St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Preview: Springfield Cardinals

Future arm injury candidate Zach Petrick... - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Can Seth Blair stay healthy? Is Zach Petrick the real deal? Aledmys Diaz: All hype or impact player at a shallow position? These questions and many more will define the Springfield season -- nobody on this roster is the "sure thing".

For the last 5 seasons, Springfield has been a home for Cardinals fans to get a look at the next Future Redbird star coming up through the farm system ranks. Brett Wallace had a short stint here in 2009 before getting promoted and then traded for you know who, Shelby Miller brought his blistering fastball and top 10 prospect status to town in 2010. Then it was the Man from Slippery Rock, Matt Adams, who broke the Springfield single-season home run record with 32 taters in 2011. Oscar Taveras brought top 10 prospect status back to town in 2012, along with his violent swing. 2013 featured a few candidates: former first round pick James Ramsey, the perfect snowflake that is Mike O'Neill, or the super strike zone command of Tim Cooney.

Who's going to be the next man in this year? There's a lot of candidates for that prize, including Ramsey and O'Neill, back for second stints in the Texas League due to tremendous outfield depth in Memphis. Zach Petrick is coming off a 2013 that was awarded as the best pitching the Cardinal minor leagues and Aledmys Diaz arrives with a lot of hype...and a lot of questions. Keep all those things in mind as we peruse the Springfield Cardinals 2014 roster.

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Starting Rotation

The top four will get the majority of the starts for Springfield this year -- if they are all in AA to end the year I would pencil in 20+ starts for each of them. The two lefties are the questions here: Both started 12+ games for Springfield last season, neither had great results in doing so. With Stoppelman at AAA and two solid lefties in the big league bullpen, there's no reason to rush either of these guys into a bullpen role just yet, although Cornelius certainly has the career splits that might fashion him into an effective LOOGY should it come to that point.

Blair has the most to gain here: He's the former first round pick who's been set back by both injuries and control issues so far in his career. He's still got great secondary stuff and a fastball with good velocity, however, and looked to have finally made some progress towards taming the control issues in 2013. If he can continue to progress this season, I'd imagine there might be a spot for him in the big league bullpen come mid-summer or possibly the trade fodder to go get a big league reliever from a club that's selling. I don't think he has any shot of starting a game in the big leagues with the Cardinals due to all the pitching depth that the organization has at he big league level and in the lower minors as well.

Gaviglio and Heyer just need to prove they can get high minors hitters out. Heyer continues to play up his pitchability and get hitters out despite not having any plus pitches in his arsenal. Gaviglio gets a ton of weak contact, most of it on the ground, but also strikes out a fair amount of hitters as well. Both have excellent command of their arsenals, which should aid them despite fairly middling stuff overall.

There's not much more to say about Petrick than what's already been said. He was the breakout sleeper in the farm system last season, and looks to continue to build on that in 2014. Should he pitch well, I wouldn't be surprised if he's promoted to AAA at midseason, given the lack of depth in the starting pitching ranks in AAA currently.

Bullpen

Lefties, lefties, lefties! It's possible that they'll be adding two more lefties to the pen at some point this season when Marco Gonzales makes his way back to Springfield and bumps those two starters back to the late innings as well. There's really no prospects to talk about here, Sherriff and Kiekhefer are really the best of this bunch, but don't really have much in the way of stuff or much of a chance to make an impact at the big league level.

One thing is for sure -- it's going to be hard for opposing lefthanded hitters to make much of an impact in the late innings at Hammons Field this season.

Catchers

Stanley is the prospect, the other two just filler, although he hasn't looked much like a prospect since his solid season in A ball back in 2011. He hit 11 homers that year with the Quad Cities, and any left handed hitting catching prospect should get a thousand looks before you move on due to the fact that they're such a rare commodity. Stanley gets good marks for his defense, although he's no Yadi, and it will be interesting to see if his bat comes around at Hammons Field, well known to be a haven for left handed hitters over the years.

Infielders

Questions are already surfacing about whether starting Wisdom at AA this season is a smart move, what with all this struggles at Palm Beach last season. Thing is, he's 23 years old, can really pick it at third base, and there's no other third base prospect anywhere to be found in the high minors. The Cardinals really need to see what they have here, and it's clear that his strong spring training factored in to the decision to start him out with Springfield when the team broke camp. Is he ready? I don't know -- I've soured on Wisdom as a prospect because I don't ever see him making enough contact convert much of his raw power into the usable variety and the strikeouts are a real indication of that. Still, if he can crank out 10-15 homers and hit around .260, that's a pretty valuable player considering his plus defense at the hot corner. This year will be an interesting one for Wisdom and he's a guy to keep an eye on considering the tools he possesses.

Aledmys Diaz was the talk of the spring, thanks in no small part to the crew here at VEB and especially Joe, who made it his own personal mission to suss out anything and everything there was to know about the Cuban defector prior to the Cardinals signing him. Most think we got a good deal (4Y$8M) for a guy who looked every bit the part of stud short stop while playing for the Cuban national team two years ago. I tire of the comparisons to Derek Jeter in terms of makeup and mannerisms, but if he starts sending fruit baskets around, well, perhaps I'll reconsider. The questions are whether he can hit pitching at this level (early returns seem promising) and whether he can stick at the SS position on defense (jury is most definitely out to this point). If he can't, can the bat play up at 2B or 3B? Or does he have to make it as a SS, a position where the Cardinals value defense above all else, in order for the bloom to not be permanently off the rose?

The sleeper of this group is Matt Williams, a guy relatively few have heard of, but a solid defensive SS with good speed and plate discipline. He's going to play at lot at both SS and 2B and I wouldn't be surprised to see him near the top of the lineup either, as he's shown a penchant for getting on base at a solid clip in the lower minors the last few seasons.

Outfielders

O'Neill is what he is at this point: A highly skilled offensive player with very little power who can only play LF. I love the guy due to his unique skills and approach at the plate, but there's just very little room on a big league roster for a corner outfield with a sub-.100 ISO. I would expect a quick promotion to AAA if and when Taveras goes up to the big leagues, but it's just hard to project him as anything other than a really interesting player with a unique skill set who unfortunately was born throwing left handed.

Ortega was claimed off of waivers from the Rangers (who had claimed him off of waivers from the Rockies earlier in the year) and is coming off a struggling season in AA after making most of the Rockies' top prospect lists last spring. Speed and defense is his game, with a little home run pop on the side, and back to back seasons of 30+ SB in low-A and high-A are nothing to shake a stick at. A guy worth watching, as he can really make some waves in the organization should he be able to mirror any of those low minors numbers at the AA level.

Popkins is a favorite of more than a few Cardinal bloggers, for both his name as for his profile: A switch-hitting, undrafted free agent out of UC Davis who fell off the prospect radar entirely during his last two seasons of struggles in college, but who's done nothing but rake since entering pro ball in 2012, including a .317/.377/.463 line at Palm Beach in 2013. He's good size, has the arm to man RF, and possibly the bat to match. Where he fits in as a 24 year old with all this outfield talent in the high minors, however, is anyone's guess.

Ramsey has old man skills, great walk rates, good power, but man if everything he does doesn't scream out like a mirage when looking at his peripheral stats. He could just as easily be off the table as a prospect by the end of this season but I'd imagine his ability to draw a walk and hit homers while playing solid defense in CF will keep him in the hearts of many even if he royally struggles in his second go around the Texas league.

Projected Best Lineup:

  1. O'Neill LF
  2. Williams 2B
  3. Diaz SS
  4. Rodriguez 3B
  5. Ramsey CF
  6. Wisdom 3B
  7. Popkins RF
  8. Stanley C

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