With all of the changes in general that happened to baseball over the past year, it does feel nice to add some normalcy to the equation. Enter the Texas League which might very well have been how the sport decided on the unique scheduling for 2021. The newly-named Double-A Central kept the North and South Divisions while adding an old friend back as well as an even older location. San Antonio (Padres) returns to round out the Texas part of the league after a short visit to the AAA ranks and after seeing the ballpark, it very much belongs between Corpus Christi (Astros) and Frisco (Rangers). Rounding out the South, Midland (A’s) and Amarillo (D’Backs) no longer seem as bad of a drive with six-game series although Springfield won’t be making that trek this summer.
One place the Cardinals will become familiar with again happens to be Wichita, the newest and arguably most frustrated of any of the minor league shuffle that occurred. That story nearly writes itself so here is the very short version – before the 2020 season was cancelled, the Wind Surge (Twins) were scheduled to become a AAA franchise. Fast-forward 12 months or so and everything changed to the point that a number of promises were no longer kept. MILB really no longer exists, as the separate organization has been replaced as a subsidiary under Major League Baseball. Within the moves to keep 120 ‘charters’ so that every club has a total of four teams, Wichita lost out on AAA even after the Stadium deal was made.
This really brings everything full circle at least for me, as I entered the Double-A game in 2007 while the Kansas squad still played in the Texas League. It will be nice to make a drive out to see a new facility, which would leave only the two Arkansas parks left at least in the North Division! Speaking of the group looking to knock off the SCards, no changes were made with affiliations which means Northwest Arkansas (Royals), Tulsa (Dodgers), and Arkansas (Mariners) all will be in the same strange boat as Springfield. The main reason for thinking that way has to do with a lack of clarity in how Double A rosters are built now and what part of the process involves prospect building weighed against winning.
For the better part of a decade, the argument can be made that the fulcrum of the Cardinal organization resided just down the I-44 from the Arch. Pitchers routinely made the jump to the Birds on the Bat from Springfield while players such as Dylan Carlson also put their names on the radar in a big way. It remains to be seen if Nolan Gorman or Ivan Herrera have the same outcome, but the overall shift is very apparent. Just looking at the initial roster against the Memphis squad, both pitching staffs seem even in terms age which definitely stands out. Gone are the days of veteran hurlers taking up spots at the AAA level, replaced by the high-ceiling guys looking to make an impact before the trade deadline.
To continue that discussion, only a pair of pitchers from the STL Top 30 prospect list cracked the Opening Day Double-A roster, one a starter and one (hopefully) the closer. Andre Pallante may not be a name most fans are familiar with now, but that figures to change in a hurry once the righty on the small side starts mowing down the competition. Pallante was taken in the 4th round of the 2019 Draft and was not pushed up as some others of his class were to fit bullpen openings. That’s a strong factor in deciding who should get the longer looks for rotation spots, even if it means a trip to Peoria at some point. On the flip side, a demotion wouldn’t be viewed as well for Griffin Roberts, the highly touted reliever who has yet to make an impact at any level. Trying to piece together the rest of the roles on the staff is truly a fool’s errand at this point and will be saved until at least next week.
Part of the struggle in understanding how to break down these rosters is simply the unknown. That’s the case with most of the pitchers but certainly not on the offensive side for Springfield. Anchored by Herrera and Gorman, they are joined by a crop of potential stars as they move up the ranks. Luken Baker was initially rumored to be in the deal for Nolan Arenado but stayed with the Cards to continue mashing from first base. The most intriguing name on the roster has to be Delvin Perez, the shortstop taken in the first round back in 2016. He responded to the season away from the game by getting stronger and showed in Spring Training that he was ready for the moment. A fellow first rounder from the year before, Nick Plummer also enters a crucial summer for his career. The results have never quite told the entire story, as injuries have piled up and stunted any growth the outfielder has made along the way. The year away to improve everything helped the now 24-year old advance to a level he hasn’t seen with many eyes on who else might see time in the outfield.
As Gorman prepares for his potential break-out, hit bat has never been the biggest question. He seemed poised to take over the hot corner before Arenado joined St. Louis with the rest being obvious. Now the positional watch certainly factors into the overall growth, even if the team has made it known he is a third baseman first. That makes sense to say now but as things move around in the next few months, keep an eye on how many reps he gets not only at 2B but also a corner outfield spot. He very well could be following the Stephen Piscotty route and no one can debate how that turned out for both the player and team.
Exciting times all around, especially for those of us like myself who enjoy getting to the park in person and watching the next wave of future Cardinals. With just two more stops to go, all signs are pointing to tomorrow being nearly as good as Christmas!