When St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was asked about his take on the offensive agility of outfielder Dylan Carlsonhe offered a funny review of his own lineup construction.
murmured Marmol, “it’s starting to show we’re pecking out of a hat, huh?”
Despite Carlson starting at least one game in each of the nine drafting spots so far this season, his closing was anything but random. As Tommy Edman struggled through a tough training camp, Carlson became the logical option to hit lead off. When he fell backwards and Edman drove away, he went down and around the bottom third of the order. And most recently, with a batting average of 0.288 and a slugging percentage of 0.542 in June 20 games, he was central to both the team’s lineup and run production.
“Just taking into account all the different situations in the game, no matter where you are,” Carlson said of his strategy of adapting his approach in different drafting positions. “Trying to understand what’s going on around you.”
There has been no shortage of things happening around Carlson which could have derailed his progress. After a freezing cold April – he recorded just a .488 OPS – he started to find his stride in the second month of the season. But when he was enlisted at centerfield in Pittsburgh in late May, he strained his left hamstring and followed a flyout over his head.
Young outfielder is blooming
After being on the injured list for two and a half weeks, the progress he had made over the past month would have easily dwindled. Instead Carlson did a good joband since his return to the lineup on June 10, he is the club’s most prolific batter, save for MVP favorite Paul Goldschmidt.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten to a point where my game could be or should be,” Carlson said at his locker: after Tuesday’s win over the Miami Marlins. “In my mind I have a lot to work on and a lot to do on both sides of the record.”
Hitting Switch, no matter how art fades, is another weapon that expands Carlson’s arsenal. Anyway, he was a superior batter from the right side of the plate, versus lefts, in his young career. This season, however, in an admittedly small sample, the gap between performances is narrowing. His power stroke off the left may not be fully developed yet, but as his comfort and consistency improves, the numbers are likely to follow.
“It’s a matter of how he’s doing,” Marmol explained. “(Tuesday), putting him in (second spot) was more like that because he kills left-handed pitching and we wanted two guys to set the table for our big boys. He swings it well from the left, but now that Edman is out (Wednesday night), we wanted to see what it looked like there.”
Patrolling midfield every day
Carlson’s promotion to the major leagues amid the pandemic-turned 2020 season came a time when his readiness could no longer be denied and the team found themselves in desperation mode, plugging holes that were emerging in a leaky roster. Since his debut, he’s been used as that same kind of all-purpose player, stroking the rough spots just long enough to smooth himself out before deploying elsewhere.
With Harrison Bader now on the injured list for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time as he copes with plantar fasciitis, Carlson is expected to patrol the midfield every day while maintaining his increased production level.
“I’ve played a fair amount of center in my career,” Carlson said, referring to both the majors and minors. “You know, it’s definitely different. I just think, kind of like we alluded to with the lineup, just go out and play.
“At the end of the day, wherever you are, honestly, that’s kind of the mentality. Just go out and be a ball player.”
‘We liked how that looks’
He did it. He can. He likes to do it. But those are all truths that highlight the reasons why the Cardinals have been so willing to be so fluid with arguably the most promising position as a player they’ve brought to the major leagues in the past five years. He can be a ball player – seemingly a ball player of almost any kind.
“He started in that leadoff spot and we liked how that looks,” said Marmol, reviewing the batting order. “He can bring some pop and some doubles there, which I don’t mind at all.
“He’s got enough thumps there, depending on the matchup, to get in the middle of the order, three to five. And then the rest makes sense, of course, and then if he’s not doing well, you can move him to eight and nine.
Almost any place on almost any day. This is Dylan — and with very little people are noticing, he may already be the player he was said to be one day.