2013 Springfield Cardinals season preview

With their leaders moving on, who will lead the Springfield Cardinals in their bid to repeat as Texas League Champions and give manager Mike Shildt his fourth consecutive ring?

The 2012 Springfield Cardinals put together an impressive run in the second half of the season to capture their first Texas League Championship in club history. Highly acclaimed prospects Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha all helped lead the way under new manager Mike Shildt. With all those names but Martinez moving on this season, was all of the excitement spent on the 2012 season? The answer is "hardly." There are still plenty of reasons to be excited about coming to Hammons Field in 2013.

The Double-A Birds will open their season on Thursday evening as the visiting team against the Corpus Christi Hooks with Richard Castillo as the Opening Day starter. However, they have many other familiar faces on their roster. In fact, 20 players on the roster were a part of the 2012 Texas League Champion Cardinals. Of the returning Cardinals, two earned 2012 Texas League All-Star honors - Pitcher Keith Butler (Mid-Season and Post-Season), who recorded 25 saves in 26 opportunities, and catcher Audry Perez (Mid-Season), who hit .263 with four home runs and 42 RBI in 81 games. Both Butler and Perez spent significant time in major league camp at spring training as non-roster invitees.

Also returning is first baseman Xavier Scruggs, who ranked third in the league with 91 RBI and sixth with 22 home runs a year ago. Returning outfielders include Adam Melker, who hit .278 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI, 126 games, Mike O'Neill, who had a .563 batting average in 13 games, and Chris Swauger, who contributed .296 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI in 85 games with Springfield. Swauger is a fan favorite and slammed three home runs in a Texas League playoff game least season.

Other returning pitchers include Martinez, Michael Blazek, Kevin Thomas, Scott Gorgen, Boone Whiting, Jordan Swagerty, Anthony Ferrara, Deryk Hooker, Chris Corrigan, Justin Wright, Scott McGregor, and Kevin Siegrist. Swagerty is working to come back from surgery that ended his season in spring training last year. Whiting had an impressive stint with Springfield late in 2012. Siegrist is coming off a very impressive showing at the Arizona Fall League and will be joined in Springfield by Seth Blair, making his Springfield debut after a equally impressive AFL. The rotation looks like it will shape up as Whiting, McGregor, Castillo, Ferrara, Blair, and Corrigan. It looks like both Corrigan and Swagerty will begin the year on the disabled list. Martinez, the top prospect set to appear with Springfield this season, will join the Cardinals later after gaining strength in Extended Spring Training after getting caught up with a visa issue in the Dominican Republic which kept him there until March 28.

Martinez had a very good 2012 after making the jump to Double-A from Palm Beach around midseason. In 14 games started with Springfield, Martinez posted a 2.90 ERA in 71 1/3 innings pitched. The Cardinals will wait anxiously for the hard-throwing righty's arrival.

Former Major League infielder Ruben Gotay will joining the Double-A roster this season. Gotay has spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Kansas City Royals (2004-05), the New York Mets (2007) and the Atlanta Braves (2008). The 30-year-old played the past three seasons at the Triple-A level, including the 2010 campaign in the Cardinals system with the Memphis Redbirds.

Alongside the seasoned Gotay will be a group of young talented infielders including shortstop Jake Lemmerman and second basemen Luis Mateo and Starlin Rodriguez joining Springfield. Rodriguez played 114 games in 2012 for Palm Beach, hitting an even .300 with 8 home runs, 48 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. Lemmerman, the minor league player acquired in the December trade that sent Skip Schumacher to the Los Angeles Dodgers, hit .233 with seven home runs, 29 doubles and 46 RBIs with the Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A) last year. Mateo spent the 2012 season with the Quad Cities River Bandits, formerly the Low-A Affiliate of the Cardinals, and hit .257 with 12 home runs, 64 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 113 games. The Springfield middle infield this year once again adds a level of intrigue to keep a watch on all season with Rodriguez potentially bringing the highest upside.

Among the names not yet on the Springfield roster that fans might look forward to seeing at Hammons Field this season include some players at Palm Beach. Power hitting outfielder Anthony Garcia opened a lot eyes last season as his bat took shape in Quad Cities. Early success at Palm Beach could see him rise to Springfield at some point. The same goes for Palm Beach's other outfielders and 2012 first-round picks, James Ramsey and Stephen Piscotty. Both are experienced college hitters and could be fast-movers in the system. Out of those two, Piscotty is the one I most have my eye on as he is shifting positions from third base to right field this season.

Overall, the Springfield Cardinals are primed to have another successful year in the Texas League. There may not be as many highly touted names on the roster as recent years but there is a strong group of talented players who have grown close by playing together for the last couple of years. It seems like there is a player at Springfield every year who plays his way onto the radar so it will be exciting to see who that will be in 2013.

Follow me on Twitter: @BrandonJMahler

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