Cards filling short-term needs differently

Temporary minor league replacements are often being brought in from much lower levels in the St. Louis Cardinals system this season.

This season, we have seen a new approach to address an ongoing challenge in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system. There has been a definite change in the coverage process when players are out due to injury for a short period of time. (Note: The basic minor league disabled list is just seven days.)

In the past, the organization might affect teams at several levels of play downward based on just one injury as players are shifted up in domino fashion to cover for the disabled player and each other. In addition, starting lineups and even results at each of those levels can be disrupted as often, a club's most deserving player was the one selected to move up.

Instead, here in 2012, we are seeing utility players at a much lower level being elevated for the brief period during which a replacement is needed. The same type of thing is happening on the pitching side, where a promising middle reliever might be promoted up several levels on a short-term basis.

Among those who had a recent whirlwind tour was 14th-round draft pick Anthony Melchionda. After just a dozen games with short-season Batavia, the 22-year-old was asked to pack his bags. Before he arrived at his intended new destination, more pressing problems elsewhere caused the shortstop to be rerouted. Quad Cities had lost two all-star infielders, Colin Walsh and Luis Mateo, at the same time.

"The original plan was (for me) to go to Springfield, but I was first sent to Quad Cities instead," Melchionda said. "I went up there with Brett Wiley (another 2012-drafted infielder promoted temporarily from the Gulf Coast League)."

The right-handed batter logged a very important career milestone in his brief time with Quad Cities. "I hit my first professional home run there," Melchionda exclaimed. "It was awesome."

Instead of returning to Batavia from Davenport, Melchionda was re-routed to join Springfield, which was on a road trip through Texas at the time. More air miles for Anthony ensued.

"My travels were then from Chicago to Frisco and Midland," he noted.

Though Melchionda did not play for Springfield, he enjoyed the whirlwind week.

"It was a wild ride," he concluded.

One of the reasons Melchionda was chosen for the assignment is his versatility. Though he sports an ever-present smile, the ex-Boston College shortstop embraces the realities of his standing and specifically, his route to get ahead as a professional baseball player.

"I understand the business," he said. "They have other guys taken earlier that they need to play. They told me to master every position – that my value will be in my utility. I take infield at second base and flyballs in left field."

The plan was illustrated when Melchionda was assigned to left field in his first start after rejoining the Muckdogs. With the likes of fourth-round shortstop Alex Mejia on the roster, Melchionda has to be ready to play wherever needed.

He has some shopping to do, though. Melchionda did not yet have an outfielder's glove, having to borrow one from teammate Matthew Young.

In fact, he may now need another glove, as Melchionda was sent back up to Quad Cities on Tuesday, where he has already seen action at third base. Perhaps this time, his stay will be for the longer haul.

Another Cardinals traveler earlier this season is Batavia utilityman Garrett Wittels, who has passed through all three levels ahead - Quad Cities, Springfield and Memphis. In addition to positional versatility, the 22-year-old has a leg up in communications skills as well.

On the field and off, Wittels chatters with his teammates in both English and Spanish. It comes naturally as his mother is Cuban by birth.

"I find that it allows me to be a go-between for both groups (of teammates)," he noted.

Wearing his fourth Cardinals system uniform this season alone, Wittels acknowledges that his bi-lingual capability has been a great ice-breaker at his many stops.

"Speaking Spanish definitely helps me make friends on new teams more quickly," Wittels concluded.

Some moves are easier physically than others, with the Cardinals' extended spring training camp and later, Gulf Coast League club, being located in the same facility as Class A-Advanced Palm Beach.

Among other Cardinals farmhands making temporary jumps this season have been pitchers Ricky Martinez, Nick Gillung and Anderson Gerdel, infielders Wiley, Neal Pritchard, Jeremy Patton, Ildemaro Vargas and Vance Albitz and catchers Adam Ehrlich, Jesus Montero, Casey Rasmus and Luis De La Cruz.

Cardinals special assistant to the general manager Gary LaRocque acknowledged this is being done by design.

"It is something we decided," LaRocque said. "We want to keep the starters in there playing every day. We move up utility players for a few days, which is less disruptive all around."

So far, the new approach seems to be working for everyone involved.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories