Longshots "R" Us - NRI's Look for an Opening

By definition, non-roster invitees to spring training are in a very tough position, having to fight their way onto the team. Here, we take a look at those 20 players not on the Cardinals' 40-man roster who have a chance (albeit in most cases, a very outside chance) of making the season-opening 25-man squad.

The Cardinals recently set their non-roster invitees (NRI) to the 2006 Spring Training camp, so we thought you might like a little more information about these guys. Each player is listed according to how they are categorized by the Cardinals, while pitchers are split into starters vs. relievers. Some of the pitchers have performed in both roles.

Pitchers – The Starters
Randy Leek -
Randy Leek is an eighteenth round 1999 draft pick from the Tigers' organization. The 28-year-old lefty's development has been erratic. He appeared in only one game in 2001 and did not pitch at all in 2003 due to injuries. Leek joined the Cardinals mid-way through the 2004 season and 2005 saw him pitch a career high 191.2 innings in twenty-nine game appearances, twenty-eight starts. His career line: 90 G, 69 GS (has almost exclusively started since 1999), 1 SV, 23-26, 467.1 IP, 476 H, 211 R, 179 ER, 48 HR, 87 BB, 308 SO, 3.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.

Leek's invitation to the Major League Spring Training camp likely is a partial reward for an excellent 2005 campaign when he led the Texas League with 15 wins. It will also give La Russa and Duncan the chance to personally assess him. He is most likely going to be part of the Memphis rotation in 2006.

Rich Rundles
Rundles is a big (6'5") lefty who turns 25 in June. The Cardinals are his third organization, as he began in the Red Sox system then went to the Montreal/Washington organization. Looking strictly at his stats, while Rundles has been used primarily as a starter, he has not pitched regularly. He was drafted in 1999 but only pitched fifty-three innings in fourteen game appearances, seven starts, through 2000. Rundles did not pitch at all in 2001. 2002 was the start of his stint in the Montreal organization.

His career high in innings pitched for a season came last year when he tossed 159.1 innings in twenty-seven game appearances, twenty-six games. Rundles has a career 3.22 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 324.2 innings over sixty-six games, fifty-eight starts. He has not pitched above Double-A. Given his youth and left-handedness, Rundles is certainly worth a good look. He is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

Dennis Tankersley
Tankersley is a 27-year-old (in February) righty who received a lot of press while with the Padres organization. The Cardinals are his fourth organization along with the Red Sox, Padres and Royals. His is one of the more intriguing names on the NRI list as he has a lot of unfulfilled potential. The Cardinals will be looking at him to assess whether Dave Duncan can work with him or not. Tankersley has an outside shot at a spot in the Cardinals' bullpen. Otherwise, he will likely start as part of the Memphis rotation.

Brad Voyles
Voyles is a 29-year-old righty who was originally drafted by the Braves. The Cardinals are his fourth organization. He was with Atlanta from 1998 through July 2001 when he was traded to the Royals as part of the Rey Sanchez deal. Voyles' major league experience came with the Royals as he appeared on the major league squad at some point during 2001, 2002 and 2003, a total of sixty-eight innings.

Voyles was released by the Royals in July 2004 and spent 2005 in the Yankees organization where he primarily started. Since his most recent experience is as a starter, he was placed in the "starter" group. However, traditionally Voyles has been used as a reliever. He has a 2.63 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 320.2 over one hundred eighty-two games, seventeen starts. Voyles is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

John Webb
Webb turns 27 in May and spent the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay organization. The righty was a waiver wire pick up from the Cubs and pitched thirteen total major league innings in five game appearances for Tampa Bay. Webb has been used primarily as a starter in his career and has a 3.68 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 495 minor league innings. He is currently assigned to the Memphis roster where he will compete for a slot.

Pitchers – The Relievers
Andy Cavazos -
Cavazos is a 25-year-old righty out of the Rangers' organization. He was their fifth round draft pick back in 1999 and pitched for them through 2002. Cavazos never rose above class A-Advanced while with Texas. He joined the Cardinals' organization in 2003 and spent time in both class A-Advanced Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield last season.

Cavazos participated in the Arizona Fall League after both the 2004 and 2005 seasons. His career numbers are: 174 G, 64 GS (although none since 2003), 13 SV, 23-29, 478.1 IP, 490 H, 283 R, 250 ER, 51 HR, 235 BB, 342 SO, 4.70 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. Cavazos does not have a realistic chance of making the big squad.

Brian Falkenborg -
Falkenborg joined the Cardinals' organization when he was signed as a free agent on August 7, 2005 and assigned to Memphis. Although the 28-year-old was used exclusively out of the Memphis bullpen, Falkenborg has been a starter for most of his career with one hundred twenty-three starts in one hundred thirty-three game appearances. That includes three cups of coffee in the bigs.

Falkenborg's major league debut came in 1999 with the Orioles. (He was the Orioles' second-round selection in 1996.) Falkenborg also glimpsed the majors with the 2004 Dodgers and the 2005 Padres. He has been used exclusively in a relief role while on a major league squad. Falkenborg has a career 4.31 ERA and 1.34 in 660.1 minor league innings. His major league ERA is 6.99 with a 1.91 WHIP in 28.1 innings. At best, Falkenborg will head back to the Memphis bullpen.

