A month into the 2005 season, there are five new faces that make this Memphis Redbirds club especially intriguing. If you want to see them in a Redbirds uniform, you'd better get down to Third and Union.
· Anthony Reyes (P) -- Memphis has a bittersweet track record for cultivating starting pitchers. Rick Ankiel had an electric rookie season in St. Louis before losing his pitching faculties in a playoff meltdown. He's now playing the outfield at Double-A Springfield. Bud Smith threw a no-hitter as a rookie in 2001 but has fallen off the major-league radar since being dealt to Philadelphia in the trade for Scott Rolen in July 2002. With the 23-year-old Reyes, the Cardinals may finally have found a young hurler with the talent, size (6'2", 215 lbs.), and comportment to earn a spot in the big-league rotation and keep it.
Wearing the bill of his cap as low as Al Hrabosky in the Mad Hungarian's prime, Reyes has shown overpowering stuff in his early days as a Triple-A pitcher. He struck out five Oklahoma RedHawks with nary a walk in his debut April 10th. After retiring the last 14 batters he faced in New Orleans April 22nd, Reyes took a perfect game into the seventh inning against Iowa April 28th (and hit a two-run home run over AutoZone Park's 400-foot sign in centerfield). Over two games, that's 32 batters up, 32 batters out. Ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Cardinals' system, Reyes is the big ticket this year for Memphis baseball fans.
· Hector Luna (IF) -- As a Rule 5 draftee a year ago, Luna had to stay on the Cardinals' major-league roster throughout 2004 or be returned to the Cleveland organization. Playing a year or two ahead of his development, Luna showed flashes of talent that could lead to a regular gig with the big club. (He homered in his very first big-league at-bat and drove in 22 runs with only 173 at-bats for the season.) The Cards' brass has made an interesting move in having Luna take over second base with the Redbirds (moving veteran Bo Hart to the bench). With 34-year-old Mark Grudzielanek manning second this season in St. Louis, Luna has the chance to grow into the first young, homegrown second-sacker this franchise has seen since ... Geronimo Pena?
· John Nelson (SS) -- Nelson is a big reason Luna was moved to second. There's much to like about this former Kansas Jayhawk, who hit .301 at Double-A Tennessee last year before missing half the season with an ankle injury. Blessed with a tremendous arm, and two years younger than Hart, Nelson has the 2005 season to show the Cardinals (and the rest of the major leagues) that he's capable of the Big Leap. If he can bring some steady pop to the plate (he hit 16 homers at Class-A Peoria in 2002) and cut down on strikeouts (he struck out 123 times), Nelson may be a big-league reserve in 2006.
· Chris Duncan (1B) -- As the son of Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan, the Redbirds' big first baseman would be an easy target for a nepotism tag. But in the early days of 2005, Duncan looks to be a poor man's Jim Thome -- enormous both in frame (6'5", 210 pounds) and the size of his swing from the left side of the platter. He hit 16 home runs at both Class A (in 2002) and Double-A (2004) and has swung a solid bat in Memphis. With Albert Pujols entrenched at first for St. Louis, Duncan's value is as trade bait.
· Skip Schumaker (CF) -- The Redbirds have had their share of talented centerfielders, including Mark Little, So Taguchi, Jon Nunnally, and Chris Prieto. The 25-year-old Schumaker fits the mold. He was a Southern League All-Star last year, when he hit .316 with Tennessee, led the league in hits (163), stole 19 bases, and struck out only 61 times in 516 at-bats. With the Cardinals' outfield made up entirely of players age 34 and older, there may be no Memphis Redbird with more to gain this year than Schumaker. •