Linebrink continues Cardinals NRI tradition

Looking back at those who tried and the handful that were successful making the St. Louis Cardinals opening day roster as non-roster invitees.

Though 21 players were invited to the St. Louis Cardinals major league spring training camp this February as non-roster invitees, or NRIs, only one survived and made the opening day roster. That is veteran reliever Scott Linebrink.

One might be tempted to put an asterisk next to the name of the 35-year-old, however. After not appearing in the opening day game in Miami, Linebrink was immediately placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 5, retroactive to March 30, due to right shoulder capsulitis. He remains out to this day.

Linebrink continues a long Cardinals tradition of veteran players on the outside working their way inside, sort of like professional baseball's version of the walk-on making his team in collegiate sports. Looking back to 2005, the story hasn't always ended positively for the well-traveled NRIs added to the club's 40-man and 25-man rosters, however.

2012: Along with Linebrink, other veteran NRIs in camp were infielder Alex Cora, infielder/outfielder Eugenio Velez and catcher Koyie Hill.

How and why the switch-hitting Velez survived until the last cuts is beyond me. The 29-year-old batted .143 (3-for-21) with all three hits singles. He added a walk, boosting his OBP to .182 before being reassigned to Memphis where he will play the Junior Spivey memorial veteran infielder role.

Former Cubs backstop Hill, 33, came in third in the backup catching derby, losing out to both Tony Cruz and Bryan Anderson. After logging a spring batting average of .188 (3-for-16), Hill was released on March 25. That same day, the 36-year-old Cora was given his walking papers. The switch-hitter played all four infield positions in camp, but batted just .208 (5-for-24).

2011: Miguel Batista (right) joined the Cardinals as an NRI and pitched his way onto the team with a 1.59 spring ERA. The right-hander and his 4.60 ERA survived until June 23, when his release opened the door for Lance Lynn to remain for good. Batista landed with the Mets after leaving St. Louis. This spring, as an NRI, he again made that club.

Other veteran NRIs in 2011 camp were left-handed pitcher Raul Valdes, right-hander Ian Snell and second baseman Ramon Vazquez. Snell retired during March, only to attempt several failed comebacks with different clubs since. Vazquez opted out of his contract in June after he seemed destined to remain in Memphis. Valdes did make it onto the major league roster during the summer, but didn't last the season.

2010: For only the second time in this eight-year period, not a single veteran NRI made the Cardinals out of spring training.

Left-handed pitcher Rich Hill lasted the longest in camp, but did not pitch well enough to make the team. That was especially understandable since he was competing against Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan. An ineffective Hill was moved to relief with Memphis before his June release.

The chances of former major league infielder Ruben Gotay making St. Louis' roster effectively ended when veteran infielder Felipe Lopez was signed at the end of February. The 27-year-old Gotay wasn't cheated out of a job as he batted just .200 on the spring. He spent the entire season in Memphis despite an on-base percentage of .410.

2009: Rookies David Freese and Colby Rasmus made the team as NRIs, but they don't fit in this story as neither had previous major league experience. The veteran NRI streak was kept alive by second baseman Joe Thurston, however.

Then entering his 11th professional season, Thurston (pictured) had scratched out 59 major league games and a .227 average prior to signing with St. Louis. The Cardinals gave him a full year of MLB service time. That included 307 plate appearances to which Thurston responded with a very consistent .225 average. Thurston was outrighted after the season and continues to bounce around the fringes of the majors.

2008: Former two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez (see photo) attempted a comeback bid that was the story of the spring. However it essentially ended before it began when Juan Gone could only answer the bell to play in the field for one day all spring.

Like many left-handed relievers, Ron Villone seemed to have nine lives. Coming into camp as an NRI, the then-38-year-old made the club when Tyler Johnson couldn't pitch due to injury. Villone stuck around all season despite a 4.68 ERA, but like most, was gone after that one year.

The big spring underdog story was 12-year minor league veteran Rico Washington making the team despite tremendous odds. With Scott Spiezio released due to off-field issues and Brendan Ryan out with a ribcage injury, the infielder enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame.

2007: No veteran NRIs made the team. Coming into camp, catcher/outfielder Eli Marrero and infielder Jolbert Cabrera were the most recognizable names. Most of the NRI pitchers were youngsters trying to impress for the future.

2006: Among the veteran NRIs that seemed to have the best chance coming into camp were relief pitchers Jeff Nelson and Josh Hancock and infielders Scott Spiezio (pictured) and Brian Daubach. All had past success elsewhere.

In a bit of a surprise, Nelson was cut at the end of camp despite having pitched well. Daubach didn't have much left in the tank though he reported to Memphis for 67 games before being injured and eventually calling it a career.

As Cardinals fans probably recall, both Hancock and the switch-hitting, multi-positional Spiezio made the major league club out of spring training. They became important contributors to the eventual 2006 World Champions before beset by personal tragedies.

2005: As Rick Ankiel had made his decision to stop pitching and headed back to the minors to learn how to become an outfielder, another lefty came from nowhere to make the Cardinals out of spring training.

Bill Pulsipher (pictured), who along with Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson made up the over-hyped Mets "Generation K" in the 1990s, had what would be his last fling as a Major Leaguer. The well-traveled (ten MLB organizations prior to StL) Pulsipher was quickly injured, appearing in just five regular-season games before returning to Memphis and eventually baseball oblivion.

The other 2005 NRI to make the club was a generally anonymous utility infielder who had been discarded by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Abraham Nunez. His primary assets were his defensive versatility and the ability to switch hit. When Scott Rolen went down due to injury, Nunez ended up with 421 at-bats and delivered solid defense and career-bests in every offensive category.

Nunez translated his season into a nice, two-year deal with Philadelphia but promptly reverted to the pre-Cardinals Nunez and became a baseball vagabond. The Cardinals continue to benefit from his stay, however. With the compensation pick they received when Nunez departed, the organization selected first baseman Mark Hamilton in the 2006 draft.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his minor league features during the season at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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