The Memphis story is quite different from 12 months ago. Last off-season, the Cardinals signed a number of minor league free agents to fill out the Redbirds' roster. In fact, eight of the club's 12 position players to open 2013 came from outside the organization.
This year, the position player development pipeline has caught up with the pitching. As a result, the number of external free agent additions is just two - catcher Ed Easley and third baseman Scott Moore. Two other newcomers may join them in Rule 5 pick up Greg Miclat at shortstop and outfield trade acquisition Randal Grichuk. Even if so, that would be half the quantity of imports as the year before.
The situation would be the same on the pitching side, with a drop from four outsiders to open 2013 to just two this season – free agent signee Angel Castro and returnee Nick Greenwood, a trade acquisition way back in 2010. The other 10 projected Memphis arms are entirely home-grown.
Here is my view of the 25-man opening roster for the Redbirds, with detailed explanation following.
Memphis Redbirds projected 2014 opening day roster, as of 2/19/14
|*Cooney (L NRI)||Rondon||A Perez||*Scruggs (NRI)|
|Whiting (STP)||K Butler|
|Lyons (L)||Almarante (NRI)|
|Stoppelman (L NRI)|
|Gast (L DL)||Tartamella (NRI)|
|Miclat (STP)||*Piscotty (NRI)|
|(X+Y) = Active + Limbo|
|Limbo = DL/release candidate|
|Bold = 40-man roster member|
|NRI = non-roster invitee to MLB camp|
|STP = STEP camp|
|* promotion from year-end 2013|
|(L) = Left-handed pitcher|
Returnees = 15
Free agents = 3 (Castro, Easley, Moore)
Rule 5 acquisition = 1 (Miclat)
Down from St. Louis = 2 (Kozma, Robinson)
Promotions from Double-A = 4*
In limbo = 5
Down to Double-A = 1 (Ramsey)
Three returnees lead the rotation
Lyons should get another shot in St. Louis at some point this coming summer, but there seems no room there to open the season. Neither Whiting nor McGregor, who started 21 and 17 games respectively for the Redbirds last summer, are on the 40-man roster.
One man who is, however, is Castro, a 31-year-old right-hander. The well-traveled Dominican native has pitched in independent ball, in Mexico and Japan, but has yet to appear in the major leagues.
With John Gast's late July shoulder surgery coupled with an original estimate of 8-12 months before he could return to pitching, it seems obvious that the lefty will not be ready for some time.
Little pen suspense
Just as was the case in St. Louis and perhaps more accurately, because of it, the Redbirds' pen seems pretty much set. All seven of the projected relievers finished last season with Memphis. Six of them are in major league camp this spring, with the only exception being the lefty swingman Greenwood.
Butler has extensive closing experience, but the Redbirds could just as likely give ninth-inning experience to any number of these talented arms.
Though there are some other promising arms at Springfield, I don't see any of them dislodging any of these incumbents – at least out of spring camp. There simply isn't room.
Catching is a numbers game
Easley was a nice addition to the system, with a proven Triple-A bat. If prospect Audry Perez doesn't hit enough, Easley's at-bats could grow accordingly. Travis Tartamella is a solid catch-and-throw guy, but is a below-average hitter. The 26-year-old could be sent back to Springfield again, but there are others coming up behind with perhaps more promise. A late camp injury could be a possible resolution to the numbers issue.
It will be very interesting to see how defensive time is doled out by manager Pop Warner. Will Pete Kozma be the every-day starter at short – to be ready for a quick return to St. Louis if his replacement, Jhonny Peralta, is injured? Instead, will the organization give priority to a hotter prospect in Greg Garcia, or will the two rotate between second base and shortstop?
I see Miclat's arrival as having the potential to push utilityman Vance Albitz out of a clear job. Albitz could go back down to Springfield, as he has made that shift a number of times already. But again, as in the case of Tartamella, others are waiting to get their Double-A experience.
At third, the more experienced Moore would seem to have the edge, but returnee Jermaine Curtis can fill in there as well as second base. Garcia and Kozma could also see time at third.
Across the diamond, Xavier Scruggs has logged two full seasons at Double-A. The big swinger scored his first spring training NRI and should become Memphis' starting first sacker. Moore has played the position as well, plus has a bit of time at both spots up the middle - and even left field.
A longer shot alternative would be to go with one less infielder and use one or more of their glut of outfielders at first base, just to get them at-bats. Curtis could become at-risk in that scenario.
Which leads us to…
As folks may remember, I forecasted Oscar Taveras onto St. Louis' roster. If you disagree, then he would be here instead of Shane Robinson. Either way, the starting centerfielder is projected to be Grichuk, flanked by Stephen Piscotty in right.
I have OBP expert Mike O'Neill and speedy, but injury-prone Tommy Pham as the fourth and fifth outfielders. Both have considerable experience at the level. O'Neill is on the 40-man, as is Grichuk, facts worth keeping in mind down the road.
Though 2012 first-rounder James Ramsey made his Redbirds debut in the final week of the season and played in the Arizona Fall League, I think the Cards will have him return to Springfield initially simply to get regular at-bats. The alternative seems to be playing part-time at Memphis. If it transpires this way, Piscotty will have passed Ramsey from the end of last season until now as the two would essentially trade roster spots.
By process of elimination, newcomer Joey Butler could be squeezed out. At the time the Cardinals added him via waivers in October, they had yet to acquire both Grichuk and Peter Bourjos. I also don't see a home for Chris Swauger. Regarding a return to Springfield, it is the same thought process as for the others mentioned above. Swauger could contribute, but the 27-year-old would potentially be blocking younger players.
The Cardinals' Double-A roster will be the focus of part three of this series - coming soon for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation.
Link to related article:
Predicting the 2014 Cardinals' opening roster
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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