2006 Depth Charts – Memphis Redbirds

The second of a seven-part series on 2006 depth charts for the St. Louis Cardinals' system focuses on Triple-A.

In this, the second of a seven-part series on the 2006 depth charts for the St. Louis Cardinals' system, we will look at the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. The Redbirds are part of the Pacific Coast League whose roster rules mandate twenty-four players maximum.

All depth charts are interconnected in that predictions made at one level impact those made at another level. This creates an almost infinite number of possible scenarios. However, I tried to address only those alternate scenarios that are the most likely. That can be found under the heading "Variables" in the pertinent section.

Even in the minor leagues there are certain positions that are "locks". We know with a high degree of certainty exactly which players will open the season as the starter at a particular position. But there are degrees of "lockdom". (Yes, I know it is not a real word.) There are "Locks" and "Projected Locks". Then there are certain positions that will engender competition for the starting slot.

In almost every case, competitors were determined by those players currently assigned to the pertinent roster. While it is certainly possible that a lower-level player could have a great Spring Training and make a jump, time and space do not permit me to indulge in that much speculation. As with each other level, answers will come on the field when these players compete.

The Position Locks

Projected Starter - John Nelson
2006 will be Nelson's second full season at Triple-A. He went .241/.326/.407/.733 last season, 103-for-427. Nelson turns 27 in early March. How patient the Cardinals remain with him depends, in large part, on how well highly touted shortstops like Tyler Greene do.

Third Base
Projected Starter - Travis Hanson
The Birdhouse's ninth-ranked overall prospect and fourth-ranked position prospect will begin 2006 as the Redbirds' starting third baseman. He will also see some playing time in left field. After losing much of 2004 due to a severe leg injury, Hanson bounced back to go .284/.347/.458/.805, 155-for-546. He turned 25 in January 2006.

Rule 5 pick up Vince Harrison is a 26-year-old third baseman out of the Red Sox organization. I have Harrison going to Double-A Springfield.

Projected Position Locks
There are "locks" and then there are "projected locks". Both John Nelson and Travis Hanson will not start the 2006 season on the St. Louis Cardinals 25-man roster. Therefore, they are locks for their positions in Memphis. I consider the four projected starters in this section as locks in Memphis based on them not making the St. Louis club.

Projected Starter - Skip Schumaker
Since I do not have Schumaker making the Major League team, he is a lock to be Redbirds' centerfielder. Schumaker, who celebrated his 26th birthday on February 3rd, went .287/.330/.404/.734, 127-for-443, in his first season at the Triple-A level. 2005 also saw Schumaker make his Major League debut. He is The Birdhouse's 22nd-ranked prospect in the Cardinals' system.

Right Field
Projected Starter - Chris Duncan
If Duncan does not make the big squad, then I project him as a lock for the right field job in Memphis. Duncan spent the off-season playing winter ball in Mexico for the Mazatlan Deer where he appeared exclusively in the outfield. I think the Cardinals will give Duncan every opportunity to succeed in their system so Duncan in right field, if he can play it at all, makes more sense that Duncan at first base. 2005 was Duncan's first season in Triple-A where he went .264/.359/.468/.826, 114-for-432 in one hundred twenty-eight games. At 25 in May, he is The Birdhouse's 21st-ranked prospect.

Projected Starter - Michel Hernandez
Hernandez is on the Cardinals' 40-man roster but is not expected to win the back-up catcher spot against Gary Bennett. So, he will likely start for Memphis while Gabe Johnson, who is currently assigned to the Memphis roster, heads for Springfield to refine his catching.

First Base
Projected Starter - Brian Daubach
This spot has not one but two "Ifs". If Daubach does not make the Major League squad and if he subsequently decides to report to Memphis, then I think he is a lock for the Memphis first base job. Otherwise, Juan Diaz, the Springfield Cardinals' first baseman in 2005, should start here.

Open Competition

Left Field
Primary Competitors - Shaun Boyd, John Gall
Secondary Competitors - Joe Mather, Ramon Nivar, Kit Pellow, Prentice Redman
Projected Starter - John Gall
The starter for this position is not as clear cut as may first appear. Strictly looking at the Cardinals' home-grown outfielders, there are seven starters between Memphis and Springfield for the six available slots. Since I think both Schumaker and Duncan are locks for center and right field, I consider left field to be the only outfield position where a competition may occur.

While I listed all of the remaining outfielders who are currently assigned to the Memphis roster as competitors since they are all capable of playing left, I think the main competition is between Shaun Boyd and John Gall. Both are right-handed bats while Boyd is about three years younger than Gall. Both are entering their sixth year in the Cardinals' system and not being on the 40-man means Boyd can potential be a minor league free agent at the end of the 2006 season.

