If one believes the messages from the organization, there will be no long-awaited introductions to the major leagues of hot young prospects. It isn't because the organization does not have them. The reality is that the ones close to the majors have all made it already.
When Kolten Wong made his MLB debut on August 16, he became the 19th rookie to appear with the Cardinals this season. That is the most among all Major League teams, and the most rookies used by the Cardinals since 1997 - Tony La Russa's second season - when they also employed 19.
Due to the combination of multiple factors, what you have seen during the season is more of what we have been prepared to expect to receive in September.
The 40-man roster has just one current opening. Top prospects that are not available for call up, such as injured Oscar Taveras, are not yet on the 40-man and don't need to be added this winter. 2012 first-rounders and Double-A stars Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey are more appropriately headed to the Arizona Fall League.
On one hand, bringing a first-timer to get a head start on the next season, such as was done with Shelby Miller in 2012, is a good thing. However, it must be done judiciously, as you can also get too much of a good thing.
Traditionally, the Cardinals did not want a lot of extra players called up in past Septembers. Given the club is perennially in playoff contention, there weren't many specific needs to be filled by youngsters. I can't see that situation changing much here in 2013.
In contrast, an also-ran team playing for the future likely has a number of clear open requirements. As such, they can afford to give prospects a more thorough final-month look-see.
A typical September
Based on analysis of past years' September roster actions, a representative mix of around eight minor leaguers that might be added to the roster in a typical year could look like this.
Pitchers – three righties and one lefty
Catcher – one
Infielders – two
Outfielder – one
Of course, the necessary personnel need to be available to warrant the moves and that varies by year.
One also has to take into account the return of injured catcher Tony Cruz and pitcher Jake Westbrook during the final month. They will effectively increase the active roster even further, squeezing additional opportunity from the call ups.
Last year, Triple-A call-ups in late August and early September included eight players plus the activation of Lance Berkman from the disabled list. The additions included pitchers Shelby Miller, Victor Marte and Sam Freeman, catchers Steven Hill and Bryan Anderson, infielders Ryan Jackson and Pete Kozma and outfielder Adron Chambers.
When Memphis' season ended, Tony Cruz, Tyler Greene and Chambers were also promoted. In a vivid reminder that very good players do not always receive the call, Matt Carpenter was among those passed over that September despite the third baseman having a .417 on-base percentage with Memphis.
In 2010, the Cardinals added an unusually-high total of ten players, at least partially due to a number of injuries. St. Louis called up four players before Memphis' 2010 post-season run was completed. They were outfielder Nick Stavinoha, shortstop Greene and catchers Matt Pagnozzi and Bryan Anderson.
Following Memphis season, the Cardinals recalled six more players, five of whom were already on the 40-man roster. They were first baseman Mark Hamilton, outfielders Joe Mather and Allen Craig and pitcher P.J. Walters. Second baseman Daniel Descalso was placed on the 40-man and made his MLB debut exclusively at third base. When catcher Yadier Molina was deemed out for the season due to a knee injury in late September, Steven Hill was the last Redbird added to the recall list.
In 2009, six minor league players were called up. Two joined prior to the completion of Memphis' post-season while the other four followed in late September. Right-handers Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth were the early arrivals. The later group consisted of reliever Josh Kinney, catcher Pagnozzi and infielders Greene and David Freese.
Timing is everything
A year after the Memphis Redbirds had Triple-A's worst record, the 2013 club has shown remarkable resilience. The Redbirds have remained in the post-season hunt heading into the final week of the season despite a brutal road schedule and a depleted pitching staff.
The names of players to be called up probably will not change, but if Memphis' year does not conclude when the regular season ends on Labor Day, the timing of arrivals in St. Louis will almost certainly be delayed and staggered.
Roster seems set
One important factor that can often limit new additions is the finite size of the 40-man roster. That appears to be less important in 2013. As noted above, one roster spot is open and the club could easily create another by shifting John Gast to the 60-day disabled list.
To make room for another, a marginal 40-man player could also be removed, such as Victor Marte or Jorge Rondon. However, the organization may instead prefer to make adjustments prior to the Rule 5 draft as opposed to in September.
Infielder Greg Garcia might have the best chance of the prospects to be added to the 40-man, but that seems unlikely with Ryan Jackson (and Wong) ahead of him. I am currently not forecasting it for September.
On the pitching side, pretty much every one who might have a chance of being called up is already on the 40-man and has appeared in St. Louis earlier this season.
Taking everything into account, my best guess is that we will see the following eight Memphis Redbirds in St. Louis during September. Each of them has already appeared with the Cardinals, some obviously more than others.
Here are the three other 40-man players who would be left behind in my scenario:
Pitchers: Victor Marte (currently on the DL), Jorge Rondon, Eric Fornataro
I will break down my thought process by position.
Pitchers: Lyons is as much of a lock as there can be. The three relievers would be welcome additions to a bullpen that has had to absorb a lot of innings recently.
Butler and Blazek have had their ups and downs this season, but overall, seem to warrant consideration. I think the two will be back to pitch in lower-leverage situations. Freeman may see more duty, serving as the third pen left-hander.
Other 40-man pitchers include Victor Marte, Jorge Rondon and Eric Fornataro. The formerly-dependable Marte has been uneven at Memphis this season and worse in his brief St. Louis trials. Even if he was not on Memphis' disabled list, Marte would not warrant a return look.
Rondon reminds me a bit of former prospects Eduardo Sanchez and Francisco Samuel in that his fastball has enough promise to warrant a 40-man spot, but the inconsistency can never seem to be shaken.
The final month of a pennant race seems an unlikely time for either Rondon or Fornataro to make their MLB debuts. Yet Fornataro might have the best chance. The right-hander has had a lost season in part due to injury, but recently has stepped into an emergency starting spot for the depleted Redbirds.
A dependable organization soldier, left-hander Nick Additon, might have been granted a 40-man roster spot and a promotion along the lines of what happened with third baseman Jermaine Curtis earlier this season. However, Addition went on the DL the other day with Marte.
Catchers: A third catcher is an important addition, as it frees the second catcher for pinch-hitting duties and spelling sore-kneed Yadier Molina now and then during September. However, third catcher Rob Johnson is currently playing second-stringer with Tony Cruz out due to a stress fracture in his non-throwing arm.
If it looks like Cruz cannot make it back for the final month, I could see Audry Perez getting a look. In that case, the look would consist of warming up relievers in the pen.
Ryan Jackson has struggled mightily with the bat the last two months, but hit better earlier. I suspect he will receive the call if for no other reason than the fact that the organization has to decide what to do with him.
Unlike Jackson, who had only one very short stint in St. Louis earlier this season, corner infielders Brock Peterson and Jermaine Curtis have been up and down several times each. They should be back to serve as September pinch-hitters and runners.
No other infielders appear ready to be added to the 40-man other than perhaps Garcia, as discussed above.
Outfielders: Chambers has been a past September contributor off the bench and should do the same in 2013, with a big "if." We will see him only if the injury that put him on Memphis DL just one game after his most recent demotion from St. Louis is a short-term problem.
The bottom line is that I am projecting a total of seven and perhaps eight minor leaguers (if Chambers is healed in time) to join St. Louis for the final month. They would be players who could step in and potentially contribute to the September playoff run.
The roster would be further bolstered by the returns of Cruz and Westbrook from the DL. Unless the course is changed, I do not expect there will be any 40-man roster additions from the system for the final month.
With the Wednesday afternoon news that Blazek has been recalled and Martinez optioned out, swap their names in the above predictions.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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