photo: Dylan Carlson (Aaron Doster/Imagn)
The Springbirds of 2019 flocked to their adopted hometown on Saturday, returning to the Missouri city following one of their more down seasons in recent memory.
The 2019 version of the S-Cards will feature many familiar faces from last year’s club on the pitching side, including eight returnees who saw time at Double-A last season.
The pitching staff opening 2019 will be more experienced than the group that struggled last season. TCN’s No. 17 prospect Evan Kruczynski will return and anchor the S-Cards’ rotation while No. 30 prospect Seth Elledge and No. 39 prospect Connor Jones should lead a much-improved relief corps.
On the other side of the roster, almost every position player is stepping up from high-A ball. The headliners are a pair of 20-year olds – TCN’s No. 4 prospect Elehuris Montero and No. 8 prospect Dylan Carlson.
“Anytime you are beginning something new, there is a lot of excitement around the ballpark,” Springfield manager Joe Kruzel said. “The players are really excited. Now, they get to where it starts to count. This is going to be a nice little ballclub. Once they start to get their spikes in the ground and start playing a little more, you will see a really exciting ballclub.”
All five starters in the tentative rotation accumulated innings at Double-A in 2018: Kruczynski, Anthony Shew, Casey Meisner, Austin Warner and Williams Perez – three right-handers and two southpaws.
Kruczynski, a 24-year old, has the physical ingredients to stand out, including a workhorse-like 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame coupled with advanced pitchability, which allowed him to reach Double-A in just his first full season of professional ball.
At Springfield last year, Kruczynski had success in a six-start sample. He was called the most effective starter on Springfield’s pitching staff by former manager Johnny Rodriguez despite only being with the club for a full month.
Shew, a 25-year old, comes off a season in which he was named TCN’s Springfield 2018 Starter of the Year. Shew led the way with 114 innings hurled on the season for the club. The right-hander also missed the most bats (96 strikeouts) of any starter on the staff and issued the fewest amount of walks (32) while also having the best WHIP at 1.40.
Armed with a five-pitch mix, Shew throws a sinker, changeup, curveball, slider and cutter. His fastball/change combination has always been his bread-and-butter, but an area of emphasis was placed on refining his other secondary pitches this past season.
Meisner, a 23-year old and TCN’s No. 48 prospect, was quietly effective in a short time for Springfield last season, posting a 3.60 ERA in six starts. The tall, deceptive right-hander struck out 33 batters against 14 walks over 40 innings with the S-Cards.
Warner, a 24-year old who the Cardinals signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2017, pitched across three levels last year – Palm Beach, Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. The lefty had a 5.34 ERA in six starts for the 2018 S-Cards.
Warner is an undersized hurler who competes with outstanding mound presence, according to scouts. He sits 91-94 mph with his fastball on his best days with an average curveball and changeup.
Perez started for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2017 and the Double-A Arkansas Travelers this past season. The Venezuelan native also appeared in 34 games for the Atlanta Braves in 2015 and 2016, logging a 5.18 ERA in 31 starts and three relief appearances.
Perez was released by Atlanta in December 2016 and by the Cubs last February. He has an array of pitches, featuring a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball and changeup.
One name that is not listed on the Springfield roster, but was recently claimed off waivers from the Giants and assigned to the Double-A club is Merandy Gonzalez. The 23-year old made his major-league debut with the Marlins last summer and spent most of the 2018 campaign at their Double-A affiliate.
Gonzalez works mostly in the 93-95 mph range as a starter with an above-average curveball and feel for a changeup. His power repertoire should play up eventually as a bullpen arm as he faces questions with his command as a starter.
The tentative bullpen includes seven right-handed arms and one left-hander. Funky lefty Jacob Patterson will be the lone southpaw in the bullpen. He will make his Texas League debut after spending all of last year at Palm Beach.
Patterson, 23, held a 3.64 ERA in 51 games with the Beach Birds. The Cardinals’ 2017 13th round pick out of Texas Tech also posted a 72-to-23 strikeout to walk ratio, converting four saves in seven chances.
The righty relievers include Elledge, Jones, Will Latcham, Jesus Cruz, John Fasola, Harold Arauz and Roel Ramirez.
Elledge came to the Cardinals from Seattle in the Sam Tuivailala trade last summer. He was assigned to Double-A Springfield, where he posted a 4.32 ERA over 13 games. The 22-year old converted four saves in six chances, striking out 20 batters through 16 ⅔ innings pitched.
Elledge throws his lively fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and will mix in a hard breaking ball that grades out at major-league average.
Jones, a 24-year old, has some of the more extensive experience at Double-A among pitchers on the Springfield roster. He spent most of the 2018 season as a starter, but he found a role as a reliever late in the season and into the Arizona Fall League.
His stuff ticked up as a result with reports of his heavy sinker being thrown at 92-96, touching 98. His curveball, which Jones says was his most consistent pitch in 2018, is average but flashed above-average at times out of the bullpen.
In his first full season of professional ball, Latcham split the 2018 campaign between High-A Palm Beach and Springfield, compiling a 3.48 ERA in 44 games. He finished off the year with a stint at Triple-A Memphis in the playoffs and followed in the Arizona Fall League.
Latcham’s greatest asset is his arm strength. He throws 93-95 and mixes in a swing and miss curveball as his out pitch.
