Rarely is there a time in sports where a group of athletes can change more than one offseason in baseball. This exact scenario played out for Memphis as each of the three starting outfielders could be new for the upcoming campaign but that is only part of the story. Phenom Oscar Taveras factors into the equation as do a pair of recent draft picks knocking on the door from Springfield. No matter how you choose to look at the improved competition for the Redbirds, 2014 has already turned into the place to be if you want to make a name for yourself.
The fluid situation begins with Taveras and how the 25-man Opening Roster looks at the end of March. He was added to the 40-man roster after last season along with another candidate for playing time in Memphis, Mike O’Neill. They were positioned well for a look down in Florida before the floodgates opened and four more newcomers crowded the party. While there are only so many innings and at-bats to go around, the Redbirds can literally make a who’s who of Cardinal prospects in at least three separate variations.
No one has jumped into the picture faster than the lone player missing from the 40-man roster. Stephen Piscotty appeared set to return to Springfield until a spot opened, but he is now slated for a starting spot in either right or left field. Piscotty turned heads with his AFL performance and likely pushes O’Neill back to the Texas League. It is an important season in Memphis, and they will pull out all the stops to keep a strong procession of talent fighting for the Pacific Coast League title.
With Piscotty and Taveras able to play multiple positions, that narrows the needs for the remaining roster spots but adds even more intrigue. Much has been written about Joey Butler and how he factors into the organization since being picked up off waivers in October. Initially it appeared as a good fit for both player and team since St. Louis needed outfield depth and Butler added power from the right side. Quite a bit has changed over the Winter, however, and it remains to be seen if Butler even has a set role in Memphis or if his spot on the 40-man roster will be discussed further.
One main reason for Butler’s slide down the pecking order came over in the Peter Bourjos trade. Not only did that add another fit for the big league club, but one more prospect was acquired who will be given his first crack at AAA. Randal Grichuk was drafted one pick ahead of Mike Trout in 2009 but couldn’t live up to those expectations with the Angels. Grichuk gets a fresh start with the Cardinals and also a position change, as the Redbirds will pencil him in as the everyday center fielder this April. He projects as another 20-home run, high RBI bat from the right side of the plate and completes the trio of top-10 prospects who will all be pushing each other for that elusive 2014 one-way ticket to St. Louis.
Sliding Taveras into the big league picture clears only part of the logjam, though, since James Ramsey will be pushing for his turn in center field as well. Whether or not the Cardinals feel their No. 1 prospect is 100% may be the whole story or very minimal in the grand scheme of things, but the chain reaction of that puzzle piece will be felt at every level of the system. It is an impressive problem to have for Memphis and a complete 180 degree turn from just a season ago.