A Second Look at the 2015 Peoria Chiefs

How the Cardinals’ Class-A Midwest League roster compares to our pre-spring training predictions.

With the announcement of the preliminary roster of the 2015 Peoria Chiefs, it is appropriate to look back and compare this roster to the one I predicted would be in place over a month ago, before spring training even began.

First of all, here are the initial 26 Chiefs for 2015, with one player to be removed from this list by Thursday’s opening day for the Class-A Midwest League.

Peoria (26)      
SP (6) RP (7) C (2) 1B (2)
Flaherty (6) Baez (38) Bean * Ringo *
Anderson Polanco * L Cruz  De Leon
Pearce McKnight *    
Poncedeleon (34) Loraine *    
D Perez (L) Grana    
Gomber (L) Lomascolo (L)    
  Rowland    
       
2B (1) SS (3) 3B (1) OF (4)
Seferina (39) Mercado (23) Diekroeger Sierra (16)
  Sohn   Thompson 
  Pedroza *   Radack 
      Drake
* returnees      

Only six of the 26 are returnees from the 2014 club, as denoted by an asterisk (*). That group includes three relievers, a catcher, a first baseman and an infielder.

In making my early predictions, it is clear that I was conservative. However, it is now obvious that in the case of standout talents, the Cardinals are being aggressive in their placements. This seemed the direction signaled once spring training was underway and is confirmed by this roster.

The new Chiefs players include two promotions of top prospects from the 2014 Gulf Coast League in starting pitcher Jack Flaherty and outfielder Magneuris Sierra, as well as two standouts from the Appalachian League champion Johnson City Cardinals in shortstop Oscar Mercado and outfielder Blake Drake.

Six of the 26 are members of The Cardinal Nation top 40 prospect list for 2015: Flaherty (6th), Sierra (16th), Mercado (23rd), Daniel Poncedeleon (34th), Fernando Baez (38th) and Darren Seferina (39th).

Now, let’s compare my early predictions to the 26-man roster. “Adds” are the players who were not on my list. “Misses” are the players I thought would be on the roster, but are not.

We will start with pitchers, catchers and first basemen.

SP adds RP adds C adds 1B adds
Flaherty Baez # Bean De Leon
Pearce Rowland    
Gomber (L) McKnight    
       
SP misses RP misses C misses 1B misses
Brookshire Bray O'Keefe none
Nielsen Booden    
Baez # Lucas    

Starters

All six rotation members are new. Up from State College, Will Anderson, Poncedeleon and Dewin Perez, were correct predictions, however, I missed on Flaherty, Matt Pearce and Austin Gomber.

Pearce, a 21-year-old taken in the 13th round last June, logged a 4.20 ERA in 10 starts for Johnson City with a 34/9 strikeout to walk ratio in 45 innings. With some strong spring performances, he jumped over several State College pitchers to claim a rotation spot on the Chiefs.

I should have placed Gomber, the Cards’ fourth-rounder from 2014, at Peoria, but I was worried about the lefty’s high WHIP of 1.55 rather than his ERA of 2.30 with State College.

Missing out on Trey Nielsen, one of the more impressive young pitchers in camp, signals that he is likely jumping over Peoria and will open at Palm Beach.

As I noted in the prediction article, Baez is a reliever who started last season to get innings. The hard-thrower’s move back to the pen is not surprising.

I am not sure about Chase Brookshire. I thought his pitching for the Chiefs last year was good enough to remain in the rotation. But as a swingman, he could end up in the Palm Beach bullpen. We will have to see where he opens the season.

Relievers

Robby Rowland is a recent free agent signee. Arizona’s third-rounder in 2010 moved to relief last season, but has spent most of the last two seasons at A-Advanced. So this assignment is a slight step back, perhaps allowing the 23-year-old right-hander to regroup.

A roster spot for Blake McKnight was unclear to me coming into camp. The right-hander is 24 years old and logged a 5.17 ERA and 56 strikeouts against 36 walks in 111 1/3 innings for the Chiefs last season.

Based on their 2014 performance, three relievers on my predicted Chiefs roster were Tyler Bray, Jacob Booden and Josh Lucas. I guess all three could be on Palm Beach, but that means others would be pushed out. More likely, one or more will have to start the year in advanced spring training.

Catchers

Having Steve Bean repeat Peoria without Carson Kelly alongside means an everyday job is likely ahead. 2014 seventh-rounder Brian O’Keefe, who was the starter at State College last summer, is apparently going to have to wait his turn.

First base

Having two first sackers is a bit unusual, but both Justin Ringo and Alex De Leon deserve to be on the team.

2B adds SS adds 3B adds OF adds
none Mercado none Sierra
  Sohn   Drake
  Pedroza    
       
2B misses SS misses 3B misses OF misses
Wiley Sosa none Wick 
  R Reyes   Gibson

Second base

I thought Brett Wiley had played his way onto the Chiefs roster, but incumbent Richy Pedroza will be back to cover the infield utility role instead. Perhaps Wiley can make the jump to Palm Beach. Fifth-rounder Seferina is the likely starter for the Chiefs.

Shortstop

All spring, the Cardinals played top shortstop prospects Mercado and Edmundo Sosa side by side. Since Mercado played a level higher last season, it makes sense that he opens with the Chiefs.

Given Andrew Sohn was only able to play in 11 games last summer at State College after being drafted in the sixth round, his placement here seems to be another aggressive move. Obviously, the Cardinals think the former Western Michigan star is ready for the Midwest League.

2014 New York-Penn League all-star shortstop Robelys Reyes has been old for his leagues ever since he reached the US late due to a multi-year visa problem. I thought the 24-year-old would be promoted to Peoria this spring, but the numbers are what they are.

Third base

No mystery here. State College Player of the Year Danny Diekroeger earned his promotion, with Pedroza the likely back up.

Outfield

State College standouts Collin Radack and Nick Thompson were easy predictions for Peoria in 2015. Major differences occurred in two of the other four roster spots, though.

I readily admit that placing Derek Gibson at Peoria was a stretch given the 24-year-old spent most of his first season in the GCL. However, the free agent signee from Southeast Missouri State did perform very well at Palm Beach late in 2014.

After tearing up the NYPL last summer, slugger Rowan Wick stumbled in his Peoria introduction in the final 39 games. I really thought he would be back for more MWL adjustment, but we are seeing more aggressive moves this spring...

Speaking of which, we knew all about Sierra, the Player of the Year across the system in 2014. Putting an 18-year-old in the Midwest League carries risk, but as we saw with Carson Kelly two years ago, the organization is willing to back a teenager off if he shows he is not ready for full-season ball.

Blake Drake is another centerfielder the organization likes a lot. Tall and slender, Drake was also invited to STEP camp this spring after hitting .282 and leading Johnson City with six home runs last season.

So, there you have it. The first look at the 2015 Peoria Chiefs, a club with some very exciting young talent.

Stay tuned to The Cardinal Nation for more full-season roster information over the next week.

Bookmark the Roster Matrix

To see the full 2014 season-ending rosters by level and position for the entire Cardinals system on one page, along with every transaction all season long, check out the Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.

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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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