Early Prediction of 2018 St. Louis Opening Roster

photo: St. Louis Cardinals Opening Day 2017 (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

My love-hate project of roster forecasting across the St. Louis Cardinals system continues into a new spring. Making informed tradeoffs while addressing head-on the reality of 25-man rosters at every level of play is the most difficult challenge. In this annual series, I explain why I made the calls I did – and how they are impacted by and could affect other players.

Granted, it is early – very early. The final minor leaguers are not expected into camp until March 9 and of course, have yet played any games. Plenty of things can happen over the next three weeks. The greatest impact may come from injuries, the effects of which can then domino through multiple rosters. Spring trades, signings and releases may occur, as well.

For example, last spring, five St. Louis players opened the season on the disabled list – Alex Reyes, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyler Lyons, Zach Duke and John Gant – though not all were spring surprises. Key beneficiaries were Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich, both of whom made their first Opening Day roster.

In the roster-setting process that follows, I am not going to make any unnatural assumptions to potentially make the job easier. Yet the sheer numbers of players involved means some guys are bound to be left standing when the music stops. That will be much more the case as we work through the full-season minor league rosters, where there are many more contenders than active spots.

To accommodate and denote these logjams, I created a roster category at each level called “Limbo,” a place where I list those I expect to open the season on the disabled list or who may not appear to have an obvious 25-man roster spot.

I want to be very clear right up front that this is one man’s educated guesses – nothing more. The rosters with which the Cardinals will actually break camp are going to be different from what follows in this series. If predicting the future with 100 percent accuracy was actually possible, I would be in Las Vegas right now – or more likely, on my own tropical isle.

Further complicating matters, especially as we get into the minor leagues is that there are simply more players than ever to consider this year. Beyond the full 40-man roster, there were 255 others at last count.

So as long as you accept this work for what it is and not try to make it into something it isn’t, it should at least provide fodder for intelligent discussion – which you can do with other fans on The Cardinal Nation message boards, where many have been posting their own roster predictions.

In this first of seven installments, we begin with St. Louis. Articles four through seven, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation, will go through a similar process for each of the Cardinals’ four full-season minor league affiliates – Triple-A Memphis, Double-A Springfield, A-Advanced Palm Beach and Class-A Peoria.

In between will be two articles which dive down into the chances of the players in big league camp not expected to make the 25-man roster – 40-man members and non-roster invitees – and what breaks they would need the rest of the way to move up.

St. Louis Cardinals projected 2018 Opening Day roster, as of 3/6/18

St. Louis (25+1)
C Martinez Lyons (L) Y Molina Carpenter Wong DeJong Gyorko Fowler
Wainwright Cecil (L) C Kelly G Garcia Pham
Weaver Bowman Ozuna
Wacha Brebbia Jose Alb Martinez
Al Reyes (DL) Tuivailala Bader
Mikolas Gregerson

Roster sourcing

As is expected for a majority of the 2018 season for St. Louis, I assume a five-man rotation, eight-man bullpen and 12 position players. During the first week, the club may run with seven relievers and an extra position player, but any such move would be temporary.

Luke Voit (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

The brief beneficiary could be experienced first baseman Luke Voit or the red-hot newcomer, utility man Yairo Muñoz. I would have included Tyler O’Neill among them at the start of camp, but the outfielder’s oblique injury has likely ruined any chance of him making the team.

The only relievers with options who could be sent down easily are Matt Bowman and John Brebbia. Based on seniority, if it comes to that (and no others are injured), Brebbia could draw the short straw.

And with the home opener not until Game 7, a week after Opening Day in New York, at least one of the initial 25 may not be riding in the Busch Stadium motorcade on April 5.

In terms of the names that follow, there should be no surprises. In fact, every single member of the Cardinals projected 25-man roster (plus one on the 10-day disabled list) has prior MLB experience – and 20 of them have with it with St. Louis. Only free agent signees Miles Mikolas, Luke Gregerson and Bud Norris plus trade acquisitions Dominic Leone and Marcell Ozuna did not play for the 2017 version of the Cardinals.

