By COREY NOLES
With spring training in full swing, the St. Louis Cardinals are getting to take some early peeks at a handful of players who will be fighting for roster spots as Opening Day draws near.
The usual suspects are already putting on a show.
Mott Holliday is batting .800 (8-for-10), with 5 RBI, 2 doubles and a pair of walks.
Matt Adams is also swinging the bat well early in the season, hitting .438 with 5 RBI and a home run.
Much like them, catcher Yadier Molina is batting .429.
We've come to expect it from those guys, but that's not who we're here to talk about today. This article is about the spring training surprises.
The true excitement in spring training comes from watching players come from out of nowhere and basically force themselves onto the big league roster. In 2014, there are a small handful of players making that type of push early into the process.
Luis Mateo, a 23-year-old middle-infielder from Puerto Rico, is making an early impression in 2014.
In addition to having a quality glove, Mateo is batting .400 over the course of seven games to date. His pair of RBI and three runs scored is showing the front office that he's serious about earning his keep within this organization.
Serviceable at both shortstop and second base, Mateo's most likely route to St. Louis at this point would be as a utilityman. However, with Mark Ellis, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma and now, Aledmys Diaz, it's crowded up the middle in St. Louis.
If he wants to make the roster he'll have to make sure they don't have an option. That will not be easy.
With at least a short-term slot likely available in the starting rotation while Jaime Garcia continues to get back into his routine, Tyler Lyons is looking to make himself the frontrunner for that position.
At this point, I would argue he is right where he wants to be.
While the Cardinals may have a more experienced option or two, Lyons gives them the ability to bring a left-hander into the mix. That blend, while not necessary, does give a sense of balance that can be useful throughout the season.
One of only three pitchers to toss five or more innings in a game this season, Lyons has so far held hitters to a .118 average and is sporting a 1.80 ERA.
Another impressive bit from Lyons is the fact that he is currently tied for the team strikeout lead this spring with 5, giving him a hefty 0.40 WHIP.
With Lyons as the favorite for the starter slot, a relatively unknown starter, Tim Cooney, has been turning heads early this spring.
Cooney, a 6'3" left-handed pitcher, has gone out for two innings twice already and each appearance has shown a steady-minded talent capable of beating big league hitters.
Through two weeks of games, Cooney has held batters to a .083 average overall, surrendering only one run on one hit through four innings pitched.
The odds of his success carrying him to St. Louis in early April are slim, however, the organization is taking notice. In the event of an injury, He could by mid-season find himself on a short list of names prepped for a call-up.
While he did make appearances in 16 games in 2013, Keith Butler didn't have the impact he would have preferred.
He appears to be out to change that in 2014.
In three appearances, Butler's stat line is nearly identical to that of Cooney. He has a 2.25 ERA, having given up only one hit and one earned run.
Butler, a 25-year-old RHP, has a pair of major league ready off-speed pitches to compliment his fastball that averages in the low-90s.
He's well on his way to earning a chance to show it off in St. Louis. If he can keep it going for a couple more weeks that just might happen.
All stats are courtesy Baseball Reference and Fangraphs; they are current through March 9, 2014.
Corey Noles is a Cardinals Writer and Columnist for The Daily Statesman. He also serves as a regular contributor to KSDK.com and Bleacher Report. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @coreynoles.