Cards option three top prospects to Memphis

March 26th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Though baseball is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, clubs are still free to sort out rosters to prepare for when the season begins. The Cardinals made their second round of cuts since the regular season was postponed, optioning Génesis Cabrera, Junior Fernandez, Alex Reyes and Andrew Knizner to Triple-A Memphis on Thursday.

On what would have been Opening Day, the moves hint at how the Cardinals saw their bullpen when Spring Training ended.

During Spring Training, Cabrera, Reyes and Fernandez all were in the mix for a relief role with the Cardinals. Cabrera, who pitched on a starter’s schedule this spring, was in the running to be a second lefty in the bullpen with Andrew Miller -- whose lack of feel led him to just one live game appearance this spring -- and Brett Cecil (right hamstring strain) both questionable for the start of the season. The regular-season delay now gives Miller time to work out his issues and Cecil time to heal, so Cabrera is better suited for starts in Triple-A unless needed in relief.

Cabrera, the Cardinals’ No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, had impressed as a rotation arm this spring after his experience in the bullpen last season taught him to be more aggressive, especially with his breaking ball. He allowed one run while striking out eight in four appearances (six innings) this spring.

The 23-year-old Fernandez -- St. Louis’ No. 10 prospect -- was a dark horse in the Cardinals’ closer conversation this spring after impressing with his powerful right arm. He made his Major League debut last season and he averaged 97 mph with his fastball during 13 appearances (11 2/3 innings). He complements his fastball with a changeup and slider that has swing-and-miss bite. He showed more of what he’s capable of this spring before walks skewed his line, but Fernandez likely will find himself in the Majors again at some point this season.

Reyes was jumpy early in the spring and he admitted he was nervous on the mound -- it was his first regular spring after three years of injuries -- but the 25-year-old settled in and impressed in his later innings. Reyes’ path to the Majors this year was through the bullpen, and before the season was suspended, the Cardinals saw their former top prospect transitioning into a higher-leverage reliever this season, as long as he could get his command under control.

Knizner, the Cardinals’ No. 6 prospect, will be the everyday catcher in Memphis when baseball returns, and he could be called up to the Majors if needed this season. Backup catcher Matt Wieters was signed to a one-year deal this offseason to give the Cardinals a veteran backup to Yadier Molina and a bat off the bench, and to allow Knizner to get regular playing time in Triple-A.