Hopefully, you read part one of this five-part series. If not, please do that before returning here. There, I explained the process I am following to project the season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals and their four full-season minor league affiliates – before minor league camp even opens!
Here in part two, we tackle the challenge of setting the roster of Triple-A Memphis, led by Mike Shildt, up from Double-A Springfield for 2015. As in all the other articles of this series, every player under contract will be accounted for.
The Memphis story is similar to that of 12 months ago. As opposed to the past, when the Cardinals had to sign a number of minor league free agents to fill out the Redbirds’ roster, the vast majority of the projected Memphis roster comes from inside the organization.
This year, the number of external free agent additions is four, plus one trade acquisition. Relievers Marcus Hatley and Miguel Socolovich were signed off the free agent wire early in the off-season. Third baseman Scott Moore was brought back for a second season with the Redbirds.
The other two external additions are middle infielders who are competing for a big-league job this spring as 40-man roster players. They are shortstop Dean Anna and utilityman Ty Kelly, the latter acquired via trade. By their inclusion here, I did not project them to make the major league club out of camp (see part one).
From the big picture view, 10 of my projected Memphis arms are home-grown Cardinals, as are eight of the position players.
Here is my pre-camp take on the 25-man opening roster for the Redbirds, with detailed explanation following.
Memphis Redbirds projected 2015 opening day roster, as of 2/23/15
|Gonzales (L)||Greenwood (L)||Easley||Scruggs|
|Petrick (NRI)||Tuivailala||Stanley *||Jon Rodriguez (STEP)|
|Cooney (L NRI)||Wyatt|
|Mayers (NRI *)||Kiekhefer (L NRI)|
|Lyons (L)||Harris (NRI)|
|Gast (L NRI)||K Butler||Tartamella (NRI)|
|G Garcia||Anna||Moore (NRI)||Pham|
|T Kelly||A Diaz *||R Ortega (NRI)|
|(X+Y) = Active + Limbo|
|Limbo = DL/rehab/demote/release candidate|
|Bold = 40-man roster member|
|NRI = non-roster invitee to MLB camp|
|STEP = STEP Camp|
|* promotion from year-end 2014|
|(L) = Left-handed pitcher|
|* Incl end of 2014 AA promos||5||Mayers||Harris||Rodriguez||Ortega||O’Neill|
|New promos from Double-A||2||Stanley||A Diaz|
|Free agents||4||Moore *||Anna||Socolovich||Hatley|
|Acquired via trade||1||T Kelly|
|Down from St. Louis||1||Gonzales|
As has been the case traditionally, I assume a five-man rotation, seven-man bullpen and 13 position players.
The sourcing table above requires a bit of explanation. While the total of 18 returnees looks exceptionally high, five of them were promoted from Springfield at the very end of last season and as noted above, one, Moore, was re-signed.
Still, there is potentially room for just two other promotions from Double-A. I will talk more about my five in-limbo players, four of whom are pitchers, as I review the positions in detail below.
Rotation: Four returnees lead the way
Even if Marco Gonzales wasn’t topping the starting five, the Redbirds should feature a strong and experienced rotation. The two pitchers to toss the most innings for the Redbirds in 2014 should be back at it to open 2015. They are lefty Tim Cooney and right-hander Zach Petrick. The only reason Tyler Lyons was not among them was his time spent with St. Louis last summer.
Righty Mike Mayers is the lone newbie in my projected Redbirds rotation. The right-hander was called up from Springfield at the end of last season to make one start and joins the other four potential starters in big-league camp this spring.
With just five rotation spots and at least seven viable candidates, I have John Gast and Boone Whiting on the outside. That does not mean they will not make the roster or will be released. They could beat out one of the other candidates, move to relief or open the season on the disabled list, for example.
Fair or not, I see Gast as sort of the Memphis version of Jaime Garcia. A left-handed starter with good potential, but slowed by shoulder injuries for so long, it is difficult to know what you are going to get. I hope Gast proves me wrong this spring.
Whiting would be a victim of numbers. The right-hander won just four of 20 starts with the Redbirds last season while logging a 4.19 ERA and a FIP of 4.26. While he fanned one batter per inning, his walk rate of just over four per nine innings is a problem. The fact he was neither invited to big league camp as an NRI or even STEP Camp stands out.
Obviously, the rotation situation would change if the Cardinals keep Gonzales in the pen and instead option a reliever to Memphis.
Bullpen: Cramped conditions
Just as was the case in St. Louis and perhaps more accurately, because of it, the Redbirds’ pen seems pretty much set.
Six of the seven projected relievers are in major league camp this spring, including two 40-man pitchers in Nick Greenwood and potential closer Sam Tuivailala. The one exception, side-arming slinger Heath Wyatt, was effective with the Redbirds last season.
Tuivailala, Mitch Harris and lefty Dean Kiekhefer have all pitched in the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase and with the additions of Socolovich and Hatley from the outside, the roster filled up quickly.
