Ever since the St. Louis Cardinals signed Miguel Socolovich before the 2015 season he has done nothing but prove that he’s capable of getting major league hitters out. Unfortunately, Socolovich has spent most of his time with the Cardinals in triple-A Memphis. He comes into the 2017 season looking to earn a spot in the major league bullpen and he needs to capitalize on the opportunity because he is out of minor league options. I fear he may be a casualty of a numbers crunch in the bullpen.
Socolovich has pitched out the major league bullpen for portions of each of the last two seasons. Over the last two seasons he has 47.2 innings pitched with a 1.89 ERA and a 3.10 FIP. These numbers suggest that the guy belongs in the big leagues. Ever since signing with the Cardinals he has made a change to his repertoire by almost completely ditching his four seam fastball in favor of a sinker. In 2011 with the Mets he threw his four seamer 42% of the time as opposed to under 7% of the time in 2016. The result has been success at both the triple-A and major league level.
Miguel will absolutely have to show this spring that he’s ready to pitch and pitch effectively. This could be difficult for him though as he has committed to playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. This is undoubtedly a great opportunity for him to represent his country. However, I fear that it could cause him to be overlooked, as he will be absent from major league camp for a portion of spring training.
Seung-Hwan Oh, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Brett Cecil are essentially locks to be in the bullpen for 2017. Jonathan Broxton is sadly a probable lock to underwhelm for another season based on his contract. This leaves two spots open. Matt Bowman had a very good year as a rule five draft pick. He showed that he can be a very useful reliever and deserves to be in the major leagues.
Another factor for a bullpen spot will be what happens with the starting rotation. Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake will definitely be in the rotation to start the season. This leaves two spots for Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Alex Reyes. I believe Lynn will definitely be in the rotation. So we’re looking at the odd man out between Wacha and Reyes to be an option for a bullpen spot.
What are the options?
If Socolovich doesn’t come into spring and show that he deserves a spot on the major league team then he will likely be designated for assignment. I would expect him to be claimed by another team and the Cardinals would either have to work out a trade or he would just go to the team that claims him. This would be very unfortunate because I do believe he is a good asset for the Cardinals.
However, if Socolovich comes into camp and impresses then things could get interesting. If there are no injuries, the team will likely be looking at Bowman, Socolovich and either Reyes or Wacha for two spots. Bowman, Wacha and Reyes all have options and can go to triple-A. In this scenario, I would expect the Cardinals to keep Socolovich on the major league roster and send a player that doesn’t deserve to be in the minors to Memphis.
Bowman could go to Memphis as depth until a reliever gets injured. Or whichever pitcher doesn’t get a spot in the rotation could start for Memphis. This could be a way to keep Reyes’ innings down early in the season so that he is available for the stretch run. John Mozeliak has stated that he isn’t terribly concerned about his workload though.
Michael Wacha could also potentially benefit from some time in Memphis. He has been on a downhill slide ever since his rookie season in 2013. If he comes into spring and doesn’t impress, sending him down to start every fifth day and hopefully get himself right again could pay huge dividends for the cardinals in the future.
There are a lot of ways to keep Socolovich on the roster. I expect this to be a purely performance based decision in spring training.
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