Kelly among cuts as Cardinals further trim spring roster

The Cardinals announced today that they have optioned catcher Carson Kelly and pitcher Mike Mayers to minor league camp, as well as assigned infielder Patrick Wisdom and outfielder Adolis Garcia. The moves leave 37 players remaining in major league camp including 9 non-roster invitees.

Kelly, 22, is at the center of everyone’s attention these days as the organization nears a potential extension with Yadier Molina. Kelly, the #1 catching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is considered to be Molina’s eventual replacement with his path to the Majors being complicated by such an extension.

Kelly hit .286/.387/.455 between Springfield and Memphis last season and was 2-for-13 in a brief appearance in St. Louis last September.

With Molina playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, Kelly got an opportunity to see more time working with the big league club in spring training. Unfortunately, he struggled at the plate, hitting just .182/.300/.182 over 16 games. He will be the everyday starter in Memphis as he waits for an opportunity behind Molina.

Mayers, 24, got his first opportunity in St. Louis last season as he was called up to make a start for the Cardinals. But over one start and four relief appearances, Mayers was hammered, allowing 16 earned runs over just 5 innings. Otherwise, he pitched well in the minors, posting a 3.19 ERA over 25 starts and 144 innings between Memphis and Springfield.

It was going to be difficult for Mayers to do any worse that he had last season with the big league club, but he rebounded nicely. Over 11 innings of work in 7 apperances, Mayers had a 1.64 ERA on a 1.00 WHIP. He is likely headed for what is shaping up to be a stacked rotation in Memphis.

Wisdom, 25, hit .233/.303/.374 with 5 home runs last season with Memphis in a disappointing season. He had hit 43 home runs over the previous three seasons. He hit .300/.405/.667 with 3 home runs this spring with the big league club. It was an impressive start to a player who should be knocking on the door and is about to get some pressure from behind in the organization. He heads into 2017 as Memphis’ third baseman.

Garcia, 24, was just signed by the Cardinals and has only been in camp and eligible to play in Grapefruit League games for a little over a week now. He went 2-for-13 with a walk and three stolen bases in his brief time with the big league club. He is expected to begin the season in the Memphis outfield.

Pham optioned out, likely settles roster battles

The Cardinals announced this morning that they have optioned outfielder Tommy Pham to Memphis. The move leaves them with 41 players in major league camp and likely ends the battle for the final bench spot on their Opening Day roster.

Pham, 29, hit .250/.359/.403 with 4 home runs last season in 37 games between Springfield and Memphis. He also spent most of the season in the big leagues, hitting .226/.324/.440 with 9 home runs in 78 games. He ended the season with a 39% strikeout rate which kept him from seeing the field down the stretch.

He has put together some very good stretches in the big leagues, hitting .303/.379/.532 with 4 home runs and 5 triples over the final month and a half of the 2015 season and hitting .244/.353/.479 with 7 home runs in July and August last year. Leaving some clamoring each time for a larger role on the club.

But has also struggled, as evidenced by a 40.5% strikeout rate in the second half last year. He finished out 2016 going 3-for-18 in September with 10 strikeouts.

Pham admitted this spring that he had had some vision issues last season, which would help explain the strikeouts, perhaps related to his keratoconus diagnosis, but those are corrected now.

Regardless, Pham struggled to find traction this spring, hitting .209/.320/.379 over 21 games. His option to Memphis means he will join a talented and crowded Memphis outfield picture that is expected to include top prospects Harrison Bader and Adolis Garcia.

At 29 and injuries getting in the way each time he has an opportunity to stick in the Majors, his time with the Cardinals is seemingly approaching it’s end.

The move leaves Jose Martinez as unchallenged for the final bench spot now. He has told media that he will be on the big league roster to open up the season. Martinez hit .367 this spring while playing both outfield and first base. He will likely join Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams, Greg Garcia, and Eric Fryer as bench players on the team’s Opening Day 25 man roster.

