Predicting Palm Beach's 2014 opening roster

The players Brian Walton sees as having the best chance of making the Cardinals' A-Advanced roster to open the regular season and why.

We reach Class A here in the fourth of this five-installment spring series setting my predictions for the season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals and their four full-season minor league affiliates. Specifically, today's focus is Class A-Advanced or high-A, the level at which the Palm Beach Cardinals compete in the Florida State League.

More so than at any other level, the 2013 season-ending Palm Beach roster sports a number of pitchers who I see are at a major career juncture. Either they need to force their way onto the Double-A roster or be prepared to be passed by younger players advancing from below.

It would have been much easier for me to side-step this challenge and leave 30 or more names on the page, but the reality is that only 25 players can be active.

Here, I assume everyone is healthy and ready to go – with one exception. Given his August shoulder surgery, I am projecting that prospect Tyrell Jenkins will open the season on the disabled list.

Palm Beach Cardinals projected 2014 opening day roster, as of 2/24/14

Palm Beach (25+6)      
Heyer (STP-NRI) Shaban Montero (STP)  
Gonzales (L NRI) Nazario (L) *Ehrlich   
Cuda Barraclough    
Sherriff (L) T Lee    
Hald (L) *Llorens (STP)    
*C Jones (STP) *Tuivailala (STP)    
  *Sabatino (L)    
Jenkins (DL) A Lucas  J Castillo  
Melling (L) Stock    
Wilson (STP) *Herrera (STP) Stienstra Tilson (STP)
*B Valera (STP)   *Martin Gil
      *McElroy (STP)

(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

Roster sourcing

Returnees = 15
Promotions from Peoria = 10*
In limbo = 6

Four returnees in the rotation

Even excluding Jenkins and Sam Gaviglio, the latter whom I have being promoted to Springfield, seven returnees could claim a rotation spot with Palm Beach. And that does not include those potentially deserving of a promotion from Peoria. Even with the six-man rotation returning for the first month of the season, there are simply more good arms than roster room to place them.

Kurt Heyer and Marco Gonzales are givens, in my opinion. After pitching very well for the entire 2013 season at Peoria, I also believe Cory Jones will move up. Heyer and Jones are STEP campers, while 2013 first-rounder Gonzales reported to big-league camp. (Over the weekend, Heyer was moved up to major league camp, as well.)

Among the returnees, I see righty Joe Cuda plus lefties Kyle Hald and Ryan Sherriff capturing the other three spots in the FSL Cardinals' season-opening rotation. Hald led the 2013 Beach Birds staff with 24 starts. Cuda posted a sharp 1.40 ERA in his seven starts after coming up from Peoria. Sherriff logged a 2.31 ERA in 13 starts that included a one-hitter and also made five starts at Springfield.

That could put left-hander Tyler Melling (4.93 ERA) plus right-hander Chris Corrigan (just 9 1/3 innings in 2013 due to injury) in Limbo. One of both could be moved to the pen, but that would displace someone else. (I am not trying to guess potential role changes in this process.)

Closer Shaban could return
Three pen promotions from Peoria

Flame thrower Sam Tuivailala and organization strikeout king Dixon Llorens, key members of Peoria's 2013 pen, will be in STEP Camp and should be ready to step up in assignment to open the 2014 regular season as well.

Closer Ronnie Shaban logged 18 saves for Palm Beach last summer, but may be blocked from Springfield due to numbers, at least initially. Other returnees are forecasted to be control artist Thomas Lee, Kyle Barraclough, who is coming off injury and Iden Nazario, who also fanned better than one batter per inning.

I see Steve Sabatino also getting the call from Peoria to be the second lefty in the pen along with Nazario. If one of the 2013 starters is moved to relief instead, I view Sabatino's spot being most at risk.

After spending all of 2012 at Palm Beach, Aidan Lucas missed most of 2013 due to a since-healed nerve problem. The right-hander turns 26 in April. Former second-rounder (as a catcher) Robert Stock improved in his second year as a pitcher, but has not yet stood out. Without a good spring showing, they could feel the numbers pressure.

Catching dominoes

The path of least resistance would be to name STEP Camp invitee Jesus Montero and (not retired) Juan Castillo as Palm Beach's catching duo. Yet, Castillo has been at this a long time – since 2007 – and I can't see him blocking a prospect, hence his Limbo status.

Before injury at Peoria last summer, Adam Ehrlich showed considerable potential. It may be a stretch to place Ehrlich here at Palm Beach, but he is essentially being bumped up due to a very high profile backstop taking one of my roster spots on the Chiefs. More on that next time.

Who's on first?

While at first glance you may notice no first basemen are listed, the position could be adequately covered. Both Jordan Walton, listed as an outfielder, and Danny Stienstra, shown here at third base, can play first. Up from Peoria, Trevor Martin should be starting at third, assuming Patrick Wisdom will be promoted to Springfield.

Jacob Wilson should be back at second, with my guess being that slick-fielding trade acquisition Juan Herrera may be pushed up from the Midwest League to replace Alex Mejia. It would be aggressive, as Herrera has just 23 games in the Midwest League, but his glove is advanced. Breyvic Valera can play all over and brings a nice bat from Peoria. The switch-hitter could be in the playing rotation at multiple positions, including second base.

Outfield transplant

I have the sparkplugs of the 2013 Peoria outfield on the 2014 season-opening Palm Beach roster. Charlie Tilson had a one-month head start last August, with fellow STEP camper C.J. McElroy following now.

Former fifth-rounder Nick Longmire, now 25 years of age, may be back for essentially a third season at the A-Advanced level. Or he may not. If David Popkins and Anthony Garcia are not promoted to Springfield as projected or if the organization wants to also advance Nick Martini from Peoria to join Tilson and McElroy, Longmire's hold on his roster spot may become slippery.

Former shortstop Ronny Gil should get time as he is just starting his transformation into a centerfielder. But maybe not too much time. The switch-hitter's bat needs to come around very quickly for him to earn at-bats with two experienced centerfielders in Tilson and McElroy also expected to be at Palm Beach.

Up next

The Cardinals' Class-A Peoria roster will be the focus of the fifth and final segment of this series - coming soon for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation.

Note: This series was written at the start of camp and is a point in time exercise. Since then, Jaime Garcia has already been counted out for the start of the regular season. As a result, one pitcher may be able to move up from each level. These forecasts were not changed midstream to reflect that. Almost certainly, other changes will become appropriate as spring games get underway.

Links to related articles:
Predicting the 2014 Cardinals' opening roster
Predicting Memphis' 2014 opening roster
Predicting Springfield's 2014 opening roster

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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