Cardinals: Looking Ahead to Expanded Rosters

September 26th, 2018 – Pinch Runner Jose Adolis Garcia, representing the tying run, stumbles after rounding 3B in the 8th inning of a game vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.

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As we move through the final week of August, we near one of baseball’s oddities — September roster expansion. In 2019, perhaps for the last time, teams will be able to expand their active roster from 25 to 40 during the final month. Starting in 2020, this will be limited to 28.

With that on the horizon, let’s take a look at the candidates for a September call-up, what they have done this season (through Monday), and which one’s I believe the team will be utilizing for the stretch run.

The Elephant in the Room

Dylan Carlson is the Cardinals #1 prospect. The groups that provide prospect rankings haven’t yet caught up and had him bypass Nolan Gorman, but Carlson is #1. This is not an indictment on Gorman, either, he is still a very high-end prospect, but Carlson is looking like a special player that is on the cusp of the big leagues.

However, I think he will be waiting until Spring Training 2020 for his shot at the big league roster. There are two reasons that contribute to this thinking:

  1. He is not on the 40-man roster, and does not need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft this winter. Sure, someone like Drew Robinson could come off the 40-man, but the team also has to have room for Hicks and Cecil on the roster in November when they have to be removed from the 60-day IL. The Cardinals will look to preserve as many 40-man spots as possible, for as long as possible.
  2. He likely wouldn’t play much in September. The justification for calling up Carlson would be to make him one of your regular outfielders. That won’t happen. If the Cardinals wanted him to be one of the starters, he would be here already. Leaving him to sit on the bench in September does not further his development and he would be better served heading to the Arizona Fall League in the middle of the month to grab another 100 AB’s against advanced competition.

Regardless, Carlson has had an amazing year:

AA: 483 PA’s, .281/.364/.518, 21 HR’s, 24 2B’s, 18 SB, 143 wRC+

AAA: 49 PA’s, .455/.510/.773, 3 HR’s, 3 2B’s, 211 wRC+

He will be here soon enough, but probably not in 2019.

I could be wrong. Crazier things have happened.

Others That Won’t Get the Call

Alex Reyes, RHP(AAA) 10 Games, 7.39 ERA, 28.8% K%, 18.2% BB%

This guy can’t catch a break, as he keeps having significant injuries shut down his seasons. Unfortunately, anything the franchise gets from this super talented RH will be a bonus going forward, as they can’t really count on him. The latest reports have the team turning their sights towards 2020 for him.

Drew Robinson, IF/OF – (AAA) 234 PA’s, .265/.385/.423, 6 HR’s, 10 SB, 99 wRC+

Robinson was okay at Memphis this year and could have served as a pinch-runner and an insurance policy across the diamond, but he is out for the season after having elbow surgery.

Guys on the Bubble

Ramon Urias, 2B – (AAA) 345 PA’s, .262/.378/.409, 7 HR’s, 21 2B’s, 97 wRC+

At 25, Urias hasn’t had an exceptional year at Memphis, not coming close to the 170 wRC+ he posted at Springfield in 2018. Still, the Cardinals middle infield mix has only 4 players (Wong, DeJong, Edman, Munoz) in it, and Edman will likely continue to see time at 3B. Urias and Edmundo Sosa are the only other middle infielders on the 40-man, so one of them will for sure get the call. I’m leaning Sosa, but they may bring up Urias as well.

Adolis Garcia, OF(AAA) 506 PA’s, .255/.303/.519, 30 HR’s, 14 SB, 89 wRC+

Garcia has had an all-or-nothing year. Obviously he has cranked 30 bombs, 22 doubles, and 6 triples, but he has also struck out 29.2% of the time against just a 4% walk-rate, which explains why his wRC+ is 11% below league average despite the big Extra-base hit numbers. Garcia could be called up and used primarily as pinch-runner — even though he had a tragic trip around 3B last September — but the outfield is extremely crowded. The only way I see Garcia making the September roster is if they elect to send Randy Arozarena to the AFL (if eligible, there are residency restrictions) rather than planting him on the big league bench.

Justin Williams, OF – (AAA) 90 PA’s, .368/.456/.618, 5 HR’s, 159 wRC+

Williams was acquired in the Tommy Pham trade last July. His 2019 got off to a delay start due to an incident where he punched a tv and broke his hand. After a slow start in Springfield, he has raked at Memphis. The Cardinals are reaching a point where they would probably like to get an up close look at Williams, as he will only have 1 minor league option remaining in 2020. Additionally, he is the only other left-handed hitting OF on the roster besides Fowler (and Edman, I guess). Adding him as a left-handed bench bat and pinch-runner is probably an intriguing option. However, for a player that will finish the season with less than 200 PA’s, the Arizona Fall League may be an option for him. I can see this one going either way.

