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.

 

Column: Who takes Alex Reyes’ bullpen spot?

It might be the question that’s not been asked this spring by almost anyone. The focus has been on Michael Wacha whose hold on the fifth starter spot is now virtually unchallenged, but Alex Reyes was always most likely headed to the bullpen if he ended up in St. Louis this season. So instead of talking about Wacha, maybe we should be asking who is in line to take Reyes’ spot in the bullpen. Or at least an easier path to do so.

There are typically seven spots in the bullpen, two for lefties and five for righties. But with Brett Cecil and Kevin Siegrist expected to play heavy roles regardless of the handedness of the batters their facing, that rule of thumb is probably out the window when it comes to bullpen composition.

Cecil and Siegrist, along with Seung-hwan Oh, Trevor Rosenthal, Jonathan Broxton, and Matthew Bowman are likely secure in their positions on the Cardinals’ roster entering 2017. That leaves one opening that, until pitchers reported a couple weeks ago and Reyes reported elbow troubles, likely had Alex Reyes’ named penciled into it.

There are likely four pitchers now who have their hats in the ring for the final spot in the bullpen.

Tyler Lyons. Tyler Lyons is the first player on my list. Lyons is returning from a knee injury and may not be ready on Opening Day, which complicates matters. But I’ve been a big believer in Lyons’ ability as a reliever, thinking he can be a reliever near to the level of an Andrew Miller. Over the past four years for the Cardinals, Lyons has worked 90 innings out of the bullpen with a 2.69 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP.

However you want to cut his stats, a WHIP around or less than 1.00 is pretty dominant in baseball today. Lyons’ 1.02 WHIP last season was 30th among 196 Major League relievers who threw 30+ innings last season. And second on the Cardinals only to Oh.

But he still needs to prove his health and is still not yet cleared to play in games.

Miguel Socolovich. Miguel Socolovich is the second player on my list, mainly due to the path of least resistance. Socolovich has no options remaining and will either need to make the club or pass through waivers. Socolovich has been nothing but effective when he’s been with the big league club over the past two seasons, posting a 1.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 48 innings of work for the Cardinals.

He has carried that dominance into this spring, throwing 6 innings so far this spring with a 0.33 WHIP, including a 1-2-3 inning where the ball never left the infield in the only spring training game I watched. He’s been getting work closing out games and has been dominant in that role. He allowed a hit to the third batter he faced this spring and has faced his next 15 batters without allowing anyone on base.

The fact that Socolovich has pitched as well as he has and hasn’t been able to elbow his way into more important innings doesn’t bode well for him. Especially as he was the Cardinals’ best reliever last September.

Sam Tuivailala. The third option is Sam Tuivailala. Tuivailala has been a reliever all of his minor league career and the last few seasons has been groomed to close. However, he’s also struggled to find his way in the Majors and last season was by and large a disaster at every level. He has a 5.47 ERA and 1.87 WHIP over 25 career MLB innings.

This spring started well, but turned disastrous over the weekend as he was pounded for four runs over 2/3rds of an inning of work on Sunday. A spotless ERA jumped to 6.35 and his WHIP this spring went to 1.59 over 5.2 innings this spring.

The former third round pick does still have an option, which makes it easy for the organization to send him back to Memphis for a third season. But this season is the last best opportunity for Tuivailala to settle in and put his name on the list of potential 2018 bullpen members. And that list is already stacked.

John Gant. John Gant may be another guy who can put his name in the mix as well. Gant was acquired from the Braves in the Jaime Garcia trade and brought along his spot on the 40 man roster. Gant pitched 50 innings for the Braves last season, posting a 4.86 ERA on a 1.50 WHIP. He also threw 56 innings for the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate last year, posting a 4.18 ERA on a 1.43 WHIP. He was versatile for the Braves, starting 17 games and making 15 relief appearances.

