One way to try to assess whether the status of a St. Louis Cardinals prospect is on an upward or downward trajectory to make a simple comparison of his top 40 prospect ranking from year to year. This information can be found in the tables listed in ”The Final Tally” article as part of The Cardinal Nation’s annual top 40 countdown series.
Perhaps an even more telling method of considering the stock of a prospect is by analyzing the behavior of the organization itself. One such approach is to review the differences in the names of players that make up those invited to major league camp and early minor league camp, STEP Camp, from year to year.
There is an implied hierarchy in the structure of invitations. Of course, every player wants to make the 40-man roster. By default, those players are invited to big-league camp. The next best thing is to score a non-roster invitation (NRI) to major league camp. Next in the pecking order are those minor leaguers invited to early minor league camp, followed by the regular minor league camp invitees.
Especially earlier in the major league spring training schedule, the Cardinals call for extra players to be brought over from minor league camp to fill in during MLB games. These players, with no name on their back and a number in the 90s, are often sourced from the STEP Camp attendees. After all, they are not only among the most promising minor leaguers, but also the ones who have been in camp longest and therefore, in the best game shape.
Among the many STEP Campers who were given this opportunity, albeit limited, last spring were infielder Breyvic Valera and outfielders C.J. McElroy (both with one at-bat) and Tommy Pham (three ABs), plus pitchers Dixon Llorens (1/3 inning), Alex Reyes, Sam Tuivailala and Boone Whiting (one inning each).
I should be clear that a player dropping in the hierarchy from year to year does not necessarily mean that he had a career setback. It could be that a different assignment is due to recovery from injury or perhaps the competition is simply stiffer. Certainly the strength of the Cardinals’ recent draft classes could also be a factor. With the organization limiting the early invites to just 23 players, some difficult tradeoffs likely had to be made.
Let’s get into the details. The red color indicates a lower level invitation this year compared to last. Yellow is equal and green is a step (or multiples) upward.
The first table compares the pitchers’ invitations between 2014 and 2015.
|40 man-reg camp||Butler (inj)|
|NRI-40 man||Gonzales (L)|
|NRI-reg camp||Stoppelman (L)||Swagerty (inj)||Whiting||Heyer|
|NRI-gone||Gaviglio (tr)||Almarante (FA)||Neshek (FA)|
|STEP-STEP||Kaminsky (L)||Alex Reyes|
|STEP-reg camp||Blair||Billbrough||Jones (inj)||Llorens|
While a number of players who were on the 40-man last spring have left the organization, only one that dropped off the 40-man remains. Coming off Tommy John surgery, reliever Keith Butler is neither on the 2014 NRI list or the early minor league (STEP) camp invitee list, hence his red designation.
Next are the NRIs last spring. Just one pitcher who was an NRI last spring now holds down a 40-man roster spot – Marco Gonzales. In 2015, the lefty will be competing for a place in the rotation. His status is surely “green.”
A whopping total of four pitchers who were NRIs last spring are not even invited to STEP Camp in 2015. Jordan Swagerty is again (still) trying to come back from injury. One might surmise the stock of Lee Stoppelman, Boone Whiting and Kurt Heyer has dropped.
Three other 2014 NRI pitchers are no longer in the Cardinals organization, though under different circumstances. Sam Gaviglio was traded away (to Seattle for infielder Ty Kelly) and Jose Almarante became a minor league free agent (and remains unsigned). Pat Neshek was the story of the year after earning a 40-man spot and posting an all-star season. The right-hander became a free agent again and signed a two-year deal with Houston this winter.
Next, we will move down the table to the 2014 early camp invitees. Two pitchers are clearly on the upswing, one moving from early minor league camp last spring to the 40-man roster and the other receiving an NRI this year. The first is hard-throwing reliever Sam Tuivailala and the second is starter Mike Mayers.
In yellow are two highly-touted pitchers invited to early minors camp both years – Rob Kaminsky and Alex Reyes, Peoria rotation-mates in 2014.
Following are four hurlers who received an early minor league camp invitation in 2014, but will just be attending regular minor league camp in 2015. Starter Cory Jones is coming off injury. The other three are relievers – Seth Blair, Logan Billbrough and Dixon Llorens. Others were simply chosen ahead of them in 2015.
