The Gulf Coast League is using a different playing schedule this season. The Cardinals still play Monday through Saturday, but only within their four-team Eastern Division against the Marlins, Mets and Nationals. Further, the Cardinals will play three-game series against two opponents each week. Unlike series played at higher levels where teams travel and stay overnight, the GCL series are home-away-home or vice versa, so each team has three home and three away games each week. The Cardinals play most of their home games at noon on a back field of the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter. Admission is free, but there's no beer or hot dogs.
Last season, each club played two-game home-and-away sets against all three opponents every week.
For the uninitiated, the GCL is the bottom rung of affiliated pro ball on U.S. soil, short-season Rookie level.
Based on their listed hometowns, the 31-man opening day roster has 17 players from the United States, 14 from Latin America and one Canadian. Of the 17 born in the U.S., five are from Florida and three from the St. Louis area. Of the Latin Americans, seven are from the Dominican Republic and three from Puerto Rico.
Nine players on this year's opening roster spent all or part of last season with the GCL Cardinals. Of the 24 players the Cardinals have officially signed so far out of this year's draft, seven were assigned to the GCL team, six of them pitchers.
The full Gulf Coast League Cardinals roster can be viewed here.
Plans for Weaver
GCL rosters are typically filled with a combination of later-round signees, mostly fresh out of high school, and Caribbean players making their debut on U.S. soil, so it is a departure from the norm for most organizations for an early round college player like the Cardinals' first pick, Luke Weaver, to be sent to the GCL.
"Typically, a first-round college pitcher would start in the (short-season Class A) New York-Penn League or higher," GCL manager Steve Turco said.
St. Louis' GCL precedent was set in 2012 with Michael Wacha, and repeated last season with Marco Gonzales, both college pitchers who were the Cardinals' first picks. So there is no reason to do differently with Weaver, Turco said.
All three had heavy workloads in their final college season before signing, so the Cardinals want to limit Weaver's workload this season. "Fatigue is a main factor in arm problems," Turco said. "So that we don't want to run the risk of hurting Luke, we're going to take it very slowly, as we did with Wacha and Gonzales."
In his first pro season. Wacha pitched 21 innings and Gonzales only slightly more in his debut campaign.
Weaver probably won't see game action during the first couple of weeks. He will throw in side sessions twice a week "while he is indoctrinated into the Cardinals' system," Turco said.
Higher classifications have 25-man roster limits, so there isn't room on those teams for a pitcher "who isn't participating," Turco said. The GCL runs with 35 players. Furthermore, because Jupiter is home to the Cardinals for spring training and their Class A-Advanced team, the quality of facilities and availability of coaching is greater than the Cardinals' other short-season affiliates.
The Cardinals hit the ground running with two five-run wins, 7-2 and 6-1, over the Marlins in the abbreviated first week. "You can't win them all unless you win the first one," manager Steve Turco said after Friday's victory.
The defending league champion Nationals and Mets split their two games, so the Cardinals are in first place in the very early going. Shortstop Edmundo Sosa, an 18-year-old from Panama, has started the season like a house afire, with four hits and three walks in 10 plate appearances.
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