Gall is the better hitter while Boyd is the better defender. (The main criticism I have heard about Boyd's defense as a centerfielder is that he is prone to deferring on plays to his left or right fielder.) Gall gets the nod over Boyd because he is the better option for helping the big club and starting will keep him sharper than coming off the bench. Boyd, along with all the secondary competitors, goes into the bench competition.

Variables -
Call-Up to St. Louis - The most likely candidates for a call-up are the projected starters; John Gall, Skip Schumaker and Chris Duncan. All three have options so can be moved around at will. By my calculations both Pellow and Nivar have no remaining options and Redman likely does not as well. The latter three would have to be added to the 40-man roster for a call-up and, if all options have been exhausted, could not be sent down without passing through waivers. That makes them far less likely to get a call to St. Louis. Since I really do not foresee Gall, Schumaker or Duncan making the Cardinals, the only other scenario to address is…

Possible Trade - While I do not see any of the home-grown outfielders as the engine that would drive a particular trade, one of them could be the caboose of, say, a Jason Marquis trade. The return would be minimal as I do not see any of these outfielders as having much in trade value. Hence the main benefit in such a trade would be to reduce the glut of outfielders at this level and keep any of them from blocking a higher-level outfield prospect in, say, Springfield. Since it would be much easier to simply cut one of the off-season free agent signees, like Redman, Nivar or Pellow, I think this scenario is pretty unlikely.

Second Base
Primary Competitors - Aaron Miles, Hector Luna
Projected Starter - Aaron Miles
This scenario has Miles competing with Luna since I don't have either of them making the Cardinals. I have Miles getting the starting nod with Luna as the supersub where he can not only work on his Triple-A hitting but polish his defense which is minimally average already.

Variables -
Luna makes Cardinals, Miles and Berg do not - Then Miles is still at second with Berg going to the bench. (See "Variables" part of the primary utility option discussion, below.)
Luna and Miles make Cardinals, Berg do not - Then Berg is the starting second baseman.
Miles makes Cardinals, Luna and Berg do not - Then Luna is at second with Berg going to the bench.

Slot - back-up catcher
Projected Winner - Iker Franco
Franco is a Rule 5 pick up out of the Atlanta organization. After spending most of his professional career in the Tampa Bay organization, he split 2005 between the Braves' Double-A and Triple-A teams where he served as a back-up. The most at bats Franco has received in a season is 216 back in 2002. Franco turns 25 in May.

Slot - primary utility option
Competitors - Kevin Estrada, Milko Jaramillo, Hector Luna
Projected Winner - Hector Luna
Since Luna may well make the Major League squad, it is a no-brainer that he makes the Memphis team in some capacity if he is not with the Cardinals. Both Luna and Estrada are genuine utility guys, players that can capably play either the infield or outfield. While neither may be the first choice for any particular position, both can spell the starter without a great negative impact on the team's defense. Estrada appeared at seven of nine positions for the Springfield Cardinals in 2005, all but catcher and centerfielder, while going .295/.354/.425/.779 or 86-for-292. Estrada turned 25 in October. The Cardinals transferred him from the Springfield to the Memphis roster for the Rule 5 draft.

Jaramillo is primarily a shortstop who made a few appearances at third and second, in addition to short, after his promotion to Memphis on July 22nd. He became expendable in Springfield when Brendan Ryan was promoted from Palm Beach on July 20th. Jaramillo was called up to Memphis to fill a void created when two infielders were sent to St. Louis. First, Hector Luna was promoted to St. Louis on July 17th. That sent Bo Hart to second base and eliminated him as an option for the utility infielder role. Then Scott Seabol's call up on July 22nd made Tim Hummel the regular third baseman and produced a need for a back-up infielder. Jaramillo met that need. The Cardinals re-signed Jaramillo to a minor league contract in November, two months before he turned 26, and assigned him to Memphis.

Variables -
Luna makes Cardinals, Miles and Berg do not - Then Miles is still the second baseman and Berg is the primary utility option.
Luna and Miles make Cardinals, Berg do not - Then Berg is the Redbirds' starting second baseman with Kevin Estrada as the primary utility option.
Miles makes Cardinals, Luna and Berg do not - Then Luna is at second with Berg as the primary utility option. Cruz does not make the Cardinals - I do not think Cruz will go to Memphis if he does not make the Cardinals' 25-man roster. Hence he is not factored into any of the scenarios.

