Whatever Happened to Jimmy Journell?

It's the winter of 2001, Baseball America names Jimmy Journell the Cardinals #1 prospect. Out west, at the same time Dennis Tankersley is ranked as the San Diego Padres' Top Pitching Prospect. This spring, five long years and a lot of broken dreams later, they may battle each other for a spot in the St. Louis bullpen.

The St. Louis Cardinals announced Tuesday that they signed a minor league contract with former San Diego Padres' top pitching prospect Dennis Tankersley.

When spring training begins, Tankersley may join our own former Top Prospect, Jimmy Journell, in a battle for a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals' 2006 bullpen.

We say "may" because Journell was taken off the Cardinals' 40 man roster in August this past season, and then to add insult to injury, or perhaps injury to insult, he was placed onto the DL in September. Then in October, the Cardinals inactivated him and sent him home for what has been described to me as personal reasons.

Our sources confirmed that the move made in October had nothing to do with any injury or arm problems that Journell was experiencing in September. My take then is he should be healthy for the 2006 campaign.

Journell, a six-year minor league free agent, may or may not return to Memphis. A spokesperson from the club, when asked if Journell would return next season responded, "It's up to Jimmy."

So the door for him appears to be open, if he wants to come back.

An open door should be good news for Journell? He hasn't always endeared himself with the Cardinals. During the 2003 season, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stated on his radio show that the team wanted to option Journell to the minors in August when they acquired two new relievers, but Journell has been battling a sore shoulder and invoked a clause that allowed him to go on the disabled list rather than being optioned. La Russa said Journell "didn't make any points with the team" with his decision.

Journell missed most of the 2004 season after his shoulder surgery, which was similar to the procedure Cardinals hurler Chris Carpenter underwent in 2003. So, his chances of making up with the Cardinals brass was limited.

Last season (2005), Journell wasn't in top form, but he still managed to get through the season. In 34 games for AAA Memphis, Journell posted a 1-4, won loss record with one save, with a 4.68 ERA. In his five games with St. Louis, (just 4.3 innings) Journell was 0-1 with a bloated 10.38 ERA and that had to hurt.

A season like he had in 2005, after coming back off surgery, after all the disappointment, being hit hard and taken off the 40-man roster will cause you some personal problems. For the record, I don't know what his problems were; I'm just suggesting Journell went through a rough period in his career, which certainly didn't help any, regardless of his personal issues.

If Journell comes back, it may come down to the last man standing between he and Tankersley as to who will be making the trip north to St. Louis as a member of the bullpen when training camp breaks.

The Cardinals are on the verge of being very desperate in looking for some arms to back up the starting rotation and Journell could be another way to shore up the leaking bullpen without costing St. Louis an arm or a leg.

Going into the winter meetings next week in Dallas Texas, St. Louis Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty has several holes to fill in the bullpen. Holes created by the void left by;

...the retirement of Cal Eldred;

...the injury to Al Reyes, who will miss most of next season, if not all of it, because of Tommy John surgery;

...Julian Tavarez becoming a free agent, and trust me, he will demand much more in the free agent market than the St. Louis Cardinals would be willing to spend or the fans would be wanting them to spend for the troubled reliever.

...then there is Ray King who requested to be traded at the end of the playoffs, but has since backed off his demand.

The reports coming out of the Gateway City is that the Cardinals have kissed and made up with Ray, but don't count on it. King could still be traded before the Cardinals head to Florida for the Grapefruit Season.

All these vacancies and the cost of relievers going through the roof with the recent signings of Billy Wagner (for a reported 4 years for $43 million) and Bob Howry (3yrs for $12 million), these contracts give new hope to pitchers like Jimmy Journell and Dennis Tankersley, looking for another shot at the majors.

And you can only imagine what kind of deal Julian Tavarez will be able to command in this market. He'll be moving to greener pastures (the color of money, green) opening another slot for someone to fill, another potential chance for a Journell or Tankersley to make it back to the majors.

Looking back, Journell would have been one of the most highly touted prospects in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals organization if not for the Tommy John surgery he had just one week before the 1999 draft.

The Cardinals took him in the fourth round and signed him for only $250,000 and tried to be patient with him. He didn't pitch at all in 1999 and he worked out of the bullpen in 2000 for Class A New Jersey of the New York-Penn league.

In 2001 splitting playing time between Class A Potomac and AA New Haven, Journell began his rise toward the top.

A dominant closer at Illinois, Journell made 26 starts for the Potomac Cannons and finished with a 14-6 record and a 2.50 ERA, a season that contributed to his number #1 ranking with Baseball America.

He continued to improve and his star was rising and it appeared that the Cardinals' early patience with Journell had paid off.

During the 2002 season, splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A, Journell ranked eighth among Cardinal minor league starters with a combined 3.05 ERA. Most important, Journell was healthy throughout the season.

In his fourth professional season, Journell seemed on track to break into the majors before the end of the season. He made 40 appearances at AAA Memphis before getting the call from St. Louis, where he went on to make seven appearances for the Cardinals.

It was at this point that Journell indicated to Cardinals management that he didn't want to start any more, at the time giving me some cause for concern for his future.

The Cardinals' top prospect saying he doesn't want to start? When I heard that, warning flags went up as I wondered how bad this guy wants to pitch.

If Journell was going to make it as a major league pitcher, it would seem to me, at least initially, that he needed to face as many major league batters as possible and I couldn't see him at his age at the time and his stage of development becoming successful at the major league level working out of the bullpen.

In seven games with St. Louis in 2003, Journell pitched only nine innings as a reliever and had a record of 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA. One stat that gave me more cause for concern than anything else was, that Journell walked 11 batters in just nine innings. Eleven walks? This from a guy who wants to come in out of the bullpen?

The rise to the top came to an abrupt halt early in 2004. Journell went down with right shoulder tendinitis after having appeared in just four games. He underwent shoulder surgery on May the 17th for labral debribement (debribement, something Congressman Cunningham may be interested in) and Journell missed the rest of the season.

Journell could be one of those interesting stories next spring. If he signs with St. Louis, he will be reporting to camp for the first time in a couple of seasons not on the 40-man roster, battling for another chance to return to the majors.

There is not likely anyone who will be fighting for a spot in the bullpen for next season that will have more "potential" than Journell.

Comments from interviews last spring, paint a picture that hasn't changed.

"He would be a real bonus for us if we could keep him healthy," said manager Tony La Russa.

Ask Journell what he thinks the team is looking for out of him, and he responds with just two words:

"Health. Strikes."

Ask La Russa what he wants to see from Journell beyond stuff and command, and he's just as direct:

"Health. He needs to stay healthy. He's got stuff. It's just consistency. He's got plus stuff."

You probably won't find Journell on any Top Prospect lists this winter, but you will find the former Top Prospect facing another one in Dennis Tankersley in a battle for a role in the bullpen.

The one thing they both have in common?


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