As the top two minor league clubs in the St. Louis Cardinals system prepare to break from their spring training camps in the next week, the pressure for one of the 100 roster spots on one of the full-season clubs intensifies.
To that end, seven players have been released in the past few days. They include pitchers Robby Rowland, Carson Cross, Nick Frey, Michael Heesch and Bob Wheatley, first baseman Elier Rodriguez, and infielder Dylan Tice.
Among the seven, Rowland stands out, as he opened the spring in big-league camp. The right-hander was among the early cuts after allowing two runs in 2 1/3 innings on three hits, three walks and two strikeouts with St. Louis.
Signed by the Cardinals as a free agent in March 2015, Rowland was promoted twice in 2015, went to the Arizona Fall League and scored a big-league camp invitation last spring. However, before he could report, Rowland required surgery to remove bone spurs. The 25-year-old made it back to Springfield before 2016 was done.
Rowland’s career ERA at Double-A is 5.49 (18 games) and 4.97 at High-A (67 games).
The 6-foot-5 Cross joined the Cardinals from UConn in the 14th round of the 2015 draft. The right-hander immediately slotted into the State College rotation, but has been stuck there for the last two years. While he was respectable in 2016, Cross did not step forward last summer, and with so many others on the upswing, there did not seem a place for him in the 2017 Peoria rotation.
Cross finishes his Cardinals career with a 3.05 ERA to go with 80 strikeouts and 38 walks in 124 innings pitched.
Continuing with the theme of 25-year-old pitchers being released is Frey. St. Louis’ 33rd-rounder in 2013 from TCU pitched in relief in the system for three full years, but proved to be hittable in full-season ball. For the second straight season, Frey logged the majority of his 2016 innings with Peoria, where his ERA was 4.64.
Over his Cardinals career, Frey finished with a 5.04 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 36 free passes issued in 121 1/3 innings.
Heesch is another 6-foot-5 hurler, but is backed by 265 pounds, unlike the slender Cross. The left-hander became a Cardinal when he was selected from the Chicago Cubs in the Triple-A phase of the 2015 Rule 5 Draft.
In his only system in the Cardinals system, Heesch appeared out of the Palm Beach bullpen in 30 games. His ERA was 5.08 as Florida State League hitters batted a collective .328 against him. He walked 16 and fanned 30 in 44 1/3 innings. Heesch will celebrate his 27th birthday in mid-May.
Wheatley, 25, is a former Southern Cal standout signed as a minor league free agent in January 2016. The 6-foot-5 left-hander dodged trouble between State College and Peoria last summer. Opposing hitters batted .313 against him and his baserunner totals were high (1.55 WHIP). Even so, Wheatley’s season ERA was just 1.52.
Rodriguez, 22, was selected as a catcher in the 14th round of the 2013 draft from a Florida high school. The switch-hitter was moved to first base in 2014, but lacked the prototypical power expected from the position.
In 507 career at-bats over 153 games, Rodriguez hit just two home runs. Never advancing beyond State College, where he was a 2016 New York-Penn League All-Star, his final slash line is .260/.339/.325/.664.
Middle infielder Tice, 24, was St. Louis’ 34th-round pick in the 2015 draft from West Chester University. After starting in the Gulf Coast League that season, the switch-hitter split most of 2016 between State College and Palm Beach.
Tice’s career slash line over 410 at-bats in 169 games is a respectable .290/.351/.395/.746. However, there is significant competition on the infield and it appears he has been squeezed out.
On Wednesday, his first day in Cardinal red, pitcher Josh Zeid was still getting his bearings on the back fields in Jupiter. The right-hander is extremely excited about joining the organization and made it very clear that he will take any role he is assigned, whether starting, in middle relief or closing.
For Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, the 29-year-old dominated – to the point he was named to the All-tournament Team, along with Yadier Molina and 10 others. Zeid saved two games and pitched 10 scoreless innings.
The pitcher credits Israel trainer Barry Weinberg with making his match with the Cardinals. But when I asked the long-time Cardinals trainer, now working with minor leaguers out of Jupiter, about it, he simply smiled and said, “Zeid is really good.”
Heyer is ok
As I reported on Sunday, Memphis pitcher Kurt Heyer had trouble locating his warm up throws. The right-hander was removed from the game before facing a batter and was taken out to get checked out. On Wednesday, the 26-year-old told me that he is fine. It is not clear when he will be scheduled again to pitch.
Heyer is in the hunt to return to Memphis for what would be his fourth partial season, having first reached Triple-A in 2014.
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