Happy baseball season, everyone! The Cardinals began their 162-game campaign with a date against the Cubs, and their affiliate teams will begin their seasons over the following week. We previewed Peoria and Palm Beach two weeks ago, Springfield last week, and the preview series will conclude today with a look at the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, who are rocking a fresh, Memphis-inspired logo.
2016 overview: 65-77 (.458); did not qualify for Pacific Coast League playoffs
Loaded with many of the Cardinals’ premier prospects, the Memphis Redbirds will be the affiliate team to keep an eye on in 2017.
With the season-ending injury to top prospect Alex Reyes, right-hander Luke Weaver will be the highest-rated Cardinals prospect this season, as according to both MLB.com and the Viva El Birdos prospect list, and he will begin the year as the frontline piece of the Triple-A rotation.
The 23-year-old Weaver dazzled in the minors throughout last summer, posting a 1.30 ERA with a .206 batting average against and just twelve walks in twelve starts at Double-A Springfield and one at Triple-A. Weaver’s success led to his Major League debut in August, and he went on to appear in nine games (eight starts) down the stretch for St. Louis, pitching to a 3.34 xFIP and 11.15 K/9 in 36 1⁄3 innings.
Cardinals third-ranked prospect Harrison Bader will kick off his year at Memphis after a breakout 2016. Bader, 22, stood out in his campaign last year with nineteen homers and as many doubles across 131 games between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Bader scuffled a bit in Triple-A — just three homers and a .296 wOBA — but given that he was drafted just two years ago and is already touching Triple-A, some bumps in the road are to be expected.
Along with Weaver, Rowan Wick will toe the rubber for Memphis in 2017. Wick appeared in 44 games out of the bullpen for High-A Palm Beach and Springfield last season, maintaining an 81.8 left on-base percentage and 0.98 FIP with 37 strikeouts in his 23 games at Palm Beach before he hit a rough patch in his 21 games at Double-A: a 4.12 ERA with fourteen walks in 19 2⁄3 frames on the mound.
Wick was selected to represent the Cardinals in the Arizona Fall League and did a solid job, whiffing eight in ten innings over nine games. Wick later went on to join the big-league club in Spring Training and Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
The final member of the Memphis Redbirds’ squad we’ll preview today is infielder Paul DeJong, the Cardinals fourth-round selection in 2015 and the VEB eleventh-ranked prospect.
DeJong displayed quite the uptick in power in 2016, blasting 29 doubles and 22 home runs in 132 games at the Double-A level. With the power surge, DeJong’s batting average dipped — down to .260 from .316 the year prior — but DeJong will be on the look to find a happy medium between the two traits this season.
In addition to balancing out in the batter’s box, DeJong will be tackling a new position this season. DeJong, a third baseman in over 90 percent of his 1,642 1/3 defensive frames, will transition to the shortstop position this summer after he did so in the AFL last October.
That does it for the affiliate previews! I thank you for reading and look forward to interacting with everyone this season.