Mike O’Neill really had to be thinking he was in the driver’s seat after an unbelievable 2013 campaign. Not only did he just keep getting on base and finished the season in Memphis, but O’Neill landed on the 40-man roster that was relatively barren of outfield prospects. Much can change over the course of a couple months, however, and the depth chart now appears stacked against the Southern California product.
Even with fellow 40-man addition Oscar Taveras ticketed for an early call to St. Louis, O’Neill may find the road back to Memphis tough without more roster moves. The Cardinals added to a potent base, provided needed injury protection, and introduced two more prospects to the mix. As the Winter concludes, four new faces will be making their first trek to Jupiter next month, and Springfield will benefit the most with extra options.
Most of the drama was removed after viewing how stacked the outfield was for the Redbirds but having an all left-handed starting trio could force the hand of the front office. James Ramsey can play center field if necessary, but he is slated to begin the year in right with an eye on Memphis. Rafael Ortega completes the southpaw triple play as the most recent addition while returning to the Texas League.
Ramsey struggled overall in the Arizona Fall League, but his .384 OBP puts him squarely in the picture to hit at the top of the Springfield lineup. He did hit 15 over the fence in 93 games last year and combined with fewer strikeouts will earn more than one AAA game even with the competition. Ortega played in the Colorado system so far in his career and has a cup of coffee on his resume. The speedster has the green light and walks enough to turn heads from lead-off.
If the SCards can balance out the lineup (hint, hint for later in the week) the three lefty swingers make a potent force to build an offense around in a number of ways. The need to break up the lefties would be necessary as would having back-ups from the right side. And as luck would have it, the final pair answer that need as well as providing flexibility around the diamond.
Starlin Rodriguez returned to Springfield last August after a conversion to the outfield. His initial exposure to AA pitching was unsuccessful but Rodriguez rebounded in Palm Beach and can also factor in at second base. That makes him ideal as a role player if the bat comes around, a problem the squad’s fourth outfielder will not face. Switch-hitter David Popkins burst on the scene by filling the gap left by Ramsey in Palm Beach and never looking back. He plays all three outfield positions and also doesn’t block any of the highly touted players at the lower levels.
One of the best battles on any St. Louis squad appears ready to take place just down the interstate from Baseball Heaven. Any of the three starters could jump into the call-up conversation as early as this Summer, but a slow start will only be harder to overcome with more talent on the way. A nice problem for the Cardinals offers the opportunity for more surprises like undrafted Popkins to turn some heads and take the Texas League by storm. It also puts pressure on the Memphis outfield to produce , and your Preacher can not wait to see how it all plays out!