Cardinals option Tuivailala

The Cardinals announced today that they have optioned right handed pitcher Sam Tuivailala to Memphis. With 10 days until Opening Day, the move reduces the number of players in Major League camp to 42, including 11 non-roster invitees.

Tuivailala, 24, is one of the pitchers I identified in my most recent column as a contender for the final spot in the bullpen. The decision on him appears to be made, however.

Outside of one appearance, Tuivailala had a solid spring for the Cardinals. On March 12th against Miami, Tuivailala pitched 0.2 innings and allowed 4 runs on 2 hits, 2 walks, and a hit batter. He made five other appearances for the big league club this spring, pitching 6 scoreless innings with a 1.00 WHIP.

But on the bright side, he did strikeout 12 batters over those 6.2 innings of work. The only pitcher in camp with more is Michael Wacha with 15, who has also pitched 10 more innings.

That leaves Tuivailala in Memphis to start the season where he struggled last year with a 5.21 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 47 innings of work. He’s broken his curveball back out in and effort to add more weapons to his arsenal, but Tuivailala will be out of options next spring, so this is the year for him to show the Cardinals he deserves a spot in the 2018 bullpen.

With Tuivailala being optioned out and Tyler Lyons not likely to be ready for Opening Day, it looks like the final bullpen spot will likely go to Miguel Socolovich.

Cardinals send three more to minor league camp

The Cardinals continued paring down the roster, this time optioning infielder Breyvic Valera to Memphis and assigning catcher Gabriel Lino and outfielder Todd Cunningham to minor league camp following the Cardinals’ 12-6 victory against the Astros. The moves leave the Cardinals with 44 players in major league camp, including those playing the World Baseball Classic.

Valera, 25, had a solid season last year, hitting .304/.363/.362 between Springfield and Memphis. He has gained a reputation for being a good fielder wherever you put him, which has been reflected in the fact that over his 7 seasons in the Cardinals’ organization he’s played multiple games at every position on the field, except pitcher or catcher. His minor league statistics are an oddity, in that, he has hit well at every level except Double-A in the hitter friendly Texas League. But they still protected him from the Rule 5 Draft in November by adding him to the 40 man roster.

He continued that steady production this spring, hitting .304 with a walk and a triple in 15 games. He will likely start the 2017 season with Memphis.

Lino, 23, reached as high as Triple-A for the Phillies in 2015, but was shuffled back to High-A last season as he was passed by other prospects. He hit .236/.312/.357 with 5 home runs over 58 games between Clearwater and Reading. The Cardinals signed him to a minor league deal over the winter.

He appeared in five games for the big league club this spring, going 2-for-7 with an RBI and a walk. Added primarily as organizational depth, Lino could start the season at almost any level, as high as Carson Kelly‘s backup in Memphis or further down the chart.

Cunningham, 28, was signed to a minor league deal. He spent last season with the Angels, hitting .278/.378/.387 with 6 home runs for their Triple-A club and then .148/.179/.259 in a 20 game cup of coffee with the big league club. He’s spent time in three of the past four seasons with a big league club, batting .207 over those 67 games.

He appeared in 16 games for the Cardinals this spring, sporting the rare .182/.333/.227 batting line where his OBP is higher than his slugging. Given his age and experience, he is likely headed to Memphis this year.

 

Four more players trimmed from major league camp

The Cardinals optioned pitcher Rowan Wick and outfielder Anthony Garcia to minor league camp and assigned pitchers Josh Lucas and Zach Phillips there as well. That leaves 47 players in major league camp, including those playing the World Baseball Classic.

Wick, 24, is entering his second season since transitioning from position player to pitcher. He posted a 2.44 ERA over 44 innings between Palm Beach and Springfield last season. Over the winter he was added to the Cardinals’ 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but also means we could see him at some point on the big league roster.

This spring he made three appearances for the big league club, allowed 4 runs on four walks and one hit in just over 2 innings of work.

