Predicting the Peoria 2015 Opening Roster

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

We have finally reached the fifth, final and most challenging article in this annual series to predict the season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals and its four full-season minor league affiliates. This time around, it is the Class-A Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League.

The reason this roster may be the most difficult to set is because there are so many factors in play. Which players will not be able to be promoted to Palm Beach because there isn’t room or because they are not ready? Which ones should be released? Who may be injured?

What about the majority of the players from State College last season as well as the standouts from rookie level Johnson City and the Gulf Coast League Cardinals? All of them want to reach a full-season club to open the season and Peoria is that entry point target. Yet it is easy enough to keep most of them playing in Extended Spring Training to be ready for the first available roster opening with the Chiefs.

To open the season, roster spots at Peoria may not be as plentiful as in the past. In my estimation, only nine players who ended 2014 with the Chiefs may begin 2015 at Palm Beach.

Still, I could initially find room for as many as 18 new Chiefs, with all except one coming from State College, but none from the two rookie-ball levels below the New York-Penn League. However, to do that means I cannot place eight players from Peoria’s season-ending roster from last year, nor five Spikes from last season who would seem to be beyond repeating the NYPL in 2015.

If kept in the organization, the aforementioned five plus the other 13 2014 Spikes not even mentioned in this article would have to remain behind at EST initially and work to become in-season replacements at Peoria.

STEP Campers who may miss out initially

Extended spring camp would appear to be the same initial destination for two STEP campers who played last season with Johnson City and two more from the 2014 GCL – shortstop Oscar Mercado, centerfielder Blake Drake plus the reigning Player of the Year in the system, centerfielder Magneuris Sierra, and right-handed pitcher Jack Flaherty.

There are others ahead of them at their positions who appear to be more ready for full-season ball at this point. Drake or Sierra would have to leap Collin Radack, a standout in center for State College last season. Mercado almost has to be separated from fellow top prospect Edmundo Sosa by a level in order for both to play every day.

Of the four STEP Campers, Flaherty might have the best chance for Peoria initially.

The most aggressive high school pitching comp to him would probably be Shelby Miller. However, Miller had a head start by opening his pro career in the Midwest League in his first full season out of high school in 2010 preceded by the Cards having given him two starts there as his debut partial season of 2009 as well.

A more realistic high school starting pitching comp for Flaherty may be Tyrell Jenkins, also a first-rounder, the year after Miller. After two starts at Johnson City to debut in 2010, Jenkins returned to the Appalachian League for his first full season of play in 2011. The right-hander skipped the NYPL and reached the Midwest League to open 2012.

In terms of top prospect rankings, 18th-ranked Ian McKinney would be another short-season pitcher who some may think is ready for full-season ball. Given, the 20-year-old lefty dominated at Johnson City, but he also was slowed by injuries and had just two starts at State College before his season was done at the end of July. The fact that McKinney was not invited to STEP Camp is another signal to me that he will be given more time in extendeds to prepare for full-season ball.

This does not mean that any of this highly-touted group is not capable of arriving at Dozer Park sometime after the weather warms, however. It is all about being ready when the inevitable opportunities present themselves.

OK, now that we have thoroughly discussed who may not be here initially, let’s get to those who actually may be donning a Chiefs uniform come Opening Night on April 9th.

Peoria Chiefs projected 2015 opening day roster, as of 3/7/15

Peoria (25+13)      
SP RP C 1B
Brookshire (L) Polanco L Cruz (STEP *) Ringo
Anderson * Bray O'Keefe (STEP *)  
Nielsen (STEP *) Booden    
Poncedeleon * Loraine     
D Perez (L *) Grana *    
F Baez * Lomascolo (L *)    
  J Lucas *    
       
Limbo      
Helisek (L) Scanio # Ehrlich # A DeLeon #
Holback Rauh #    
McKnight       
Perdomo      
       
2B SS 3B OF
Seferina * R Reyes * Diekroeger * Wick
Wiley * Sosa (STEP *)   Thompson *
      Radack *
      Gibson (Palm Beach)
       
Limbo Pedroza Schulze  Peoples-Walls #
    R Medina  
    R Garcia  

Legend
(X+Y) = Active + Limbo
Limbo = EST/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

Roster sourcing

Returnees 7
New promos from State College 17
Down from Palm Beach 1
In limbo (Peoria) 8
In limbo (State College) # 5

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.)

Nielsen

Rotation: Many new faces

When the Cardinals follow recent practice and open the Midwest League season with six starters for roughly the first month, I see five rotation openings filled from State College and just one returnee.

Though not a strikeout machine, Chase Brookshire was generally solid last season for the Chiefs with a 3.96 ERA and 3.58 FIP. He could get another shot or worst case, become a long reliever. The other five projected starters, up from State College, are STEP camper Trey Nielsen, plus Will Anderson, Daniel Poncedeleon and Fernando Baez, all right-handers, along with lefty Dewin Perez. The hard-throwing Baez was moved to starting last season and could always be shifted back to the pen to relieve a roster crunch.

Same with one of the four 2014 starting pitchers who appear on the “in limbo” list. Kyle Helisek had a most curious year. The lefty was a Florida State League All-Star for Palm Beach in the first half before being bounced back down to the Chiefs, where his later-season struggles continued. Michael Holback had a lost summer due to injury but if healthy, could certainly push his way back into the picture.

