Ex-Cards minor leaguers join Atlantic League

Checking on the whereabouts of the St. Louis Cardinals' seven minor league free agents from 2011.

Hey, where'd they go, anyway?

If you are saying that about seven former St. Louis Cardinals farmhands who became minor league free agents last winter, you aren't alone. Three of them have signed 2012 deals with independent league clubs, one is in Japan and the other three remain in Triple-A, though for different organizations.

Only three of the seven were home-grown Cardinals, having spent their entire professional careers in the organization before departing. Three finished last season with Double-A Springfield, with the other four having been with Memphis.

2011 Redbirds infielder Freddie Bynum was apparently unable to secure a contract in affiliated ball this spring, instead signing with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League on March 21. His manager is former New York Yankees closer Sparky Lyle.

One of Bynum's teammates on the Cardinals Triple-A affiliate last season, well-traveled reliever Rich Rundles, has also moved to the league. The left-hander signed a 2012 contract with the Lancaster Barnstormers on March 22.

Earlier in March, 2011 Springfield reliever Jeff Bynum joined the Long Island Ducks, also of the Atlantic League. 2012 play in the independent league got underway on Thursday.

A number of other former Cardinals also have signed to play in the Atlantic League in 2012, including Randy Keisler, Les Walrond, Reid Gorecki, Bob Zimmermann and Shaun Garceau.

The journey of Nick Stavinoha since he won our 2011 Memphis Redbirds Player of the Year award has been most interesting. Since the Cardinals did not return the outfielder to their 40-man roster, their seventh-round pick in the 2005 draft became a minor league free agent.

In early November, "Stavi" then quickly came to terms with Houston on a minor league deal for 2012. A month later, the 29-year-old got out of his Astros contract, moving to the Hiroshima Carp in Japan for a $250,000 signing bonus and a salary of $400,000.

The Cardinals' other three minor league free agents from 2011 ended this spring in affiliated ball in the US as follows.

Donovan Solano, Triple-A New Orleans (Miami). Originally signed by the Cardinals the longest ago of any of this group, Solano became a Cardinal in January 2005. He was a 17-year-old middle infielder from Colombia. Never playing overseas for St. Louis, the right-handed hitter moved his way up the system, first reaching Memphis in 2008.

Solano almost made the Marlins roster after a scorching spring training camp, but ultimately was returned to Triple-A.

Eric Duncan, Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City). The former Yankees' first-rounder was signed by the Cardinals last April to help fill a variety of infield roles for Double-A Springfield. Now 27, the left-handed batter hit 22 home runs and drove in 62 with a line of .274/.322/.527 in 351 Texas League at-bats in his only season with the organization.

Daryl Jones, Triple-A Louisville (Cincinnati). Reunited with former Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, who was running the Cards when Jones was the organization's third-round pick in 2005. The outfielder's career plateaued after he earned the system's Player of the Year Award in 2008.

Once on the 40-man roster, Jones was removed like Stavinoha and passed through the 2010 Rule 5 Draft unclaimed. Jones actually finished 2011 back in Springfield, a level at which he first played in 2008.

A change of scenery certainly couldn't hurt Jones, or any of these now ex-Cardinals.

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

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