Taking all bias out of the equation, this was truly one post of the series that I looked forward to from the start. With Springfield roughly an hour away for the Preacher, it would have been easy to stack the AA rotation with a number of the best prospects such as Marco Gonzales. The problem with that, however, is trying to find room for the deserving arms while also balancing out each stop on the system trail. A pair of lefties with Texas League experience get the first crack at replacing Tim Cooney and putting the SCards back into the playoff picture.
Jonathan Cornelius and Ryan Sherriff both factor into the middle of Springfield’s plans and could end up battling for a single spot or sharing time depending on how the four right-handed hurlers look this Spring. Cornelius has the leg up though, as his performance in the second half all but assures he’ll open April in Missouri. Sherriff did not pitch badly his first trip above Palm Beach and has nothing left to prove in the Florida State League. It will honestly come down to a numbers game at this point, especially if Gonzales gets off to a fast start as expected.
By far the safest bet of any pitcher in the St. Louis system, Zach Petrick can only hope to try and duplicate his remarkable run of 2013. The Cardinals named him Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and Petrick now will add the title of staff ace to his resume. He should be given the opportunity to stick as a starter unless a promotion means returning to the bullpen where his overpowering stuff first caught the attention of the National League Champs. If Petrick was all but a certain lock, that puts Seth Blair in the running for the last chance award.
Blair has yet to live up to the first round billing and time may be running out as a starter as he did throw a career high number of innings last season without much success. He and college teammate Jordan Swagerty both have a lot at stake for the upcoming campaign and may end up swapping roles if St. Louis sees the bullpen as an option for Blair. For now he is penciled in at the top of the rotation with a pair of former Pac-12 aces fighting to join him.
Sam Gaviglio and Kurt Heyer were high draft picks one year apart and both ended the year on the Palm Beach roster. Each RHP can also rely on improved confidence after ending 2013 on a roll but who has the edge? Gaviglio missed much of the summer due to injury but rebounded in a big way during Arizona Fall League action. He made six starts and held his own against the top-notch competition, setting up for an interesting battle. Heyer can more than hold his own and will be in camp early as part of the STEP program, a big accomplishment after only one full season.
Regardless of who begins April in the rotation, Springfield has a number of solid options and that means it is time to start planning the first road trip of the year!