Excitement and Expectations: The Cardinals’ Opening Day Roster

Excitement and Expectations: The Cardinals’ Opening Day Roster

As we kick off the first week of the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals’ opening day roster has been set. There are no longer any questions over who will be in uniform to face the New York Mets on Thursday.

Most of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Opening Day roster was predictable, but today we examine the surprises, the unexpected, and possible transactions you might see early in the season. Questions have swirled around the bullpen and the rotation all off season. Now with the roster finalizing, a few DL stints, and even a few small position player controversies, we have even more to discuss.

One surprise for many fans, myself included, was the demotion of Harrison Bader coupled with Yairo Munoz remaining on the roster. Many, also myself included, assumed with Greg Garcia remaining on the roster, we would keep Bader as an extra OF. This, as opposed to carrying so many utility players.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

The demotion, for Bader, has to come as a shock. He has been through the system and been fairly successful everywhere he has gone. His great speed and range would have offered the team great depth in the OF. That was the appealing part for me, especially with two outfielders who have become pretty familiar with the DL over the last few years.

Bader only managed 92 plate appearances with the big club last year, and his numbers were sub-par. While Bader spent time in Memphis last season, once again, he raked while he was there. Slashing .283/.347/.469, while stealing 15 bags and crushing 20 homers in 479 plate appearances. I’m betting those numbers translate sooner, rather than later.

Keeping both Garcia and Munoz does provide the left-handed bat off the bench we need. At the same time, it gives Bader at-bats, and rewards Munoz for his brilliant spring training and hard work to make this team. Munoz’s versatility didn’t hurt his chances of making this roster either. What I have seen of Munoz in the OF is limited, but he can at least be serviceable out there.

The Rise of Yairo

Mike Matheny commented recently in an article by Derrick Goold, “The reports I got even from my own kid is this guy is a really good center fielder,” Matheny said. “Someone says he’s a shortstop. No, he’s a really good center fielder. If you can play short, you can play anywhere in the infield. If you play center, you can play anywhere in the outfield.”

In the recent, “Dirty 30” countdown of Cardinals’ prospects done together by Birds on the Black and The Redbird Daily, Kyle Reis and Colin Garner had Munoz at #17. For a more in-depth evaluation of Munoz, check out their article here. Take a look at his numbers over his career here on his Fangraphs page and see if you conclude what I did.

As I looked at his numbers, I’ve noticed a trend. With each promotion, comes a bit of a regression. Whether it be confidence, or possibly an adjustment to better pitching, it seems to take him some time to get his numbers back up.

That being said, once he adjusts, he does put up some really solid stats. As you can also see from the chart, in 2016 in (AA), his .880 OPS and 140 wRC+…I’ll take some of that. However, he only played 65 games last year after being promoted to (AAA), and his stats became a little more pedestrian.

I am not picking on Munoz at all. I have loved what I’ve seen from him so far this spring, and am rooting for him to be a beast just like every other Cardinal fan. It is just that in my opinion, Munoz could’ve used the steady at-bats in Memphis a little more than Bader, who has already proven himself at that level of play.

A Surplus at Catcher

A surprise on a smaller scale was the demotion of Carson Kelly back to Memphis earlier last week, leaving Francisco Pena with backup catcher duties to start the year. I like the decision to get Kelly steady at-bats and Pena has been a serviceable catcher over his years through the minors with the Mets, Royals, and Orioles.

On some levels, I the Munoz decision upset me due to the regression of Carson Kelly. To me, Kelly lost his rhythm due to lack of play time. It is hard to stay in time and tone on the bench. I hope Munoz doesn’t suffer the same fate as Kelly and lose his stroke, but I do think that Carson will find that stroke in Memphis once again.

I believe we see Carson Kelly again this year in St. Louis, once he regains his rhythm. However, I do believe the front office has to figure out what they are going to do with some of our catching depth this season. I believe Kelly is too valuable to leave on your bench through his age 25-26 season, especially with Andrew Knizner waiting in the wings.

As Yadier Molina gets older, I am aware that he could start to play fewer games each year, or could end up on the DL at any point. As I said, Pena is a serviceable backup, and there can only be one heir apparent to Yadier Molina. Could we see a trade this season involving one of these young catchers? Only time will tell…

Questions in the Back?

The Cardinals, who seemed to have filled the necessary gaps in the bullpen this season, still have just a few question marks at the back end. Recently acquired Luke Gregerson has been battling injury and will start the season on the DL. Even before the injury, there seemed to be questions about the ninth inning, but who keeps his roster spot warm while he is away?

When Gregerson returns from injury, it seems it will come down to either sending John Brebbia or Mike Mayers to Memphis. Most people remember Mayers for his atrocious first start against the Dodgers last season, while most remember Brebbia for coming out last year and being one of the teams most reliable bullpen arms.