The position players
The next table is the same format as the preceding one, with the only change being its focus on the changes in position player invitations between 2014 and 2015.
|40 man-reg camp||O'Neill|
|NRI-gone||Ramsey (tr)||Rasmus (ret)||Mateo (FA)|
|STEP-gone||Montero (FA)||Miclat (FA)|
One year ago, Rafael Ortega, then recently claimed off waivers, was in his first major league camp with the Cardinals. Since, the outfielder had a so-so season with Springfield that included his removal from the 40-man, but also a late-season promotion to Memphis. Ortega is back in big league camp in 2015, however, this time as a non-roster invitee.
Fellow outfielder Mike O’Neill also was taken off the 40-man and also cleared waivers, remaining with the Cardinals. Unlike Ortega, however, O’Neill will report with the majority of the minor leaguers this spring.
Three 2014 non-roster invitees moved up to the 40-man roster and big league camp this spring – catchers Cody Stanley and Ed Easley and first baseman Xavier Scruggs. Stanley was an NRI from 2012-2014, in fact.
Patrick Wisdom’s progress stalled at Springfield in 2014. As a result, the third baseman will be in STEP Camp instead of major league camp as an NRI.
Three 2014 position player NRIs are no longer in the organization, each under different circumstances. Outfielder James Ramsey was traded away, catcher Casey Rasmus retired and infielder Luis Mateo became a minor league free agent and signed with the Dodgers.
Next in green we have four position players who have moved up since receiving early minor league camp invitations in 2014. Outfielder Tommy Pham is now on the 40-man, having made his St. Louis debut last September. The three former STEP campers who are now NRIs are catcher Steve Bean plus infielders Breyvic Valera and Jacob Wilson.
For the second year in a row, six position players scored early minor league camp invitations. As such, they are in yellow. Three are infielders – first baseman Jonathan Rodriguez plus shortstops Juan Herrera and Oscar Mercado. The other three, all outfielders, are actually STEP campers for the third consecutive spring. They are Anthony Garcia, Charlie Tilson and C.J. McElroy.
A group of four position players were part of the early minors camp group in 2014, but not in 2015. They are in red. Outfielder Kenny Peoples-Walls and shortstop Alex Mejia will be in regular minor league camp this spring. 2014 STEP campers, catcher Jesus Montero and infielder Greg Miclat left the organization as minor league free agents and remain unsigned.
2014 draft rockets
The Cardinals organization had two first round selections in the 2014 draft. As would be expected, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver are both among the STEP Camp invitees as is second-rounder Andrew Morales.
The other two 2014 Cardinals draftees among the 23 STEP Camp invitees are longer shots in seventh-rounder, catcher Brian O’Keefe and 18th-round selection, centerfielder Blake Drake.
The five new additions from the 2014 draft to score NRIs or early minors camp invitations is the same quantity as one year ago, with one major exception – a lack of NRIs. Specifically, in each the last two springs, the team’s top draftee from the June prior was invited to big league camp. For 2015, there are no Michael Wachas or Marco Gonzales yet among the litter, however.
Let’s not forget those prospects drafted prior to 2014 by the Cardinals who have scored invitations to big league camp. They would certainly have a lot about which to be proud.
|In-system NRI||Kiekhefer (L)||Harris||Gast (L)|
It is worth giving special recognition to three non-roster invitees who were in regular minors camp last spring. Each followed a different path of significant improvement to secure an NRI in 2015.
Lefty John Gast, with three career starts with St. Louis, was still injured last spring, returning to Memphis in June. Lefty Dean Kiekhefer and righty Mitch Harris are both on the rise, expected to join Memphis’ bullpen this season. Kiekhefer was a STEP camper in 2013, but in regular camp in 2014, while Harris is trying to make up for lost time in the Navy with his first special camp invitation.
Three other pitching NRIs are new to the Cardinals system. Marcus Hatley, Miguel Socolovich and Carlos Villanueva are free agent signees with the latter having the best chance of making the major league roster out of spring training.
Recently-signed catcher Alberto Rosario will almost certainly be among the early cuts, but still snagged his first Cardinals NRI after being at Double-A for at least parts of the last five seasons.
Other STEP Camp invitees
|In-system STEP||Barraclough||Donofrio||S Garcia||Perry|
Nine of the players invited to STEP Camp were already in the organization and are moving up from regular minor league camp last spring. Pitchers include Kyle Barraclough, Joe Donofrio, Silfredo Garcia, Chris Perry and Trey Nielsen along with catchers Luis Cruz and Mason Katz plus shortstop Edmundo Sosa and outfielder Magneuris Sierra.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.