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.
Spring Training is the perfect time to see a majority of an organization’s top prospects on display. Talented players get to show whether they have progressed or regressed during the offseason. Prospect talk becomes a hot topic around this time of the year with players from low levels given the potential chance to go up against Major League veterans.
Baseball America released its Top 100 prospect list last week, and this week MLB is releasing each organization’s Top 20 list through the MLB Pipeline. The list for the Cardinals was revealed on Tuesday and we offer more information below on those that we project to spend some part of the season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 20 Sam Freeman: The southpaw has contributed in the St. Louis bullpen the past two seasons with a combined 4.21 ERA in 37 games. Delivering from the left side the past two seasons with the Cardinals, Freeman actually saw better success when dealing with right-handers, holding them to a .179 clip.
The former 32nd round draft pick has some room for improvement to become a sharp middle reliever. Two encouraging signs from Freeman is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased and WHIP has decreased during his rise to higher levels of play.
No. 19 Mike O’Neill: Playing the outfield in every single game during his professional career, O’Neill has never had more strikeouts than walks at any level during his four year career. With a career .435 on-base percentage, he is a player that relies on speed and plate discipline to reach base. O’Neill has never hit more than five home runs in a season, but has yet to commit more than four errors also. The former USC Trojan hits for average and hustles in the field, but it may be tough for him to become a regular at the Major League level.
No. 18 Lee Stoppelman: The fourth left-handed pitcher on the list, Stoppelman is coming off a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings. Not known for blowing the competition away with velocity, he relies on pitch movement and location to keep hitters off balance. A season after holding hitters to a .150 average in 37 games at Double-A Springfield, Stoppelman will more than likely spend his first full season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 17 Zach Petrick: Even through his college days, Petrick has been known for striking out hitters in excess. Named the 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the Cardinals’ organization, he posted a 1.99 ERA and 122 strikeouts through three different levels. The right-hander relies on location and using a three-pitch mix to keep hitters guessing. Still young, Petrick is entering only his third professional season and was one of eight pitchers that received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year. His future seems bright with a likely landing spot at Triple-A Memphis.
No. 13 Jordan Swagerty: Unfortunately for Swagerty, the injury bug has plagued him much of the past two seasons. A victim of Tommy John surgery that made him miss the 2012 season and a majority of the 2013 season, the right-hander started as a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year, but was sent to minor league camp after experiencing inflammation in his elbow. Nonetheless, he notches the list because of plus stuff that includes a strong fastball with a solid curveball. He had an impressive run in 2011, spanning three levels of play and possessing a 1.83 ERA. With two plus pitches and past experience, Swagerty has the potential to turn heads if he can stay healthy.
No. 12 Randal Grichuk: Acquired from the Angels with Peter Boujos in the trade that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to Los Angeles, Grichuk may be best known for being picked one spot ahead of superstar outfielder Mike Trout. The 22-year old has put up sturdy power numbers the past two seasons that include 114 extra-base hits, 40 of those home runs. He may be better known for a good glove though after earning the 2013 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award at right field. He committed two errors while throwing out 11 runners, five of those as part of double plays. If Grichuk can find plate discipline and hit for a higher average, he will have the tools needed to make an impact at the Major League level.
No. 11 Charlie Tilson: Known best for his speed, Tilson has the makeup of a quick outfielder that covers lots of ground and hustles around the base pads. The defense is there and as he progresses through higher levels of play, his offense hopes to remain strong as well.
No. 10 Tim Cooney: Selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, Cooney progressed to Double-A in only his second professional season in 2013. The lefty recorded 148 strikeouts last season, most of any St. Louis minor leaguer. His ability to strike batters out stem from his sinking changeup and strong location skills. He uses his fastball wisely, getting ahead of hitters through the ability to spot the pitch on both sides of the plate. Cooney received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year and has already received buzz about the terrific job he has done. He will get the chance to prove his stuff at Triple-A this year, and could be a key starter from the left side for St. Louis down the road.
No. 7 James Ramsey: Playing at Florida State University, Ramsey hit above .360 in both his junior and senior seasons. He has struggled to repeat that success at the professional level though, posting a .253 mark through his first two seasons. While his average dipped in 2013, his power numbers surged, as he recorded 16 home runs and a total of 36 extra-base hits. One thing some overlook is Ramsey’s speed that allows him good range in the outfield and the ability to leg out infield hits.
No. 5 Marco Gonzalez: The second left-hander in the top 5, Gonzalez is known for coupling his quality control with steady off-speed pitches. While he continues to pitch, look for a good strikeout-to-walk ratio as he consistently pounds the zone. With velocity that will not blow any hitters away, Gonzalez never relies too much on one side of the plate and works in his secondary pitches smoothly. The former Gonzaga Bulldog is expected to make a rapid expansion through the minor leagues, with a chance of seeing action at Triple-A.
No. 3 Stephen Piscotty: The organization is high, and should be, on Piscotty after an excellent 2013 season that was followed up by a first-class showing in the Arizona Fall League. The now-outfielder began his career as a third baseman, but with past experience as a pitcher, the arm strength is not a problem. Even with the ability to get around on inside pitches, Piscotty is more of a line drive hitter that can crack a home run from time to time. The former Stanford Cardinal will look for another strong showing coming off an impressive year.
No. 2 Kolten Wong: At 5’9”, Wong has proved to be a perfect fit at second base. Combining quick bat speed, good baseball instincts and a swift agility running the bases and tracking balls down, the former University of Hawaii Warrior has the tools to be an everyday starter on the right side of the infield. Already acquiring big league experience in his third season during 2013 puts Wong a step ahead in trying to secure a job with St. Louis for the 2014 season. He has proven his ability at the minor league level and now things need to translate offensively with the big league club for Wong’s hope of earning a job in St. Louis.
No. 1 Oscar Taveras: Simply put, Taveras is the next superstar to come through the St. Louis organization. With a smooth swing, good speed, strong arm and a lot of potential, the outfielder should see time with the big league club at sometime this year.
For a complete list of the prospects, take a look here.