Garcia, 25, was an 18th round pick by the Cardinals in the 2009 draft and was added after a stellar 2015 years ago to the organization’s 40 man roster. But he struggled last season, hitting .238/.308/.388 between Springfield and Memphis.

With the depth at outfielder in the organization between the three big league starters, Harrison Bader, and Magneuris Sierra, Garcia may be the most vulnerable member of the 40 man roster. He hit .250 this spring with 2 home runs while appearing in 16 games for the big league club.

Lucas, 26, is a right handed pitcher drafted in the 21st round of the 2010 draft by the Cardinals. He posted a 3.25 ERA over 53 innings of work for Springfield last season. He also had some cups of coffee with Memphis where he struggled with a 9.39 ERA over 8 innings of work.

He took advantage of his opportunity this spring, throwing 5 scoreless innings of work, allowing 2 hits and a walk with 3 strikeouts.

Phillips, 30, is a left handed pitcher. He made 8 relief appearances for the Pirates last season, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 7 innings of work. Over 62 innings in Triple-A between the Pirates and the Orioles organizations, he had a 4.35 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.

He had some mixed results this spring, posting a 5.06 ERA and 1.69 WHIP over his 5 innings of work in 6 appearances.

Weaver and Harris optioned to minors

The Cardinals continued trimming their roster today, announcing that pitchers Luke Weaver and Mitch Harris have been optioned to minor league camp. That reduces the number of players in major league camp to 51.

Luke Weaver, 23, dominated the minors last season, posting a 1.30 ERA over 13 starts between Double-A Spingfield and Triple-A Memphis. However, he struggled to find traction in the Majors when called up to step into the Cardinals’ rotation last summer, posting a 5.70 ERA over 8 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 36 innings.

He was likely always going to be ticketed to open the season in Memphis and was more or less jockeying for a position on the depth chart for a midseason callup. But he will need to continue to work, as this spring he struggled in his 4 appearances for the big league club, posting a 12.60 ERA on a 3.00 WHIP in 5 innings.

Mitch Harris, 31, did not pitch last season for the Cardinals after undergoing UCL reconstruction surgery. In 2015, he had a 3.67 ERA on a 1.59 WHIP over 27 innings in St. Louis and a 3.38 ERA on a 1.50 WHIP over 27 innings in Memphis.

Harris made just two appearances for the big league club this year, posting a 9.00 ERA and 3.00 WHIP over 2 innings of work. He will likely start the season in Memphis again and be on the list for a midseason callup in the need of relief help.

Cardinals option Sierra as minor league games begin

Cardinals outfield prospect Magneuris Sierra was optioned to Single-A Palm Beach today as minor league spring training games begin. The move trims the Cardinals Major League spring training roster to 54 players, including those playing in the WBC. With about two weeks until Opening Day and minor league games starting, roster moves should pick up shortly.

The 20-year-old Sierra entered this spring as a player to watch. After struggling in 2015, he rebounded in 2016, hitting .307/.355/.395 for Single-A Peoria. MLB.com responded by putting him #7 on the Cardinals’ Top-30 prospects list. More importantly, the Cardinals responded by putting him on the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Most consider Sierra ready to play in the Majors from a defensive point of view. The speedy outfielder is capable of manning all three positions. But the bat still needs work.

The question for the organization is where Sierra will start. He was optioned to the Palm Beach roster, but that can change. With Harrison Bader (MLB.com’s #5 Cardinals prospect) and new signee Adolis Garcia expected to start the season with Memphis, there would seem to be an opportunity in Springfield and the Cardinals have had players skip Palm Beach before. However, being just 20 years old, Sierra has time on his side still when it comes to moving through the system. And the organization, with Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in the Majors for the foreseeable future as well as Bader and Garcia ahead of him, aren’t under pressure to produce him to the Majors.

But one thing is clear, the Cardinals love his skill set.

He, along with fellow outfield prospect Bader, have really been given an opportunity to play a lot early this spring with the big league club and have responded. It creates some interesting scenarios for the team going forward as to figuring out how Sierra, and really even Bader, fits on the big league team.