Cruz, a 23-year old, is another newcomer. He signed with the Cardinals two years ago out of Mexico and split time between low-A Peoria and Palm Beach last year, posting a 3.27 ERA in 30 games (16 starts).
Cruz is expected to move back to the bullpen in 2019 where his fastball, slider and changeup all play best.
The Cardinals selected Fasola in the Rule 5 draft from the Rangers in December. The 27-year old has spent parts of the last two years in the Texas League with Frisco. He boasted a 4.05 ERA over 21 games last year.
Another new name, Arauz signed with the Cardinals as a minor league free agent this past offseason after being with the Phillies. The 23-year old spent the majority of 2018 at Double-A in 2018 where he went 9-7 with a 4.59 ERA over 24 starts.
Arauz first signed with the Astros 2012 before he was dealt to the Phillies three years later in a trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston.
The final bullpen arm is Ramirez, who joined the Cardinals in the Tommy Pham trade last summer. The 23-year old posted a 5.06 ERA in 10 games for Springfield last season after performing well out of the bullpen for the Rays’ Double-A affiliate.
Ramirez, who was a starter with a generic fastball with developing secondary stuff, made the conversion to relieving full-time in 2018. His fastball velocity spiked into the 95-96 mph range with a split-finger changeup and slider.
The Cardinals will be carrying two catchers – Jose Godoy and Brian O’Keefe.
The duo should split time behind the dish for Springfield as they did last year at Palm Beach.
Godoy slashed .289/.381/.374 in 68 games for the Beach Birds in 2018 while O’Keefe hit .243/.358/.412 over 73 games.
Infielder Chris Chinea also has experience at catcher. He could step in anytime and don the tools of ignorance as well as cover first base.
The six-man infield includes a mix of returning and fresh faces.
The obvious headliner of the group is Montero, who rates as TCN’s No. 4 prospect and comes off a season in which he was named Most Valuable Player in the Midwest League. He spent most of the 2018 season as a 19-year old, led the MWL in batting average (.322), slugging (.529) and OPS (.910).
Not only that, he became the Cardinals’ first MWL MVP since Albert Pujols in 2000. Montero will likely be the primary third baseman. With the bat to make a huge impact, he has a chance to make a name for himself on the national level this summer.
The roster also features former LSU star Kramer Robertson, up from Palm Beach. The 24-year old is looking to bounce back after an up-and-down offensive season in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League.
He will likely be the everyday shortstop for Springfield.
Irving Lopez, who posted solid numbers between Palm Beach and Peoria last year, steps up to Springfield for the first time as well. The 23-year old slashed .280/.368/.395 over 110 games between both levels.
Lopez should be the everyday second baseman for the S-Cards.
Backing them up will be Alberto Triunfel. The 25-year old, who was with the Angels organization last year, came to the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft in December. He hit a combined .235/.293/.367 with six home runs and 45 RBI in 103 games in 2018.
At first base, Chinea and Stefan Trosclair should split duties. Both are returnees to the Springfield roster.
Including Shane Billings, Springfield has four outfielders on its initial roster.
The other outfielders will be the ones that will likely play every day – Carlson, Conner Capel and Scott Hurst.
Carlson will be the biggest name to watch. As one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and Florida State League, the 20-year old proved to hold his own and adjust against more advanced competition over the last two years.
He also was one of the youngest prospects to stick around in 2019 big-league camp.
Although he has yet to post eye-popping numbers at any level in his professional career, Carlson is a 2019 breakout candidate and has a chance to blossom in the hitter-friendly Texas League.
Capel, who is TCN’s No. 31 prospect, should also benefit with the promotion to Springfield. He did not dominate before the trade from the Indians to the Cardinals last summer and his performance dropped after joining Palm Beach.
Like with Carlson, perhaps a chance to perform in a more hitter-friendly environment will help him rediscover his power. The 21-year old collected 44 extra-base hits (22 doubles and 22 homers) at low-A Lake County just two years ago.
Hurst, who ranks as TCN’s No. 40 prospect, performed well in a 2018 season when available, but he was on the disabled list four times. Despite spending the majority of the season on the shelf, the 23-year old’s productive season and solid spring warranted him a promotion to Springfield.
The key this season for Hurst will be staying healthy.
So, that concludes our look at the new version of the 2019 Springfield Cardinals, a club with an experienced pitching staff and upside in its offense as they seek to zoom toward the first half title in the Texas League North Division.
It is safe to say the S-Cards are anxious to get started.
“I’m extremely excited to get going,” Carlson said. “We have a great group of guys. It is going to be a lot of fun. Great staff. I’m just ready to get out there. I heard a lot of great things about this city. I’m really excited.”
“I’m very excited and eager to be here,” Montero said with Springfield strength coach Dan Vega serving as a translator. “A lot of big-leaguers have come through here. I’m excited for the opportunity the team has given me.”
Though the Opening Day starting pitcher has yet to be announced, Springfield will open the season on the road against NW Arkansas (KC) on Thursday, April 4.
The first homestand of 2019 is scheduled to commence a week later on Thursday, April 11 versus the Naturals once again.
What is next
I will be back this season with my weekly notebooks from Hammons Field covering the Springfield Cardinals, running each Thursday. I also hope to contribute interviews on occasion, all for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Stay tuned for more full-season roster information over the next week here at The Cardinal Nation.
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