As has already been documented, a series of pitching dominoes have fallen in the first few days of the St. Louis Cardinals big league spring training camp, taking three out of action. They are injured Alex Reyes, released Kendry Flores and suspended Corey Littrell.
Four were added to replace them. Corey Baker and Mitch Harris were moved up from minor league camp plus Junior Fernandez and Jake Woodford stepped up from the spring training early program, or STEP, camp.
The organization has issued two additional invitations to STEP camp, to restore the original total of 30 top prospects. However, the Cardinals switched up their mix. Instead of adding pitchers to replace Fernandez and Woodford, the club has invited a pair at the other end of batteries – catchers Luis Cruz and Jesse Jenner.
Last spring at this time, the 23-year-old Cruz was a non-roster invitee to MLB camp, but was passed by others for 2017. Jenner, also 23 years of age, is making his first early camp appearance after having been drafted in the seventh round in 2015.
Cruz, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a defensive stalwart, having thrown out 34.6 percent of potential base stealers over six seasons in the Cardinals system (64 of 185). He opened last season with Springfield, but was quickly called up to Memphis as an injury replacement, where he appeared in just two games before returning to Double-A for good by the end of April.
With the bat in 2016, the right-handed hitter slashed .251/.300/.349/.649 in 175 at-bats.
Jenner, a product of the University of San Diego, debuted at State College in 2015 and impressed behind the dish, throwing out 50 percent of attempted base stealers as a rookie. Because of his defensive prowess, Jenner was moved around the system during 2016 – to put it mildly. To be specific, he made seven different stops in just the first three months of the schedule.
After opening at Palm Beach, the right-handed hitter moved to Springfield during the first week of the regular season (taking Cruz’ Double-A roster spot). By the time April ended, Jenner was back with Palm Beach, but soon was sent up to Memphis. In late May, he was returned to the Florida State League. By early July, he was needed in Triple-A again, but a week later was shifted down to Springfield. Ironically, Cruz and Jenner shared the Double-A catching duties from July 11 through the end of the season.
Overall, Jenner posted a line of .263/.308/.366/.674 over 186 at-bats last year. His 2016 caught stealing rate dropped down to 29 percent (18 of 62) over his two stints each at Springfield and Memphis plus three with Palm Beach.
Looking ahead to the regular season, the Memphis catching tandem looks to be Carson Kelly and Alberto Rosario. The signing of free agent and non-roster invitee Gabriel Lino would seem to set up the Springfield catching derby as a three-way competition with these two returnees, just added to 2017 STEP camp.
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