Slot - two back-up outfielders
Competitors - Shaun Boyd, Joe Mather, Ramon Nivar, Kit Pellow, Prentice Redman
Projected Winners - Shaun Boyd, Prentice Redman
I think both Boyd and Redman will begin 2006 on the Memphis team but likely in a back-up role. Both players can play all three outfield positions. Boyd has shown enough at Springfield last season to get a shot at Memphis while I think Redman will be more productive than either Nivar or Pellow. Another factor in this decision is that I do not think it likely that Boyd will be sent to Springfield since that would block three projected starting outfielders there, all of whom are higher ranked by The Birdhouse staff than is Boyd.

So far the bench is comprised of catcher Iker Franco, utility guy Hector Luna, and outfielders Shaun Boyd and Prentice Redman. All are righty bats. Since my projected starting line-up has four lefty bats plus a switch-hitter, there is little need for more than one lefty option on the bench.

Final Slot - The Final Bench Spot
Competitors - Kevin Estrada, Milko Jaramillo, Joe Mather, Ramon Nivar, Kit Pellow
Projected Winner - Kevin Estrada
There is not a true lefty bat in this group as both Estrada and Jaramillo switch hit and the remaining three all bat right-handed. However, all possible options were included in this competition due to the multiple lefty options available in the everyday line-up.

In the end I went with a utility player instead of a regular outfielder. Estrada gives a flexibility that none of the other candidates do. As mentioned previously, Jaramillo is primarily a shortstop. I see Jaramillo's re-signing mainly as insurance against possible injury but also to provide Spring Training competition.

On the outfielder side the most intriguing possibility is Joe Mather. Mather is a converted infielder that began the season in low A Quad Cities. His batting average and on-base percentage improved by about fifty points after his promotion to A-Advanced Palm Beach, while his OPS went up by over eighty points. (Mather had two hundred nine at bats in Quad Cities and two hundred in Palm Beach.) He went .319/.398/.514/.911, 23-for-72, in August. That may have been a factor in the Cardinals moving him from the Palm Beach to Memphis roster for the Rule 5 draft in December. While I do not think Mather has a serious chance to bypass Double-A, I do think he will be given a good look and will definitely be in the mix for Double-A playing time. I think both Nivar and Pellow will likely be cut.

The Pitching Locks

Projected Starter - Adam Wainwright
If Wainwright does not make the big squad, then he is a lock to be in the Redbirds' rotation. He could be part of a trade scenario but I do not think that is likely.

Projected Winners - Carmen Cali, Tyler Johnson
Both Cali and Johnson are locks to make up the left side of the bullpen if neither makes the Major League squad. Both were put into the mix for the closer role, more of which is discussed below.

Open Competition

Balance of The Rotation
Competitors - Randy Leek (L), Jordan Pals, Rich Rundles (L), Dennis Tankersley, Brad Voyles, John Webb
Projected Starters - Randy Leek, Jordan Pals, Dennis Tankersley and John Webb
The two lefty options are Randy Leek and Rich Rundles. Leek will prove that he deserves this promotion from Double-A. He will also be the sole lefty starter, at least at the season's start. I expect Rundles to be sent to Springfield to compete for a slot there.

Among the righty options, I think both Jordan Pals and Dennis Tankersley have the best shot at making the Redbirds' rotation. Pals has slowly but steadily climbed the organizational ladder since being drafted in 2003. He is not flashy and does not get the press that other higher-profile pitchers get in the Cardinals system. However, he has neither repeated a level nor been demoted during his professional career. That, in and of itself, is an achievement. Like his Springfield rotation mate Leek, whose pitching stats he appeared to mimic, Pals will show enough to begin the season in the Memphis rotation.

If Dennis Tankersley does not make the Cardinals' bullpen, he will go to Memphis as part of their rotation. He is close to a lock for a spot in the Memphis rotation if he shows any remaining promise. He is still likely to make the rotation even if he does not show that he has much upside left.

The last spot in the rotation will be between Brad Voyles and John Webb. Frankly, neither of these pitchers appear to have much of an upside. My decision here came down to choosing the slightly younger pitcher who has been a starter more consistently in his professional career, John Webb.

Webb turns 27 in May while Voyles turned 29 in December. Most of Webb's minor league experience has come as a starter while Voyles has only primarily started the past two seasons. Voyles has only pitched 130 innings combined during that time frame. This slot may be a toss-up and I frankly don't think it makes much of a difference which one gets the nod.

Variables The Disabled List -
Both lefty starter Chris Narveson and righty starter Rhett Parrott will begin the season on the disabled list as both are recovering from labrum surgery.. Parrott, who turned 26 in November, has not pitched since 2004 when he logged only thirty-four innings for Memphis before being shut down with an injury. He was removed from the 40-man roster over the winter. Narveson, at only 24 in late December and a lefty, will be brought along slowly as he will be given every opportunity to fully develop.