 

Schafer’s two way experiment hits a snag

The Cardinals announced today that left handed pitcher/outfielder Jordan Schafer will have surgery on his throwing elbow on Friday. He had an MRI of his left elbow yesterday and after consulting with doctors and the team, has elected for strategy.

Schafer, 30, had been hoping to make the Cardinals roster as both a reliever and outfielder. He has played 463 MLB games as an outfielder, batting .228/.308/.307 in his career, but pulled the reverse Ankiel before last year and starting pitching. He posted a 3.38 ERA last season over 49 innings of work between three levels in the Dodgers’ organization.

He was 0-for-3 at the plate while playing 3 innings in center field this spring. On the mound, he had equally struggled over his 3.2 innings of work in 5 appearances with a 2.73 WHIP while allowing 4 earned runs.

The Cardinals were intrigued at the possibility of using Schafer as a reserve outfielder and a left handed specialist and brought him to camp as a non-roster invitee with a midseason opt out. Now he may not even be back on a mound by the time that opt out comes to bear.

They are undecided whether he will need to undergo a full Tommy John surgery or whether he could have reconstruction like Seth Maness and Mitch Harris had last season that would have a quicker recovery time. Either way, his 2017 season is over. Dr. Paletta will determine that after taking a look inside his elbow on Friday.

Gonzales leads first round of cuts

The Cardinals began trimming their spring training roster today, assigning 11 players to minor league camp. The cuts leave 55 players in the team’s major league spring training camp plus those who are playing in the World Baseball Classic.

Left handed pitcher Marco Gonzales and infielders Eliezer Alvarez and Edmundo Sosa were optioned to the minors, with Gonzales headed to Triple-A Memphis while Alvarez and Sosa were sent to Single-A Plam Beach. Their Major League roster now stands at 37 players and will need to be trimmed further to 25 by Opening Day.

Gonzales is still completing rehab from Tommy John last April and had not appeared in a big league spring training game and may not appear in game action until May at the earliest. Alvarez went 2-for-13 this spring while Sosa went 1-for-7 with 2 walks.

Other players assigned to minor league camp were pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon, and Robby Rowland as well as catchers Andrew Knizner, Jeremy Martinez, and Dennis Ortega.

Alcantara and Gomber got the most playing time of this group so far. Alcantara made 5 appearances, pitching 8 innings with a 1.80 WHIP and allowing 4 earned runs. Gomber made 4 appearances, pitching 8.1 innings with a 1.20 WHIP and also allowed 4 earned runs.

Cardinals sign Cuban outfielder Jose Adolis Garcia

The Cardinals announced tonight that they have signed Cuban outfielder Jose Adolis Garcia to a minor league deal with a $2.5 million signing bonus. Garcia, who turns 24 next week, will also get an invitation to Major League camp to work with the big league staff. He will join the team in camp immediately and will be assigned the #75.

In the 2015-16 season, Garcia played for his hometown Tigres de Ciego de Avila in Cuba’s National Series and hit .315/.395/.517 with 14 home runs while inning MVP honors and leading his team to the championship. He briefly played for the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, but from what I can tell went 0-for-7 over 4 games. He also has some international experience, including hitting three home runs as well as a walk off winner in the bronze medal game of the 2015 Pan Am Games.

The general opinion seems to be that there is still work to be done for Garcia before he’s ready to see the Major Leagues. But signing him and bringing him to big league camp indicates how highly the organization thinks of him.

He is a toolsy player who brings speed and a good throwing arm to the outfield which has him considered capable of playing all three outfield positions. Before that MVP winning season for Ciego de Avila, Garcia was considered the #20 Cuban prospect by Baseball America.

Garcia does not count as an international signing because he was granted free agency by Major League Baseball last September, given his age and his experience.

His older brother, Adonis Garcia, currently plays for the Atlanta Braves.