For the second consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals came into the Major League phase of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft with the appearance of unusual roster flexibility. Despite a steady pipeline of prospects at or close to the majors, the club had just 37 players on its 40-man roster.
That meant they could conceivably add as many as three Major Leaguers, but picking so late in the draft (26th due to their on-field success) meant the pickings would likely be slim.
Given the projected 2015 25-man roster, however, it may not have mattered. It already appears to be crowded even before the club adds a right-handed hitting reserve first baseman, which was apparently happening in parallel with the Mark Reynolds signing. Selecting a player in the Major League phase would have gobbled up another spot.
As a result of all that, it is not surprising that the Cardinals ended up passing in the Major League phase of the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, held Thursday in San Diego.
In addition, no Cardinals from the Memphis roster were one of 14 players changing homes across MLB. (To see the entire roster of Rule 5-eligible Cardinals organization players, check this earlier article, exclusive to members of The Cardinal Nation.)
In the Triple-A phase, the Cardinals were far less busy than last year, when they took two players while losing three. This time around, they added just one player, pitcher Tyler Waldron from Pittsburgh. Though the Cards were 26th in order, Waldron was the 16th pick, due to other organizations not making a selection.
For the first time since 2007, the Cardinals lost no players in either the Major or Minor League phases of the draft. That can signal one or a combination of two factors. It could be that the organization did a masterful job of deciding which level to protect players or that the overall level of talent in the Cardinals system as perceived by their peers as being down a bit.
This year, a total of 44 players were taken across MLB, 30 in the Triple-A phase and none in the Double-A phase.
The New Cardinal
Waldron, 25, was Pittsburgh’s fifth-round selection in the 2010 draft from Oregon State, taken as a junior. The California native previously pitched for University of Pacific as a freshman before transferring. Waldron had been drafted out of high school by the Marlins in the 32nd round in 2007, but did not sign.
In the draft one year after Waldron was taken, in 2011, the Cardinals tabbed his Corvallis teammate, Sam Gaviglio, as their own selection, also in the fifth round. (Gaviglio would have been among the Cardinals prospects eligible for this Rule 5 Draft, too, but was traded to Seattle for infielder Ty Kelly last month.)
Waldron began his professional career as a starter at Pittsburgh’s New York-Penn League affiliate in State College in 2010, where he tied for the league lead in losses. The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder reached A-Advanced late the next season and earned a similar late-summer move up to the Double-A rotation in 2012. Though his ERA was just under five in both 2011 and 2012, his ground ball proficiency was a clear advantage to weigh against a very low strikeout rate (5.6 per nine innings in 2012).
Though he remained as a starter during the 2012 regular season at Double-A, Waldron saw his first extended bullpen action in the Arizona Fall League. In ten outings in the desert, he threw 14 1/3 innings, giving up just eight hits, and posted a 3.14 ERA.
Being limited to just 32 regular-season innings due to shoulder problems in 2013 meant that Waldron’s career slowed. He did return to the AFL for a second consecutive fall to help make up for lost innings. This time, it went poorly as Waldron allowed 10 earned runs on 17 hits and six walks in just 14 innings of relief, for a 6.43 ERA.
In 2014, Waldron threw 51 innings, primarily as a swing man with Triple-A Indianapolis. He cut down on his baserunners and increased his strikeout rate (to 8.1 per nine innings) - before his season ended after just three months due to an intercostal strain. His 3.00 ERA was a career-best, compared to his 4.50 mark overall.
A more pitch-to-contact style of hurler, Waldron features a fastball-curve-change combination and has experimented with a cutter that may have contributed to his 2014 improvement.
Among Pirates minor leaguers recognized in Baseball America’s annual Prospect Handbook, Waldron never cracked the Bucs‘ top 30. However, in both 2012 and 2013, he was either the first or second right-handed starter listed below the line. Prior to the 2014 season, however, Waldron dropped to ninth (and last) among Pirates right-handed starters included below the overall top 30. His ranking among relievers is unknown.
In 2015, Waldron could play a swingman role for Memphis, offering long relief or spot starting, as needed. If his 2014 is an indication of his future, he could work his way into Major League consideration down the road.
To see the entire Cardinals system by level and position, along with every transaction all year long, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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