Outfielder Adolis Garcia is one of the many top Cardinals prospects who will begin this season at Triple A Memphis. (Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports)

By Rob Rains

The promotion of Jordan Hicks to the Cardinals’ opening day roster serves as a reminder of how quickly prospects can rise through an organization.

At this time last year, Hicks was preparing to open the season with the Class A Peoria Chiefs and nobody was predicting he was only a year away from making his major-league debut.

It happened, however, which provides another reason to pay attention to where the top prospects in the farm system will begin this season. The four full-season minor league teams all play their first games on Thursday.

Here is a team-by-team look at where the Cardinals’ top prospects will start the year:

Memphis – Anybody who watched the major-league Cardinals in spring training should be familiar with most of the names on the Memphis roster. The defending PCL champions return an abundance of outfield and pitching prospects as well as catcher Carson Kelly.

Headlining the pitching staff are starters Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber and Daniel Poncedeleon, making his return after missing most of last year recovering from being hit in the head by a line drive in May. Connor Jones fills the opening created by Jack Flaherty’s promotion to the majors, which might be temporary, and Derian Gonzalez makes the jump to Triple A after pitching last season in Palm Beach.

In the outfield, prospects Adolis Garcia, Oscar Mercado and Tyler O’Neill figure to receive the bulk of the playing time. Garcia split last year between Double A and Triple A, while O’Neill joined the Redbirds in a mid-season trade from Seattle. Mercado spent all of last year in Springfield. Harrison Bader would have been in the mix as well but was called up by the Cardinals on Tuesday when Jedd Gyorko went on the disabled list after injuring his hamstring on Monday.

That injury opened a spot on the Triple A roster for outfielder Randy Arozarena, who had been on the original Double A Springfield roster.

New to the Redbirds is second baseman Max Schrock, acquired with Yairo Munoz over the winter for Stephen Piscotty.

Springfield – Catcher Andrew Knizner had an impressive spring training with the major-league team but finds himself back in Springfield because of the decision to send Kelly back to Memphis. Infielder Edmundo Sosa also returns to Springfield after missing most of last season because of a wrist injury.

Three of the top pitching prospects in the organization also will begin the year at Springfield – Ryan Helsley, Jake Woodford and Conner Greene, one of the two pitchers obtained from Toronto in the Randal Grichuk trade. Helsley reached Triple A last year but was squeezed out of the rotation there to begin this season.

Woodford, a first-round selection in the 2015 draft, pitched at Palm Beach all of last season. Greene pitched in the Double A Eastern League for the Blue Jays.

Palm Beach – Four college players selected in the 2017 draft make the jump up to high Class A to begin the season – third baseman Evan Mendoza, shortstop Kramer Robertson, outfielder Chase Pinder and left-handed reliever Jacob Patterson. Mendoza, the 11th round pick from North Carolina State, led the New York-Penn League last season with a .370 average.

Returning to Palm Beach is pitcher Junior Fernandez while pitchers Ronnie Williams and Ian Oxnevad move up from Peoria and Patterson from Johnson City.

Infielder Andy Young, who split the 2017 season between Peoria and Palm Beach, returns and is joined by first baseman Stefan Trosclair, moving up from Peoria.

Peoria
– Three of the top 19-year-old prospects in the organization will begin the season in the Midwest League, including outfielder Dylan Carlson, a former first-round pick who spent all of last season in the league as an 18-year-old.

Carlson will be joined in the outfielder by Jonathan Machado, making the jump from the rookie Gulf Coast League. Machado, a native of Cuba, will play all of this season at 19 just like Carlson.

Right-handed pitcher Alvaro Seijas, a native of Venezuela, headlines the pitching prospects, which also includes Cuban native Johan Oviedo, who turned 20 in early March. Seijas and Oviedo both pitched at Johnson City last year before Oviedo finished the year at State College. Another pitcher to watch is 20-year-old left-handed reliever Fabian Blanco, moving up from Johnson City.

Also making the jump from the Gulf Coast League is third baseman Elehuris Montero, a 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Another prospect on the rise is 20-year-old catcher Dennis Ortega, who spent most of 2017 at State College.

Extended spring
– Alex Reyes’ next steps in his return from Tommy John surgery will be back on the back fields in Florida after being placed on the 60-day disabled list to begin the season. He can join one of the minor-league teams in late April to begin a 30-day rehab assignment before he is eligible to join the major-league team in late May.

Former first-round pick Delvin Perez was not assigned to a full-season team to begin the year, so the 19-year-old shortstop will be in the extended spring program, likely until the short-season teams begin play in June. Also beginning the year in the extended spring program is outfielder Scott Hurst, the Cardinals’ top pick – in the third round – in last year’s draft.

The two players acquired in trades last week for Josh Lucas and Breyvic Valera, pitcher Casey Meisner and outfielder Juan Mieses, were not assigned to an opening-day roster, which likely means they are going to spend at least a few days in the extended spring program before moving to a full-season team.

Here are the complete opening day rosters for the four full-season teams. Also note that Springfield is down a player after Arozarena’s promotion to Memphis, but who will take that spot has not been announced.

Memphis


Pitchers: John Brebbia, John Gant, Sean Gilmartin, Derian Gonzalez, Austin Gomber, Preston Guilmet, Kevin Herget, Dakota Hudson, Connor Jones, Andrew Morales, Edward Mujica, Daniel Poncedeleon, Arturo Reyes

Catchers: Carson Kelly, Steven Baron

Infielders: Alex Mejia, Rangel Ravelo, Max Schrock, Wilfredo Tovar, Patrick Wisdom, Luke Voit

Outfielders: Randy Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, Oscar Mercado, Tyler O’Neill

Springfield

Pitchers: Estarlin Arias, Landon Beck, Brady Bowen, Tyler Bray, Chris Ellis, Jacob Evans, Conner Greene, Ryan Helsley, Ian McKinney, Hector Mendoza, Ramon Santos, Sam Tewes, Jake Woodford

Catchers: Andrew Knizner, Jeremy Martinez

Infielders: Chris Chinea, Tommy Edman, John Nogowski, Darren Seferina, Edmundo Sosa, Ramon Urias

Outfielders: Granden Goetzman, Victor Roache, Lane Thomas

Palm Beach

Pitchers: Jesus Cruz, Junior Fernandez, Greg Holland (for 2 games), Evan Kruczynski, Will Latcham, Yeison Medina, Mike O’Reilly, Mitchell Osnowitz, Ian Oxnevad, Jacob Patterson, Anthony Shew, Austin Warner, Ronnie Williams, Jason Zgardowski

Catchers: Jose Godoy, Brian O’Keefe

Infielders: Jose Martinez, Ryan McCarvel, Evan Mendoza, Kramer Robertson, Stefan Trosclair, Andy Young

Outfielders: Shane Billings, Chase Pinder, Thomas Spitz, JB Woodman

Peoria


Pitchers: Fabian Blanco, Bryan Dobzanski, Evan Guillory, Kevin Hamann, John Kilichowski, Levi MaVorhis, Cory Malcom, Winston Nicacio, Johan Oviedo, Zach Prendergast (DL), Alvaro Seijas, Thomas St. Clair, Jake Walsh, Kodi Whitley

Catchers: Dennis Ortega, Julio Rodirguez

Infielders: Rayder Ascanio, Taylor Bryant, Yariel Gonzalez, Irving Lopez, Elehuris Montero, Juan Yepez

Outfielders: Dylan Carlson, Bryce Denton, Jonathan Machado, Nick Plummer

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