We have finally reached the fifth, final and perhaps 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, there should be massive turnover in the roster spots at Peoria. In my estimation, only five players that ended 2015 with the Chiefs may be returning there.
That leaves room for as many as 20 new Chiefs, with 15 coming from State College. More interesting, perhaps are the four players potentially making the jump from Johnson City and one all the way from the Gulf Coast League. Then there are two free agents, only one of whom I have making the team. The other seven players noted as “in limbo” are ones who were with Peoria last season, but may be squeezed out initially to open 2016.
If kept in the organization, they would have to remain behind at extended spring training initially and work to become in-season replacements at Peoria or join action when short-season play begins in mid-June.
Peoria Chiefs projected 2016 opening day roster, as of 3/20/16
|Jor Rodriguez*||Then||Chinea (STEP)**|
|J Perez*||Wheatley (L)|
|Fernandez (STEP)**||S DeLaCruz*|
|Martin*||Sosa (STEP)*||Staton**||Sierra (STEP)**|
|E Alvarez (STEP)**||Pina*||Aikin*|
|(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 State College||14||J Perez||Jor Rodriguez||D Martinez||Cross||Harrison|
|Promo from Johnson City||4||Alvarez||Chinea||Staton||Sierra|
|Promo from Gulf Coast||1||Fernandez|
|Free agent signees||1+1#||Wheatley||M Reynolds#|
|Limbo/disabled list||7||Bray||M Reynolds#||Frey||A DeLeon||Swirchak|
As has been the case traditionally, I assume a six-man rotation, seven-man bullpen and 12 position players. (I expect the Cardinals will again begin the season with six starters for the first month or so at the Class A level and below.)
Rotation: Beck is the “veteran”
Assuming the Cardinals follow recent practice and open the Midwest League season with six starters for roughly the first month, I see four rotation openings filled from State College, one from the Gulf Coast League and just one returnee.
Even the returnee, Landon Beck, made just three starts for the Chiefs last August after his promotion from State College. Four of his 2015 rotation-mates now seem ready to make the jump in Jorge Rodriguez (3.11 ERA), Juan Perez (3.58), Dailyn Martinez (3.30) and Carson Cross (2.70).
I am not sure I am reaching far to make my final rotation selection, Junior Fernandez. The hard-throwing right-hander was a STEP camp invitee, over Johnson City starters Ronnie Williams and Bryan Dobzanski. Fernandez was also given a brief introduction to Palm Beach late last season. Not far on his heels should be another 2015 GCL pitching star, Sandy Alcantara.
Bullpen: An interesting blend
Cuban Pedro Echemendia logged a dozen saves for the Spikes last summer and could slip into Kyle Grana’s former closing role. Fellow right-handers Luke Harrison and Steven De La Cruz should join him in promotions from the New York-Penn League.
Returnees to the Chiefs pen could include Kevin Alexander and Jery Then, along with submariner Dixon Llorens. The latter remains an enigma, consistently among the system’s leaders in both strikeouts and walks. During his injury-plagued 2015, his ERA ballooned to 7.11. Given his first season at Class-A was in 2013, I see the runway narrowing for the 23-year-old.
Among those I have in limbo are a pair of right-handers in Tyler Bray and Jeff Frey. Now 24 years old, Bray was consistent between State College and Peoria, but the results were not good (4.91 and 4.97 ERAs, respectively). Frey, also 24, posted a 6.00 ERA in 19 games with the Chiefs before being sent down to State College. I see these two as possibly being on the bubble this spring.
Catchers: Upside behind the plate
Brian O’Keefe and Chris Chinea scored STEP Camp invitations and seem poised to share the catching duties for Peoria in 2016. O’Keefe played in 34 games for the Chiefs last summer, with a solid .821 OPS. Chinea came in at .863 in his professional debut with Johnson City and earned a cup of coffee with State College at the end of the summer.
Infield: Some nice potential
I like the look of the possible infielders for the Chiefs. Casey Grayson seems ready to step up from State College, while I cannot see 25-year-old Alex De Leon back for a second season in the Midwest League after his .652 OPS last summer.
The up-the-middle players could include second basemen Eliezer Alvarez, an Appalachian League All-Star, along with 2015 draftee Danny Martin, who was off to a great start with State College before suffering a season-ending injury. Shortstop Edmundo Sosa is one of the system’s top prospects and is getting notice around the game as well, while Leobaldo Pina is still just 21 and can play multiple positions.
At third for Peoria should be Allen Staton. The 23-year-old free agent signee tore up the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues before earning a late-season promotion to Palm Beach.
In limbo status, I have Josh Swirchak and recent free agent signee Mikey Reynolds. The former free agent signee turns 23 before the season opens and batted just .225 between State College and Peoria last summer. Both could easily open in EST until openings occur.
Outfield: Sierra back for more
Back for another try at the Midwest League is center field prospect Magneuris Sierra. After his aborted introduction to the level last spring, followed by a nice summer at Johnson City, the youngster - who turns 20 just before the season opens – should be at the top of manager Joe Kruzel’s daily lineup.
I see three of the outfielders from the State College Spikes last summer in the playing mix along with Sierra in Orlando Olivera, Michael Pritchard and Craig Aikin. The former is older for his league, but offers an interesting bat. Aikin, the Cards’ 13th-rounder from Oklahoma in last June’s draft, had a good, but not great debut with State College before a late boost to Palm Beach.
I have two 2015 Peoria outfielders in the limbo status. Kenny Peoples-Walls’ career has stalled to the point I seriously question him making the Chiefs roster for a third try with today’s assumptions. His last good season with the bat was 2013 at Johnson City, when he was a shortstop. Jhohan Acevedo has been a nice complimentary player, but after six years in the system, he has a career .633 OPS, including .593 in his Peoria intro last season.
So, there you have it. From the approaching-200 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 players originally invited to minor league spring training camp (plus two dozen 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. Though I do not have the details yet, EST is expected to begin the same day as the full-season openers, on Thursday, April 7.
Links to related articles:
Predicting the 2016 Cardinals Opening Roster
Predicting the 2016 Memphis Opening roster
Predicting the 2016 Springfield Opening Roster
Predicting the 2016 Palm Beach Opening Roster
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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