St. Louis Cardinals: Projecting the Opening Day Bullpen
By Ben Remis
Spring Training is less than a month away. Here’s a look at the two most likely possibilities for the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen on Opening Day 2020.
There is less than one month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training! With the new rule in the MLB requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters, the construction of the bullpen is an important storyline to watch for the St. Louis Cardinals as we draw closer to the season.
The other factor that may change things for 2020 is that rosters expand to 26 men. This last man on the bench could come in the form of another bench bat, or it could help the bullpen. It gives teams more flexibility and adds 30 MLB jobs around the league.
Barring a trade or an untimely injury, here are the two possible sets of relievers that you can expect the St. Louis Cardinals to have on Opening Day in 2020.
If Kwang-Hyun Kim gets the fifth spot in the rotation:
The Cardinals signed Kwang-Hyun Kim with the intention of getting a lefty into the rotation. If he proves during Spring Training that his success in Korea can translate to the MLB, then this is what the bullpen will look like:
CLOSER: Carlos Martinez
SET-UP: Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos
RHP: John Brebbia, Ryan Helsley, John Gant
LHP: Tyler Webb, Genesis Cabrera
If Carlos Martinez wins the fifth spot in the rotation:
Carlos Martinez was once the ace of the Cardinals’ rotation. Despite his success as the closer last season, a return to the starting rotation would come as no surprise. He will get every chance to win back his original role.
CLOSER: Giovanny Gallegos
SET-UP: Andrew Miller, Ryan Helsley
RHP: John Brebbia, John Gant, Junior Fernandez
LHP: Tyler Webb, Kwang-Hyun Kim
Both possible bullpens contain a good mix of established veterans and talented youngsters. Miller, Brebbia, and Gant will be counted on as the consistent anchors of the bullpen, while Gallegos and Webb will look to repeat their newfound success from last season.
The wildcard is Ryan Helsley, who could be anywhere from the eventual closer to a starter in AAA. No matter who wins the fifth spot in the rotation, however, the bullpen should be a strength as the season begins.
PITCHERS TO WATCH
With a successful spring training, many players could easily take a bullpen spot away from one of the less proven arms like Cabrera or Fernandez. Here are three to keep an eye on:
Brett Cecil– Cecil is coming off an injury-plagued year that saw him fail to pitch a single inning. The Cardinals will give him every chance to make the starting roster, but with other talented lefties like Miller, Webb, Cabrera, and even Austin Gomber, it seems unlikely that he will be able to make a good enough impression to make the team.
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Alex Reyes– The former top prospect has been incredibly unlucky the past few years and has become the forgotten man among the Cardinals strong pitching depth. The most likely scenario is that Reyes begins the year as a starter in AAA, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a pitcher as talented as Reyes make the first edition of the 26-man roster.
Jordan Hicks– Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery last June after starting the year off with 14 saves out of 15 opportunities. He is projected to come back to the team some time midway through the season, and hopefully, a clearer timetable will emerge once the team arrives in Florida. A successful recovery and return to form would be a great addition to an already strong Cardinals’ bullpen.
The Cardinals are one of the few teams in the league not expecting two guys on the roster to hit triple digits. Even so, the bullpen was a huge strength for the Cards in 2019 and figures to be again in 2020.
Mike Shildt has shown an aptitude for running a well-balanced bullpen, but it will be hard for him as well as all the 29 other managers adjusting to the new league rules. If Hicks and Reyes are able to contribute, that will make it much easier. Either way, a consistently strong bullpen will be a huge contributor to a successful season.