Much of that battle-tested playoff experience is returning for 2011, which should keep the Redbirds in PCL American North title contention. Of the 29 players currently designated on the roster (from which 24 will be selected for Opening Day), manager Chris Maloney could welcome back 20 former Redbirds. Six other players have been promoted from Double-A Springfield with the other three being veteran free agent signees, all with past major league service.
Four members of the five-man season-opening rotation started for the Redbirds last season, as well. The quartet, all right-handers, include Opening Day starter P.J. Walters and Adam Ottavino. Both have seen time with St. Louis. Lynn and our 2010 system-wide Pitcher of the Year Brandon Dickson are the others. Veteran lefty Raul Valdes, a free agent signee from the New York Mets, rounds out the starting five.
Four members of the Redbirds relief corps are ranked among the system's top 40 prospects. They are Adam Reifer (#13), Fernando Salas (#14), Francisco Samuel (#35) and Sanchez. Samuel, who suffered a shoulder injury in spring training, is among those expected to open the season on the disabled list.
Other right-handed relievers include Blake King, named to the 40-man roster in November, Jason Buursma, up from Springfield, and returnees Chuckie Fick and Pete Parise. The latter should start on the DL. The pen lefties are also back from last season – Tyler Norrick and Rich Rundles.
Three of the four starting infielders are also top 20 prospects in first baseman Mark Hamilton (#20), shortstop Pete Kozma (#17) and third baseman Carpenter. The latter two are up from Springfield for their Triple-A introductions. Farm product Donovan Solano and veterans Ramon Vazquez and Freddie Bynum are the other infielders.
The outfield sports fast-rising prospect Adron Chambers (#15) and Redbirds veterans Shane Robinson and Jim Rapoport. Versatile Andrew Brown, capable of playing all four infield and outfield corners, and former system Player of the Year Daryl Jones (#37) are the other flycatchers.
Areas to watch – pitchers
All four of the top 40 prospect relievers have closing experience. Which one(s) of the right-handers will receive the save opportunities will be worth watching. Salas has the most experience, but Sanchez offers the highest upside.
Areas to watch – position players
Other than Hamilton and Stavinoha, with the latter listed at catcher, there isn't much power potential in the Redbirds lineup. The outfield is especially short of both juice and Triple-A experience. The five outfielders have a total of just 11 long balls in 317 previous Triple-A games.
Most of that PCL experience is gained from Rapoport (112 games) and Robinson (168 games). The two profile more as centerfielders with Chambers also capable of playing there on a regular basis. Veteran Amaury Cazana is again on loan to the Mexican League and out of the Memphis picture, at least initially.
Playing time behind the plate may be doled out carefully as both top catchers have their supporters in the organization. A job share wouldn't be an unusual situation. In 2010, Anderson and since-departed Matt Pagnozzi split time. This year, the emerging Cruz will be stepping in.
Third baseman Carpenter, the 2010 organizational Player of the Year, was a sensation for much of 2011 major league spring training camp. The left-handed hitter will need to demonstrate consistency in the PCL to be positioned for a St. Louis debut when called upon.
With shortstop Tyler Greene up with the big club, both the bat and glove of former first-round draft pick Kozma will be closely scrutinized in his Triple-A debut. Kozma is still relatively young, turning 23 next week, but has almost two seasons of Double-A play under his belt.
Starting next Tuesday, our weekly reports on each of the Cardinals' four full-season affiliates will begin, with Quad Cities on Tuesdays, Springfield on Wednesdays, Memphis on Thursdays and Palm Beach on Fridays. Don't miss them, exclusively for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation!
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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