Now that the MLB Cardinals have migrated back north to St. Louis, it is time for the Palm Beach Cardinals to open their 2007 season. The Cards are hoping to get back to their 2005 Championship form after finishing second in the Eastern Division of the Florida State League last year.
The season starts Thursday with the first of a four-game series against the Marlins' Advanced Class A team, the Jupiter Hammerheads. The two organizations are the only ones in baseball to have their teams share a stadium. Both squads play their home games at Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium, which is also the spring training home for the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.
After a strong 2006 season, last year's manager Ron "Pop" Warner was promoted to the Cards' Double-A Springfield Redbirds. To fill the vacant position, the Cardinals organization turned to Gaylen Pitts, who coached the Staten Island Yankees to the short-season New York-Penn League championship in 2006.
This year's players hope to continue the rich tradition of the Palm Beach Cardinals turning out quality Major League players like Chris Duncan, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney and Anthony Reyes, all of whom previously spent time in Jupiter.
Let's take a look at this year's team and see who might eventually help the defending World Series Champions.
Brandon Yarbrough (pictured) caught in 43 games for Palm Beach last year, backing up Mike Pagnozzi, who was promoted to Double-A Springfield this season. Yarbrough's hitting numbers should improve with an increase from the 144 at-bats he received in 2006. Danilo Sanchez will be backing up Yarbrough and will contribute a very strong arm, with average defensive skills. He struggled with the bat last season with the Detroit Tigers' Double-A Erie team. Danilo's average was .187 with seven home runs in 237 at-bats.
Pitts has two big lefties competing for the starting first base job. Returning starter Mike Ferris struggled with his bat in 2006. In 99 games, he batted just .205 and hopes to rebound to his 2005 form. Ferris spent that season with Single-A Quad Cities, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 69. The other option is Mark Hamilton, a 6-foot-3 lefty from Tulane University. Hamilton committed only five errors in 64 games, splitting time between State College and Quad Cities in his first professional action in 2006.
After being selected in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, third baseman Allen Craig (pictured) had a strong start to his career. Playing for Class A State College, Craig had four home runs and 29 RBIs before tearing his patella tendon. 5-foot-8 utility infielder Casey Rowlett may be the second coming of All-Star David Eckstein. He's off to a good start, stealing 20 bases last season. This will be Rowlett's first season in Advanced Class A ball after spending last season with low Class A Quad Cities.
Rowlett will be joined in the infield by Quad Cities teammate Dan Nelson, who can play both shortstop and third base. Nelson stole 27 bases and hit seven home runs in 2006. Rule 5 draftee shortstop Jose Contreras spent last season with the Washington Nationals' Class A Savannah team. Contreras has posted a career .225 batting average and garnered just 22 extra base hits in 881 at-bats. The infield rounds out with second baseman Jose Martinez, who had a solid 2006 season with Quad Cities, hitting eight home runs with a .270 average.
Pitts will have the help of speedy Sean Danielson (pictured), who is returning after a strong 2006. Danielson played in 114 games for Palm Beach last season, accumulating 100 hits and stealing a team leading 22 bases. Fifth-round draft pick Shane Robinson played in 63 games in low Class A Quad Cities last season, batting .282 and stealing 13 bases. Centerfielder Nathan Southard is a rising prospect in the Cardinals organization. He was an All-Star in the New York-Penn League last season, where he batted .306 with a .488 slugging percentage. The son of former Pirate Andy Van Slyke, A.J., will be roaming the Birds' outfield in 2007. Last season, Van Slyke struggled with injuries in low Class A Quad Cities and was sent down to State College.
The pitching staff is headlined by Gary Daley (pictured), the organization's third-round pick in the 2006 draft. Daley spent the short season with Class A State College, going 5-6 with a 3.28 ERA and striking out 64 in 14 starts. Palm Beach has two lefties in their starting rotation this season in Adam Daniels and Tyler Norrick. The 6-foot-2 Daniels won seven games last season with a 3.07 ERA while striking out 128 with the Swing of the Quad Cities. Norrick was selected in the sixth round in last season's draft and went 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in Quad Cities. The staff is rounded out by Trey Hearne, a 12-game winner with the Swing in 2006 and then there's first-round draft pick Adam Ottavino, who went 2-2 for State College.
The bullpen has a collection of strong arms hoping to prove themselves this season. Big 6-foot-3 lefty Luke Gregerson went 6-2 with a 2.81 ERA between rookie ball and State College. Converted third baseman Jon Mikrut will continue his learning process in the Palm Beach bullpen. Another name to watch in the pen is Michael Cooper, who is returning to action after spending the 2006 season on the disabled list following right shoulder surgery. 6-foot-7 Nick Webber, converted catcher Jason Motte and Scott Vander Weg round out the relievers.
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