He has had a good spring, posting a 1.13 ERA and 0.38 WHIP over 8 innings of work. His latest appearance came on Saturday against his former team where he started the game and threw three perfect innings with three strikeouts.

Gant would have a leg up if his three closest competitors for this role didn’t already have spots on the 40 man roster. I expect that he’ll begin the season with Memphis in their rotation, but if he pitches well, could be the first guy in line if and when one of the big league starters goes down.

Jordan Schafer. A fifth guy on this list was supposed to be Jordan Schafer. However, given this week’s news that he will be undergoing either Tommy John surgery or UCL reconstruction, the Jordan Schafer experiment seems to have come to an end, at least for this year.

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.

Column: Who stands to gain from regulars playing in the World Baseball Classic?

The World Baseball Classic kicked off on Monday morning and Seung-hwan Oh‘s Team Korea took on Team Israel. The Cardinals have five players who are expected to be on their Opening Day 25 man roster who are taking part in the series. Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Matt Carpenter (USA), Carlos Martinez (Dominican Republic), Brett Cecil (USA), and the aforementioned Oh (Korea) will be taking part, though Carpenter’s recent injury will likely keep him out and bring him back to the Cardinals.

While much of the focus is on those guys being out of camp, it does provide an opportunity for the players left behind to put themselves on the map with extra playing time. So as part of our Preseason UCB Roundtable, I posed the question to see who the bloggers throught was in the best position to take advantage of that extra playing time, whether that is to seal the deal on a role with the big league club or move themselves up the organizational depth chart or put themselves in line for a mid-season promotion.

Carson Kelly. It was a pretty unanimous view that Carson Kelly will benefit the most from Molina being out of camp and playing with Team Puerto Rico. He likely won’t be earning a spot on the big league roster this season, but Molina’s absence, along with that of Alberto Rosario (playing for the Dominican Republic), gives Kelly and Eric Fryer an opportunity to play more often and, for both, become more familiar with the big league pitchers.

“I’d say Carson Kelley, not to try to earn a spot, but just to give confidence that if Molina goes down this season, he can step up and take over the everyday job,” said CardsConclave‘s Daniel Shoptaw. “It’s also a situation where he can strengthen the Cardinals’ position in their discussions with Molina over an extension.”

Kelly is the catalyst of one of the Cardinals’ most difficult decisions in a long time: whether to extend Yadier Molina. A good spring followed up with another good year in Memphis would go along way towards fueling speculation around what the Cardinals intend to do as the year goes forward.

Matt Adams & Jose Martinez. The next most common answer was Matt Adams and Jose Martinez. With Carpenter’s injury, he has withdrawn from the WBC, but he is expected to not play this coming week and will likely take it slow getting back into game action. That still creates an opportunity.

Martinez has played a team high 34 innings at first base this spring, but is most likely battling for the fourth outfield spot with Tommy Pham. Martinez, the 2015 PCL Batting Champ while playing in the Royals’ farm system, is swinging the bat really well. He hit .438 in 12 games after being called up last September and picked up where he left off this spring, going 7-for-18 with 3 home runs over 8 games. There’s a lot of baseball yet to play this March, but he has certainly put the team on notice that he intends to go to St. Louis to open up the season.

Adams on the other hand is in an opposite situation. While still likely a lock for the big league roster thanks to his contract (though worth noting the Cardinals could cut him up to 15 days before the season starts and only pay him the minimum as the Mets did last year with Ruben Tejada), he is coming to camp with a much leaner body and a retooled swing. He started slow, and is just 2-for-17 with a home run this spring. But he will stand to get more playing time as well. And for Adams and his ability to establish a role on this club, getting game at bats with his new swing is important.

The bullpen. Behind Kelly there wasn’t much consensus, but there was a common theme when it came to the pitchers. With Cecil and Oh not in camp there are a number of guys who will likely get those looks, from Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich to Ryan Sherriff and Jordan Schafer.

