Handicapping the 2011 Cards NRIs: Veterans

Examining the chances of eight veteran combatants to make the St. Louis Cardinals roster in 2011, including 40-year-old pitcher Miguel Batista.

In part two of this series, we looked at the definition of a non-roster invitee (NRI) to major league spring training as well as the different types of NRIs. The article focused on prospects and extra catchers primarily invited to camp to gain experience and help out.

This time, we'll consider the potential March plight of each of the eight veteran NRIs invited to the St. Louis Cardinals major league camp, currently underway in Jupiter, Florida. This group generally has a slightly better chance than the kids to grab a coveted spot on the season-opening 25-man active roster.

These players are the veterans of past battles with this or other organizations. This time around, they had to settle for a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp, but received no guarantee they will remain. The intent is for these warriors to demonstrate to their new employer they still have what it takes and earn a spot on both the 40-man and 25-man rosters and the major league contract that goes with it.

Veteran NRIs (8)

Now, let's drill down on the eight veteran non-roster invitees in Cardinals major league camp. Four are pitchers, with just one throwing from the left side. One is a catcher, one is a middle infielder and the other two play in the outfield. Four of the eight have appeared in the majors with St. Louis.

As a refresher, here is the scale used to apply against my view of the chances of these players making the Cardinals' 25-man roster this spring:

"Out" = no reasonable chance
"Doubtful" = 25% or less chance
"Questionable" = 50% chance
"Probable" = 75% or better chance

As in the prospects part of this article, I am not assuming any players will suffer new injuries that would artificially create roster openings. With a roster like the Cardinals where most spots seem set coming in, job opportunities for NRIs will be tight. In most every case, if these players don't make the Cardinals, they should be slotted onto the Triple-A Memphis roster.

Pitching NRIs (4)

All four have considerable starting experience, however based on available spots, my view is that at most only two may be in Memphis' rotation once the season begins.

Miguel Batista, who turned 40 on Saturday, is a veteran of 13-plus seasons in the majors. Last season, he appeared in 58 games (one start) for the Washington Nationals and had a 3.70 ERA. He was one of just two Major League relievers with 55 or more appearances in 2010 who did not suffer a blown save. Batista may request his release if he does not make the major league club out of spring training and seems the most likely candidate to take over the long relief spot vacated by traded Blake Hawksworth.

Ian Snell, 29, split the 2010 season with Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma. He appeared in 12 games (eight starts) for the Mariners after making a dozen starts and winning five games for Seattle in 2009. Snell averaged 32 starts per season during a three-year (2006-08) period with the Pirates, winning a single-season best 14 games in 2006. He seems ticketed to begin the season in Memphis' rotation in hopes of regaining his career trajectory.

33-year-old left-hander Raul Valdes, pitched in 38 games for the Mets last season posting a 4.91 ERA and another nine contests for Triple-A Buffalo. This winter, the Cuban native was named the most valuable starting pitcher in the Caribbean Series, but seems destined to join veteran lefty Rich Rundles in the Memphis pen. To increase his slim chance of making St. Louis' roster, Valdes would need an injury to Trever Miller or an injury or ineffectiveness by newcomer Brian Tallet.

Adam Ottavino, still ranked number 32 on our top 40 prospect list, has to overcome shoulder troubles that kept him out of action during most of the second half of 2010. The 25-year-old's removal from the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft means that he has to especially impress to earn his spot back in camp. I expect Ottavino to return to Memphis' rotation for a second season, though there is a chance he could be shifted to relief.

Batista has even been labeled the early front runner for the open bullpen spot by manager Tony La Russa, but has yet to throw a pitch in a game. None of these hurlers should be ruled out, especially if an injury sidelines one of the primary bullpen candidates.

Pitchers   25-Man   Possible destination
Miguel Batista Questionable St. Louis/release
Ian Snell Doubtful Memphis (AAA)
Raul Valdes Doubtful Memphis (AAA)
Adam Ottavino Doubtful Memphis (AAA)

Position Player NRIs (4)

It is perhaps unfair to call Steven Hill a veteran. After all, the catcher who turns 26 next month has just appeared in one major league game. In terms of his spring chances, it doesn't really matter as I believe he is fifth on the major league depth chart behind the plate so he should be prepared for a full season in Memphis.

Veteran infielder Ramon Vazquez is most likely destined to play the Junior Spivey memorial role with the Triple-A Redbirds that Ruben Gotay handled in 2010. Nick Punto and Tyler Greene seem to be in the lead for infield bench spots, but Ramon could sneak into the picture if Greene stumbles and Daniel Descalso is viewed to need more seasoning.

Shane Robinson lost most of 2010 due to a shoulder injury and would need a lot of things to go his way to regain his 40-man roster spot anytime soon. The right-handed hitter is now 26 years of age and probably needs to play regularly in Memphis, but may be lapped soon by Adron Chambers, added to the 40-man after Robinson, Nick Stavinoha and Daryl Jones were removed.

Stavinoha made the Cardinals opening day roster in 2010 and had some success as a pinch-hitter. A shoulder injury limited his throwing later in the year and he was removed from the 40-man roster following the season. Always a good hitter in Triple-A, the 28-year-old may have been supplanted by Allen Craig in the right-handed power-hitting outfielder category.

Of course, it wouldn't be right to end this article without noting one other veteran slated to come to camp, popular ex-Cardinal Jim Edmonds. Due to a lingering Achilles tendon injury, he was unable to answer the bell and retired at age 40.

Position Players   25-Man   Possible destination
Steven Hill Out  Memphis (AAA)
Ramon Vazquez Doubtful  Memphis (AAA)
Shane Robinson Out  Memphis (AAA)
Nick Stavinoha  Doubtful  Memphis (AAA)

In Summary

Coming into camp, Batista would seem to have the lead among all non-roster invitees in seizing a 25-man and 40-man roster spot. All of the rest of the veteran NRIs with the possible exception of perhaps Hill and Robinson could realistically make the team, but would need both a strong spring and help from others.

In part four of this series, we will look at the current construction of the St. Louis Cardinals' 40-man roster and assess which players might be most at-risk of losing that designation.

Earlier related articles:
"Cardinals Veteran NRI Spring History: 2005-10"
"Handicapping the 2011 Cards NRIs: Veterans"

Discuss this story and others regarding the Cardinals system on our subscriber-only message board.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2011 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories