Junior Fernandez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The players Brian Walton sees as having the best chance to make the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals 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 High-A club, the Palm Beach Cardinals, to open the regular season and why. The rotation could include three top-15 pitchers. Fourth in our annual series of five articles.

We reach Class A here in the fourth of this annual five-installment pre-spring camp series setting The Cardinal Nation’s predictions for the season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals and their four full-season minor league affiliates. Specifically, today’s focus is A-Advanced or High-A, the level at which the Palm Beach Cardinals compete in the Florida State League.

The projected 2017 season-opening Palm Beach roster may have some striking similarities to the 2016 club – and that isn’t just because as many as 10 prior Beach Birds may return. Coming off a season in which the Palm Beach offense was historically weak (33 home runs in 137 games, dead last in the Florida State League by 50 percent compared to the second-weakest team), the projected 2017 group lacks power hitters, as well.

Plenty of stars can be found among the ranks of the starting pitchers, however, including Junior Fernandez (11), Jake Woodford (12) and Ryan Helsley (15), all among The Cardinal Nation’s top 15 prospects in the system.

In the pen, half – four of eight – would be back for a second shot at Palm Beach, as would 10 of the 12 projected position players, with just two up from Peoria. 

As has been the case at every other level, there seem to be too many players for the active roster spots at Palm Beach, creating what I call “in limbo” situations. Though the problem with pitching appears to be less pronounced here at High-A, there are five hitters and four pitchers who may be without chairs when the music stops at the conclusion of spring training.

As we will see in the Peoria article, those who do not make these A-level clubs can easily continue to train in Extended Spring Training, though the relief valve is less wide open for Palm Beach.

Details by player will be coming in the positional breakdowns below.


Palm Beach Cardinals projected 2017 opening day roster, as of 3/26/17

Peoria (25+4)      
Ju Fernandez (NRI) Leitao  O'Keefe* Chinea*
D Gonzalez McKinney (L) L Cruz  
Woodford (NRI)* Beck    
C Jones* Bard    
Helsley* S DeLaCruz*    
  J Perez*    
Anderson  McKnight  C Rivera   
Walter Schumacher Bean  
Seferina Sosa Diekroeger Mercado
Thon J Herrera   Arozarena
      A Wilson
Brodbeck Sohn    
  Jose Alex Martinez*    


(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  10        
Return: Starter to reliever 2 Leitao McKinney    
Promos from Peoria 8 Woodford Helsley O'Keefe Chinea
    J Perez S DeLaCruz Wirsu Bray
Promo from State College 1 C Jones      
Acquired via trade  0        
Free agent signees  2 Thon Arozarena    
Rule 5 acquisition 1 A Wilson      
Down from Springfield 1 L Cruz      
Limbo/disabled list 9 Anderson Walter Schumacher McKnight
    C Rivera Bean Brodbeck Jo Martinez


As has been the case traditionally, I assume a five-man rotation to open the season, eight-man bullpen and 12 position players.


Rotation: A mix of new and returning arms

Fernandez joins Derian Gonzalez as returnees from the 2016 Beach Birds’ starting rotation, with Helsley and Woodford coming up from Peoria.


My final starting choice is the aggressive promotion of 2016 second-rounder Connor Jones from the State College bullpen to close last season into the Palm Beach rotation to open this season. The right-hander is The Cardinal Nation's 24th-ranked prospect.

That means two 2016 starters could be pushed into the bullpen. Brennan Leitao made that same move from the Midwest League in-season as did Fernandez and Gonzalez, but seems as if he could be the odd-man out in the 2017 starting five. With that assumption, I placed Leitao in the pen.

Ian McKinney continues to deliver innings but his ceiling seems lower than before. I have him moving from starting into relief as the only lefty on the staff.

Former independent league pitcher Johnny Walter and Will Anderson, who missed all but 3 2/3 innings last season, could be on the outside looking in. (Note: The two were along seven releases disclosed on Saturday evening.)


Bullpen: Many familiar faces

It seems less than ideal for swingman Blake McKnight and Cody Schumacher to return to Palm Beach for a third season, and though it seems possible. I will go with them being squeezed out. (Update: Schumacher has already been cut loose.)

Landon Beck should be back, along with former Red Sox hurler Daniel Bard, who has improved velocity, but it remains unclear if his control has returned with it.


I have a trio of the top relievers from Peoria last summer making the move up to Palm Beach – Steven De La Cruz, Josh Wirsu and Tyler Bray. The final reliever is another Midwest League promotion, swingman Juan Perez.


Catching: Four for two

There are what appears to me to be four names to fill the two catching roster spots. A year ago, Luis Cruz made the move up from Peoria, with Brian O’Keefe ready to do the same for 2017.


I have no idea where former second-rounder Steve Bean and ex-infielder Chris Rivera stand, both of whom saw considerable time at Palm Beach last season. Neither was even invited to STEP camp this spring.


Infield: Where’s the beef?

2015 draftee Chris Chinea made noise with the bat in 2016 at Peoria and given that he can play first base as well as serve as the third catcher, I also have him making the team as the everyday man at first.


Partially because there seems to be no one pushing him from below, Denny Diekroeger may be back for another season at third, though it is worth noting Juan Herrera, formerly a full-time shortstop, also has played the hot corner this spring.

At second, Darren Seferina may play ahead of newly-signed Dickie Joe Thon, with short covered by 40-man roster player and top prospect Edmundo Sosa, whom I sense is not considered ready for Double-A. Herrera would back up short and third. Once his visa issue is resolved, the other Jose Martinez will also need a roster spot. In an ideal situation, Seferina and Herrera would be moved to Springfield, but there does not seem to be any room.

This would leave out Andrew Sohn and Andrew Brodbeck, with Dylan Tice already released. There is no apparent place to put them all.

And let’s not forget that with Delvin Perez the likely shortstop at Peoria, Palm Beach could be the landing spot if/when San Diego Rule 5 pick and former Johnson City star shortstop Allen Cordoba is returned to the Cardinals.

Further, you may recall from the earlier Springfield roster prediction article that there appears to be three extra infielders at that level, as well. I simply have no idea where all of these infielders are going to go.


Outfield: More power elsewhere?

I have former shortstop Oscar Mercado back in the Palm Beach outfield along with Rule 5 addition Austin Wilson, Seattle’s second-round draft pick in 2013.

The highest potential in the Beach Birds’ outfield could reside with Cuban Randy Arozarena, who would be making his Cardinals system debut in the Florida State League. Note he and Mercado are both center fielders.


There is one spot remaining, claimed by another incumbent outfielder – Thomas Spitz, who has played well this spring. Among incumbent Palm Beach outfielders already released are Orlando Olivera and Michael Pritchard.


Up next

The Cardinals’ Class-A Peoria Chiefs roster will be the focus of the fifth and final segment of this series - coming soon for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for subscribing and reading!


Links to related articles:
Predicting the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals Opening Roster

Predicting the 2017 Memphis Redbirds Opening Roster

Predicting the 2017 Springfield 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 Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.


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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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