Blake McKnight and Luis Perdomo allowed too many baserunners and posted ERAs over 5.00 as regulars in the 2014 Chiefs rotation. Perdomo, however, is just 21 and it seems too early to give up on him entirely. At 24, McKnight needs to show improvement in a hurry.

Loraine

Bullpen: An interesting blend

Primarily because of the roster blockage above, I have four members of the 2014 Peoria pen coming back for more. Jhonny Polanco and Zach Loraine were excellent, though the latter missed considerable time with injury. Tyler Bray and Jacob Booden were solid at State College and their Peoria peripherals were good in their first six and five, respectively, Midwest League outings late in the summer.

I have three of the top relievers from last year’s season-ending State College team making the jump to Peoria. They are Spikes closer Kyle Grana, lefty Nick Lomascolo and righty Josh Lucas. The latter had an earlier eight-game trial with Peoria that did not go well, but I suspect he earned a longer opportunity.

Among those I have in limbo is Joe Scanio. At 25 years old, returning to Peoria for a third straight year seems unlikely. Jeff Rauh is another 25-year-old, a free agent, who was not all that impressive at State College and was slapped around in an earlier two-game Midwest League trial. I see these two as possibly being on the bubble.

Cruz

Catchers: The play was signaled

This actually seems pretty easy. Luis Cruz and Brian O’Keefe scored STEP Camp invitations and seem poised to make the move up and reprise the roles they played with State College last summer.

I don’t know where that leaves Adam Ehrlich. I suspect the organization will want to keep the 22-year-old around somehow as he competed at three different levels last season, willing to re-pack his bags and head to wherever there was a catching opening.

Johnson City’s Jose Godoy has his supporters, but I don’t see how he could jump over so many others to Peoria to start the season.

Infield: Out with the old and in with the new?

I see five of the six initial Chiefs infielders coming up from State College. Actually, first baseman Alex DeLeon could easily make it a clean sweep after showing solid progress in his second year with the Spikes, but I think he is blocked by projected returnee Justin Ringo. Carrying two first base-only players is a luxury not affordable with 25-man rosters, especially with six starting pitchers.

That does not include Jake Stone, also a first baseman, who had an unsuccessful 34-game stint at Peoria but did better down at State College. He would be another contender for Peoria who seems to be a victim of the roster crunch.

Seferina

The 2014 New York-Penn League All-Star middle infield tandem of Darren Seferina and Robelys Reyes seem a lock to open with Peoria as would utilityman Brett Wiley. The versatile Reyes can play a bit of outfield if necessary, as well.

Highly-regarded shortstop Sosa, our 19th-ranked Cardinals prospect, should play every day alongside Seferina at second, if on the roster. A promotion from having spent most of 2014 at the Gulf Coast League would be aggressive, but possible due to his potential. Dependable Danny Diekroeger would man third.

Other highly-touted shortstops in addition to Mercado in Leobaldo Pina and Andrew Sohn are also contenders, but neither were healthy long enough with State College last summer to leapfrog the others.

While this entire scenario looks very nice, neat and logical, it would put four of last season’s Chiefs infielders in limbo land. Richy Pedroza (.239), Michael Schulze (.234), Ronnierd Garcia (.191) and Rafael Medina (.200) neither seem to be able to repeat Peoria nor have enough momentum to crack Palm Beach’s roster. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine they will all be gone, but there is clearly a significant numbers crunch on the diamond at the Class A levels.

Thompson

Outfield: A decided State College flavor

Rowan Wick’s record-setting power-hitting feats in the NYPL came to a crashing end upon his mid-summer promotion to Peoria. He should be back to give the MWL another shot to open the season.

I see two of the starting outfielders from the State College Spikes last summer playing alongside right-fielder Wick in the same role for the Chiefs this season – Radack in center and Nick Thompson in left.

As I mentioned in the companion Palm Beach article, though Derek Gibson shined at A-Advanced late in the season after his promotion from the Gulf Coast League, he looks to be a better fit here at Peoria.

Kenny Peoples-Walls’ transformation to the outfield has stalled to the point I seriously question him making the Chiefs roster with today’s assumptions. The former shortstop never seemed to recover last season after struggling with Peoria and then being bumped down to State College. If the Cards are not yet ready to give up, however, then I think Gibson would be the one to open in extended spring training.

The others

So, there you have it. From the roughly 186 players competing for the full-season minor league clubs, I have taken my shot at the 100 to open the season on one of the four active rosters, from Memphis to Peoria.

The remainder of the 154 players originally invited to minor league spring training camp (plus 32 more to be cut from major league camp) that do not make one of the four full-season clubs will remain behind in Jupiter, Florida. They will be joined by another 40 or so players for extended spring training camp. EST is expected to begin the same day as the full-season openers, on Thursday, April 9.



Links to related articles:
Predicting the 2015 Cardinals Opening Roster
Predicting the 2015 Memphis Opening Roster
Predicting the 2015 Springfield Opening Roster
Predicting the 2015 Palm Beach Opening Roster

Join the Spring Training discussion with other Cardinals fans here



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

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