Roster openings may be plentiful, since by my estimation, at least 10 players that ended 2013 with Peoria may begin 2014 at Palm Beach. That is good, considering there are so many promising players seemingly ready to graduate from short-season Class-A State College – and maybe even one or two all the way from Johnson City directly to Peoria. The player development pipeline has to continue flowing.
Peoria Chiefs projected 2014 opening day roster, as of 2/26/14
|Mayers (STP)||Adamek||*C Kelly (NRI)||Schaffer|
|Helisek (L)||C Thomas||Velazco||*Washington|
|**Al Reyes (STP)||*Booden|
|*C Valera||*Ro Castillo|
|(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 = 13
Promotions from State College = 11*
Promotions from Johnson City = 1**
In limbo = 1
Even when the Cardinals follow recent practice and open the Midwest League season with six starters for the first month or so, there may be at most two rotation openings. This assumes Cory Jones moves up to Palm Beach, but Mike Mayers and Kyle Helisek have to remain behind – at least initially. In an unrestricted environment, one could easily see all three at the higher level, but the reality is that others are ahead of them.
Silfredo Garcia made 18 MWL starts last season and Chris Perry added another nine. I project the two to be back among the starting six. That leaves two openings. Normally, I would fill them with the top two arms from State College, righty Nick Petree and lefty Jimmy Reed, and call it a wrap.
However, just as I mentioned in the context of Oscar Taveras, there is a special talent who may be ready to step into the picture. Right-hander Alex Reyes is The Cardinal Nation's seventh-ranked prospect and the 19-year-old made several industry-wide top 100 lists this winter.
Back in 2011, another targeted righty, a youngster named Trevor Rosenthal, made the same leap, from the Appalachian League into the MWL. Rosenthal started the All-Star Game and became the outstanding pitcher of the League playoffs. Reyes has similar capabilities, so Reed draws the short straw here and remains in extended spring training – until a rotation need creates itself.
Last spring, the Chiefs opened up with seven relievers – all right-handed. That meant they played one position player short until the rotation went down to five. (One of those relievers was Zach Petrick, who ended the season in Springfield's rotation and was named the organization's Pitcher of the Year!)
Through no fault of their own, a couple of above-average Joes may open their second straight season in the Peoria pen – Joe Donofrio and Joe Scanio. Opportunities to move up seem highly competitive and limited. They were joined during the 2013 season by Brady Adamek and Chris Thomas, both of whom should also be back with the Chiefs.
I have three of the top relievers from last year's State College team making the jump to Peoria. In one case, 28-year-old former Navy officer Mitch Harris, I am surprised the organization has waited so long. Others especially deserving, in my opinion, include 6-foot-7 Jacob Booden and what would be the Chiefs' lone pen lefty, Chase Brookshire.
I cannot recall the Cardinals ever giving a player a non-roster invitation to major league camp when he has yet to play an official game as a catcher as is the case with Carson Kelly this spring. It could be perceived as a stretch to return Kelly to Peoria to open the season, but I think that hinges entirely on Kelly's defensive progress this spring. (He made his MWL debut as a third baseman early in 2013 before being sent down to State College for the summer.)
Gerwuins Velazco was an up-and-coming catching prospect 12 months ago. While he did not take the next step in 2013, I think the 22-year-old will get another chance and open the season with the Chiefs.
Before his season-ending injury last summer, Jonathan Keener managed just 48 Chiefs at-bats. At 24 years of age and still in low A-ball, the former 32nd rounder (in 2011) needs something good to happen quickly.
At first blush, having six infielders and only four outfielders may seem a bit shaky. Yet, the reality of those who seem most ready for promotion point me in that direction. Not to worry, as both David Washington and Ildemaro Vargas have seen time in the outfield, in addition to their primary infield duties.
Though I have three names listed at short, like Vargas, Bruce Caldwell has multiple gloves. With only room for one of Cesar Valera and Michael Schulze to initially come up from State College, I have Valera ahead, with Schulze likely the first infielder promoted to the Chiefs from extended spring training camp. As in any number of these cases, spring play might change matters.
If Robelys Reyes had logged more than a few weeks in the US to date, I could understand the Cardinals pushing the second baseman quickly to Peoria. The reality, however, is that the 23-year-old has just 21 career plate appearances in the States, all at Johnson City last August. The clock is ticking for the former Dominican Summer League batting champion, whose career was artificially limited by a visa problem of three years' duration.
All three of the starting outfielders from the State College Spikes last summer may be playing the same role for the Chiefs this season – New York-Penn League batting champion Steven Ramos, .300-hitting Jimmy Bosco and sleeper prospect Ronald Castillo. They would join holdover Nick Martini.
If Kenny Peoples-Walls was further into his transformation from shortstop to outfielder, I could see him perhaps contend for a spot with Peoria, but he probably needs more time in EST. Same with his 2013 Johnson City teammate Rowan Wick, a former catcher and intriguing power threat, and Appy League All-Star Vaughn Bryan.
The remainder of the players in minor league spring training camp that do not make one of the four full-season clubs - all 49 of them by my count - will remain behind in Jupiter, Florida. They will be joined by another 40 or so players for extended spring training camp. EST will begin the same day as the full-season openers, on Thursday, April 4.
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
Predicting Palm Beach's 2014 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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