Taken in the third round of the 2010 draft from a California high school, the right-handed hitter was moved from shortstop in 2010 to third base last season. He hasn't hit enough for either position though, with a career line of .220/.332/.306. All but that one Appalachian League contest were logged in two seasons with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
Earlier this spring, another early-round draftee, Robert Stock, made a similar move. The Cards' second-round selection in the 2009 draft shifted from catching to pitching. Stock is currently working out of the Quad Cities bullpen.
The farm director speaks
As Cardinals farm director John Vuch explains, the move was made both to increase Tuivailala's success as well as in recognition that the organization has drafted some new talent at third base.
"This is a decision that we had discussed among the coaching staff toward the end of Extended Spring Training," Vuch said. "The timetable ended up getting accelerated a bit more aggressively due to the number of third basemen taken early in the draft, but the agreement in the room is that this was a result that was going to be inevitable.
"At that point, the choices were to wait to see if Sam would fail as a third baseman, or to do what we all felt was the right decision for his potential Major League future. The reality was that it may have taken several more years for Sam to truly fail at 3rd base if it was going to happen at all, and that if we felt that his brightest future was as a pitcher, we were ultimately losing valuable time that could be spent developing him as a pitcher," the farm director explained.
Vuch was in Johnson City this week for the Appalachian League season opener and to pass out 2011 championship rings. He also had a sit-down with Tuivailala before leaving Tennessee.
"We sat down with Sam on my last day in Johnson City to discuss it, and he was very excited about the prospects of pitching," Vuch noted. "Less than a half hour after our conversation, he did his conditioning with the pitchers, and ended up throwing his first bullpen roughly 90 minutes later. For not having pitched off a mound for a couple years, it was very impressive. He showed good velocity and a surprisingly good breaking pitch. We were optimistic based on how we saw him throw as a third baseman, and even more after seeing him on the mound."
The organization believes that Tuivailala has the arm to succeed in the Appy League and felt he had earned the right to undertake his transition there. When he is acclimated, he should join the Cardinals bullpen.
Speaking of the GCL Cards, two rehabbing Palm Beach players have shifted club houses in Jupiter, Florida as they work their way back into playing condition following injuries. Right-handed pitcher Zack Russell and outfielder Michael Swinson have been assigned to the GCL Cardinals.
Russell, a 22-year-old, yielded seven earned runs over his last five innings before going on the Florida State League club's disabled list on June 1. The right-hander has a 6.84 ERA on the season.
Swinson, 22, is coming off his third DL stint with Palm Beach this season alone due to a hamstring/quad injury. His most recent stay on the DL began on May 27. In 2012, the left-handed hitter is batting just 16-for-87 (.184).
Another new recruit
The Cardinals have signed their eighth non-drafted free agent this month and seventh pitcher in 19-year-old Juan Caballero. The 6-foot-4, 175 pound right-hander hails from the same school as 38th-round draft pick Javier Machuca – Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico - and joins him on the GCL Cardinals roster.
And one leaves
Pitcher Chris Costantino, a season-opening member of the GCL Cardinals, has been released by the organization before appearing in 2012 game action. The 20-year-old right-handed pitcher was the Cardinals' 43rd round draft pick last year. Costantino appeared in just three games for Johnson City in 2011 and was slowed by shoulder soreness this year.
The Cardinals' initial first-round draft pick, taken 19th overall earlier this month, pitcher Michael Wacha, is on the GCL roster. However, the professional debut of the former Texas A&M star is still to be determined. The Cardinals are taking it slowly after Wacha's long collegiate season.
The organization has re-assigned infielder Leandro Mateo from Johnson City to the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League. The 22-year-old, signed as a free agent one year ago, is a switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic. Last season, Mateo played for the GCL Cardinals, for whom his line was .220/.345/.286.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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