Players We Will Likely See

First, I want to note that Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill will likely be set to be activated from the 10-day IL when rosters expand on September 1st, or soon thereafter. This really won’t affect anyone on the current roster as Lane Thomas and Ryan Helsley will be able to stick around. I mostly note this because it makes the outfield very crowded.

Batters

Andrew Knizner, C – (AAA) 267 PA’s, .280/.360/.462, 11 HR’s, 99 wRC+

Not much to say, Knizner has continued his solid ascension and is likely the #2 catcher in 2020. The team will definitely carry 3 catchers in September, though he was probably a lock for a call-up anyway.

Rangel Ravelo, 1B/OF(AAA) 369 PA’s, .306/.388/.485, 12 HR’s, 114 wRC+

I won’t spend much time here, either, and that’s not a knock on Ravelo. He has been solid a AAA for two years and he as spend a fair number of games on the Major League bench already this year, so there’s no reason we won’t see him again.

Randy Arozarena, OF – (AAA) 250 PA’s, .369/.444/.585, 9 HR’s, 8 SB, 152 wRC+

We saw Randy once this year and we will probably see him again as he has certainly earned the time on the major league roster. He definitely fits the classic September pinch-runner mold, and with an outfield mix of Ozuna, Fowler, Bader, Thomas, O’Neill, and Martinez, he would be way down the pecking order. That crowd is why I have Garcia and Williams on the bubble. Maybe the Cardinals will go wild and bring everyone up, but for now I consider Randy to be the safest bet among outfielders.

Edmundo Sosa, IF – (AAA) 469 PA’s, .286/.331/.461, 16 HR’s, 88 wRC+

We saw Sosa for a short time in 2018 and for another brief stay this year. As I mentioned with Urias, the middle infield isn’t super deep, which means there is room for one (or two) extra. I think Sosa is the guy the Cardinals want a closer look at because he will enter next spring with the dreaded “out of options” tag.

Pitchers

Surprisingly, this isn’t a long list.

Junior Fernandez, RHP – (AAA) 22.2 IP, 1.19 ERA, 28.6% K%

Did you even notice he wasn’t on the big league roster? Fernandez was the victim of the Cardinals seizing the opportunity to bring in a fresh arm via Dominic Leone (who has looked pretty good) and it’s obvious that he will be back in September. He has a 3.60 ERA and a 30.4% K% in his first 5 big league innings.

Daniel Ponce de Leon, RHP(AAA) 84.1 IP, 2.88 ERA, 24% K%

Another obvious call-up, Ponce has had big league success before and provides another long relief option. Should Michael Wacha falter again, Ponce is an option to start.

Genesis Cabrera, LHP (AAA) 99 IP, 5.91 ERA, 24.4% K%

Cabrera’s AAA numbers aren’t too impressive and neither was his turn at the major league level. He has been very good in his last two starts, including a 12 strikeout effort on Saturday. Cabrera’s main value to the major league club would be to eat 2-3 innings in non-competitive games, such as Monday’s 12-2 win over Milwaukee. He can be strictly held to a mop-up role to save Mike Shildt from using his important relievers in blow-outs. Ponce de Leon will also help in this regard, though he’ll pitch more often than Cabrera.

Austin Gomber, LHP(AAA) 45.1 IP, 2.98 ERA, 28.1% K%

Missing in action for most the year due to an arm injury, Gomber finally returned to game action on Monday, throwing a scoreless inning on 11 pitches. Depending on how his arm responds, there may be time to get him 2 more 1 inning appearances in the final 7 days of Memphis’ schedule. He would then be an easy choice to join the major league bullpen, though he will likely won’t be the multi-inning option that he could have been with more time to rehab.

Overview

Just to provide some visual aid, here is how I imagine the September roster will look (bubble players in parenthesis):

# SP RH RP LH RP C INF OF
1 Flaherty Martinez Miller Molina Goldschmidt Ozuna
2 Mikolas Gallegos Webb Wieters Wong Fowler
3 Hudson Brebbia Gomber Knizner DeJong Bader
4 Wainwright Gant Cabrera - Carpenter O'Neill
5 Wacha Leone - - Edman Martinez
6 - Helsley - - Munoz Thomas
7 - Fernandez - - Sosa Arozarena
8 - Ponce de Leon - - Ravelo (Williams)
9 - - - - (Urias) (Garcia)

This would be a roster of 35-38 players.

As exciting as it is to see the call-ups, hopefully they will end up largely unseen, due to the heat of the playoff race.

Thanks for reading.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Cardinals8667.562 -
Brewers8370.5423.0
Cubs8271.5364.0
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Pirates6588.42521.0

Last updated: 09/20/2019

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