With Thursday’s conclusion of the Winter Meetings and Rule 5 Draft - during which the St. Louis Cardinals lost a whopping eight farmhands – the team is not waiting around to restock. The club has re-signed outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and signed right-handed pitcher J.C. Sulbaran to minor league contracts. Baseball America first reported these deals, which have not yet been formally announced by the Cardinals.
The left-handed hitter received a promotion on July 3rd to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and continued right where he left off with an even stronger line of .333/.403/.594/.998 in 58 games through the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Hazelbaker blasted ten home runs and knocked in 46 with 69 hits in 208 at-bats while making an impression on his manager Mike Shildt.
"Good player. Have to tip your hat to the front office," Shildt told me following the minor league regular season. "This was a released player two weeks into the season, we picked him up, put him in the Double-A club, and Jeremy just flourished. Based on need, he got the opportunity to move. Sometimes, you earn an opportunity to move but there's not any room for you.
"He was able to earn a promotion to Memphis. There was a spot open for him, and he took full advantage of it. Very toolsy player, very dedicated player, hard-nosed player... He goes to compete on a nightly basis in the right fashion, plays a great outfield - mostly corner outfield, but can play centerfield, throws well, and gets good jumps.
"Offensively, the ball jumps off his bat. He's got a good carry to his ball, drives the ball to all fields, an aggressive player, runs well, plays the game right, and looks to take the extra base.
“He had a nice year and hopefully, you will see him back with the organization," the manager concluded. Shildt has now received his wish.
Overall, Hazelbaker showed an all-around skill-set and an impressive .313/.385/.531/.913 slash line for the year, including his subpar stint with the Drillers. He was well-deserving of another opportunity with the Cardinals, an organization that gave him an extended look despite being old for a prospect. Hazelbaker had 50 extra-base hits (13 total home runs, 12 triples, and 25 doubles) with 68 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 112 minor league games in 2015.
The Reds challenged him with an A-Ball assignment right off the bat and Sulbaran struggled mightily. In 2012, Sulbaran was traded to the Kansas City Royals, ironically for current Cardinals reliever Jonathan Broxton. The Royals assigned Sulbaran to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he finished the season with six starts and a 7.62 ERA skewed by 22 walks against 24 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Appearing mostly as a reliever in 2013, Sulbaran was again hit hard in his second go-around in the Texas League. In 25 games (including two starts), he had an inflated 6.99 ERA due to nine home runs and 1.62 WHIP. During his third year at Double-A, he was a completely different man. After the Royals shifted him back to starting - the right-hander responded with an 8-10 record and 3.25 ERA. He punched out 116 batters against 54 walks in 127 1/3 innings in 2014.
With higher hopes for 2015, Sulbaran regressed with a 4.80 ERA in 20 games (15 starts) with 66 strikeouts and 35 walks in 90 innings of work. However, he was a Texas League mid-season All-Star and got his first taste of Triple-A, where the more experienced hitters lit him up for a 6.17 ERA in 42 1/3 innings in 2015.
Once a highly-touted prospect, Sulbaran employs three pitches - a low 90s fastball that can touch 95 with a breaking ball and change. In August of 2014, BA rated his change as the best of any pitch in the Texas League and his hard breaking ball was his best offering. There's upside with Sulbaran, but he has had health issues and significant control problems in the past.
Both of these moves were to address minor league depth. Hazelbaker looks to be among the outfielders headed to Memphis in 2016 while Sulbaran has yet to show success above Double-A and may return to familiar stomping grounds in Texas League with Springfield next year.
With the addition of Sulbaran, the Cardinals have now inked deals with five new minor league free agents during the 2015-2016 off-season. With spring training soon to appear on the horizon, there should be more to come as the organization fills out the remaining, vacant roster spots.
To see the entire Cardinals system by level and position, along with free agents and every transaction all year long, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Claim Jayson Aquino off Waivers
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