Predicting the 2014 Cardinals' opening roster

Brian Walton explains which players he sees as having the best chance of making the St. Louis Cardinals' major league roster to open the regular season and why.

I will readily admit that among my most intense spring dislikes each year is the process of roster forecasting. On second thought, perhaps I should re-word that.

I actually like trying to project at which levels players will be assigned. What I hate is when people communicate their choices as if roster size is not a factor, either at the major- or minor-league levels. It would be easy to predict St. Louis' roster, for example, if the team could carry 30 players instead of 25.

Granted, it is early – very early. The final players are just trickling into camp this week. Plenty of things can happen over the next six weeks or so. The greatest impact may come from injuries, the effects of which can then domino through multiple rosters. If prior years are any indication, there could be two or three St. Louis disabled list assignments coming, as I recapped here. Spring trades, signings and releases could all occur, as well.

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 as many as 3/5 of the players are projected to be returnees from same clubs in 2013.

To that end, 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 it appears may not have an obvious 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 Pacific island.

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 board.

In this first of five installments, we will begin with St. Louis. Articles two through five, exclusively for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation, will go though a similar process for each of the Cardinals' four full-season clubs – Triple-A Memphis, Double-A Springfield, A-Advanced Palm Beach and Class-A Peoria.

St. Louis Cardinals projected 2014 opening day roster, as of 2/17/14

St. Louis (25+1)      
SP RP C 1B
Wainwright  Siegrist (L) Molina  Adams
Lynn Rosenthal T Cruz   
S Miller C Martinez    
Wacha Maness    
Ja Garcia (L) Choate (L)    
  J Kelly     
  Neshek (NRI)    
       
Limbo Motte (DL)    
       
2B SS 3B OF
Wong Peralta M Carpenter Holliday
Descalso      Jay 
Ellis     Craig
      Bourjos
      *Taveras

Legend
(X+Y) = Active + Limbo
Limbo = DL/release candidate
Bold = 40-man roster member
NRI = non-roster invitee
* promotion from year-end 2013
(L) = Left-handed pitcher

Roster sourcing

Returnees = 20
Free agents = 2 (Ellis, Peralta)
Trade acquisition = 1 (Bourjos)
NRIs to make the team = 1 (Neshek)
Promotions from Triple-A = 1 (Taveras)
Disabled List = 1 (Motte)
Down to Triple-A = 2 (Kozma, Robinson)

Really, there are not many surprises here, but let's take them from upper left to lower right, beginning with the rotation.

Kelly to lose out again?

Since it has happened in each of the last two springs, it is probably not a stretch to project Joe Kelly losing out on a rotation spot in 2014 and opening in the pen. As player development personnel often say, it matters where you are playing in July and August. For Kelly in 2012 and 2013, he was among the starting five. It could happen again.

From among the on-paper spring starting candidates, I expect Carlos Martinez will re-join Kelly in the pen – at least until after Jason Motte is back at close to full effectiveness. Lefty Tyler Lyons should be headlining the rotation in Memphis. Of course, this all assumes that the club's front-line lefty, Jaime Garcia, is ready to go.

Neshek
Neshek adds pen veteran-ness

I see the signing of non-roster invitee Pat Neshek having a couple of important implications – assuming the right-hander pitches well in camp. First, the Cardinals can be comfortable taking it slowly with Motte, whose Tommy John surgery was last May, knowing they have another veteran alongside Randy Choate. It also means that the realistic chances of Keith Butler or Sam Freeman making the team out of camp are going to depend on an unforeseen injury to another.

If Neshek makes the team, he would use the final open spot on the organization's 40-man roster. Based on Motte's questionable availability for Opening Day, this is my prediction. The other six relievers ended last season with St. Louis.

Catching is a constant

Nothing new to see here, folks. Yadier Molina will continue to be one of the best in the game, backed up again by Tony Cruz.

Daniel on the diamond

On the infield, the only question might be the identity of the utility infielder. Neither Daniel Descalso nor Pete Kozma has shined with the bat, though Descalso has been less futile. Descalso also gains enough points for versatility and seniority to overcome Kozma's superior glovework.

If Greg Garcia had to pass just one incumbent – either Descalso or Kozma – he might have a fighting chance. Leaping over both without injury to them seems nearly impossible in just a few weeks of camp games.

Oscar in the outfield

With the top four set, only the final outfield spot might be up for grabs. I realize that projecting rookie Oscar Taveras to make the Cardinals out of camp may seem like a stretch to some. My view is that Taveras is a special talent and can hit his way onto the team. If healthy and productive in Florida, he is clearly one of the Cardinals' best 25 players.

As far as Taveras getting regular-season at bats, the inevitable injuries to others will occur at some point. Last season, Matt Adams did not have a job initially, but ended up with 319 plate appearances, second to Descalso among Cardinals reserves. And if Adams slips this season, the Cardinals can always slide Allen Craig back to first base, creating an opening in right field for Taveras.

A by-product of Taveras' ascension would likely be Shane Robinson joining Kozma as 2013 season-long Cardinals opening the season back in Memphis. That kind of thing does not happen very often, but especially in the case of Taveras, it is a clear example of the player development pipeline improving the major league roster. In this scenario, one would think that Robinson and Kozma would be at the front of the line to be the first recalls when in-season help is needed in St. Louis.

One downside of this approach is that both would-be reserve outfielders, Jon Jay and Taveras, are left-handed hitters. Before we write this off as unfeasible, let's look at Taveras' splits. It turns out that he is not helpless against left-handed pitching. In his last full season, at Double-A in 2012, Taveras' OPS was .847 vs. LHP compared to .992 against RHP. Cruz and newcomer Mark Ellis are the projected right-handed hitting reserves.

Reminder: To see the full 2013 year-ending rosters by level and position for the entire Cardinals system on one page, check out the Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.

Premium Article Up next: The Cardinals' Triple-A roster will be the focus of part two of this series - coming soon for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation.



Have an opinion?: Share your view with the author and a group of knowledgeable Cardinals fans on The Cardinal Nation free message board.



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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2014 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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