Welcome to the third installment of The Cardinal Nation’s annual series to predict the season-opening rosters of the St. Louis Cardinals and their four full-season minor league affiliates. Today’s subject is the Texas League’s Springfield Cardinals.
The Double-A portion of this annual exercise is traditionally quite challenging, and the 2017 version is no exception.
The five projected promotions from the year-end Springfield roster outlined in the Memphis projection article help create openings. There are a number of players from A-Advanced Palm Beach who appear to be ready for the step up to the Texas League, especially pitchers. However, four of my projected promotions are from the position player side and I think three of those spots will be taken by 40-man roster players essentially jumping over Palm Beach.
By the way, I should mention that in this exercise, players are assumed to be on their season-ending 2016 rosters – unless called out otherwise. To see the full rosters for the entire system on one page, you can also check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog, both in the present and backward for eight years.
Springfield Cardinals projected 2017 opening day roster, as of 3/25/17
|Alcantara (NRI)*||Nielsen (NRI)||Lino (NRI)||Grayson|
|Gomber (L NRI)||Pearce||Jenner|
|Poncedeleon (NRI)||Reed (L)|
|Hudson||C Hawkins (L)|
|J Lucas (NRI)|
|Katz||Ad Garcia (NRI)|
|(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|
|Return: Starter to reliever||3||Nielsen||Pearce||Reed|
|Promos from Palm Beach||4||Alcantara||Flaherty||Evans (SP to RP)||Grayson|
|Promos from Peoria||2||E Alvarez||Sierra|
|Free agent signees||2||Lino||Ad Garcia|
|Rule 5 acquisition||0|
|Acquired via trade||0|
|Down from Memphis||1||Martini|
As was the case for Memphis, due to the large quantity of pitchers and precedence, I am assuming 13 pitchers, same as the clubs had to open last season. That includes five starters and eight relievers.
Would-be holdovers from the 2016 season-ending Springfield club at a very high 16 suggests there could be a logjam ahead - or perhaps many of the Double-A candidates are not ready for the next step. In reality, it is likely a mixture of both.
Rotation: Major migration North
Setting my five-man Springfield rotation was a huge challenge, with 10 legitimate challengers. My final quintet is a star-studded group, with all having placed in The Cardinal Nation top 50, including the number six (Dakota Hudson), seven (Jack Flaherty), eight (Sandy Alcantara) and nine (Austin Gomber) prospects.
None of the first three have yet to throw a regular-season pitch at the Double-A level, though Hudson joined the S-Cards’ bullpen for the Texas League playoffs. One could make the argument that Hudson could instead start at Palm Beach and move up to Springfield a month or two into the season. But based on his success this spring, including an inning in St. Louis’ contest on Wednesday, I think he will step up to the challenge.
Essentially blocked from an immediate spot in Memphis are Austin Gomber and Daniel Poncedeleon. Both pitched well in MLB camp.
Then we have Trey Nielsen, who missed valuable time in St. Louis’ camp while pitching for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Ultimately, since he is ranked lower in The Cardinal Nation prospect rankings (44th) compared to Poncedeleon (36th), it is Nielsen who is my number six starter, moved to the pen as a long man.
Three other starters could be in the Springfield mix. Matt Pearce does not generate flashy strikeout totals, but has been very consistent and effective. However, I just do not see room for him other than as a long man and potential spot starter.
Andrew Morales and Jimmy Reed are coming off injury and need to demonstrate health before moving ahead of others in my pitching pecking order, but if healthy, they will need room, as well. Reed is pitching in camp, so I placed him in the bullpen.
Relievers: An experienced pen
Here is how I see the eight-man relief corps coming together - easily. Four of them are incumbents – seven if you count 2016 starters Pearce, Nielsen and Reed. Three were in St. Louis camp this spring – Nielsen, Josh Lucas and Corey Baker. The latter can also serve as a swing man as needed.
I am giving one spot to a 2016 starter who finished with Palm Beach, lefty Jacob Evans. Like Pearce, Evans has performed pretty well, but I neither see a place for him to return to the Florida State League starting five nor among those in the Springfield rotation, either. Of course,,another incumbent could block Evans’ promotion, instead.
