The Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) wrapped up their Media Day Tuesday at AutoZone Park, with Opening Night Thursday night at 7:05 p.m. against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Brewers.)
The Redbirds finished the 2015 season 73-71 and second place in their division behind Round Rock (Rangers).
The Redbirds released their “tentative” roster at Media Day, but it was not final since the parent Cardinals played two games between Redbirds Media Day and Opening Day, and Memphis had three pitchers on the roster that were heading to the disabled list: top-prospects Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales, and reliever Tyler Waldron.
With the Cardinals releasing the full Memphis roster today, and Opening Day against Colorado Springs tonight, here are four things to expect from the 2016 season.
1. Playoff qualification is expected
The 2015 Redbirds finished five games shy of a playoff appearance with a 73-71 record. One reason was due to inconsistency throughout the season, and another reason was that 17 different players were called up to the majors at least once.
The good news is that Memphis returns a majority of the roster from last season. 15 members of the 25-man roster for Opening Night spent some time in Memphis last season, including Pacific Coast League All Star Dean Kiekhefer, the team-leader in saves last season in Sam Tuivailala, Memphis-area born infielder Jacob Wilson and veteran leader Dean Anna.
While injuries to Gonzales and Cooney, the third and fifth-ranked prospects in St. Louis’ system according to The Cardinal Nation, will sideline two immense talents, and missing key players like infielder Greg Garcia and outfielder Tommy Pham, team chemistry goes a long way in a league where guys are getting called-up constantly.
2. New additions provide an influx of talent
While the Redbirds welcome back a majority of the 2015 roster, there are some new faces, too.
Deck McGuire is a former Toronto first-round pick acquired in free agency. J.C. Sulbaran is an experienced Triple-A starter also signed as a free agent. The two will be the starters for each of the Redbirds’ first two contests.
Charlie Tilson, the sixth-ranked prospect in the Cardinals system, is a speedy outfielder promoted from Double-A Springfield. Catcher Michael Ohlman, first baseman Jonathan Rodriguez, and third baseman Patrick Wisdom are other newly promoted position players from Double-A.
These new faces, whether acquired through free agency or the system, will help relieve the losses of players like Garcia and Pham, and could possibly position themselves for big-league call-ups.
Speaking of call-ups…
3. The Cardinals’ disabled list is in midseason form
As of now, there are seven players on St. Louis’ disabled list. If this trend keeps up, we can expect a lot of players getting calls to the majors.
Reliever Miguel Socolovich had some success with the Cardinals last season, and was one of the last cuts from St. Louis this spring, so expect him to be one of the first called up. Closer Tuivailala was arguably Memphis’ best reliever last season, and he could end up getting some further looks from St. Louis as well.
Gonzales and Cooney have suffered injury setbacks, but they are considered two of the top prospects in the Cardinals system. Cooney could be the next starter added to St. Louis’ roster when healthy and the need presents itself.
With regard to position players, Aledmys Diaz was called up Tuesday to replace the injured Tommy Pham. Anna is a veteran who played well last season. Wilson spent time with the Cardinals during spring training, and could be a viable option for the Cardinals if more infield injuries occur.
The Cardinals have already suffered some setbacks with injuries this season, but if the injury bug hits St. Louis again, there is enough talent in Memphis to bring support.
Speaking of talent…
4. The Redbirds have multiple top prospects on their roster
The 2016 Redbirds roster includes nine players in The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 prospects, including three of the top ten.
Gonzales and Cooney, ranked second and fifth respectively, are currently on the disabled list and have no timetable for their return. However, Cooney was Memphis’ best starter last season before being sidelined due to appendicitis, and expectations from St. Louis are very high on Gonzales, who impressed during St. Louis’ playoff run in 2014, if he can avoid Tommy John surgery.
Tilson, the number six prospect, is a speedster from Illinois who earned his way up from Springfield. The 23-year-old batted .295 with four home runs, and stole 46 bases for the Double-A affiliate last summer.
Tuivailala, ranked 11th, led Memphis in saves last season with 17. Wilson, ranked 20th, was selected to Team USA for the Pan Am Games, and blasted two homers there.
Wisdom, ranked 24th, has never failed to hit below 13 home runs since 2013. Outfielder Anthony Garcia, ranked 25th, batted .276 in 58 at-bats for the Redbirds in 2015 after raking in Springfield . Ohlman, ranked 30th, hit 12 homers and batted in 69 runs in the Texas League last season. Arturo Reyes, ranked 33rd, struggled with Memphis last season (1-3, 7.82 ERA), but excelled with Springfield and Palm Beach in 2015 and has shown promise.
What is Next
The 2016 season kicks off tonight against Colorado Springs. As stated earlier, Memphis returns a majority of the 2015 roster that finished just short of a playoff run, because of inconsistency and the Cardinals calling up 17 Redbirds players due to injury.
Injuries to Gonzales and Cooney could possibly affect the bullpen slightly, and the losses of leaders like Greg Garcia and Tommy Pham as well as Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz will impact Memphis’ lineup.
The Redbirds’ bullpen is their strongest asset, and they’ve added some pieces to the rotation in McGuire and Sulbaran to help compensate for injuries and losses. As for the lineup, the club received some firepower in Wisdom and Ohlman, and Anna and Wilson are still with the Redbirds to bring consistency.
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