Shortstop Delin Perez will begin the minor-league season in the extended spring training program, where he can work with Jose Oquendo. (File)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals have been fairly aggressive in promoting their young prospects in recent years but have opted for a more conservative approach in setting the opening-day rosters this season.

Only a few players are skipping levels in the organization as the four full-season minor-league affiliates begin their seasons on Thursday night. Players who were not assigned to one of those four teams will be in Florida, participating in extended spring training, which runs until the short-season clubs begin play in June. That group includes some of the best prospects in the organization, including shortstop Delvin Perez.

Here is a team-by-team look at where the top prospects will be playing to start the season:

Memphis – Most of the prospects closest to the majors spent most of spring training with the Cardinals, including catcher Carson Kelly, outfielder Harrison Bader and infielder Paul DeJong, who will be playing mostly shortstop for the Redbirds.

The starting rotation will be led by Luke Weaver, expected to get the opening night start for Thursday’s game in New Orleans. Also in the rotation will be Mike Mayers, who pitched well this spring, and Chris Ellis, one of the players the Cardinals acquired from the Braves in the trade for Jaime Garcia.

Rowan Wick, the converted outfielder, makes the jump to Memphis after pitching at Palm Beach and Springfield last year. Also in the bullpen will be left-hander Ryan Sherriff and right-hander Josh Lucas.

Left-hander Marco Gonzales, still recovering from last year’s Tommy John surgery, will begin the year on the disabled list. John Gant, also acquired from the Braves, will be in the rotation once he recovers from a groin injury he suffered late in spring training. Gant is on the major-league’s 10-day DL.

Springfield – The strength of the Double A team, as will likely be the case throughout the organization, is the starting rotation. Arguably four of the top starters in the system will be in Springfield’s rotation when the season begins Thursday night at Frisco.

Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara, Dakota Hudson and Austin Gomber will be four of the team’s five starters. The 21-year-old Alcantara spent most of last season at Peoria before finishing at Palm Beach and made a favorable impression this spring in the major-league camp. So did Flaherty, also 21, who spent all of 2016 at Peoria.

The 21-year-old Hudson was one of the Cardinals top picks in last year’s draft out of Mississippi State and reached Springfield last year in time to pitch out of the bullpen in the playoffs. Gomber, the only left-hander of the four, spent much of last year at Palm Beach before making four starts at Springfield. At 23, he is the oldest of the group.

One of the more interesting pitchers to watch in the bullpen will be Daniel Bard, a former reliever for the Red Sox who is trying to make a comeback with the Cardinals after changing to a new sidearm delivery. He will be joined in the bullpen by Blake McKnight, making a homecoming of sorts since he pitched for Evangel University in Springfield before being drafted by the Cardinals.

One of the few position players who is skipping a level to start the year is second baseman Eliezer Alvarez, who had a breakout season last year at Peoria. Another player to watch is outfielder Adolis Garcia, signed in February out of Cuba. The Cardinals elected to have him begin his pro career at Double A instead of at Memphis, which cost prospect Magneuris Sierra a chance to move up with Alvarez from Peoria, skipping over Palm Beach.

Palm Beach – Pitchers moving up from Peoria and two college arms from last year’s draft will make up the high Class A team’s rotation to start the year. Junior Fernandez, Ryan Helsley and Jake Woodford all were in Peoria last year, while Connor Jones and Zac Gallen pitched on short-season teams after the June draft.

Sierra, who had a big spring training, likely could have skipped Palm Beach and gone from Peoria to Springfield. Instead, he will have the challenge of trying to find offensive success in a notoriously tough stadium and league for hitters. That also will be the case for shortstop Edmundo Sosa, moving up from Peoria, but starting him at Palm Beach gives him the chance to get extra time working with special instructor Jose Oquendo.

One of the other young Cuban outfielders signed last summer, Randy Arozarena, also will start at this level when the Cardinals open the season at Port St. Lucie. Jeremy Martinez, drafted from USC in the fourth round last year, will be one of the team’s catchers.

Austin Wilson, selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Mariners, will start out here as well, his third consecutive year in high A after playing in the California League the last two years. Another player new to the organization starting here is second baseman Luke Dykstra, the son of former major-leaguer Lenny Dykstra, who was acquired in the Atlanta trade.

– The low Class A Chiefs have their share of top pitching prospects in the starting rotation as well, led by Jordan Hicks and Ronnie Williams. Hicks, 20, split last year between Johnson City and State College. He will get the opening night assignment at Burlington.

Left-hander John Kilichowski, drafted out of Vanderbilt last year, also will be part of the six-man rotation. He is one of 11 players selected in last year’s draft named to the Chiefs’ opening day roster.

