Against the backdrop of the season-ending injury to budding prospect Alex Reyes, a 50-game suspension to Corey Littrell for a second positive drug test, Kendry Flores’ voided contract, and a number of pitchers preparing for the World Baseball Classic next month, the St. Louis Cardinals needed additional pitching help in major league camp.
The club added more depth to their pitching to ensure they have enough arms available to cover innings early in the Grapefruit League season. This will be especially acute in the third day of spring games, on Monday, February 27, when the Cardinals have split squad contests, requiring them to have 18 innings of pitching ready to go.
Right-handed pitching prospects Junior Fernandez and Jake Woodford were added to big-league camp on Friday, getting their first ever taste of the big-league spring environment. They join Corey Baker, who blazed the same path on Thursday.
Fernandez and Woodford were among the 30 Cardinals minor league prospects invited to attend the 2017 Spring Training Early Program (STEP Camp) at the backfields of Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. beginning on Saturday, February 25. The remainder of the organization’s minor leaguers will report for spring training on March 6 (pitchers and catchers) and March 8 (full squad).
Fernandez, 19, stepped in as the sixth-youngest player in the Midwest League this past season. The dynamic right-hander compiled a 6-5 record over 14 starts (78 1/3 IP) at Peoria, posting a 3.33 ERA with 63 strikeouts to 34 walks.
Fernandez then became the youngest player to appear in the Florida State League. Through his first 18 1/3 innings, the Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native struggled mightily with an 11.78 ERA before making an adjustment with his delivery that enabled him to get his pitches down.
Those adjustments paid dividends for Fernandez, who put together a 0.71 ERA over his final 25 1/3 innings (three starts) for Palm Beach and could open 2017 as a starter at Double-A Springfield. This winter, he ranked 11th on The Cardinal Nation’s top prospect list.
Woodford, 20, like his season-opening Low-A Peoria rotation mates Fernandez, Sandy Alcantara, and Derian Gonzalez, made the leap from the Gulf Coast League and pitched above the Midwest League as one of the youngest hurlers at the level in 2016.
On the downside, Woodford missed a few weeks with a sprained right elbow and was not as sharp in the second half. Overall, the Midwest League midseason All-Star still made 21 starts, posting a 3.31 ERA (108 2/3 IP) with 82 strikeouts against 37 walks.
Woodford, TCN’s 12th-ranked Cardinals prospect for 2017, should open the regular season at Palm Beach.
Update: Saturday morning, February 18 (by Brian Walton)
The Cardinals made their fourth non-roster pitching addition in the early days of spring camp with the Saturday morning arrival of pitcher Mitch Harris, reports Langosch. Harris, 31, was removed from the 40-man roster last fall after missing the entire 2016 season. The right-hander is coming back from Tommy John-lite elbow ligament repair surgery.
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