Since the last post about predictions for the Redbirds roster concerning the 2014 season, St. Louis has optioned five players to minor league camp. A majority of moves have featured more pitchers than position players. It is pitching that remains one of the strongholds in the St. Louis system though and entering the season, things are panning out well.
The starting rotation in Memphis should see a few newcomers in Tim Cooney and Angel Castro, with Zach Petrick (pictured above) having an outside chance. Both Cooney and Petrick had successful 2013 campaigns, as the tandem finished as teammates at Double-A Springfield. Cooney led all St. Louis minor league players in strikeouts (148) and was tied for the top spot in wins (10). Petrick was right behind Cooney in strikeouts (122), finishing third, but bested all others in ERA (1.99). He also earned the St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award after the season. The pair as a whole have tremendous upside entering only their third professional seasons. If one of them is optioned to start with Double-A, then expect Boone Whiting to fill their spot. Castro was signed in the offseason after spending 2013 with Triple-A Albuquerque in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. He started 19 games and recorded a 3.48 ERA in 116.1 innings of work. The Dominican Republic-native will be expected to log important innings for Memphis.
Tyler Lyons (pictured above) and Scott McGregor are projected to fill the final two spots in the rotation. Lyons made his Major League debut in 2013 pitching 53 innings with a 4.75 ERA. If the big league club has any injuries in the starting personnel, Lyons will more than likely be the first to see action with St. Louis again. McGregor, the pitcher who tied Cooney with 10 wins last season, started eight games with Springfield and 17 with Memphis. While his combined ERA landed at 4.06 in 2013, McGregor will look to improve in his first full season at Triple-A.
The St. Louis bullpen does have some questions, which poses uncertainty to trickle down to Memphis. Things should sort out once a few players return from injuries though. With Jaime Garcia going down at the opening of spring training and Jason Motte not appearing to be at full health, it keeps the door open for either Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez to plug the gap in the starting rotation and the other to fill a bullpen spot. That still leaves one spot in the bullpen though which some see Keith Butler filling. Butler, who made his debut with the Cardinals in 2013, would likely remain with St. Louis until Motte can make a return. The rest of the projected relievers in Memphis are familiar to most.
Sam Freeman (pictured above), Lee Stoppelman, Jorge Rondon, Eric Fornataro, and Nick Greenwood are foreseen as finding their way to Triple-A. Stoppelman saw three games with Memphis in 2013, his first time above the Double-A level. He showed poise last season, posting a 1.50 ERA in 55 games combined between three levels. Rondon had a good season as a Redbird in 2013 (51 G, 3.06 ERA), while Greenwood and Fornataro seek to bounce back from tough campaigns. Finally, after hurling a franchise-record 25.2 consecutive shutout innings by a reliever, Freeman found success in both Memphis and St. Louis. The lefty was 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA at Triple-A and 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA in St. Louis. If the St. Louis bullpen did not already have two lefties locked into it, Freeman would probably be on the Opening Day roster for the Cardinals, although he does still have a chance if St. Louis does not mind having three left-handers. The last spot in the Memphis ‘pen, an opening most thought Jose Almarante would fill before getting stuck in the Dominican with visa issues, seems to be a wait-and-see issue. If the Cardinals are looking internally to fill the void, it could be Heath Wyatt, simply because of the solid year he put together in 2013 between Advanced-A Palm Beach and Springfield. However, they do have a few players that could wind up on the trade block and provide them with another arm.
With the moves yesterday, St. Louis is down to 34 roster players and seven non-roster invitees left in Major League camp. The key to pitching is keeping arms healthy, which is what the organization is focusing on heading into Opening Day.
This time of year always provides several signs that baseball is around the corner. The weather begins to warm up, players report to Spring Training and the countdown to opening day at AutoZone Park dwindles down to a reasonable number. In addition to that, Baseball America releases its top 100 prospects list with the season just weeks away. That list was revealed last night on MLB Network with four names from the St. Louis Cardinals organization on it. While Kolten Wong and Carlos Martinez are expected to make the big league club out of Spring Training, Memphis has a good chance of hosting Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras for at least part of the season. Here is a more in-depth look at the four talents.
Oscar Taveras: Taveras earned the #3 ranking from Baseball America, the highest of any Cardinals’ prospect this year. The outfielder has been on the radar of the organization after his stellar 2010 season, leading the Rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals to an Appalachian League Championship behind his .322 average. Since then, the 21-year old has hit above .300 in every season and slowly began to hone his power numbers, including a .572 slugging percentage and 23 home runs in 2011 with Double-A Springfield. St. Louis’ top prospect was expected to see action in the big leagues in 2013 before going down with an ankle injury that cut his season short after 46 games in Triple-A. Taveras saw most of his playing time in center field with the Redbirds, although he is projected as more of a corner outfielder once he reaches the major league level. Early reports from Spring Training are positive towards the way Taveras feels on his ankle, as the young player eyes his debut in the majors during the 2014 season.
Carlos Martinez: Martinez earned the #31 spot on the top 100 list. The hard-throwing right-hander has been a top three prospect in the St. Louis organization since 2010 and named to Baseball America’s top 100 list since 2011. The Dominican Republic-native was rated as having the “Best Curveball” in the St. Louis organization by Baseball America the past two seasons as well. Martinez has been a Cardinal since 2010, pitching through three different levels in 2013, including the major leagues. A starter his entire career in the minors, Martinez went back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis, pitching as a starter in Triple-A and reliever in the majors. He put up solid numbers in several stints with both Memphis (5-3, 2.51 ERA) and St. Louis (2-1, 5.08 ERA). The 22-year old is looking for redemption and expecting to spend his first full season in the big leagues during 2014, claiming a spot in the bullpen.
Kolten Wong: For the third time in three years, Wong’s name appeared on the coveted list, this time as the #58 prospect. The second baseman has done nothing but produce after being drafted 22nd overall in 2011 by St. Louis out of the University of Hawaii. During his three seasons at the minor league level, Wong has compiled a .301 average and recorded 50 steals. Last year at Triple-A Memphis he hit .303 with 21 doubles and 45 RBIs in 107 games and earned a late-season promotion to St. Louis on August 16. The 23-year old struggled to find a rhythm following the promotion though, going 9-for-59 (.153) with 12 strikeouts at the plate. The starting job at second base for St. Louis appears to be Wong’s to lose for the 2014 season. Many project him to man second base for many years in a Cardinals’ uniform.
Stephen Piscotty: Piscotty was probably higher on the list than most people thought he would be, taking the #70 spot. Entering his third professional season after being drafted 36th overall in 2012 by St. Louis, Piscotty has aggressively climbed the ranks with hopes of beginning the 2014 season with Triple-A. The 23-year old was converted from a third baseman to an outfielder after the 2012 season. After being ranked by Baseball America as having the “Best Outfield Arm” coming into 2013, he proceeded to make eight outfield assists and record three double plays. The crazy thing about it all is that his defense is not what he is noted for. After hitting .295 between Advanced-A and Double-A last season, Piscotty took an invitation to the Arizona Fall League and made full advantage of it. With a team-high .936 OPS, the outfielder hit .371 with 18 RBIs in 23 games. If the California-native can put together a good spring, a roster spot could be his to begin the year in Memphis.
Redbirds pitcher Carlos Martinez, 21, was recalled to the St. Louis Cardinals after last night’s game. Martinez joined the Memphis rotation in May, and was selected as the Cardinals Pitcher of the Month in June. Congratulations, and best of luck from the Memphis Redbirds Front Office!