We reach Class A here in the fourth of this annual five-installment pre-spring camp series setting The Cardinal Nation’s 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.
The 2015 season-opening Palm Beach roster may sport the most promising batteries at any level in the entire Cardinals organization. That group could include three pitchers among our top 10 prospects in the system – Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky and Luke Weaver - throwing to number 11-ranked catcher Carson Kelly.
Our view by position of the expected Palm Beach roster coming out of camp features two extremes – either almost complete turnover or most everyone returning from the end of 2014. There is not much of any middle ground.
On the turnover side, five of the projected six starters in the season-opening rotation closed 2014 at lower levels. Same with both catchers and the three outfielders I consider to be the most likely starters.
At the stability end of the spectrum is the bullpen, with six of seven holdovers, and the infield. All six of the infielders penciled onto the initial Palm Beach roster played with the club last season.
As has been the case at several other levels, there seem to be too many pitchers and catchers for active roster spots, creating what I call seven “in limbo” situations at Palm Beach.
In other words, I sense that roster squeeze may be more severe at this level than any other, because those who do not make Peoria can easily continue to train in Extended Spring Training. There is no such obvious relief valve at high-A.
Details by player will be coming in the positional breakdowns below.
Palm Beach Cardinals projected 2015 opening day roster, as of 3/3/15
|Palm Beach (25+7)|
|Reed (L)||Llorens||C Kelly (NRI *)||Washington|
|Al Reyes (STEP *)||T Lee||Bean (NRI *)|
|Kaminsky (L STEP *)||Herget|
|Ar Reyes *||Sabatino (L)|
|Morales (STEP)||Nazario (L)|
|Barraclough (STEP *)|
|Katz (STEP)||Herrera (STEP)||Caldwell||Bosco|
|C Valera||McElroy (STEP *)|
|Vargas (Springfield)||R Castillo *|
|(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|
|New promos from Peoria||9||Al Reyes||Ar Reyes||Kaminsky||Bean||C Kelly|
|Down from Springfield||1||Vargas|
|In limbo||7||Littrell||Melling||C Jones (inj)||Shaban|
As has been the case traditionally, I assume a six-man rotation, seven-man bullpen and 12 position players. (The Cardinals intend to again begin the season with six starters for the first month or so at the Class A level and below.)
Rotation: An exciting group
No matter which day a fan goes to watch the 2015 Palm Beach club in action, a name-brand prospect is likely to be on the mound. New manager Oliver Marmol is expected to have an excellent starting staff.
It begins with the two stars from last season’s Peoria club, lefty Rob Kaminsky and righty Alex Reyes. Not only are the pair among the top handful of prospects in the Cardinals system, each has received placement on multiple national top 100 lists as well.
Though 2014 first-rounder Luke Weaver threw more of his initial professional innings in the Gulf Coast League and officially ended the season back on the rookie-level club’s roster, his final mound outings last summer were with Palm Beach. That is where I expect he will return in April.
Selected one round after Weaver, another tested college pitcher in Andrew Morales followed the same path from the GCL to Palm Beach to early shut down to back to the GCL on paper. No reason to believe it will not continue as Morales’ 2014 FSL results were actually better than the more highly-touted Weaver.
I think the one holdover from the 2014 season-ending Palm Beach rotation will be Jimmy Reed. The lefty pitched well in nine late-summer starts following his promotion from Peoria.
Speaking of the Chiefs, a third member of the 2014 rotation could be among the promotions to open this season. Arturo Reyes, not Alex, was Marco Gonzales’ 2013 Draft bookend. The two members of Gonzaga’s rotation were the Cardinals’ first and last (40th round) selections in that draft. Arturo Reyes was quietly effective with the 2014 Chiefs and appears ready for the new challenge presented by the Florida State League.
However, if Silfredo Garcia is blocked from Springfield and instead returns to the Palm Beach rotation, I see Arturo being the one most likely to have to open back in the Midwest League.
For the second straight spring, I see oft-injured left-hander Tyler Melling in limbo. Cory Jones had Tommy John surgery and my rough guess is a mid-season return so he seems sure to open on the disabled list.
Corey Littrell was the oft-forgotten fourth player in the John Lackey trade with Boston. Following his arrival in Palm Beach, the lefty showed very little in his five starts (4.55 ERA, 4.78 FIP). I don’t see room for him in the rotation, but perhaps he could be tried in relief. However, I am not trying to guess potential role changes in this process.
Bullpen: Many familiar faces
On one hand, Palm Beach seems quite far away from the majors, yet that really is not the case. Among the bullpenners who opened in the FSL last April are Sam Tuivailala and Mitch Harris. Both are expected to play key roles in the 2015 Memphis pen after pitching in the Arizona Fall League. In between, “Tui” made his MLB debut.
This serves as a good reminder that no matter where players open the season, it is far more important where they end up.
Submariner Dixon Llorens remains an enigma, consistently among the system’s leaders in both strikeouts and walks. I expect he will be joined by fellow right-handed bullpen returnees Kevin Herget, Logan Billbrough and swingman Thomas Lee, along with returning lefties Iden Nazario and Steve Sabatino.
The lone projected newcomer to the Palm Beach pen deserves special notice as also the only Class A reliever invited to STEP Camp in Kyle Barraclough, up from Peoria. Ronnie Shaban and his 6.81 ERA between Palm Beach and Springfield could be in limbo.
Another pitcher I have in the limbo status is recently-signed Cuban right-hander Pedro Echemendia. The 23-year-old is four years removed from active competition and was not dominating before his long layoff. Until we see if the Cardinals have what they think they may have in Echemendia, I will maintain a healthy, but respectful skepticism.
Catching: Cut and dried?
The names to fill the two catching roster spots seem very clear, with Kelly and Steve Bean apparently ready to move up from Peoria. Both are non-roster invitees to big-league camp.
Then, we have the question of Mason Katz. The second baseman-first baseman took up catching last fall, but will he be a backstop or utilityman going forward? His bat is probably ready for Double-A, but it would not seem he is ready to catch there. With Kelly and Bean around, there isn’t going to be a lot of room behind the plate at Palm Beach, either.
For that reason, I left Katz on paper as the club’s second baseman for now with his ability to play first base and serve as the third-string catcher also noted here. In addition, it is worth mentioning that Katz (or Bruce Caldwell) could be in the lineup at designated hitter when one is used.
Infield: Versatility, but no room for others
In the Springfield article, I noted my choice of a first baseman to move up to the Texas League is Luke Voit, leaving David Washington to potentially repeat Palm Beach. Caldwell was quietly second on the team last season in home runs behind Washington (12 and 15, respectively) and can play second as well as third. The latter is where I have him penciled in as the starter.
Ildemaro Vargas is another experienced infielder who can handle multiple positions, including the outfield. The 23-year-old actually became a free agent before re-signing with the Cardinals during the winter. Though Vargas finished last season with eight games at Springfield, I see no room for him there, but he would fill a clear need in returning to Palm Beach as a supersub.
Outfield: Wholesale Illinois transplants
2014 free agent signee Derek Gibson did most of his damage last summer in the Gulf Coast League, but then shined in a late-season trial with Palm Beach. As a college player, staying in Class A this season would not seem a stretch. However, because it could squeeze returnee Jimmy Bosco off the Palm Beach roster, I am projecting Gibson to open at Peoria, instead. I think the aforementioned 2014 Peoria trio is more proven and ready.
The Cardinals’ Class-A Peoria Chiefs roster will be the focus of the fifth and final segment of this series - coming soon for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for subscribing and reading!
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