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Predicting the 26 Man Roster: Carlson Out, Reyes In

Opening Day is only two weeks away. It’s time to take a closer look at who will make the roster and what roles they will fill.

New York Mets v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Opening Day is just two weeks away! The Cardinals will (or won’t) open the season in Cincinnati (or somewhere else) against the Reds. The ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is throwing the start of the Major League Baseball season into question. This is a situation that bears watching.

At some point and somewhere, baseball will be played and the Cardinals will have to trim their spring camp down to 26 players. The club is likely to use their remaining days to give their core players a last chance to fine-tune their preparations and to help settle roles for the regular season.

It’s a good time to take a look at the big picture. Who is likely to make the roster? What roles are players falling into?

Lets start with two assumptions. The first is that the Cardinals will carry the maximum of 13 pitchers. This is something the club has done consistently even with a 25-man roster. Adding an extra roster spot guarantees that the club will make the 13-man staff a constant. With 13 spots dedicated to arms, that leaves 13 available to bats.

The second assumption is that the Cardinals will default to seniority, options, and 40-man roster eligibility. This assumption is the source of much of the controversy surrounding camp. We’ll hash it out below. Let’s get to the roster predictions, divided into offense and pitching:

2020 Cardinals Roster Predictions - Offense (13)

Position Starter (8) Backup (5)
Position Starter (8) Backup (5)
C Molina Wieters
1b Goldschmidt Ravelo (PH)
2b Wong Miller (UT)
3b Carpenter
SS DeJong Edman (MI)
LF O'Neill
CF Bader Thomas
RF Fowler

This roster presents one of the most obvious dichotomies of the offseason. Entering spring, the club talked about the desire to create the opportunity for competition on the roster, particularly in the outfield. Perhaps that was the intention, but the actual competition itself was effectively neutered by the assumptions listed above.

Consider Rangel Ravelo. The role currently occupied by Ravelo would typically be up-for-grabs. He’s the 13th offensive player, a first-baseman who can flounder around the outfield in an emergency. He was a sub-replacement level player in limited plate appearances in ‘19. Still, Ravelo is out of options and the club begged him to abandon plans to play overseas so he could serve as a professional pinch hitter. Was there competition for his spot on the roster? Not really. While Ravelo might hit a little in the majors, he is not a better player than Dylan Carlson, nor is he as versatile as Edmundo Sosa. He’s going to make the roster over both players.

That brings me to Carlson. It pained me to cut him, but as the club stands today, I don’t see a path for him to make the roster. As predicted at the start of spring, O’Neill, Bader and Fowler are the certain starters with Lane Thomas covering the lone backup outfield spot. I still maintain that Carlson is the best outfielder in the organization and he looks like he could be the best player on the club. There is no indication that matters to the Cardinals. Mozeliak has both publicly compared Carlson to Albert Pujols and then openly wondered who Carlson could displace.

It’s good to know the Cardinals have a roster so packed full of Pujols-like talent that Carlson can’t break in.

The reality is that Carlson’s imminent cutting has nothing to do with talent or potential production. Status and seniority are part of it, particularly with Dexter Fowler, who has had a dreadful spring. Mostly, the Cardinals know they can gain an extra year of control over Carlson if they hold him back through April.

The question is no longer if Carlson will make the roster, but how long will the club hold him down? By removing Carlson from the equation entirely, it increases the likelihood that Shildt will turn to creative alternatives if/when outfielders struggle or suffer through day-to-day injuries.

The Cardinals have created a very versatile bench that has little chance for playing time at their natural positions. With Goldschmidt, Wong and DeJong locked in everyday, and Carpenter nearly so, the most consistent opportunities (barring injury) for Edman, Miller, and Ravelo might be in the outfield. Before you scoff at the idea that Ravelo or Miller’s outfield availability could keep the Cardinals from giving Carlson a chance for much of the season, remember that something similar happened last year with Lane Thomas and Tyler O’Neill. (I detail the outfield playing time alotment in ‘19 here.)

With all due respect to those players, Carlson’s development and talent should trump everything else. The Cardinals are going to earn an extra year from him but as soon as that magical date arrives, they need to call him up, put him somewhere in the starting outfield and leave him there.

There is little drama elsewhere. Wieters’ return allows Knizner to start in AAA, and it doesn’t appear likely that the club will carry him as a third catcher.

2020 Cardinals Roster Predictions - Pitching (13)

Starter (5) Player Bullpen (8) Player
Starter (5) Player Bullpen (8) Player
SP1 Flaherty CL Gallegos
SP2 Martinez SU Helsley
SP3 Hudson LHRP Webb
SP4 Wainwright LHRP Gomber
SP5 KK MRP Brebbia
MRP Gant
LRP Ponce de Leon
LRP Reyes

If the offensive side of the roster is relatively straightforward, the pitching is more in flux. It does appear that the biggest questions of the early portion of Spring Training are now answered. Carlos Martinez will break camp as a starter and looks like his old self. Miles Mikolas’ injury created space for another starter and KK has stepped nicely into the role the club signed him to fill. Ponce de Leon has also performed well. Though it does not look like he will make the club as a starter, no one should rule him out of an important bullpen role.

I’ve chosen to block the 8-man pen into four groups of two players. Based upon spring performance and usage, Gallegos and Helsley are in the first group. One of those two is likely to be the closer and the other the primary setup arm. I’ll default to his slight edge in seniority and give Gallegos the ninth.

The two lefties slide in next, not because of ability, but because of handedness. Miller’s mysterious arm issues open the way for either Austin Gomber or Genesis Cabrera to enter the pen. I like either player in this role, but prefer to see Cabrera continue to gain experience as a starter for Memphis.

Brebbia and Gant form the right-handed middle relief tandem. Neither seems likely to challenge for the closer spot, though that could change.

My final two bullpeners are at the back of the roster not because of a lack of ability but because they have too much ability to ignore. At this point, I believe both Ponce and Reyes will make the roster over Junior Fernandez and the now injured Brett Cecil. Ponce has the widest range of possible roles of any pitcher on the roster. He could land in Memphis as the presumptive #6 starter. Or he could find himself closing. His stuff has looked that good this spring. When Miller, Cecil, or Mikolas returns, it’s likely that Reyes will return to AAA to stretch out as a starter and gain innings. For now, however, I think the club will want to get a look at him out of the pen in the hopes that he could assume a high-leverage role later in the season. Fernandez, meanwhile, provides acceptable depth in Memphis and has options.

Will the final roster work out the way I’m predicting? Probably not! There is still plenty of time for spring surprises, and I could be dead wrong on several players - Ravelo, Carlson, Reyes, Sosa and Gomber the most likely. Detail your own version of the roster in the comments or @ me on Twitter. As always, thanks for reading.