Zac Gallen (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The players Brian Walton sees as having the best chance to make the Class-A Peoria Chiefs 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 Class-A club, the Peoria Chiefs, to open the regular season and why. St. Louis’ top draft picks the last two years may make the team and five of six starters are TCN top 50 prospects. The conclusion of our annual series of five articles.

We have finally reached the fifth, final and perhaps most challenging article in this annual series to predict the season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals and its four full-season minor league affiliates. This time around, it is the Class-A Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League.

The reason this roster may be the most difficult to set is because there are so many factors in play. Which players will not be able to be promoted to Palm Beach because there isn’t room or because they are not ready? Which ones should be released? Who may be injured?

What about the majority of the players from State College last season as well as the standouts from rookie level Johnson City and the Gulf Coast League Cardinals – all three league champions? All of these standouts want to reach a full-season club to open the season and Peoria is that entry point target.

Yet it would easy enough to keep most of them playing in Extended Spring Training to be ready for the first available roster opening with the Chiefs. For that reason, there is considerably possibility of error in making these predictions.

To open the season, I have 11 members of the The Cardinal Nation top 50 prospect list making the team, including five members of the expected six-man rotation. In addition, St. Louis' top picks in each of the last two drafts could be new Chiefs.

I see considerable turnover in the roster spots at Peoria, primarily due to players pushing from below. In my estimation, just six players who ended 2016 with the Chiefs may be returning there, and that includes two in new roles.

That would leave room for as many as 19 new Chiefs, with almost two-thirds of them – 12 - coming from New York-Penn League champion State College. More interesting perhaps, are the two players potentially making the jump from Johnson City, three all the way from the Gulf Coast League and one very special Cuban case.

Then, there is a trade acquisition infielder, who I have making the team. The three players noted as in “Limbo” are ones who were with Peoria last season, but may be squeezed out initially to open 2017.  Plenty more from State College appear to be at least temporarily blocked from the Midwest League, but I am not calling them out individually here.

If kept in the organization, the four would have to remain behind at extended spring training initially and work to become in-season replacements at Peoria. 

 

Peoria Chiefs projected 2017 opening day roster, as of 3/27/17

Peoria (25+3)      
SP RP C 1B
R Williams Then Je Martinez (NRI)* McCarvel*
Kilichowski (L) Almonte* Knizner (NRI)*  
Hicks* Bowen (L)*    
D Martinez Carter*    
Gallen* Trayner*    
Oviedo* Tomchick*    
  DeLorenzo (L)*    
       
Limbo      
    Godoy Dennard
       
       
       
2B SS 3B OF
Dykstra Del Perez* Pina Aikin 
Martin* Edman*   Jackson*
      Denton*
      Plummer*
       
Limbo      
M Davis       

 

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 6 R Williams Kilichowski D Martinez Then
    Pina Aikin    
Return: Starter to reliever 0        
Promos from State College 12 Hicks Almonte Bowen Carter
    Trayner Tomchick DeLorenzo Je Martinez
    McCarvel Edman Martin Jackson
Promo from Johnson City 2 Knizner Denton    
Promo from Gulf Coast 3 Gallen Del Perez Plummer  
Promo from DSL 1 Oviedo      
Acquired via trade  1 Dykstra      
Free agent signees 0        
Limbo/disabled list 3 Godoy Dennard M Davis  

As has been the case traditionally, I assume a six-man rotation, seven-man bullpen and 12 position players. (I expect the Cardinals will again begin the season with six starters for the first month or so at the Class A level and below.)

 

Rotation: Williams and Kilichowski are the “veterans”

Assuming the Cardinals follow recent practice and open the Midwest League season with six starters, I see three returnees, one opening filled from State College, one from the Gulf Coast League and one all the way from the Dominican Summer League.

As the aggressive promotions of Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez into Peoria a year ago paid off, I think that Cuban Johan Oviedo could be next. The 6-foot-6 righty just turned 19 years of age and has participated in both instructional league and STEP camp this spring.

http://www.scout.com/player/210323-johan-oviedo?s=321

As much as I would like to project two top 20 hurlers from the international program into the rotation, I just see too many more experienced arms ahead of TCNs GCL Pitcher of the Year Alvaro Seijas. One part of me hopes I am wrong. It is worth noting that Oviedo was in STEP camp this spring, but Seijas was not.

All three of the projected Peoria rotation returnees were in-season promotions from State College last summer – lefty John Kilichowski and righties Ronnie Williams and Dailyn Martinez.

http://www.scout.com/player/188400-ronnie-williams?s=321

I have the Cardinals’ 2016 third-rounder, collegian Zac Gallen, in the Chiefs’ rotation. Gallen probably would have been promoted out of the GCL as well had he not been excused in August to return to school for the fall semester.

http://www.scout.com/player/206199-zac-gallen?s=321

The final rotation member is Jordan Hicks, he who was lighting up radar guns in spring training like I have never seen before. The right-hander finished 2016 at State College.

The only member of the starting six not ranked in the 2017 TCN top 50 is Martinez. The 23-year-old was moved up to Peoria from State College during last summer and was hit around in his first 12 Midwest League starts. So this could be the right-hander’s last chance – or alternatively, he could be moved to the pen now to make rotation room for another – and to enable him to move more quickly before his time as a Cardinal runs out.

One such deserving pitcher who may be a victim of the numbers is State College’s Steven Farinaro. Same with Appalachian League standout Ian Oxnevad. His 2016 teammate, underdog 25-year-old lefty Ross Vance, has been putting up nice numbers in spring camp.