Brebbia posted a solid 2.44 ERA with 5 holds over 51.2 innings last season. Something the Cardinals desperately needed. While remaining consistent, he isn’t extremely flashy. His K/9 is a decent 8.88, but as recently pointed out to me during the STL Hat Trick Podcast episode 101, by my colleagues Steven McNeil and Brian Swope, some of his peripherals are concerning.

Numbers don’t always make the man, and not all of Brebbia’s are concerning. However, while trying to evaluate major league talent, scouts and coaches are already splitting the hairs of sabermetrics. If my colleagues caught it, rest assured, the team has noticed as well.

Mayers Erasing History

Mike Mayers, who as I mentioned earlier got off to a rough start in the majors, has settled in nicely since being moved to the pen. Going into the final exhibition game, he has posted a 1-0 W/L, 1.38 ERA, a 0.62 WHIP, 1 BB, and 12 strikeouts through 13 innings pitched this spring.

Those numbers are legit, and he will likely finish the spring with the most compelling numbers among Cardinal pitchers. It is also worth noting that Mayers had not allowed a run or a walk until his most recent outing against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As Joe Trezza of MLB.com recently reported, his fastball has consistently been in the high 90s and an equally effective slider have been keys to his success, as has the right-hander’s full embrace of a bullpen role over winter ball. Whatever it is, he has been lights out in February and March.

Going into the season, you have to take Mayers for what he is doing right now. His career numbers by season are average and even erratic at times, but we took a similar chance on Brebbia last season, who was also a bit inconsistent in the minors. Going into the season, you should remain optimistic about Mayers, he is showing great promise.

Both of these young pitchers are in a great place right now and have bright futures, but if I made the calls, I would have a really tough time sending Mayers down right now. At the same time, what Brebbia’s accomplishments are hard to ignore. Mike Matheny and the FO have their work cut out for them on that decision.

Bullpen Depth….Finally

When Wainwright is healthy, Flaherty will inevitably be sent down, but what about when Gregerson and Reyes are able to return? Also, before and after they return, who will be closing games for us this year?

Will we stick with Gregerson after his return? That has seemed to be the plan all along. What do we expect from the recently acquired Dominic Leone? Or even Cardinals mainstay Tyler Lyons? It could even be someone unexpected, as my colleague Steven McNeil recently noted, a dark horse candidate like Sam Tuivailala.

I believe Dominic Leone should start the season as the closer with Tyler Lyons in the eighth inning most of the time. Leone has been discussed as a top closer candidate in Cards nation for a while now and for good reason. He has allowed 1 run in 10 innings pitched this spring. With 13 strikeouts, 4 saves, and a win to boot. Looks like closer material to me.

Depth not only in the bullpen but also in the rotation, is something fans have yearned for. I believe that may finally come to an end this year. This pitching staff is going to impress a lot of people this season. Everyone knows their roles and, as with any Mike Matheny ball club, they have the next man up mentality.

The Bad News and The Good News

The latest addition to the roster was a shock to Cardinals nation or at least twitter nation. Adam Wainwright was scratched from the final Grapefruit league game of the spring on Sunday and it looks like Waino will begin the season with a short stint on the DL. Enter Jack Flaherty.

Although just like many of you, I want Waino to give us at least one more great ride, I couldn’t be more excited to see a young prospect early in the season. I know his innings in the majors last season weren’t great, and he will undoubtedly be sent back to (AAA), but I am curious to see what another offseason and great spring have done for Flaherty.

Watching Flaherty pitch this spring, in my experience, has been fantastic. His location and movement with his fastball have been great. Both of his breaking balls have been extremely effective at getting swings and misses. His ERA is a bit inflated, but outside of that his numbers are outstanding; 4.85 ERA, 20 K, 5 BB, and a .191 batting average against over 13 innings.

Here is a great look at Flaherty by A.E. Shafer of Viva El Birdos. He ranked number 2 on their list of Cardinals prospects for 2018, and from what I have seen, I am almost as excited to see Flaherty as I am to see Reyes pitch again.

Time for Baseball

Well, I suppose too much depth isn’t a bad problem to have, unless you are Matheny and the FO. In their case, if you make the wrong decision, it could result in losses and an uproar in the fanbase. That being said, the harder I look at the roster we are starting with and the depth we have, I am starting to see a contender. A team that could return to prominence in 2018.

All I have to say in closing is this, I CAN’T WAIT FOR THURSDAY!!! It’s time to stop over analyzing roster moves and players. The time for uneducated predictions is almost over. The time to watch Cardinal baseball is finally back upon us, and regardless of what you think of this roster and team, that is something that should put a smile on your face.

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