On Friday, the Cardinals released all four of their minor league rosters to start the season. Hopefully, I’ll have time this weekend to give some of my thoughts on all four rosters.
We’ll start our little Minor League excursion with AAA Memphis and we'll see if I have the time or desire to write about the three other affiliates. Remember, this was the released roster, and it’s all subject to change. Things happen quick in baseball, and they happen even quicker and quieter in Minor League Baseball.
Speaking of which this roster will probably change pretty quickly once Waino and Yadi are cleared to return to the Cardinals. Also, don’t forget that each team has a taxi squad for their Major League Club. As of this moment, Catcher Tyler Heineman and infielder Jose Rondon are on that taxi squad. As a result, they won’t appear on any roster.
First, here is your tentative 2021 Opening Day Memphis Redbirds roster in all of its boring, sent via email glory:
My first thought is “Wow, that’s a lot of pitching.” Sixteen arms, to be exact (which will most certainly be fifteen with Ricardo Sanchez recovering from arm surgery and destined for the IL). That’s probably an indicator that the Cardinals are going to be just as cautious (and maybe even more so) with their minor league pitching as they were with their Major League pitching to start the season. This would be a smart decision.
Obviously, the headliners here are lefties Matthew Liberatore and Zacꓘ Thompson. Aside from spring training with the big club, neither 23-year-old Thompson nor 21-year-old Liberatore have pitched above any of the various “A” levels of minor league baseball. While both have been impressive in spring stints with the Cardinals, this is a big jump for both. I think it’s an overly aggressive promotion for Liberatore, but I think he’ll hold his own. Maybe look a little like 2019 Jake Woodford on the stat line. Thompson, on the other hand, is exactly where he needs to be. Keep him on the fast track. With a Kentucky/SEC education and a history of arm issues, Thompson should make his major league debut the minute that it’s clear he’s mastered his arsenal at AAA.
RHP Johan Oviedo is also a headliner of the group, but we’ve seen him in the majors a bunch over the 2020 and early 2021 seasons so far, so who wants to talk about him anymore? lol. You guys know I get bored by talking about the major league players.
Not to be lost in the highly-touted shuffle is one of my favorite prospects in the system, RHP Angel Rondon. A crafty right-hander, Rondon gets by on command and variance with his repertoire. He has an easy major league debut in his future, but I was awfully concerned by his last spring training appearance. Rondon is usually a quick worker, but he really slowed down and labored in that appearance, and his velocity dipped, too. Hopefully he’s worked through these issues.
Aside from those pitchers, I’m anxious to see what kind of role command-first righty Alex FaGalde has with Memphis. His stuff can be good, but he was exposed at Springfield for the first time in his minor league career at the end of the 2019 season. He was also shut down early with arm issues way back then, so we have a bit of a chicken and the egg situation in regards to his troubles there. LHP Evan Kruczynski is another one of my favorite prospects in the organization, and he was impressive at times in spring training. His arsenal can be average-to-above from top to bottom, but that’s only when teams aren’t just sitting on either his change or his fastball. RHP Tommy Parsons was impressive in the early part of spring training, but really labored late. He has a history of letting up bombs in the minors, but he has impressive command of his fastball/curve/change arsenal, and he’s at his best when he’s over-using those offspeed pitches. I think there's a chance that all three have a major league debut in their future.
The Redbirds’s bullpen is going to be a heat show. We’ll see if RHP Junior Fernandez can rediscover some of the success that he had during the 2019 season in both the minors and the majors. Dating back to spring of 2020, Fernandez just hasn’t looked right. It’s not fair to speculate (but I’m going to do it anyway because I’m a piece of shit), but I can’t help but wonder if his arm is totally healthy. He’s dealt with arm issues in the past.
You’ll remember RHP Johan Quezada as that tall righty from camp that just throws absolute gas. Acquired from the Phillies for cash, I’m anxious to see what Quezada can do in high-leverage situations for the Redbirds. He's a total wild card/lottery ticket and I'm very happy he's in the organization. RHP and former second round pick Connor Jones throws the bowling ball sinker with terrible command usually, and he could eventually be a bridge reliever between AAA and the majors if his command gets squared away. I don’t give his breaking pitch the credit it deserves, if I’m being honest. He's a product of the University of Virginia, and that should make Rick Horton as wet as Tyler O'Neill's body does.
RHP’s Roel Ramirez and Jesus Cruz pitched in the majors last season. Roel got exploded at a historical level and Cruz clearly wasn't ready, too. LHP’s Austin Warner and Garrett Williams are solid depth at the minor league level. It'd be cool to see Warner, the former River City Rascal, make a major league debut, but we'll see. I don’t know much about LHP Bernado Flores other than that he’s already made a major league debut, so I’ll shut my damn mouth about him until I get to see him pitch live.
This has already gone on longer than I had hoped. Dammit. Sorry about this.
When we talk about the position players, I want to start by bring up that a forgotten catching prospect is higher up on the depth chart than any of us could have anticipated.
It’s been a rocky minor league career for Dennis Ortega. There was a time when he had a chance to be the “heir-presumptive” to Yadier Molina. A great defensive catcher and team leader, Ortega has dealt with nagging injuries and inconsistencies. He was GREATLY impressive in spring training, and that really stuck with me. I hope he’s turned the corner, because the spring training version of Ortega is a major league part-time catcher. Shout out to catcher Aaron Antonini who is also promising and has a lot of big fans from within the organization, but who I am definitely less interested in. An 18th round pick out of the 2019 draft, Antonini has never played above rookie ball. The Venezualan out of Middle Tennessee State is a left-handed swinger, and that’s intriguing as hell. I’d expect to see him moved down when Ali Sanchez in no longer needed at the major league level.
There are four infielders on the roster, so that’s a lot of playing time for each member of this group. The only one that I really care about, personally, is 3B/SS/1B Evan Mendoza. He’s a defensive wizard with a good contact tool that is at his best when he’s taking command of an at-bat instead of sitting back and over anticipating. Short stop Rayder Ascanio is a show stopping defensive short stop, and he’s also a fiery competitor. Max Moroff is fine, and he’s a switch-hitter which is cool, but he’s the prototypical minor league depth piece. Finally, Kramer Robertson is Kramer Robertson and he’s fine. He’s best suited for second base because of his arm, but he’s a squirrely little high-energy guy that can turn on a breaking pitch on the inner half. In a couple of years he’ll be another team’s Max Moroff but without the ability to switch-hit, but right now he’s still a “prospect.”
The outfield consists of four guys that have a small chance to be a fourth outfielder and Lane Thomas. There isn’t a player on the 40-man roster that needs the start of the minor league season as much as Lane Thomas does. A player that relies heavily on confidence, nothing would surprise me less than if he course-corrected his career with a little success at Memphis. He’s still doing a little taxi squading here and there, but I’d love for Thomas to be at Memphis and only Memphis.
Scott Hurst, Lars Nootbaar, and Conner Capel are all left-handed swingers with different skill sets. Hurst and Capel are potentially well above average fielders. Hurst has already made a major league debut, but I actually like Capel better as a defender in center. Capel’s offensive profile is power, Hurst’s is still being defined but it's heavy on contact, and Nootbaar is OBP-first. Again, this is a group of potentially fourth outfielders if a lot goes right for each. I'll be keeping an eye out to see if any of these three took a needed big leap in their development during the minor league break.
Matt Szczur exists, as well. So, there's that.
And those are my thoughts on the Memphis Redbirds’ roster!! Thanks to gif-god himself, @Cardinalsgifs for the beautiful picture leading off our post!
Mr. Flores, let me interview you.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis