The Cardinals’ four full-season minor league affiliates are scheduled to open the season on May 4th, 2021. On Saturday, I covered Low-A Palm Beach. On Sunday, I gave a treatment of High-A Peoria. Today, I continue the series with the AA Springfield Cardinals.
NEW LEAGUE IS DOUBLE-A CENTRAL (NORTH DIVISION)
The old Texas League was a 8-team league. Instead of losing clubs like the leagues of the affiliates of the lower classifications, instead we have a couple of additions affiliation switches. The name of the new league is the Double-A Central, and is it now a 10-team league. The Cardinals will play in the North Division alongside the Arkansas Travelers (Mariners), Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) and Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers), just like they did before. A new addition to the classification, league and division is the Wichita Wind Surge (Twins). For the 2019 season, the AA and AAA clubs for the Marlins were, respectively, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and the New Orleans Baby Cakes. The AA team for the Twins was the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. For 2020, Wichita lured the Baby Cakes to Kansas and rebranded the club as the Wind Surge set to compete in AAA. After the pandemic and the minor league re-organization, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp will now jump up to the AAA classification for the Marlins, and their AA team will be the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, formerly affiliated with the Twins. The Wind Surge have switched affiliations from the Marlins to the Twins and have dropped down to the AA classification to compete in the same division as Springfield.
Rounding out the South Division are the Amarillo Sod Poodles (Diamondbacks), Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros), Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers), and the Midland RockHounds (Athletics). The Sod Poodles switched affiliations from the Padres to the Diamondbacks. In addition, the San Antonio Missions (Padres) return to this classification and division after a two-year hiatus. The Colorado Sky Sox, which were the AAA team of the Milwaukee Brewers from 2015 through 2018, and the San Antonio Missions were the AA team of the San Diego Padres from 2007 through 2018 in the Texas League. The Sky Sox moved to San Antonio for the 2019 season and played as the Missions in the AAA classification. Concurrently with this move, the former Missions franchise moved to Amarillo, and became the Sod Poodles. Now the Sod Poodles are affiliated with the Diamondbacks, and the Missions are back in the Texas League and back with the Padres.
Like with the other classifications, the structure of the schedule is very simple and symmetrical. Starting on May 4th and ending on September 19th, the club will play a six-game series against another club every Tuesday through Sunday, and every Monday will be a day off. This will amount to 20 six-game series for a total of 120 games. There will be no All-Star Game and no playoffs. They will play 2 road and 2 home series each against divisional rivals Wichita, Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas and Tulsa. Of the clubs in the South Division, the Cardinals will will not play Amarillo, Corpus Christi or Midland at all. And the club will have only 1 home and 1 road series against San Antonio and 1 road series against Frisco.
EXPERIMENTAL RULE CHANGE
All AA clubs will be required to have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt. Depending on how this goes in the first half of the season, another rule might be instituted which would require defenses to have at least two infielders on each side of second base.
*Manager: Jose Leger. This will be his first year managing in the Cardinal organization, but he served as the organization’s Latin American Field and Academy Development Coordinator for the past three years. Before that, he was a manager in the minor league organization of the New York Mets from 2010 through 2017, and skippered the DSL, Rookie, and Low-A Classification clubs. He played three years of minor league ball in the Twins system.
*Pitching Coach: Darwin Marrero. He is returning for his fourth season as the Springfield pitching coach, and has been a pitching coach in the Cardinal organization since 2013. He played for seven years in the Montreal Expos organization.
*Hitting Coach: Tyger Pederson. This is Joc Pederson’s older brother. He was set to be the Springfield hitting coach for the 2020 season before it was cancelled. He was the hitting coach for the 2019 Palm Beach squad. After one year of minor league baseball in the Dodgers organization and three years in independent ball, Pederson managed two clubs in the collegiate summer baseball leagues, and was an assistant coach for two colleges.
*Strength and Conditioning Coach: Dan Vega.
*Trainer: Chris Whitman.
*Note that this roster is tentative. There may be injured list placements or re-assignments before May 4th, such as a cascade effect from the major league club optioning a player to AAA or the taxi squad returning from a road trip. Also note that the typical allowable size of a Class AA active list has been 25 players, but that has been increased to 28 for this season.
Grant Black, Jacob Bosiokovic, Patrick Dayton (L), Edgar Escobar, Edgar Gonzalez, Salvador Justo, Kyle Leahy, Andre Pallante, Jacob Patterson (L), Dalton Roach, Griffin Roberts, Domingo Robles (L), Alvaro Seijas, Connor Thomas (L), Jake Walsh
Ivan Herrera, Nick Raposo, Julio Rodriguez
Luken Baker, Nick Dunn (L), Nolan Gorman (L), Irving Lopez (L), Delvin Perez, Juan Yepez
Chase Pinder, Nick Plummer (L), Justin Toerner (L), David Vinsky
*Catcher Julio Rodriguez is listed on the roster, but he will almost certainly open the season on the injured list, because he was expected to have surgery on the hamate bone in his wrist. That is why he was not invited to major league spring training. The typical timetable for an injury of this nature is four to six weeks, but every case is different, and it might be longer for a catcher who has to throw more. I don’t know when he had the surgery, but I wouldn’t expect him to be ready on opening day.
*Also worthy of note is that the Cardinal organization has released 2015 2nd round pick Bryce Denton. He claimed on his Twitter page that he was told that he had made the AA squad, but because of the roster size expansion, he would only play once per week and coach first base. He asked for and received his release instead. Drafted as a third baseman out of high school, he was supposed to be a power prospect. After not hitting with the GCL club in 2015 or Johnson City in 2016, he was shifted to the outfield and started 2017 with Peoria. He struggled in 19 games after he came down with appendicitis and was shifted to extended spring training, eventually finishing the season with State College. He was limited to 94 games in 2018 and 77 games in 2019 because he tore his labrum on a play at the plate in 2018, a problem that required two surgeries. He topped out with 55 games at Palm Beach over those two years, and so far in his 5-year career, has been held to a slash line of .237/.295/.328 in 1358 PA. He claims that he was never himself because of the injuries and that he is in the best shape of his life now. Unfortunately, he’s been surpassed by others in the organization.
**Methods of acquisition of the players
*2019 Pallante (4th round), Thomas (5th round), Vinsky (15th round)
*2018: Gorman (1st round), Roberts (Competitive Balance Round A), Baker (Compensatory Round after Round 2, the pick the Cards got because the Twins signed Lance Lynn as a free agent), Dunn (5th round), Gonzalez (6th round), Leahy (17th round), Toerner (28th round)
*2017: Pinder (7th round), Patterson (13th round), Walsh (16th round), Lopez (19th round), Dayton (25th round)
*2016: Perez (1st round)
*2015: Plummer (1st round)
*International free agents: Escobar (2018 Cuba), Seijas (Venezuela 2015 future service), Herrera (Panama 2016 future service), Rodriguez (DR 2016)
*Trade: Robles (9/20/20 traded by Pirates to Cardinals for international signing bonus pool money, originally signed in 2014 for future service out of the Dominican Republic), Yepez (5/20/17 traded by Braves to Cardinals for Matt Adams and cash considerations, originally signed in 2014 for future service out of Venezuela)
*Signed out of independent ball: Roach (went undrafted after his junior season at Minnesota State where he won the Brett Tomko Award for the best pitcher in Division II; drafted by the Astros in the 21st round of the 2018 draft after his senior year, but didn’t sign after the medical staff found an issue with his arm; pitched 2 summers for the River City Rascals in the independent Frontier League; Cardinals purchased his contract from River City 6/24/19), Black (went undrafted out of the University of Arkansas at Monticello; pitched for the Gateway Grizzlies in the independent Frontier League in 2018, and split 2019 between the Grizzlies and the New Britain Bees of the independent Atlantic League; signed to play the 2020 season for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the independent American Association of Professional Baseball, but the Cardinals purchased his contract on 2/4/20)
*Rule 55 minor league free agent: Justo (signed by the Cards 11/26/19 after 7 years in the Rockies organization, originally signed in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic)
*Rule 5 draft: Bosiokovic (minor league portion of the December 2019 draft, taken after 4 years in the Rockies organization; originally drafted in the 19th round of the 2016 draft as a first baseman/outfielder; converted to pitching in 2019, and only has 41.2 professional innings pitched; 27 years old and the oldest player on the Springfield roster)
*Undrafted: Raposo (Wheaton College)
*Both Black and Raposo are making their organized baseball debuts at this level. Black will turn 27 in July, and is the 2nd oldest player on the roster. Raposo will be 23 next month.
*The following players could be said to be receiving an aggressive promotion to AA: Leahy (16 games for Peoria, 6 for Palm Beach and 1 for Springfield in 2019), Pallante (11 career games, all for State College), Roach (only 12 games in organized baseball; 4 for Johnson City, 2 for State College and 6 for Peoria), Thomas (15 career games, 5 for State College and 10 for Peoria), Herrera (the promotion isn’t surprising, but he only had 18 games and 65 PA at Palm Beach in 2019), Perez (is skipping High-A), and Vinsky (5 games for Johnson City and 56 games for State College in 2019).
*The following players are essentially repeating the AA level: Patterson, Robles (spent about 3 months in AA in 2019), Lopez (even had 20 games at Memphis), Toerner (not completely, but he did spend about half of his time in AA in 2019).
*Walsh missed the 2019 season after Tommy John surgery, but topped out in 2018 at Palm Beach.
*Herrera, who will turn 21 on June 1st, is the youngest player on the roster, and is the only Springfield player on the major league 40-man roster.
*Seijas was added to the Cards’ 40-man roster in November of 2019 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but was outrighted on August 21st, 2020 in the wake of the club’s COVID outbreak when they needed immediate pitching help. He wont turn 23 until after the season is over and is still the youngest pitcher on the Springfield roster, so I wouldn’t close the book on him just yet.
*Gorman, who needs no introduction, will not abandon the third base position just yet. He will receive regular starts at third, but also scripted starts at second.
*Players on the prospect lists include Gorman (#2 Fangraphs, #40 Fangraphs Preseason 100, #2 BP, #23 BP out of top 101, #2 MLB Pipeline, #32 MLB Pipeline 100), Herrera (#3 Fangraphs, #65 Fangraphs Preseason 100, #6 BP, #3 MLB Pipeline, #91 MLB Pipeline 100), Baker (#10 Fangraphs, #18 MLB Pipeline), Yepez (#21 Fangraphs, #21 MLB Pipeline), Pallante (#25 Fangraphs, #26 MLB Pipeline), Robers (#34 Fangraphs, #30 MLB Pipeline), Rodriguez (#15 MLB Pipeline) and Toerner (#29 MLB Pipeline).