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 2016 season-opening Palm Beach roster may not have the big-name luster of the 2015 rotation that included top 10 prospects in the system Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky and Luke Weaver early on and followed by Daniel Poncedeleon, Corey Littrell and Trey Nielsen, but that does not mean the new group lacks potential.
Five of the six projected 2016 season-opening starters helped power the 2015 Peoria Chiefs into the Midwest League playoffs. In the pen, the majority – four of six - are back for a second shot at Palm Beach while seven of the eight projected position player starters would be up from Peoria.
As has been the case at every other level, there seem to be too many pitchers for the active roster spots at Palm Beach, creating what I call “in limbo” situations - though the problem appears to be less pronounced here at high A.
As we will see in the Peoria article, those who do not make these A-level clubs can easily continue to train in Extended Spring Training, though the relief valve is less wide open for Palm Beach.
Details by player will be coming in the positional breakdowns below.
Palm Beach Cardinals projected 2016 opening day roster, as of 3/19/16
|Palm Beach (25+3)|
|Flaherty (STEP) *||Grana *||Bean (NRI) *||Voit|
|Gomber (L NRI) *||Heesch (L)||L Cruz (NRI) *|
|McKinney (L) *||Herget|
|D Perez (L) *||McKnight|
|Evans (L)**||Lomascolo (L)|
|Seferina (STEP) *||Mercado (STEP) *||DeJong (STEP) *||Gibson *|
|(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 2015|
|(L) = Left-handed pitcher|
|Promos from Peoria||14||Flaherty||McKinney||Gomber||D Perez||Pearce|
|Promo from State College||1||Evans|
|Rule 5 acquisition||1||Heesch|
|Down from Springfield||0|
As has been the case traditionally, I assume a six-man rotation to open the season, seven-man bullpen and 12 position players. (In recent years, the Cardinals begin the season with six starters for the first month or so at the Class A level and below.)
Rotation: A new group
No doubt that 2014 first-rounder Jack Flaherty is the most familiar of the projected 2016 Beach Birds starting six, but let’s not forget that lefty Austin Gomber was the organization’s co-Pitcher of the Year and the lone 2015 Chiefs starter invited to big-league camp this spring.
Two lefties in Dewin Perez and Ian McKinney prospered in the Midwest League last season as did righty Matt Pearce. If I was sure that Will Anderson was healthy, he would hold down my final spot, but until I get to camp, I am not going to assume this.
Landon Beck is the final Peoria starter under consideration, but his 6.91 ERA in three late-season starts with the Chiefs after his promotion from State College tells me the 23-year-old will be better off opening 2016 back in the Midwest League.
That left me with a decision. Which of the State College starters from 2015 might be most ready to make the jump to Palm Beach? Former UConn pitcher Carson Cross logged the lowest ERA at 2.70, but left-hander Jacob Evans’ numbers were superior.
Evans, the Cardinals’ sixth-rounder last June from the University of Oklahoma, struck out 42 and walked just seven in his 49 2/3 inning professional debut to go with a solid 3.08 ERA. Amazingly, 10 of his 17 earned runs last summer came in one horrendous inning on August 30. Otherwise, his New York-Penn League ERA would have been just 1.29. Evans is my choice to grab the final starters spot in Palm Beach and step into the prospect spotlight in 2016.
Bullpen: Many familiar faces
The rock of the Peoria bullpen last season, closer Kyle Grana, should bring his game to Palm Beach to open 2016. The right-hander was an All-Star in each of the last two seasons and our top reliever at his level both years.
I project four members of the high-A season-ending relief corps to be back – righties Kevin Herget (1.75 ERA), swingman Blake McKnight (2.72) and Cody Schumacher (3.95), along with lefty Nick Lomascolo (2.34, mostly at Peoria).
Another lefty in the pen would be Rule 5 acquisition Michael Heesch, who came over from the Cubs organization. The 25-year-old spent most of 2013 and 2014 at Class A before pitching last season at high-A, but I did not see room for him at Springfield initially.
If Heesch is with Palm Beach, it could put the squeeze on another lefty, Lee Stoppelman. It is clear the 25-year-old has been on a downward spiral, after first reaching Triple-A in 2013 and being a non-roster invitee to 2014 MLB spring training camp. Stoppelman’s 2015 ERA was a bloated 8.10, mostly logged with Palm Beach.
Catching: Cut and dried?
The names to fill the two catching roster spots seem very clear, with Steve Bean and Luis Cruz apparently ready to move up from Peoria. Both were non-roster invitees to big-league camp. Bean is considered a plus defender, while Cruz features a more balanced overall game.
Though Brian O’Keefe and 2015 draftee Chris Chinea made noise in 2015 at State College and Johnson City, respectively, I don’t see either leapfrogging over Bean and Cruz at this time.
Infield: Plenty of talent
I really like the potential starting infield for Palm Beach. As I noted in the Springfield article, Luke Voit delivered much-needed power and production in the Florida State League last season, but I think the signing of free agent Chris Jacobs may have blocked him from Double-A.
The keystone combination of Darren Seferina and Oscar Mercado were Midwest League All-Stars last season. I especially think Seferina, our 26th-ranked Cardinals prospect, is a player to watch with a nice mix of power and speed. Mercado, ranked 32nd, runs wild on the bases, but needs to find a way to get to first more often.
Third baseman Paul DeJong was one of the most pleasant offensive surprises from the 2015 Draft and seems ready to bring his bat from Illinois to Florida. Brett Wiley and Andrew Sohn are primary infield reserves, with Casey Turgeon and Jake Gronsky edged out for bench spots.
Outfield: More power elsewhere?
I have Blake Drake back in the Palm Beach outfield along with 2014 free agent signee Derek Gibson, who shined in a late-season trial with Palm Beach that summer before spending much of 2015 with Peoria.
Also stepping up from the Midwest League should be Vaughn Bryan, a player with potential but who missed much of last season while repeating Peoria, along with Nick Thompson, a solid hitter. Most of the thump from the 2016 Palm Beach lineup may have to come from the infielders, though.
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!
The Roster Matrix
To see the full 2015 season-ending rosters by level and position and every transaction across the entire Cardinals system on one page, check out the Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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