Baseball has officially arrived! While it’s not Opening Day yet, spring training games are underway. Spring training is a time where we hear how certain players are “in the best shape of their life”, and how pitchers are “throwing free and easy”. However there’s more to spring training than those quotes we hear from Florida every February/March. Spring training is a time where veterans see what’s left in the tank, young guys try to impress for the future, dreams become reality, dreams end with a “roster trimming”, and guys prepare for the marathon that is 162 games. The World Baseball Classic has created an opportunity for guys to get crucial at bats and innings that wouldn’t be available in a “typical spring” While the Cardinals seem to be pretty set on their 25 man roster, there are some things that need sorted out before the Cardinals take on the Cubs in Game 1 of the season.
What we know: Barring any injuries or unpredictable trades the 25 man roster is basically set. If the Cardinals carry a 7 man bullpen (typically what they do) their bullpen should consist of Oh, Siegrist, Cecil, Broxton, Rosenthal, Bowman, and Socolovich. The starting rotation will be Martinez, Wainwright, Lynn, Leake, and Wacha. That leaves 13 position players. The 8 starters are Molina, Carpenter, Wong, Diaz, Peralta(only starting job that isn’t a sure thing), Grichuk, Fowler, and Piscotty. The remaining 5 bench players include Gyorko(potential starter), Adams, Garcia, Pham, and Fryer. I fully expect this to be the 25 guys they take north to St. Louis.
What we don’t know: Who will be the starting 3B? It seems like the Cardinals would prefer to have Jhonny Peralta be the starting 3B. The reasoning behind this is that when healthy he’s primarily been a starter. I don’t think the Cardinals view Peralta as a SS anymore, so he should be restricted to just 3B (Garcia and even Gyorko played SS last year when Diaz wasn’t available). Gyorko, who busted out with 30 HR last year, seems to fit the Cardinals vision of “super sub”. A guy that can fill in all over the infield (best defensively at 3B or 1B) is more valuable coming off of the bench than Jhonny Peralta.
If Wacha falters or is injured; who is the 5th starter? Luke Weaver is probably ticketed to start the season as the #1 starter for Memphis, and presumably the fill in for Wacha or any other injured starter. Other guys that could push Weaver for time in the St. Louis rotation are Marco Gonzales (predicted to be ready by sometime in May coming off of Tommy John), John Gant (could fill a number of roles for Memphis/St. Louis), depth starter Mike Mayers, and potentially Tyler Lyons (predicted to be ready in late April/May coming off of knee surgery). While there are other arms in the system that may have a higher ceiling than the guys previously listed – none of those guys are currently on the 40 man roster.
Are any spots in the bullpen up for grabs? I do think the bullpen will start the season with the guys mentioned above. I would be shocked if those were the guys that finished the season in the bullpen however. The guys in the bullpen that shouldn’t have signed a lease yet in St. Louis are Matt Bowman, Miguel Socolovich, and to a much lesser extent Jonathan Broxton. Broxton, who is scheduled to make 3.75 million dollars this year, is assured a spot based on his salary. If he were to struggle the Cardinals could release him, however I doubt he pushes his way off the roster by April. One more quick note on Broxton – he pitched to a 1.99 ERA on the road last year versus a 6.83 ERA in St. Louis. I guess Imo’s, Pappy’s, and Crown Candy Kitchen don’t agree with the big man. Matt Bowman, the Rule V pick from the Mets, pitched in 59 games last year and turned into Seth Maness 2.0 as the season went on. The Cardinals could decide to send him down to Memphis if John Gant makes a serious play for a bullpen role. Miguel Socolovich, who it seems Mike Matheny uses hesitantly, is out of options. Socolovich will either have to be on the 25 man roster or will have to pass through waivers – something I doubt the Cardinals will take the chance of. If it comes down to Bowman vs Gant for the last spot in the bullpen, it will be interesting to see if the Cards remember what Bowman did for them last year, or if the newly acquired Gant does enough to bump a valuable member of the 2016 pen.
Which prospect(s) might we see this summer in St. Louis? While there is a sizable gap between Alex Reyes and the rest of the Cardinal prospects, there are a few guys who could get a chance to contribute to the big league team. On the offensive side Harrison Bader and Carson Kelly are the guys who are most likely to be seen in St. Louis. Having an outside chance is Breyvic Valera, a middle infielder who hit .341 in 73 games at AAA Memphis last season. Valera looks to be a guy who would be called upon in case of an injury to Wong, or Garcia. Carson Kelly, the heir apparent to #4 Yadier Molina needs more seasoning at AAA before he’s counted on as a backup C. He is a guy who could enter into a timeshare with Molina behind the plate next season. Kelly did appear in 10 games in 2016 tallying 13 at bats for the Cardinals last year. In my opinion, OF Harrison Bader is the most intriguing of the bunch. Bader may not be ranked as high as Magneuris Sierra (another top outfielder prospect), however with Sierra not having played higher than low A Peoria he is farther away from his big league debut. Bader is a guy who is max effort all of the time. Bader is only two years removed from playing in the College World Series with the Florida Gators. If any of the Cardinals starting OF go down for an extended period of time, he very well may be the guy called upon. He impressed in AA Springfield last year by hitting .282 with 16 home runs in 82 games and did reach AAA at the age of 22. If there was a small injury to a starting outfielder, or if something happened to Tommy Pham, I would guess Jose Martinez would be called upon. Martinez, best known for not going into the dugout after the national anthem in Denver last year, is vying for a spot in case Pham isn’t healthy, or is still in Matheny’s doghouse. A 28 year old OF, Martinez isn’t considered a prospect but did collect 7 hits in 16 at bats for the Cardinals in 2016.
Arms in the Cardinals system not named Alex Reyes aren’t as close as some of their hitting prospects, however the lower levels are full of guys who could be fast tracked by 2018-2020. Sandy Alcantara seems to be a guy that the Cardinals organization thinks could potentially pitch in St. Louis this year. The 21 year old Alcantara hasn’t pitched higher than High A Palm Beach, but is a guy who throws 4 pitches with a fastball in the triple digits. John Mozeliak has shown in recent years that he isn’t afraid to call guys up below AAA, or guys with lack of minor league innings. Trevor Rosenthal was called up from AA in 2012. In 2013 Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, and Michael Wacha were all called up to St. Louis. Carlos came straight from AA, Wacha had been in college the year prior, and Maness and Siegrist both had minimal appearances at AAA. In 2014 Mozeliak called upon Marco Gonzales who like Wacha had been in college the year before. Mozeliak also summoned Sam Tuivailala after only notching 2 Memphis appearances. Last season we saw Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver get called up with minimal experience in AAA.
Spring training 2017 may not be a make or break situation for many Cardinal players/prospects in Jupiter this year. However, it’s a chance for veterans to springboard into the season on the right foot. Any at bats, or innings a prospect may get will definitely be monitored closely by Mike Matheny, John Mozeliak, and everyone in the Cardinals system. Impressions that are made in seemingly meaningless games are actually quite the opposite. As the spring goes on it will be interesting to see which prospects get a longer look to show the Cardinals what they may be capable of doing if given a chance in the big leagues.