Cardinals Set 2018 Opening Day Roster – Updated Again

photo: Mike Mayers (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Barring any unforeseen injuries (and when are injuries anything but unforeseen?) in their final three exhibition games before Thursday’s season opener in New York, the St. Louis Cardinals set their initial 25-man roster with a series of announcements that concluded on Saturday.

Recapping the key decisions:

Francisco Pena (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Reserve catcher: Francisco Peña over 2017 second-half backup Carson Kelly.

Coming into camp, it seemed that Kelly’s job as Yadier Molina’s rarely-used understudy was secure. However, the top prospect was not as sharp either offensively or defensively as hoped this spring so the organization changed its plans and optioned him to Triple-A Memphis where he can play daily. If Molina would be out for any period of time, expect Kelly to be recalled immediately and move into the lineup.

Peña, son of former Cardinal catcher Tony, had played parts of the last three seasons with Baltimore and was solid this spring. Making the team as a non-roster invitee when the 40-man roster is full means someone needs to be removed. With no injured players that would seem to justify a spot on the 60-day disabled list, the 40-man spot currently held by utility man Breyvic Valera appears most vulnerable.

Do not expect the Cardinals to initiate the move to try to get Valera through waivers until as close to Opening Day as possible. The likely hope is that other teams will be making their own cuts and pass on picking up Valera.

Yairo Munoz (Scott Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Reserve infielder/outfielder: Yairo Muñoz over Harrison Bader.

A second roster victory for a player with a tilde in his last name!

Acquired from Oakland in the Stephen Piscotty trade, Muñoz was likely only available because the A’s already had two national top 100 prospects ahead of him in Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo. Having been required to move around the infield and outfield at Double-A and Triple-A last year benefited Muñoz this spring, but so did his impressive .339 batting average, .937 OPS and 10 RBI in 20 games.

Bader did nothing to lose this spot. His worst enemy may be the Cardinals’ decision to open the season with eight relievers instead of seven, as they had earlier hinted was possible. Which brings us to…

Mike Mayers (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Reliever: Mike Mayers over Luke Gregerson (projected to 10-day disabled list).

In this case, the most improved pitcher in camp this spring directly benefited from the oblique and groin injuries suffered by the presumed closer coming into spring training.

Gregerson has had only three one-inning outings all month while Mayers had repeatedly dominated all competition. The latter has not allowed a spring run on five hits and no walks in 12 innings, coupled with 12 strikeouts.

Update: On Sunday, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak estimated Gregerson could miss 2-4 weeks of the regular season.

Jack Flaherty (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday, March 25 update: Rotation: Jack Flaherty over Adam Wainwright (projected to 10-day DL).

It was disclosed Sunday morning that Adam Wainwright would not be making his scheduled start against the Washington Nationals. In fact, the 36-year old’s left hamstring injury is such that he will open the season on the disabled list.

As a result, Michael Wacha will start Game 2 of the regular season on Saturday in New York, with Jack Flaherty becoming the new #5 starter, set to go in the second contest in Milwaukee.

This spring, coming off a disappointing 2016 and fall elbow cleanup surgery, Wainwright posted a 0.84 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in three starts. On Sunday, Mozeliak stated that he hopes Wainwright will miss “just one or two starts”.

Flaherty, 22, struck out 20 and walked five while logging a 4.85 ERA in four starts, covering 13 innings. He is the reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Cardinals organization and is The Cardinal Nation’s #2 prospect in the system.

Jordan Hicks (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Tuesday, March 27 update: Bullpen: Jordan Hicks over John Brebbia.

The Cardinals made the stunning  decision to promote prospect Hicks onto St. Louis’ Opening Day roster and into the bullpen. The 21-year old, capable of 100-plus mph heat, is The Cardinal Nation’s seventh-ranked prospect – but has never thrown an official pitch at either Double-A or Triple-A, let alone the majors.

Despite a very solid 2017, reliever Brebbia will be optioned to Memphis to make room for Hicks. Last season, the right-hander logged a 2.44 ERA, with 51 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 51 2/3 innings for St. Louis. This spring, however, Brebbia has a 5.59 ERA despite 16 strikeouts and just four walks in 9 2/3 innings. Opposing hitters are batting a collective .237 against him.

Now, the Cards will need to make two 40-man roster moves – one each for Hicks and catcher Francisco Pena.

Disabled list (3)

Gregerson and Alex Reyes are expected to join Wainwright on the 10-day disabled list, but none of the moves have been officially made as of Tuesday, March 27. Reyes could then be sent on a minor league rehab stint in preparation for a May 1 return.

Roster

Here they are.

Starters (5) Infield/Catcher (5)
Carlos Martinez Yadier Molina
Michael Wacha Matt Carpenter (L)
Luke Weaver Kolten Wong (L)
Miles Mikolas Paul DeJong
Jack Flaherty Jedd Gyorko
Bullpen (8) Outfielders (3)
Dominic Leone Marcell Ozuna
Bud Norris Tommy Pham
Sam Tuivailala Dexter Fowler (S)
Brett Cecil (L)
Tyler Lyons (L)   Bench (4)
Matt Bowman Francisco Pena (NRI)
Mike Mayers Jose Martinez
Jordan Hicks (NRI) Yairo Munoz
Greg Garcia (L)
(L) left-handed
(S) switch-hitter  (NRI) non-roster invitee
Miles Mikolas (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

First MLB Opening Day (8)

Among the 25, eight will enjoying their first-ever Opening Day in the major leagues. They are Hicks, Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Luke Weaver, Mayers, Peña, Paul DeJong and Muñoz. Only Muñoz and Hicks have yet to make their MLB debuts.

New Cardinals (7+1)

Eight Opening Day roster players have yet to appear in an official major league game for St. Louis: Hicks, Mikolas, Dominic Leone, Bud Norris, Marcell Ozuna, Peña, Muñoz and Gregerson (DL).

Paul DeJong (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

First parade (11+1)

Assuming all are still active when St. Louis holds its home opener at Busch Stadium on April 5, these players will ride in their first Cardinals Opening Day parade: Hicks, Flaherty, Mikolas, Weaver, Mayers, Peña, DeJong, Muñoz, Leone, Norris, Ozuna and Gregerson (DL).

Five years of NRIs

2018 marks the fifth straight year at least one non-roster invitee made the Cardinals out of spring training. Before Hicks and Peña was catcher Eric Fryer (twice, in 2016 and 2017 ) plus outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker in 2016, reliever Carlos Villanueva (2015) and bullpenner Pat Neshek (2014).

Luke Weaver (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

High pitching turnover

The greatest area of year-to-year change on the team is the bullpen, where only three remain who were on the 2017 opening roster – Sam Tuivailala, Brett Cecil and Matt Bowman. The next most turnover is in the rotation where newcomers Flaherty, Weaver and Mikolas replace Wainwright (injured), Mike Leake (traded) and Lance Lynn (free agent).

That makes a total of eight of the 13 pitchers different from last season’s opening crew, however, one of the eight, Tyler Lyons, made the club in 2016 and began 2017 on the disabled list.

Detailed St. Louis roster

See the full St. Louis roster here, as well as via the ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES tab on the left column menu bar.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 25-man and 40-man rosters as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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