Jose Martinez (Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports Images)

The players with the best chance of making the St. Louis Cardinals major league roster to open the regular season and why.

Brian Walton explains which players he sees as having the best chance of making the St. Louis Cardinals major league roster to open the regular season and why. First in an annual series of five articles.

My love-hate project of roster forecasting across the St. Louis Cardinals system continues into a new spring. Making informed tradeoffs while addressing head-on the reality of 25-man rosters at every level of play is the most difficult challenge. In this annual series, I explain why I made the calls I did – and how they are impacted by and could affect other players.

Granted, it is early – very early. The final minor league players just trickled into camp last week and have yet to start playing games. Plenty of things can happen over the next three weeks. The greatest impact may come from injuries, the effects of which can then domino through multiple rosters. Spring trades, signings and releases may occur, as well.

For example, as we saw last spring, camp injuries to Jhonny Peralta, Ruben Tejada, Brayan Pena and Jordan Walden opened the door for longshots Aledmys Diaz, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Eric Fryer and Matt Bowman to all make the Opening Day roster.

In the roster-setting process that follows, I am not going to make any unnatural assumptions to potentially make the job easier. Yet the sheer numbers of players involved means some guys are bound to be left standing when the music stops. That will be much more the case as we work through the full-season minor league rosters, where there are many more contenders than active spots.

To accommodate and denote these logjams, I created a roster category at each level called “Limbo,” a place where I list those I expect to open the season on the disabled list or who may not appear to have an obvious 25-man roster spot.

I want to be very clear right up front that this is one man’s educated guesses – nothing more. The rosters with which the Cardinals will actually break camp are going to be different from what follows in this series. If predicting the future with 100 percent accuracy was actually possible, I would be in Las Vegas right now – or more likely, on my own tropical isle.

Further complicating matters, especially as we get into the minor leagues is that there are simply more players than ever to consider this year, as I noted in the following Tweet.

https://twitter.com/B_Walton/status/840933881658380290

(Truth be known, the observation was not random at all. I typed the above in real time as I was in the midst of this project.)

So as long as you accept this work for what it is and not try to make it into something it isn’t, it should at least provide fodder for intelligent discussion - which you can do with other fans on The Cardinal Nation message board, many of whom have been posting their own roster predictions.

In this first of five installments, we begin with St. Louis. Articles two through five, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation, will go through a similar process for each of the Cardinals’ four full-season minor league affiliates – Triple-A Memphis, Double-A Springfield, A-Advanced Palm Beach and Class-A Peoria.

 

St. Louis Cardinals projected 2017 opening day roster, as of 3/15/17

St. Louis (25+3)      
SP RP C 1B
Wainwright Oh  Molina Carpenter
Lynn  Rosenthal  Fryer (NRI) Adams
C Martinez Cecil (L)    
Leake  Siegrist (L)    
Wacha Broxton      
  Bowman    
  Socolovich*    
       
Limbo      
Al Reyes (DL) Lyons (L DL)    
  Duke (L DL)    
       
2B SS 3B OF
Wong  A Diaz  Peralta  Grichuk
G Garcia   Gyorko Fowler
      Piscotty 
      Jose Alb Martinez*
       
Limbo      
none      
Legend
(X+Y) = Active + Limbo
Limbo = DL/rehab/demote/release candidate
Bold = 40-man roster member
NRI = non-roster invitee to MLB camp
* promotion from year-end 2016
(L) = Left-handed pitcher

 

Roster sourcing

Returnees  20      
40-man free agents  2 Cecil Fowler  
Trade acquisitions  0      
NRIs to make the team  1 Fryer    
Promotions from Triple-A  2 Socolovich Jose Martinez  
Limbo/disabled list  3 Al Reyes Lyons Duke
Key 40-man players to AAA 6 Weaver Gant Mayers
    Tuivailala Kelly Pham

As has been the case traditionally, I assume a five-man rotation, seven-man bullpen and 13 position players.

Though this normal scheme could be altered for the first days of the season if Trevor Rosenthal isn’t quite ready, for example, that would be a temporary adjustment. The brief beneficiary could be reliever Sam Tuivailala or starter John Gant.

In terms of the names, there are not many surprises. In fact, every single member of the Cardinals projected 25-man roster has prior MLB experience – and 23 of them have with it with St. Louis. Only free agent signees Brett Cecil and Dexter Fowler did not play for the 2016 version of the Cardinals, though catcher Eric Fryer has returned after an interim stint with Pittsburgh.

We will take the projected Opening Day roster by position group, starting at the upper left with the rotation.

 

Rotation: Locked

After announced competitions in both 2014 and 2015 for the final rotation spot, there is no question about the starting five to open the second consecutive season. Returning Lance Lynn takes the spot occupied by traded Jaime Garcia in 2016.

