Jose Martinez (Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports Images)

How contenders have performed in St. Louis Cardinals major league spring training camp to date.

What can early performances tell us about roster competition in 2017 St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp?

While our popular St. Louis Cardinals Monthly Prospect Rankings will be back for 2017, its first edition will not come out until real baseball begins – in April. In the meantime, I am going to step in with a periodic look at how the less-experienced roster contenders are performing in spring training camp.

In past years, I focused these reports on top prospects and non-roster invitees, but for 2017, I have expanded the scope slightly – to include all of those contending for a spot on the opening day roster.

Now, the realists among you would correctly acknowledge that the vast majority of players listed below do not have a realistic chance of being among the final 25. I would have to agree. However, none of us would have guessed that 12 months ago, the trio of Aledmys Diaz, Eric Fryer and Jeremy Hazelbaker would all make the team.

In my opinion, current course and speed, the only roster battles seem to be for two bullpen spots and the reserve outfielder. So, I will give those positions special attention in this report.

And even for those with almost no chance to make the team now, despite there being no roster space immediately, making a good impression now can pay off later.

Now that the Cardinals have played for 12 consecutive days, there is enough of a critical mass of appearances to give us a first good opportunity to regularly check in on how the contenders are doing.

Of course, the usual small sample size warnings are relevant. Think of this as a hot-lukewarm-cold look from one period that could and likely will change substantially from one week to next.

 

The team

As evidenced by their 9-3-1 record, the club appears to be in good early shape. In a very positive sign, the pitching is ahead of the hitting – but both are performing quite respectably. St. Louis’ staff has a cumulative ERA of 3.09, second-best among the 30 MLB teams this spring. The team batting average is .286, a solid seventh. They are fourth in runs scored with 77.  

Comparative team ERA and batting average last spring were 3.81 and .263, respectively.

 

The players

The Cardinals opened big-league camp with 68 players invited, with 40 on the 40-man roster and 28 non-roster invitees. They were vying for one of the 25-man roster spots to open the season.

23 of the 68 are members of The Cardinal Nation top 50 for 2017 – 13 pitchers and 10 position players. An equal number of players – 23 - are in Major League camp, either as members of the 40-man or as non-roster invitees, but either did not place among our top 50 or were ineligible.

This group is those about whom I will be reporting. Of course, the list of 46 we are now tracking here – 24 pitchers and 22 position players - will further decline in count each week as camp continues and cuts are made.

I rank each player based on his momentum – high/medium/low. I want to be clear that is NOT how I assess their chances of making the team. Players will remain “medium” unless I see as a clear reason to shift them.

Innings pitched (IP), walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) and earned run average (ERA) are for first 13 games of the spring, coming into play on Thursday, March 9. The tables that follow are split into two groups – 40-man players and NRIs – and ordered by ERA or batting average among hot-medium-cold groupings.

 

The results - pitching

Pitchers  Top  Ros 2016 end IP ERA WHIP Mo
Majors camp 50           This wk
Alex Reyes 1 40m St. Louis 0.0 DNP    
Gonzales 23 40m Mem DL 0.0 DNP    
Wick 40 40m Springfield 2.0 0.00 0.50 High
Mayers 30 40m St. Louis 5.0 0.00 0.60 High
Tuivailala 37 40m Memphis 4.0 0.00 1.00 High
Bowman NA 40m St. Louis 4.0 0.00 1.25 High
Gant NR 40m Triple-A 5.0 1.80 0.60 High
Socolovich NA 40m St. Louis 4.0 2.25 0.50 Medium
Weaver 2 40m St. Louis 2.2 3.38 1.50 Medium
               
Nielsen 44 NRI Springfield 2.0 0.00 0.50 High
Baker NR NRI Springfield 2.2 0.00 0.75 High
Poncedeleon 36 NRI Springfield 4.2 0.00 0.86 High
Fernandez 11 NRI Palm Beach 2.0 0.00 1.00 High
Lucas NR NRI Springfield 3.0 0.00 1.00 High
Schafer NA NRI Triple-A 3.0 0.00 1.67 Medium
Woodford 12 NRI Peoria 2.0 0.00 2.50 Medium
Sherriff NR NRI Memphis 3.0 3.00 1.00 Medium
Flaherty 7 NRI Palm Beach 5.0 3.60 1.40 Medium
Ar Reyes NR NRI Memphis 6.1 4.26 1.11 Medium
Phillips NA NRI Triple-A 3.0 6.00 2.00 Low
Alcantara 8 NRI Palm Beach 6.0 6.00 2.50 Low
Gomber 9 NRI Springfield 4.1 8.31 1.85 Low
Harris NA NRI StL DL 1.0 18.00 4.00 Low
Rowland NR NRI Springfield 1.0 18.00 5.00 Low

This time out, I gave nine of the 11 contending pitchers with 0.00 ERAs a high mark. Interestingly, they are joined by four others whose roster spots are set – Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Michael Wacha - all with no earned runs charged. Anytime a team has 15 hurlers who haven’t allowed a run, there should be no wonder why the won-loss record is favorable.