 

Bullpen: New faces

As long as he is finally healthy, Jery Then should back as the lone returnee in the Chiefs pen.

The other six relievers I see being promoted from State College. They include headliners Max Almonte, lefty Brady Bowen and New York-Penn League All-Star Eric Carter.

http://www.scout.com/player/209703-eric-carter?s=321

Spencer Trayner may also be ready for that step up in competition as is lefty Jordan DeLorenzo. My final reliever squeezed onto the Chiefs roster is right-hander Greg Tomchick.

Among those pushed out include righty Luke Harrison, St. Louis’ 35th-rounder in 2015 from Indiana, who was released on Saturday. Other Peoria pitchers I had on the bubble were cut earlier in the week, including righty Nick Frey (4.78 ERA) and lefty Bob Wheatley (.378 batting average against at Peoria).  

 

Catchers: Upside behind the plate

I can see two of the three short-season catchers who received non-roster invitations to St. Louis’ spring training camp promoted into Peoria - the 2016 starters at State College, Jeremy Martinez, and Johnson City, Andrew Knizner. Actually, I would promote a third catcher, too, but more on that in a minute.

http://www.scout.com/player/190432-jeremy-martinez?s=321

Among those left behind is 19-year-old Dennis Ortega, also in MLB camp, but with no experience above the GCL, and incumbent catcher Jose Godoy, who was invited to STEP camp. I really feel like Godoy, a good receiver, needs to fit somewhere, but at this point, I have no idea where. It may be extended spring training – at least temporarily.

In closing, Martinez is thought highly-enough of that I would not be amazed to see him pushed ahead more aggressively. That would also enable Knizner to play every day at Peoria. The reality is that after Carson Kelly, the catching path to St. Louis is wide open with the former USC star Martinez the next-best prospect.

 

Infield: Strength up the middle

I like the look of the possible middle infielders for the Chiefs. Tommy Edman is ready to step up from State College, and he or recently-acquired Luke Dykstra could man second base next to TCN’s third-ranked prospect, shortstop Delvin Perez. Edman is also a shortstop, but if Perez is on the team as I expect, the 2016 first-rounder will play every day.

http://www.scout.com/player/206019-delvin-perez?s=321

Also in the picture could be utility man Danny Martin, who hit very well the last two years for State College, but was slowed by injury. 2017 seems his make-or-break season.

.300-hitting Dykstra was acquired from Atlanta in the Jaime Garcia trade and seems a candidate for a higher level of play, but as noted in earlier articles, the middle infield is extremely crowded in full-season ball.

Had Bryce Denton remained at third base, this spot seemed to be his in a jump from Johnson City, but he has moved to the outfield. Therefore, Leobaldo Pina could be back at third. Though Pina is potentially vulnerable, there are no clear contenders coming up from State College, where Danny Hudzina batted .239 last season, for example.

http://www.scout.com/player/200681-ryan-mccarvel?s=321

Ryan McCarvel played a lot of first base at State College last summer with Martinez behind the plate and I think that will continue with the Chiefs in 2017. McCarvel could also serve as third catcher.

Stefan Trosclair, the first base starter in the Gulf Coast League last season, has enjoyed a nice spring, but the roster numbers seem stacked against him. This all puts last season’s potential returnee at first, R.J. Dennard (.229 BA, five home runs), in limbo.

With three others who can play second base on the projected roster, I see no reasonable way for .190-hitting Matt Davis to return to the Chiefs to open 2017. Of course, he (or any of the others) could be sent to extended spring training to be ready as an injury replacement.

 

Outfield: Call for Plummer

Headliners in the Chiefs outfield should include State College’s Vince Jackson, a STEP camp invitee and under-the-radar prospect, as well as the aforementioned Denton.

http://www.scout.com/player/159916-vince-jackson?s=321

A returning outfielder to Peoria could be Craig Aikin. Though the former Oklahoma star batted a disappointing .236 last summer, I don’t know if the Cardinals are ready to give up on him yet and no State College outfielder stood out last season other than Jackson.

Nick Plummer lost the entire 2016 season with a pair of surgeries related to his hamate bone in his hand and did not make it back for instructional league as hoped. Even so, I suspect the Cardinals will push the 2015 first-rounder, with the third starting spot in the outfield, positioned between Jackson and Denton, his. If Perez is also on the squad, St. Louis’ first picks in each of the last two drafts would be new Chiefs.

http://www.scout.com/player/197200-nick-plummer?s=321

In fact, had 2016 first-rounder Dylan Carlson really played well this spring. I would not be totally surprised if joined the other first-rounders on the team, squeezing out Aikin, though the 18-year-old’s jump from the Gulf Coast League would be a big one.

Another deserving outfielder left out could be Matt Fiedler, a college player who starred at Johnson City, but it looks as if there is no room for him on the Chiefs roster yet.

 

The others

So, there you have it. From the approaching-200 players competing for the full-season minor league clubs, I have taken my shot at the 100 to open the season on one of the four active rosters, from Memphis to Peoria.

The remainder of the players originally invited to minor league spring training camp (plus the 16 more still to be cut from major league camp) that do not make one of the four full-season clubs will remain behind in Jupiter, Florida.

The aforementioned players will be joined by another 40 or so for extended spring training camp. EST is expected to begin the same day as the full-season openers, on Thursday, April 6. As always, we will have rosters and later, eyewitness reports from extended here at The Cardinal Nation.

 

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

Predicting the 2017 Palm Beach 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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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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