One of those players is 18-year-old outfielder Dylan Carlson, moving up from the GCL Cardinals as he skips two levels in the organization. Former first-round pick Nick Plummer, who sat out all of last year while recovering from surgery on his hand, will join Carlson in the outfield.

A third outfielder scheduled to begin the season with the Chiefs, Bryce Denton, will instead open the year on the disabled list after undergoing an appendectomy on Monday.

Extended spring – Some of the organization’s most intriguing prospects will be working out at this level for the next couple of months, and the primary reason for that is their age.

Instead of trying to rush the 18-year-old Perez to a full-season club, the Cardinals elected to keep their number one pick from last year’s draft in Florida, where he will be getting extended time to work with Oquendo. Perez can always be moved to a full-season team at any time and he also could be sent to either Johnson City or State College when those seasons begin.

Also working out in Florida will be Cuban pitcher Johan Oviedo, who pitched in the Dominican Summer League after signing last summer. The 19-year-old right-hander also would seem to be a likely candidate to move to a full-season team at some point this season.

Catcher Dennis Ortega, also 19, impressed manager Mike Matheny when he was with the big-league team in spring training after starring in the Gulf Coast League last summer. Two of his teammates on that club who also be in extended spring are pitcher Alvaro Seijas, an 18-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, and infielder Brady Whalen, drafted out of high school in Washington in the 12th round last summer.

Two outfielders from the Dominican team assigned to extended spring are Jonatan Machado, another Cuban signee from last summer who just turned 18, and Brian Sanchez. Sanchez had a big year last summer, hitting 15 homers in 61 games while posting a .349 average, but at 20 was a couple of years older than most of the players in the DSL. He turned 21 in January.

Here are the complete rosters for the four full-season teams:


PITCHERS (13): Luke Weaver, Arturo Reyes, Chris Ellis, Mike Mayers, Josh Zeid, John Brebba, Kurt Heyer, Lee Thomas, Josh Lucas, Mark Montgomery, Zach Phillips, Ryan Sherriff, Rowan Wick;

CATCHERS (2); Carson Kelly, Alberto Rosario;

INFIELDERS (5): Luke Voit, Paul DeJong, Wifredo Tovar, Breyvic Valera, Patrick Wisdom;

OUTFIELDERS (5): Harrison Bader, Todd Cunningham, Anthony Garcia, Chad Huffman, Tommy Pham;

DISABLED LIST (3): Marco Gonzales, Mitch Harris, Jordan Schafer;

SUSPENDED LIST (1): Corey Littrell


PITCHERS (13): Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, Matt Pearce, Daniel Poncedeleon, Corey Baker, Daniel Bard, Pedro Echemendia, Chandler Hawkins, Kevin Herget, Blake McKnight, Jimmy Reed;

CATCHERS (2); Luis Cruz, Gabriel Lino;

INFIELDERS (6): Casey Grayson, Eliezer Alvarez, Bruce Caldwell, Alex Mejia, Dickie Joe Thon, Jacob Wilson;

OUTFIELDERS (4): Blake Drake, Adolis Garcia, Nick Martini, Oscar Mercado

DISABLED LIST (3): C.J. McElroy, Andrew Morales, Trey Nielsen

Palm Beach

PITCHERS (13): Junior Fernandez, Zac Gallen, Derian Gonzalez, Ryan Helsley, Jacob Woodford, Connor Jones, Landon Beck, Tyler Bray, Jacob Evans, Brennan Leitao, Ian McKinney, Juan Perez, Ross Vance;

CATCHERS (2); Jose Godoy, Jeremy Martinez;

INFIELDERS (6): Chris Chinea, Danny Diekroeger, Luke Dykstra, Leobaldo, Pina, Darren Serefina, Edmundo Sosa;

OUTFIELDERS (4): Randy Arozarena, Magneuris Sierra, Thomas Spitz, Austin Wilson;

DISABLED LIST (2): Andrew Brodbeck, Josh Wirsu


PITCHERS (13); Jordan Hicks, Ronnie Williams, Ian Oxnevad, Steven Farinaro, John Kilichowski, Bryan Dobzanski, Estarlin Arias, Brady Bowen, Eric Carter, Dailyn Martinez, Ramon Santos, Gregory Tomchick, Spencer Trayner;

CATCHERS (2): Andrew Knizner, Brian O’Keefe;

INFIELDERS (6): Ryan McCarvel, Stefan Trosclair, J.R. Davis, Tommy Edman, Danny Hudzina, Andrew Young;

OUTFIELDERS (4): Craig Aikin, Dylan Carlson, Vince Jackson, Nick Plummer;

DISABLED LIST (2): Bryce Denton, Jorge Rodriguez

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