In addition, a medium score was assigned to seven hurlers, with the final five pitchers – all NRIs – assessed as “low” or cold.

http://www.scout.com/player/145217-sam-tuivailala?s=321

The unscored upon include top prospects Rowan Wick (now pitching in the World Baseball Classic), Mike Mayers and Sam Tuivailala, with the latter leading the team with 10 strikeouts in just four innings. Also among the realistic contenders are incumbent Matt Bowman and new arrival John Gant. All five of these hurlers have minor league options.

http://www.scout.com/player/181552-john-gant?s=321

The “medium” population includes two pitchers with zero ERAs, called lukewarm due to high baserunner counts. They are pitcher-outfielder Jordan Schafer and the least experienced hurler in camp, Jake Woodford. Over his three mound innings, Schafer is getting hit around by opposing batters at a .364 clip. Key “medium” pitchers are 40-man roster pitchers Luke Weaver and Miguel Socolovich.

http://www.scout.com/player/159539-miguel-socolovich?s=321

Among the relatively few struggling pitchers in camp are top-10 prospects Sandy Alcantara and Austin Gomber – both gaining visibility and experience in big-league games before returning to the minors this season.  

Update: Woodford and Junior Fernandez were returned to minor league camp on Wednesday. The pair had been late additions to big league camp on February 17.

Bottom line - pitching

I consider at the very most two bullpen jobs open, with Gant, Bowman, Socolovich and Tuivailala my four primary contenders. All are pitching well, with Tui the major surprise to date. Socolovich is the only one of the four with no options remaining. Gant could open in the Memphis rotation, though should not be counted out yet.

http://www.scout.com/player/173078-matt-bowman?s=321

Bowman is an incumbent, so I would declare he and Socolovich the early leaders, though on paper, Tuivailala’s numbers are the best.

This race will bear close watching ahead.

 

The results – hitting

Hitters  Top  Ros 2016 end AB BA Mo
Majors camp 50         This wk
Sierra 10 40m Peoria 21 0.429 High
Jo Martinez NR 40m St. Louis 22 0.364 High
Kelly  4 40m St. Louis 10 0.300 High
A Garcia NR 40m Memphis 11 0.286 Medium
Alvarez 16 40m Peoria 9 0.222 Low
Valera 39 40m Memphis 14 0.214 Low
Pham NA 40m St. Louis 20 0.200 Low
Sosa 14 40m PB DL 7 0.143 Low
             
Adolis Garcia NA NRI Japan 0 DNP  
Rosario NA NRI St. Louis 6 0.500 High
Bader 5 NRI Springfield 21 0.381 High
Wisdom NR NRI Memphis 16 0.375 High
Huffman NA NRI Triple-A 16 0.313 High
DeJong 13 NRI Springfield 23 0.261 Medium
Tovar NR NRI Triple-A 16 0.250 Medium
Lino NR NRI Double-A 4 0.250 Medium
Fryer NR NRI Pittsburgh 6 0.154 Low
Cunningham NR NRI Triple-A 11 0.063 Low
Knizner 45 NRI Johnson City 3 0.000 Low
Schafer NA NRI Triple-A 3 0.000 Low
Je Martinez 29 NRI State College 1 0.000 Low
Ortega 43 NRI GCL 1 0.000 Low

This period, I gave about a third of the 22 contending hitters a “high” mark. Among the seven are four true standouts – 40-man roster players Magneuris Sierra and Jose Martinez and non-roster invitees Harrison Bader and Patrick Wisdom. The former three are outfielders with the latter a third baseman. All are batting .364 or better.

http://www.scout.com/player/118230-jose-martinez?s=321

Wisdom and Martinez are team co-leaders with three home runs each. Martinez is tops with eight RBI, one ahead of Bader, and also holds a share of the club lead in doubles with three.

Two interesting names among the “medium” ranked players are outfielder Anthony Garcia and infielder Paul DeJong. Though he is batting .286, Garcia is third on the team in both home runs (two, tied with Bader) and RBI (five). DeJong, expected to be Memphis’ every-day shortstop, is batting a respectable .261 with a couple of extra-base hits, but has drawn no walks and fanned eight times in 23 plate appearances, for a 35 percent strikeout rate.

Among “cold” hitters of note are infielder Breyvic Valera and outfielders Todd Cunningham and Tommy Pham. Any shot Valera and Cunningham had of pushing others aside this spring seem to be diminishing by the day.

Schafer has an interesting back story, but the combination of lukewarm pitching at best and few at-bats suggests his saga will continue at Memphis.

Bottom line - hitting

Pham came into camp as the incumbent fourth outfielder, with a job to lose, in my assessment. Though hitting just .200 in early action, he has also drawn three walks for a better OBP of .304. Pham also leads the team with three steals in three attempts.

http://www.scout.com/player/88019-tommy-pham?s=321

While the time is not yet here for Sierra, Martinez’ strong early showing could lead to a roster reversal - unless Pham starts hitting. The latter has one minor league option remaining and if he ends up in Memphis, he may soon have to worry about Bader competing with him for the next outfield opening in St. Louis. In the meantime, just as with fellow top prospect Carson Kelly, Bader's development will best be furthered by every-day play at Triple-A.

http://www.scout.com/player/175479-harrison-bader?s=321

Though Wisdom will almost certainly not make the team, continued success this spring should put him back into the St. Louis infield picture down the road, perhaps in a race with DeJong, who like him is not yet on the 40-man roster. The two are likely to open the season as the left side of the Memphis starting infield.

 

Speaking of which, to see the Cardinals entire 40-man roster and non-roster spring training invitees, STEP campers and more, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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