On Tuesday, the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) held their annual team Media Day at AutoZone Park. While The Cardinal Nation’s Memphis reporter Thomas Simpson will be submitting his report from the event soon, this article is intended to introduce the team’s preliminary roster.
The roster is tentative for several reasons, including the fact that St. Louis plays two more games before Memphis’ opener Thursday night. As we have already seen, the injury to Tommy Pham led to Aledmys Diaz being called up to St. Louis, effective Tuesday.
Another reason the roster is not final is that the club currently has 16 pitchers, with a need to drop three to reach the Opening Day 25, likely heading to the seven-day disabled list. The 13 active pitchers will assumedly go with the 12 position players included below.
The new “Redbirds 28” is made up of five pitchers new to the organization since 2015, and 15 holdovers*. The latter group includes left-handed starting pitchers Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney, The Cardinal Nation’s third and sixth-ranked prospects for 2016.
Added to the group are eight players promoted from Double-A Springfield, headlined by outfielder Charlie Tilson, TCN’s number six prospect in the Cardinals system.
Other Redbirds in the TCN top 40 include presumed closer Sam Tuivailala (11), infielder Jacob Wilson (20), third baseman Patrick Wisdom (24), outfielder Anthony Garcia (25), catcher Michael Ohlman (30) and pitcher Arturo Reyes (33).
* One of the 15 returnees is Alex Mejia. Though the shortstop finished 2015 with Memphis, he was initially announced on the tentative Springfield roster. That was before the promotion of Diaz created an immediate opportunity back at Triple-A.
For reasons that will soon be clear, I am listing seven candidates for five rotation spots.
The aforementioned Gonzales and Cooney would be locks - if healthy. The latter’s spring shoulder soreness may be fully behind him but he may not yet be built up enough to start. Also, Gonzales has reportedly experienced forearm soreness while throwing a bullpen, potentially putting his readiness in question. Both top prospect lefties could open the year on the Disabled List.
Update: Gonzales' injury is to his elbow, with more news expected after a second opinion exam, per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch.
Right-hander Reyes (the "other" pitching A. Reyes in the Cardinals system) is back from the 2015 rotation, as well as an experienced Triple-A starter signed as a free agent in former Omaha Storm Chaser J.C. Sulbaran. Right-hander Thomas Lee went 11-5 last season between Springfield and Memphis.
Two other new Cardinals, Jeremy Hefner and Deck McGuire, are experienced starters. Hefner, once in the New York Mets rotation, is still working his way back from two Tommy John surgeries. McGuire is a former Toronto first-round pick, like Hefner signed as a free agent during the off-season.
The tentative rotation includes McGuire starting opening night, followed by Sulbaran, Hefner, Lee and Reyes.
Along with Tuivailala, expected to again lead the bullpenners, is the return of Miguel Socolovich, who may have been the last cut from St. Louis and could be the first to be called back.
Lefty Dean Kiekhefer is on the 40-man and pitched well for St. Louis in limited spring training action. Tyler Waldron was invited to camp, but missed much of the spring due to injury and could the the third candidate to be inactive to open the season.
Another lefty, Ryan Sherriff, has extensive starting experience and can play multiple roles for manager Mike Shildt and pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd.
A familiar lefty-righty pair in Justin Wright and Heath Wyatt are battle-tested, having first made their Memphis debuts in 2014.
The final two bullpen contenders are new to the Cardinals organization this season in righties Juan Gonzalez and John Church. Both have extensive PCL experience.
As expected, 40-man roster catcher Michael Ohlman is stepping up from Double-A. However, his veteran partner, Eric Fryer, was called to duty with St. Louis when Yadier Molina’s back up, Brayan Pena, went on the disabled list with a knee injury.
This created an opening for veteran minor leaguer Alberto Rosario. The 29-year-old is in his 10th professional season, having caught in 326 career games between Double-A and Triple-A. In this arrangement, I expect Ohlman to be the regular.
After two seasons at Springfield, Jonathan Rodriguez should be Memphis’ every day starter at first base and a mainstay in the middle of the lineup.
Shildt has a number of options up the middle. Second base is the primary home for both 40-man roster player Dean Anna and prospect Wilson. The latter can also play some third base as needed.
Mejia’s return from temporary assignment to Springfield could mean he will handle the primary defensive role at short. However, versatile veteran Matt Williams is also on the roster, and can cover multiple positions, too.
Inconsistent, but still promising Patrick Wisdom should be the regular starter at the hot corner. Like Rodriguez on the other corner, the 24-year-old repeated Double-A in 2015.
As noted above, the promotion of speedy outfielder Charlie Tilson for his initial Triple-A experience should provide the Redbirds with their regular centerfielder and leadoff man.
Coming off a strong 2015 that included international success and a rebirth at Springfield, Anthony Garcia should man one corner, along with veteran free agent signee Carlos Peguero – at least until Jeremy Hazelbaker returns from St. Louis.
The fourth outfielder is Nick Martini, who came up from Springfield to help the Redbirds during 2015.
So, that concludes our initial look at the not-final version of the 2016 Memphis Redbirds. It is a club with considerable experience in its pitching corps with a number of interesting prospects making their Triple-A debuts.
What is next
The Redbirds look to improve on their 73-71 record and second-place finish in the PCL’s American South Division in 2015 as they get underway in the new season on Thursday against Colorado Springs at AutoZone Park.
Thomas Simpson, who contributed to this story, is back for another year with his weekly eyewitness notebooks from AZP, posted each Friday morning all season long, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Stay tuned to The Cardinal Nation for more Cardinals system full-season roster information and analysis this week.
To see the entire Cardinals system by level and position, along with free agents and every transaction all year long, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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