In the opener of a series that will bring us ever closer to the magical start of Spring Training, it certainly makes sense to start with the top affiliate where the fewest question marks exist. Memphis has recently been in the news for all the right reasons, as the Redbirds will begin the 2014 campaign with high hopes on and off the field. The Cardinals recently saw the city vote swing their way, setting up for St. Louis to own another farm club and guaranteeing a partnership well beyond the upcoming season.
And while a trip to Memphis may not be in the Preacher’s plans this Summer, that is certainly in the works for many future road trips. One thing that will stand out with this edition of the Redbirds is that the roster will look quite a bit different due to a number of changes. Those start right away in the infield, where as many as four new starters and three newcomers will be introduced this April. In addition to promotions from Springfield, two Pacific Coast League veterans were brought in this winter and will fill the gaps left by Rob Johnson and Brock Peterson.
Scott Moore and Ed Easley signed with the Cardinals without a clear path above AAA but the last few seasons have proved that a strong showing in the PCL can lead to more. Moore has over 150 games of MLB experience under his belt and is penciled in as the starting third baseman for the Redbirds. He will provide some of the pop from the middle of the lineup after the departures of Peterson and Jamie Romak and can slide over to first base depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out.
For Easley it is a homecoming as well as another path towards the majors with catching duties looking to be shared with the returning Audry Perez. Easley was born in Memphis and batted an impressive .334 with Reno last season, setting up for an exciting offensive element that has rarely been season behind the plate. He also can build a rapport with quite a few high-ranked arms, especially since Perez resides firmly on the 40-man roster. Ideally, Easley will get 3/4 of the starts and be primed for his first call up later in the summer.
Greg Garcia certainly made the most of his first taste of AAA play and has vaulted squarely into the conversation of who could be counted on as a main cog for the Cardinals. He is about to enter this spring as a member of the 40-man roster and clear-cut favorite to start at shortstop for Memphis. No matter how the Kozma/Descalco situation plays out, Garcia is not in danger of being blocked for playing time and can build off his impressive initial Redbirds’ campaign as a window to his first trip to St. Louis. Joining him in the middle of the Redbirds’ infield is another incumbent, although Jermaine Curtis has spent the majority of his time at third the past couple of seasons. Curtis has the bat to stick but also offers the flexibility to move around the diamond depending on how the new first baseman settles.
While there may be a surprise or two on the roster coming from the pitching staff or outfield, the last piece of the puzzle surrounding the infield also provides the most intrigue to Memphis. Xavier Scruggs was drafted in 2008 and has made steady progress up the organizational chart. His second consecutive season in the Texas League saw the most impressive numbers of his career to date, and Scruggs offers something that is hard to find in any form — pure power. Four straight years with more than 20 home runs makes up for the triple-digit strikeouts and low average, but the X-Man will find himself on a tight leash with other options should he struggle to adapt to the PCL.
Memphis was competitive last season thanks in part to a number of veterans who kept the squad together when the roster was constantly being combed thru. This year’s version has a real chance of keeping the infield together, and that core can lead the Redbirds back to the playoffs.