against San Diego. The regular in left field (as Tyler O’Neill was reduced to reserve duties), was a standout. Carlson went 3-for-9, including a double, drew four walks and stole a base. His slash line was .333/.571/.444/1.016.
As the Cardinals head into 2021, the main question surrounding Carlson is not going to be whether he will be in the lineup every day. That is a given.
Based on the breadth of his skills and the team’s glaring needs, one could build a case that Carlson could settle in as the leadoff hitter or the number two batter. And of course, we’ve already seen him pressed into duty in the number four spot.
No matter what happens in the future, the arrival of Carlson in St. Louis was clearly one of the biggest stories for the 2020 Cardinals.
— 101 ESPN St. Louis (@101espn) December 30, 2020
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