I’ll be writing about it later, but that battle for the final bullpen spot is going to be interesting to watch as we start getting to the end of camp. Guys like Tuivailala, Socolovich, and Shafer stand to figure into that battle in some fashion.

“I think Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich should get more looks without Cecil and Oh, which will allow them to make a case for the last bullpen spot,” said Zach Gifford of Redbird Rants and Redbird Daily.

Martinez being out also gives Trevor Rosenthal the opportunity to keep starting and stretch into that multi-inning reliever they seem to want him to be.

“I don’t think he’ll crack the rotation, but it will definitely give him a chance to pitch multiple innings. It’s a role he’s well suited for, and it would be nice for the Cardinals to have someone besides Broxton to pitch the middle innings of close games,” said Redbird Daily‘s Colin Yarborough.

But beyond that, Adam Butler, also of Redbird Daily, thinks that proving himself this spring could help Rosenthal force his way into the discussion if and when a starter goes down. He says, “I don’t see him earning a rotation spot over Wacha. But if he can show that he can control his secondary pitches and they can be effective then he probably puts himself in a spot where he could step in if one of their current five starters gets injured.”

What do you think?

Rumor check: Jose Quintana

Over the weekend there was another report on the White Sox’s efforts to trade left handed starting pitcher Jose Quintana. CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine indicated that the Astros, Cardinals, Pirates and Yankees were still very much involved in trade talks for the pitcher.

On the surface, it appears that the Cardinals would be a good landing spot for Quintana. The organization has prospects that it could send to the White Sox in exchange for him and they appear to have a need after Alex Reyes was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery. But that assumes that Reyes was a real candidate for the fifth starter spot, and as I wrote last week, I think that spot was Michael Wacha‘s all along.

That’s not to say that Quintana isn’t a pitcher worth acquiring.

Over the past four seasons, the 28 year old Quintana has been the model of consistency on the pitching mound. His ERA ranged from 3.51 in 2013 to 3.20 in 2016 and he has logged at least 200 innings in each of those four seasons. The most attractive part of him may be that he is owed just $38 million over the next four seasons.

He is a young pitcher in his prime, has proved himself as dependable, and has cost control for multiple. Everyone dreams of having a pitcher like this in their rotation. The White Sox know this.

The White Sox traded three years of Chris Sale for Yoan Moncada (Red Sox’s #2 prospect but was baseball’s midseason #1 prospect), Michael Kopech (Red Sox’s #3 prospect), Luis Alexander Basabe (Red Sox’s #8 prospect) and Victor Diaz (single-A pitcher who can hit triple digits with his fastball).

They also traded up to five years of Adam Eaton for Lucas Giolito (#3 prospect in baseball), Reynaldo Lopez (#38 prospect in baseball), and Dane Dunning (Washington’s #29 pick in 2016).

So four years of Jose Quintana would most likely require four well rated prospects, especially when you consider he has been as good or better than Sale the past two seasons. Both left handed, Sale is a year younger though Quintana is cheaper and comes with an additional year of control.

The Cardinals are in a tough spot.

While I do agree with some writers who believe that it may be easier for the Cardinals to work a trade now that Reyes is off the table because of his injury, I still feel that outside of Reyes, the Cardinals lack the high level prospects necessary to get such a deal done. Mozeliak spoke over the winter that it became clear that a trade would require a quantity of prospects in their lack of quality, and the White Sox are noted in Levine’s piece to be looking for quality over quantity.

If you were going to dig deep for a trade, Quintana seems like as safe an addition as you can make. I personally believe the Cardinals are committed to their current rotation for now and I don’t see the organization making any substantial trades this year.

However, I could see a scenario where Mozeliak talks himself into acquiring a proven contributor like Quintana who he has for multiple seasons of control. Especially in an environment where the minor league contributions at the Major League level over those years seems like it could be suspect.

I don’t see any move for him now, but as we get into late June, if Michael Wacha is not putting together the season the organization is hoping to receive from him, that may be revisited.

 

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.