The combination of Alex Reyes’ season-ending Tommy John surgery, Trevor Rosenthal’s lat soreness and Michael Wacha’s resurgence ended the three-way race in the latter’s favor before it ever began.

http://www.scout.com/player/158182-michael-wacha?s=321

Perhaps the biggest unexpected development among rotation contenders has been the strong performances by John Gant, part of the Cardinals’ take from Atlanta in return for Garcia. Luke Weaver, who appeared to be the sure number six starter, has dealt with soreness of his own, making the top of the Memphis rotation an interesting place to watch.

 

Bullpen: Loaded

If the rotation is locked, the 2017 bullpen appears to be loaded.

The top five pitchers from last season’s pen have returned, led by closer Seung-hwan Oh. The Cardinals addressed the injury-driven loss of Zach Duke with the signing of perhaps an even better lefty in Brett Cecil – certainly one with a more expensive and longer contract. He joins Kevin Siegrist as the two lefties in the pen.

Last spring, Bowman’s roster spot as a Rule 5 pick was tenuous, until Walden could not answer the bell for the regular season. This year, though Bowman can now be optioned to the minor leagues, the right-hander is pitching too well to send down.

The only projected addition is right-hander Miguel Socolovich, who has pitched well in limited action for St. Louis and is now out of minor league options. If the 30-year-old Venezuelan native makes the club, then Tuivailala and Gant should be Memphis-bound.

http://www.scout.com/player/159539-miguel-socolovich?s=321

Though the club traditionally opens the season with 12 pitchers and 13 position players, with the more-ample off days early in the schedule, there is always a chance they could instead go with 11 and 14, respectively, for a short while.

At the other end of the spectrum, lefties Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales are working their way back from injury, but are expected to open the year on the disabled list. When ready, Gonzales is going to have to earn his way back from Memphis, but once Lyons' rehab is done, room will have to be made in the big-league pen for him, as he has no minor league options remaining. Those will be challenges for late April or May, however.  

 

Catching: Sure hands

Though it was only 12 months ago, it seems much longer in the past that we were concerned that Yadier Molina might open last season on the disabled list after his second surgery, to reconstruct a ligament in his hand. That proved to be a non-issue as the eight-time Gold Glove Award winner put together a strong season at age 34.

After several back-and-forth maneuvers last season, the Cardinals decided in favor of Eric Fryer over Brayan Pena as Molina’s reserve for 2017. As noted above, Fryer also made the team last spring when Pena was injured, but went to the Pirates on waivers mid-summer when it incorrectly seemed Pena was ready to go. After becoming a free agent again, Fryer returned to the Cards during the off-season.

Unless/until Molina is unable to play every day, top prospect Carson Kelly will continue to develop at Triple-A.

 

Infield: Little suspense

An area of concern last spring, the infield, is a source of stability for 2017. The seven infielders to open the season seem set – barring injury. Starters appear to be Matt Carpenter at first, Kolten Wong at second, Aledmys Diaz at short and Jhonny Peralta at third.

Jedd Gyorko could still surpass Peralta, but most likely would back up any of the four positions. Greg Garcia has similar defensive coverage and no minor league options remaining. First base-only Matt Adams fills the projected infield and offers a power bat off the bench.

 

Outfield: The Dexter difference


The signing of Dexter Fowler addressed multiple needs for the Cardinals, including improved defense in center and a proven leadoff hitter. His relentlessly-positive attitude and any transformational abilities they provide for a fairly stoic roster will be bonuses.

Randal Grichuk moving to left markedly improves team defense and his power profile remains tantalizing. Right field starter Stephen Piscotty seems poised to take Carpenter’s former mantle as the most consistently underrated Cardinals star.

The only question seems to be whether the Cardinals are comfortable going with four outfielders. With Adams remaining on the roster and unless the team goes with 11 pitchers, the answer has to be “yes”. It is worth noting that Garcia could be asked to play in the outfield in a pinch.

But who will that fourth outfielder be? Tommy Pham was especially crucial last season as the center field reserve, but was injured on Opening Day and now Grichuk could cover for Fowler if needed.

An even bigger threat has presented itself in Jose Martinez. Made available for cash considerations by the Royals last summer despite being the reigning Pacific Coast League batting champion, Martinez performed well in a brief trial last September. This spring, the 28-year-old Venezuelan is clearly outplaying Pham.

http://www.scout.com/player/118230-jose-martinez?s=321

If I had to choose my 25 players today, Pham would be Memphis-bound, with Martinez my fourth outfielder. Will it end that way? We will have to see.

 

Bench balanced

In this proposed roster, assuming Peralta is starting at the hot corner, the bench would consist of the lefty-hitting first baseman Adams, lefty- and righty-swinging infielders in Gyorko and Garcia, the right-handed outfielder Martinez and likely the last man off the bench, the righty-hitting catcher Fryer.

 

Have an opinion?

Of course you do. Share your view with the author and a group of very knowledgeable Cardinals fans on The Cardinal Nation message boards.

 

The Roster Matrix

To see the full 2016 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.

 

Up next

The Cardinals’ Triple-A roster will be the focus of Part 2 of this five-part roster projection series - coming this week for members of The Cardinal Nation.

 

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Spring Roster Battles: 2017 Period 1

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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