While many things change along with the calendar, the next man up theory remains alive and well in Memphis. As imposing as the Redbirds’ rotation was in 2013, the possibility remains that this year’s version will be even better. The biggest piece of intrigue, however, may very well have to do with a hurler who could start the season in any number of places. And that is why for organizational depth, each of the four stops will feature six-man rotations.
It is impossible to compare just how overpowering the top half of the rotation was throughout much of the PCL last summer, but Memphis could feature a pair of returning aces in April. Carlos Martinez gets the vote as sixth starter for the Redbirds, but that fluid situation will lead to a number of other potential moves before rosters head north. Getting stretched out is nothing new for the flamethrower, as Martinez bounced around the bullpen and rotation for much of his rookie campaign.
At least until Jaime Garcia is ruled to be at full strength, it surely would be fun to see Martinez blowing away hitters and ready for his one-way return trip to St. Louis. On the other end of the spectrum, though, Tyler Lyons finds himself squeezed out of a role after a fantastic year of his own. The southpaw may be in the mix for a spot in the Cardinals’ bullpen, but he more than likely provides additional support as one of the league’s best returning arms. Lyons absolutely owned AAA hitters for long stretches and projects as the best option to take the ball on Opening Day for Memphis.
A pair of returning arms also factor into the mix, and both will be counted on for triple-digit innings for a second consecutive season. Boone Whiting and Scott McGregor were pressed into action early as a result of the rookie influx in St. Louis and combined to provide 38 starts for the Redbirds. Whiting hasn’t shown the pinpoint control from a couple years ago but held his own in throwing a career-high 136 innings, providing a strong middle-of-the rotation arm who should only get better.
McGregor also tallied a career best innings total in 2013 and added another five starts in Venezuela, setting up as a durable innings-eater that is crucial in the PCL. His stuff isn’t as overpowering as the rest of the rotation but more than capable as a fifth starter who will take the ball at home in familiar surroundings after playing college ball for Memphis. Replacing rookie phenom Michael Wacha and tough lefty Nick Additon‘s production will fall squarely on the shoulders on two newcomers who couldn’t have come from more different paths.
In the surprise pick-up of the Winter, the Cardinals brought in a world traveler to cement the top of the Redbirds’ rotation. Angel Castro pitched in the PCL last year but has also taken the mound in Japan, the Mexican League, and independent ball since 2010. The RHP will be the perfect calming influence among the young guns and someone to put the finishing touches on C-Mart’s short stay in the Minors. Castro can also fill in sometime over the summer if needed as the Memphis express has been known to operate and his spot on the 40-man roster is already reserved.
Saving the best for last is cliche, but in this case the top pitcher for Springfield makes the leap up the ladder and has positioned himself quite well for a shot at the 2015 Cardinals’ rotation. Tim Cooney may be getting more attention if not for that Wacha fellow, but that doesn’t mean the 2012 draft pick is lacking in ability. Cooney finished just ahead of fellow lefty Lyons with 154 innings in his first full season and walked only 22 hitters across two levels. Factor in a nearly strikeout-per-inning swing and miss ability as well, and you can see just why Cooney is on the fastest track.
The Redbirds finished just short of the playoffs with a completely different roster configuration, but the rotation did the heavy work with double-digit contributors all having a say. Fourteen different pitchers were credited with a start in 2013 but times are certainly looking up as Memphis begins a new chapter as the newest official St. Louis property. That bodes well for keeping the best talent at the highest level and will squarely be on display in the next offering as the outfield puzzle is broken down in time for the weekend!