Question: Who will be the team’s seventh relief pitcher?
The fallout from Alex Reyes’ season-ending surgery includes an opening in the bullpen. The loser of the Reyes/Wacha battle for the fifth rotation spot was expected to land in the pen, but now that’s a role that needs to be filled.
The St. Louis Cardinals have an abundance of relief options for this one spot. Lefties Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales are finishing up recovery from surgery, so they’re probably out of the mix for an Opening Day roster spot.
Hard-throwing righthander Sam Tuivailala has had major league stints the past three seasons, but has yet to display sustained success at the big-league level. He’ll likely begin the year in the role he had for most of 2016: closing out games for AAA Memphis.
Another righthander, Miguel Socolovich, is in the mix. In his last two years in St. Louis, he’s posted ERAs of 2.00 and 1.82.
Luke Weaver might also get a look, although the team probably prefers him to begin the year in the Memphis rotation. This would make him available to be called up to make a spot start in St. Louis or become a member of the regular rotation if necessary.
Lefties Ryan Sherriff and Jordan Schafer are two pitchers to watch during Grapefruit League action. 2016 was a career year for Sherriff in triple-A. In 49 games, he compiled a 2.84 ERA and earned a Minor League All-Star nod.
Schaefer has been an outfielder for all of his major-league career, but is looking to redefine himself as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. If the transition is successful, he’d still be available to play outfield, hit, and run the bases. This kind of versatility would be enticing for any National League manager.
Perhaps the number one pitching prospect to watch this Spring is Sandy Alcantara. The 21-year old has a fastball that touches 102 mph along with a power curve and developing changeup. He’s never pitched above class A, but his stuff could make him a candidate for quick upward mobility through the minors.
Of all the options the Cardinals have, Lyons, Gonzales, Tuivailala, Socolovich, Gant, and Weaver are probably the closest right now to making the Opening Day roster.
Lyons projects as a spot starter or long reliever once he’s healthy. Gonzales and Weaver project as AAA rotation members. Tuivailala projects as the Memphis closer. Gant projects as either a starter in the minors or long reliever in St. Louis. Socolovich projects as a middle reliever, whether in Memphis or St. Louis.
This battle could be a toss up, especially if more than one of these pitchers perform well in Spring games. Socolovich is out of minor league options, so that might give him the edge for landing on the Opening Day roster.