The minor league season kicked off last Thursday. Although we’re dealing with an obviously small sample size, there’s been some interesting performances throughout the Cardinals full-season affiliates. Let’s take a level-by-level view of what’s transpired so far. (All records and stats are as of the start of play on Tuesday.)
Triple-A Memphis: 4-1, 8.4 RPG, 3.48 ERA
Memphis was a really good team on Opening Day, and they’ve only gotten better since Jack Flaherty was demoted to make room for Adam Wainwright. In his first Triple-A start he went seven shutout innings and struck out 11.
Elsewhere in the rotation, John Gant was light out on Opening Day and he takes the mound again on Tuesday. Austin Gomber and Dakota Hudson were good-not-great, as the latter takes his first turn at Triple-A. Hudson only struck out one. His lack of strikeouts was the biggest knock on his game in 2017, and the continuation of that is disappointing.
Offensively, the Redbirds have seven players hitting over .300 (not counting Luke Voit who was 1-for-1 before going on the DL). Three players not hitting over .300 are Oscar Mercado, Randy Arozarena, and Carson Kelly. Kelly launched his first homer of the year on Monday, an opposite-field shot. Kyle Reis of Birds On The Black mentioned that Arozarena has struggled with advanced changeups, so that’s something to keep an eye on if you’re watching a Memphis game.
Second baseman Max Schrock (our #19 prospect) is 9-for-19 with a homer and three stolen bases. Schrock’s performance is one to follow as Greg Garcia‘s struggles bring his hold on the final bench spot into question. Tyler O’Neill, who had a disappointing Spring Training was cut short due to injury, has already homered four times but has yet to draw a walk.
Double-A Springfield: 1-4, 3.2 RPG, 5.27 ERA
After one turn through the rotation, the best start belongs to Chris Ellis of all people. Ellis went 5 1/3 innings and allowed one run while striking out 6 on Monday as Springfield finally won their first game of the year.
Ryan Helsley, whose 2017 performance garnered him spots on organizational top ten lists, gutted through five innings before allowing a three-run bomb in the sixth which made his line look worse than he actually pitched. His curveball was good (as usual). Most of his strikeouts came on the curve, some of which were, frankly, hangers. The pitch is deceptive enough that Double-A hitters will swing through it.
Conner Greene, acquired in the trade that sent Randal Grichuk to Toronto, had an abysmal debut in the Cardinals system. He didn’t make it out of the second inning, and although he only walked two hitters. He was consistently behind in counts which allowed Midland hitters to sit on his upper-90’s fastball. His pitch count escalated quickly and he was pulled down 3-1 in the second.
Offensively, John Nogowski, Lane Thomas, and Tommy Edman are hitting over .400. Edman and Nogowski are the unofficial captains and, in their second season in Double-A, are expected to take a step forward. Nogowski, in particular, is interesting because he spent the offseason with the organization’s hitting guru, George Greer. Greer had Nogowski re-tool his swing, making it shorter which enables him to drive the ball with better carry.
Andrew Knizner, our second highest ranked position player, is hitting .267 with a homer. Despite the batting average that is below Knizner’s standards, he’s consistently been in control of his at-bats, as is the usual with him. Edmundo Sosa has been… okay. Johnny Rodriguez has preached patience with him as he continues to rehab from a broken hamate bone in 2017.
High-A Palm Beach: 3-2, 6.4 RPG, 3.05 ERA
The Palm Beach Cardinals’ lineup features three members of the Top 30, which is a far cry from last year when their lineup consisted mostly of organizational depth guys. Evan Mendoza, one of the best all-around hitters of the 2017 draft class, has picked up right where he left off last season. So far, he’s 8-for-21 with a pair of doubles.
Andy Young, who has plus power that might have been diminished because of Roger Dean Stadium, has already homered twice. Likewise for outfielder Johan Mieses. He was acquired in exchange for Breyvic Valera. Mieses hit over 20 homers each of the past two years in the minors.
On the mound, Anthony Shew went five shutout innings in his first start. Ian Oxnevad also went five, allowing one run. Other than them, no Palm Beach pitcher has completed five innings, let alone six or seven. Ronnie Williams, a member of Kyle’s top 30 entering 2017, has allowed only one hit through 4 1/3 innings of relief as he attempts to rebound from a disastrous 2017 campaign.
Class-A Peoria Chiefs: 1-3, 3.5 RPG, 5.50 ERA
The Chiefs are off to a cold start, literally. They’ve had two games postponed due to cold weather. Johan Oviedo made his season debut last Saturday, and it went terribly. He walked the first five batters he faced and struck out the sixth before being pulled. It’s hard to imagine a worse start to the season.
It’s nearly impossible to draw any sort of conclusions regarding the hitters for a couple of reasons. First, it’s early. It’s early for the rest of the affiliates, too, but it’s significantly colder in the Midwest League and it’s hard to find a rhythm at the plate with the number of postponements. Juan Yepez is hitting .553, Nick Plummer and Jonatan Machado are at or over .300. They’ve yet to homer as a team, which has as much to do with the weather as it does with the team on the field. Dylan Carlson is 1-for-9, but that means next to nothing.
Thanks for reading! The Memphis club is up 7-0 in the second inning as I wrap up this post. That team is pretty good.