As it stands now, Luke Weaver, John Brebbia, Carson Kelly, Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader would be making their first-ever Opening Day roster. All made their MLB debuts during last season.

We will take the projected Opening Day roster by position group, starting at the upper left with the rotation.

Rotation: Not in ink

Luke Weaver (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

With the departure of Mike Leake in trade late last season and the loss of Lance Lynn due to free agency, the Cardinals will have two new starting pitchers this year.

One is almost certain to be Luke Weaver, with Mikolas the leading candidate for the other spot.

If Mikolas or any of the incumbents falter, one top option is not going to immediately be available. As the Cards are taking it slowly with Alex Reyes’ Tommy John surgery recovery, the top prospect starter is almost certainly going to open the season on the disabled list.

That leaves Jack Flaherty, who debuted late last season, but could probably benefit from more Triple-A experience, and Norris, who has experience both starting and closing, as the most likely alternatives. John Gant would be among the darkhorses.

Luke Gregerson (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Bullpen: Experienced

The 2018 bullpen is loaded with veteran arms.

Five pitchers from last season’s pen look to be in the lead for 25-man roster spots, led by lefties Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil. Right-handed returnees include Tuivailala, Brebbia and Bowman.

The Cardinals addressed the loss of Rosenthal, Duke and Seung-hwan Oh with the signing of a pair of experienced hurlers in Gregerson, Norris and the acquisition of Leone in trade. Gregerson is penciled in as the closer.

Catching: Sure hands

There is not much to say here. Possible future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina opens his new three-year contract and is slated to play most days. Top prospect Carson Kelly will continue to back Molina up, though there is some talk that he could be sent down later to Triple-A to play every day.

Infield: Little suspense

Assuming everyone is healthy, the infield is a source of stability for 2018. The six infielders to open the season seem set. Starters appear to be Matt Carpenter at first, Kolten Wong at second, Paul DeJong at short and Jedd Gyorko at third.

When Jose Martinez plays first, Carpenter may slide over to third. Greg Garcia fills the projected infield, offering defensive versatility and the only left-handed bat off the bench.

Outfield: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Marcell Ozuna (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

The trades of two 2017 starters in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk and the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna means significant change. Also important is the move of Tommy Pham to center and Dexter Fowler to right. These shifts, along with the addition of Gold Glove Award-winning left fielder and clean-up hitter Ozuna, should lead to improved defense across the outfield.

The only question seems to be whether the Cardinals are comfortable going with four outfielders. With Martinez remaining on the roster and able to play both corners, the answer seems likely to be “yes”.

But who will that fourth outfielder be? At this point, Harrison Bader looks to have the clear inside track. He has the 40-man spot and the experience.

As noted above, another option would be to carry Voit as another first baseman, a limiting move for the defense. While Voit is learning how to play left field, as we saw last spring with Matt Adams, the learning curve is not trivial. Muñoz presents another intriguing alternative both because of his bat and defensive versatility.

Bench soldiers

In this proposed roster, assuming Gyorko is starting, the four-man reserve contingent would consist of the lefty-swinging infielder Garcia, and the right-handed Martinez and Bader. The last man off the bench would remain the righty-hitting Kelly.

Have an opinion?

Of course you do! Share your view with the author and a group of very knowledgeable Cardinals fans on The Cardinal Nation message boards.

The Roster Matrix

To see the full 2017 season-ending rosters updated for 2018 spring training by level and position and every transaction across the entire Cardinals system on one page, check out the Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.

Up next

We will take a side diversion to handicap the chances of the other 14 members of the 40-man roster and the two dozen non-roster invitees in our next two articles in this series.

Spoiler: The chances of each of making the Opening Day roster is considerably less than 50 percent. In other words, this 25 looks pretty solid – until unexpected injuries hit, that is!

The Cardinals’ minor league rosters will be the subsequent focus of this projection series – coming later this month, all exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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

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