Meet the NRIs: OF Justin Christian

Justin Christian was signed by the Cardinals to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training as a free agent. He spent last season with the San Francisco Giants. He has played parts of three seasons in the majors since 2008, including 32 games and 61 plate appearances last year for the Giants where he hit .125/.197/.143.

Born in Nebraska, Christian, 32, attended high school in San Mateo, California. He would spend two years at Skyline College and then Auburn University. He missed most of the 2002 season with a torn before transferring to Southeast Missouri State University where he was an All-American. He would go undrafted in the 2003 Major League Draft.

In his second season of independent ball for the River City Rascals, he hit .450 with 26 steals in 30 games. The New York Yankees signed him, having never scouted him in person. He played 2004 in the Gulf Coast and Penn League for the Yankees.

He made his major league debut for the Yankees on June 24, 2008, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI. After the 2008 season he was non-tendered by the Yankees and became a free agent. He would bounce to the independent leagues for the 2009 season before returning to the Yankees in 2010. In 2011 he joined the San Francisco Giants. He played parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the major league Giants while spending most of his time in Triple-A.

Christian hits right handed and plays all three outfield positions. For the Cardinals, that’s the golden ticket as their closest major league ready centerfielders all hit left handed or are named Shane Robinson. In reality he’s signed simply to be minor league depth to fill a hole there is no internal prospect to fill.

As a minor league hitter, Christian is a career .297/.363/.438 hitter through 10 minor league seasons. Last year for Triple-A Fresno, he put up a slash line of .343/.409/.508 over 72 games. He is expected to be starting in the outfield in Memphis next season. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him challenge Robinson for a bench role as the backup center fielder.