We'll start off with four players who are viewed to have a better chance of advancing within the system by shifting their defensive position. Typically, the Cardinals initially let a player compete at the position at which he was drafted/signed, but make moves after a period of time if/when they see a player has an opportunity to accelerate his movement upward.
While the organization usually is the one to make the suggestion, the final decision to shift is with the individual. During Winter Warm-Up, Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque asserted the player "owns 51 percent of the vote."
Following the four position changers are two new catchers, including a returnee and well-traveled, but new-to-the-organization addition.
State College's Luke Voit shifts from catcher to first base.
There is no dispute that the former Missouri State star's best tool is his bat. Voit's transition from behind the plate to first base actually began late in the 2013 New York-Penn League season and continued during instructional league. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the 22-year-old play in Florida, as he was out with a minor quad injury that should not be a problem this spring.
In a system relatively short of power prospects, if Voit continues to hit and takes a liking to first base defensively, he could advance quickly.
The organization once had high hopes for the 2012 season-opening combination up the middle at A-Advanced Palm Beach. Since then, Dominican second baseman Starlin Rodriguez and his countryman, shortstop Ronny Gil, have struggled to the point. If they again play side-by-side, it will be with significantly more grass between them, as they are now both outfielders.
After scoring a non-roster invitation to Major League camp last spring, Rodriguez ended up being returned to Palm Beach from Springfield to learn his new position. This year, not only is he is not in big league camp, he did not score an invitation to the STEP Camp, either. It is a good reminder of the difference between the crowded outfield competition and the relatively-open middle infield.
Gil, who turns 25 in March, has yet to escape the Florida State League, even temporarily. In order to stay in the Palm Beach lineup more regularly last season, his second at the A-Advanced level, Gil appeared a total of 23 games in centerfield. That will be his primary destination for 2014.
With the bat, the switch-hitter only improved slightly in his second shot at Palm Beach. Gil's line in 2013 was .230/.300/.314/.614 in 291 plate appearances over 90 FSL contests.
Johnson City's Ronnierd Garcia continues to move across the diamond between third base and first.
As was the case with Gil, the reality is that this transformation began in 2013, but unlike Gil, the move is not absolute. Still, the Cardinals now list Garcia among the first basemen coming into camp, but note he will continue to see time at his earlier full-time home at third, as well.
The just-turned 21-year-old led the Johnson City Cardinals in games played with 59. That included 32 contests at the hot corner, during which Garcia committed 13 miscues. He also shifted over to his new part-time home at first base for 20 games.
At the plate, the right-handed hitter finished 2013 especially strongly, named the Appalachian League Player of the Week for the final period of the season. In between, Garcia led Johnson City with 39 RBI. His line was .286/.362/.442/.803 over 261 plate appearances.
We have here another player whose bat should lead the way.
Gulf Coast League outfielder Amaury Capellan has yet to make his pitching debut.
Of all the moves, this one is most interesting. It continues a pattern in recent years during which the organization takes a good athlete who may not be hitting enough and/or is not strong enough defensively and moves him to the mound.
In three seasons as an outfielder, Capellan had just one standout campaign. That was in the Dominican Summer League back in 2011.
As a new pitcher, the now-21-year-old had a rough start. The right-hander sat out the entire 2013 short-season and instructional league due to an elbow strain suffered at the start of the summer.
Given his age, Capellan will need to make up for lost time at his new position in 2014. If ready to pitch, it will be very interesting to see how his stuff in spring camp measures up.
Catcher Juan Castillo is back.
Apparently, he was never really gone.
At the start of last July, the word was that 24-year-old had made a major decision. Castillo had decided to call it a career and return home to the Dominican, retiring from the game.
If that was the case, the action was short-lived. After first signing with the Cardinals in 2006, Castillo is returning for another shot in 2014, his eighth season in the organization.
In 2013, the right-handed hitter logged a .578 OPS and 11 RBI in 131 at-bats for Palm Beach. He also appeared in four games as an injury fill-in at Springfield. The catcher was a 2012 Midwest League mid-season and 2011 New York-Penn League All-Star.
Journeyman catcher Charlie Neil has been invited to camp.
It is unusual to label a player that just turned 24 years of age at the top of the month a journeyman, but in this case, the tag definitely fits. To say that the former four-year starter at Yale has been well-traveled is putting it mildly.
Neil began his professional career after being drafted by Detroit in the 37th round in 2012. After signing, he was placed near his old college haunt, with the Tigers' Connecticut New York-Penn League affiliate. There, the switch-hitter batted just .160 in 20 games.
Standing tall for a catcher at 6-foot-5, Neil spent less than one year with the Tigers before his release at the end of 2013 spring training. That led to an impressively-persistent four-team odyssey across three different independent leagues last summer, during which he posted an aggregate line of .202/.289/.228. Neil had just three extra-base hits, all doubles, in a total of 134 plate appearances, and drove in six.
Neil began his 2013 travels with Lancaster of the Atlantic League in mid-April as an injury replacement. A month later, the Dallas native was traded to Three Rivers of the Can-Am League, where his stay was again one month. His stint with Grand Prairie of the American Association lasted just two weeks in July. From there, he returned to the Atlantic League, this time joining York from the end of July until the conclusion of the season.
Neil will be joining 130 other players in Cardinals minor league spring camp. Rosters, schedules and more are coming soon for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation.
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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