I should make it clear that these various shifts from starting to relieving are not official moves. I am merely making suggestions about what I would do if I was tasked with projecting these various team rosters. Generally speaking, I would move a starter to relief and drop a reliever rather than directly release a starter – if it got to that.
My final two spots are for returnees – Kevin Herget and Chandler Hawkins. The latter would make a third pen lefty.
That would leave three relievers potentially without a spot among the active 25. Chris Perry ended last season on the disabled list and may or may not be ready. Well-traveled Daniel Schlereth signed a minor league deal during the off-season, but I am skeptical a 84-85 mph fastball is enough for him to succeed. Ronnie Shaban has been a good organizational soldier, but a fourth season at Double-A at age 27 may not be in the cards.
Catchers: Lino backfills
While there is volume at the catching position behind Carson Kelly, the next top 50 prospects are a couple of levels away. To help shore up the position, the Cardinals signed veteran minor leaguer Gabriel Lino, who saw a bit of time in big-league camp this spring.
I project Jesse Jenner, who made seven moves last season as a Swiss Army knife catching backfill, to join Lino with the S-Cards. If you argue for Luis Cruz instead, I would not fight you, but I have the latter back at Palm Beach.
Infield: Serious crunch
The six-man infield corps should be a mix returnees and new faces, but that would leave three incumbents behind.
The star of the show is a new 40-man roster player who served at second base for Peoria last season – second baseman Eliezer Alvarez. Despite shortstop Edmundo Sosa having had nine games with Palm Beach before suffering a season-ending injury, I don’t see him ready to essentially skip a level. Alvarez would be an aggressive promotion, but he performed well in 2017 and is now on the three option years clock. Sosa could be right behind when he shows he is ready to move from projection to performance in 2017.
As noted in the Memphis article, Alex Mejia has bounced back and forth between Triple-A and Double-A, with my guess being that he will have to return to Springfield as the regular shortstop due to the signing of Wilfredo Tovar. This also signals 40-man roster shortstop Edmundo Sosa returns to Palm Beach.
With four other second basemen to choose from, I would keep versatile Bruce Caldwell, but see no room for Jacob Wilson and Casey Turgeon. This 25-man roster does not even include a Palm Beach keystone combination who once were thought very highly of – Darren Seferina and Juan Herrera – and could still emerge if healthy and productive.
2016 Palm Beach first baseman Casey Grayson would seem to be ready for the Texas League, taking the job of promoted Luke Voit.
At third base, I will be watching another horse race between two who have hit well in the past. At this point, I give Cole Lankford the decision over Allen Staton, based on the fact the latter can also play in the outfield.
My final infield roster spot is filled by returnee Mason Katz, the fourth natural second baseman in the Springfield mix, but also a handy player who can also work at first and third. The versatile infielder can even catch if needed and swings a good bat when healthy.
Outfield: Two big names
TCN’s number 10 prospect, Magneuris Sierra, is the other key member of last year’s Peoria club who was added to the 40-man over the winter. Based on his strong MLB camp, he seems almost sure to leap over Palm Beach.
It will be interesting to see how defensive assignments are doled out, as I have Cuban signee Adolis Garcia opening his Cardinals career in the Land of the Ozarks, too. However, as I mentioned in the Memphis article, there is a chance one of the veteran free agent outfield signees could be jettisoned to make room on the Redbirds roster for Garcia.
Among the other projected outfielders is one returnee from Memphis, Nick Martini, who has considerable experience at both levels, but like Garcia, was squeezed out of my Triple-A roster. The final choice is one of the most underrated players in the system in Blake Drake, dependable and able to play well anywhere in the outfield.
A former top prospect stopped by injury, C.J. McElroy, and Vaughn Bryan are outfielders with no clear roster spots at this time, in my estimation. Same with Rule 5 addition Austin Wilson, who I have returning to High-A to open the Cardinals segment of his career at Palm Beach.
However, if Garcia makes Memphis and a veteran outfielder is released, that could open the Springfield door for Bryan, or perhaps even Wilson.
The Cardinals’ A-Advanced Palm Beach roster will be the focus of Part 4 of this series - coming soon for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Links to related articles:
Predicting the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals Opening Roster
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 new Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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