Among those I feel could be on the outside looking in are former closer Keith Butler and lefty Justin Wright. Butler, taken off the 40-man in November after making St. Louis’ roster to open last season, should open the season on the disabled list, recovering from Tommy John surgery. Wright just did not get the job done with the Redbirds last season, allowing 16 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings, so could be on the performance bubble.
In an unconstrained situation, I would promote 2014 STEP camper Joe Donofrio from Springfield to Memphis to open the season. At this point, I don’t see him dislodging any of the projected Memphis relievers – at least out of spring camp. There simply isn’t room.
Then again, it is fair to remember than neither Socolovich nor Hatley have any track record with the Cardinals, so their spring results could be more important than for some of the home-grown relievers.
Catching: A firm hand
One year ago in this space, I said, “Easley is a nice addition to the system, with a proven Triple-A bat.” Such it was, to the extent the Cardinals added the Memphis native to the 40-man roster last fall to preclude him from free agency.
The “prospect” role to share time with the veteran Easley has moved from Audry Perez to Cody Stanley for 2015. After a comeback season with Springfield in 2014, the 26-year-old may have the best shot at replacing Tony Cruz in 2016. For now, however, the left-handed hitter must prove his mettle at Triple-A.
NRI Travis Tartamella remains a good organizational soldier, a solid catch-and-throw guy willing to move between levels as needed, but his below-average hitting keeps him from regular playing time. The 27-year-old could be sent back to Springfield for a fifth season, but there is a crowded field there with three newcomers plus three other backstops coming up from behind at Palm Beach with more promise.
As is often the case with catching, a late camp injury could be a possible resolution to the numbers issue – at this and other levels.
Infield: Crowded crew
I went into some detail in the St. Louis installment of this series as to the various bench alternatives for the Cardinals and specifically the infield reserve competition that includes Anna, Kelly, Greg Garcia and Pete Kozma.
Essentially, the Cardinals have four players competing for one or at most two spots in St. Louis. That leaves three for Memphis. I believe they will be Anna, Kelly and Garcia.
Then there is the 40-man player with the quietest 2014, shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Even so, The Cardinal Nation ranked the 24-year-old Cuban ranked 12th in the system coming into 2015. It is important to remember that the shortstop finished his first professional season in the US in Palm Beach because of the rehab facilities there, not because of his talent.
If Diaz is fully ready to go, I can see him in Memphis. Though it might be an aggressive assignment given he was limited to just 47 games last season between Palm Beach and Springfield, this is already the second year of his four-year contract.
A by-product of the aforementioned three (Anna, Kelly and Garcia) slipping down to Triple-A and a healthy Diaz would mean no room for either Breyvic Valera or Jacob Wilson. The two second basemen performed well in the Arizona Fall League and scored non-roster invites to big-league camp this spring.
Even if I shoehorned one of them onto my Memphis roster (at the expense of a lesser prospect in Jonathan Rodriguez), with five middle infielders, there just would not appear to be enough at bats to go around.
Because Valera played the entire 2014 season while Wilson missed several months due to injury and because he can play the outfield as well, I would give the initial Triple-A edge to Valera. However, I don’t think it is going to matter, at least initially this spring.
A quirk of this roster is two first basemen. However, Rodriguez, who first moved up from Springfield late in the season when Xavier Scruggs received the call from St. Louis, is another versatile defender. Rodriguez can also man third base and corner outfield and would be a potent pinch-hitter as well.
So can Kelly and Moore. As a result, having three infielders who can also play in the outfield could help the Redbirds get away with rostering just four full-time outfielders.
Ideally, I would prefer the Cardinals keep just one of Anna and Kelly (probably Kelly for his versatility), and move Valera or Wilson up from Springfield, but that may not happen right away. Still, the first injury will serve as a good reminder why there are so many candidates.
Which leads us to…
Outfield: An uncharacteristically quiet place
One year ago, Memphis was so loaded with outfield talent that two good players with Triple-A experience in James Ramsey and Mike O’Neill ended up having to return to Double-A just to be able to play every day.
That glut of talent is no longer in place in 2015. In my view, the Redbirds starting outfield will be Rafael Ortega, Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty, backed up by Mike O’Neill. Ortega and Pham can both play center, so adequate reserves would be in place.
As noted above, I see the fifth outfield spot used instead on a reserve infielder who can also play in the outfield in Kelly. Scruggs could also see time in the corner outfield when Rodriguez is at first, and perhaps they might even give Rodriguez some time out there. This is accentuated by the fact that there are no clear flycatchers in Springfield knocking hard on the Triple-A door.
If instead Grichuk is returned to Memphis for more seasoning to open the season, I suspect Ortega would be bumped to the bench.
The Cardinals’ Double-A roster will be the focus of part three of this series - coming soon for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Link to related article: Predicting the 2015 Cardinals Opening Roster
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