Slot - Closer
Competitors - Carmen Cali, Cory Doyne, Brian Falkenborg, Talley Haines, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Matt Smith
Projected Closer - Brian Falkenborg
While each of the seven pitchers listed above has prior experience closing, Falkenborg will likely begin the season as the Redbirds' closer. Both of Springfield's 2005 closers, Cory Doyne and Josh Kinney, will contend for a slot in the Memphis bullpen but neither will move into closing until they prove they can compete successfully at this level. Both Johnson and Cali will be in the bullpen as lefties so each is likely to see some closing time if they are pitching well. Haines closed at the Double-A level last year for the Cubs organization. But Falkenborg notched six saves in six tries for the Redbirds at season's end last year. When combined with the Redbirds' familiarity with him, Falkenborg's late-season success is likely to win him the closer role.

With Falkenborg as closer and Cali and Johnson in the lefty role, that leaves three available bullpen slots – two short-work right-handed relievers and a long-reliever/swing guy.

Slot - Long Relief
Competitors - Alan Benes, Brad Voyles
Projected Winner - Alan Benes
Since Alan Benes is not on the list of non-roster invitees on the St. Louis Cardinals' website, he was not included in the group used to decide the St. Louis depth chart. However, since a subsequent article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicated that Benes does indeed have a Spring Training invite, I put him in the mix for a spot on the Memphis roster. Benes was not considered for a spot in the rotation since he told a reporter with The Springfield News-Leader last season that he is looking to make a squad solely as a reliever these days. I agree with him that his best shot at making a roster is in the bullpen.

He and Brad Voyles are the only two relievers under consideration for a role on the Memphis squad that have substantial prior experience both starting and relieving. Therefore, they are the prime candidates for the long relief/swing role in the bullpen. I honestly have this one as almost too close to call. While their WHIP, K/9 IP and K/BB ratios were nearly identical in 2005, Voyles pitched far more innings and did it in Triple-A while Benes competed at Double-A. (Benes did not sign with the Cardinals until July 31st.) The difference in competition levels gives the edge to Voyles. But Alan Benes is one of the most well-respected former Cardinals, per Tony La Russa, and his history with the Cardinals alone gives him an advantage. If the competition is close Alan Benes will get the nod.

Slot - Middle Relief/Righty Set-Up
Competitors - Cory Doyne, Andy Cavazos, Talley Haines, Josh Kinney, Blaine Neal, John Riedling, Matt Smith
Projected Winners - Cory Doyne, Talley Haines
If Doyne's control improves, he will make the Memphis squad. I do not see either of his Cardinals' teammates, Andy Cavazos or Josh Kinney, making the squad. Cavazos needs to pitch better at the Double-A level and while Kinney got hammered during his Triple-A stint last year. I expect Kinney to get another shot at Memphis at some point next season but think Doyne is higher than Kinney on the Cardinals' current food chain right now.

Talley Haines has the best peripherals, by far, of the free agent signee group. In fact his numbers are so good and his work record so nomadic that it raises questions. He began 2005 with Boston's Double-A affiliate where he compiled a 1.16 WHIP and 0.87 ERA in ten and one-third innings over six games before being released. Haines then signed with the Cubs where he again compiled excellent stats in both Double-A and Triple-A. However, he became a free agent, possibly at his own choosing, and signed with the Cardinals. If he can replicate his 2005 performance, I expect Haines to make the squad.

Tyler Johnson makes the big club - Then I expect the bullpen to go with one lefty. I do not have a good idea of who would be the favorite to make the club if that happens.
Jeff Nelson does not make the big club - Then I do not expect him to report to Memphis.

Position Likely Starter
C Michel Hernandez (R/R)
1B Brian Daubach (L/R)
2B Aaron Miles (S/R)
SS John Nelson (R/R)
3B Travis Hanson (L/R)
LF John Gall (R/R)
CF Skip Schumaker (L/R)
RF Chris Duncan (L/R)
Bench = 5
C Iker Franco (R/R)
UT Hector Luna (R/R)
OF Prentice Redman (R/R)
OF Shaun Boyd (R/R)
UT Kevin Estrada (S/R)
SP Adam Wainwright
SP Randy Leek (L)
SP Jordan Pals
SP Dennis Tankersley
SP John Webb
Closer Brian Falkenborg
Bullpen = 5
LHR (2) Carmen Cali (L)
  Tyler Johnson (L)
Short (2) Cory Doyne
  Talley Haines
DL Rhett Parrott, RHS
  Chris Narveson, LHS
  = no options left, must pass through waivers
  =<3 yrs service, one option year remaining
  =<3 yrs service, two option years remaining
  =<3 yrs service, three option years remaining
Italicized  =left-handed hitter, used for position chart

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