Blaine Neal
Neal signed with the Cardinals during this off-season and is currently assigned to the Memphis roster. His most recent stint was with the Colorado Rockies organization last year. Neal turns 28 in April and interestingly enough, one of the pitchers with whom he is the most similar through age 27 is former Cardinal Luther Hackman. Neal is a former fourth-rounder out of the Marlins organization.

Neal has a total of 146.2 innings of major league experience with the Marlins, Padres, Red Sox and Rockies, all out of the bullpen. While his major league stats have not been good enough for him to stick, he has a career 2.61 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 306.1 innings and 113 game appearances. Like Falkenborg, Neal's best opportunity with the Cardinals is probably as part of the Memphis bullpen.

Jeff Nelson
Nelson recently signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals that included a Spring Training invite. A long-time major leaguer in the twilight of his career, Nelson will be judged by La Russa and Duncan for a role in the Cardinals' bullpen. If he does not make the big squad, I do not see the 39-year-old Nelson going to Memphis.

John Riedling
Riedling is a 30-year-old righty out of the Reds' organization. He has over three hundred innings of major league experience with the Reds and Florida Marlins, mostly out of the bullpen. Both his minor and major league ERAs are in the mid-4.00 range with WHIPs in the 1.50 range. Donnie Moore is the third most similar pitcher through age 29 and former Cardinal Mike Timlin is the second most similar by age (career path).

Bryan Anderson
Anderson is one of the Cardinals' hot young prospects. A fourth-round selection last year who just turned 19 last month, Anderson was the best hitting catcher in the Cardinals' minor league system. He went .331/.383/.513/.896, 51-for-154 in fifty-one games with the Rookie level Johnson City Cardinals. While Spring Training always requires a number of catchers to handle all the pitchers that will be in camp, Anderson should be complimented that he has been invited to the big camp with only one year's professional experience under his belt. He will be given the chance to jump to the class A Swing of the Quad Cities this coming season.

Brian Esposito
Esposito will turn 27 next month and 2006 will be his sixth season of professional ball. The Cardinals are his fourth organization after Boston, Anaheim and Texas. He is a career .234/.279/.345/.624 hitter in seven hundred eighty-nine minor league at bats. The highest level at which he has played is Triple-A. Esposito is currently assigned to the Double-A Springfield roster.

Iker Franco
Franco was originally with the Devil Rays organization but played in the Braves organization last year. The Cardinals acquired him in the Double-A portion of the December 2005 Rule 5 draft. He turns 25 in May and 2006 will be his seventh year of professional ball. Franco has a career .243 batting average in 900 minor league at bats. He is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

Gabe Johnson
Johnson was a third round 1998 draft selection by the Cardinals. He is currently undergoing a conversion to catcher. 2005 was to have been the 26-year-old's first season behind the plate but he broke his kneecap during a game in early April which resulted in him both missing most of the first-half of the season and being placed at first base upon his return. The temporary move to first was necessary because Johnson's knee was not yet able to withstand the rigors of catching. The Cardinals sent Johnson to the Arizona Fall League after the season was over to work on his catching. His 2005 offensive stats were .251/.335/.399/.734, 46-for-183 in fifty-one games. Johnson is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

Jason Motte
Motte is perhaps the best defensive catcher in the Cardinals' organization. Reports rate his defense as Major League quality. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the 23-year-old's bat. Motte was a nineteenth round 2003 draft selection by the Cardinals and is a career .188/.217/.231/.448 hitter in five hundred seventy-nine minor league at bats. He is likely to be one of the last optioned to the minors during Spring Training due to his defense. Motte is currently assigned to the class A-Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals.

Dave Berg
Dave Berg most likely will be assessed as a possible utility player by the Cardinals. The 35-year-old has experience at all of the infield positions as well as left and right field. His primary position is second base. He spent 2005 with Pawtucket, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, where he went .306/.393/.398/791 – 130-for-425 in one hundred twelve games. Berg is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

Brian Daubach
Along with Jeff Nelson and Dennis Tankersley, Brian Daubach is probably the best known of the NRI's. Daubach hails from nearby Belleville, Illinois and will turn 34 in February. He spent 2005 with the Mets organization where he went .325/.426/.554/.980, 112-for-345, in ninety-nine games for Triple-A Norfolk but only .120/.324/.320/.644, 3-for-25, in fifteen games for the Mets. Daubach's primary position is first base although he has played the corner outfield positions and appeared in two games at third base.

Kit Pellow
The 32-year-old is listed on the Cardinals' website in the infielder section although his main experience appears to be right field. At the major league level, Pellow has played right, first, third, left and catcher. The ability to catch may give him a slight edge to make the major league squad over some of the other outside shots but he remains a long shot to make the squad. Pellow is a career .280 hitter in three thousand three hundred eighty minor league at bats. He is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

Ramon Nivar
Nivar is a 26-year-old outfielder out of the Dominican Republic. He participated in the 2003 Futures game as a member of the Rangers organization. Nivar spent 2005 in the Baltimore organization where he did not hit well - below .250 batting average, at both the Double-A or Triple-A levels. Nivar is currently assigned to the Memphis roster but may have a hard time sticking in the Cardinals organization, given the glut of outfield candidates.

Prentice Redman
Redman is a 26-year-old outfielder from the Mets organization. The Cardinals are his second team. Redman spent 2005 at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels, going .311/.371/.472/.843, 50-for-161 in forty-five Double-A games and .297/.352/.461/.813, 76-for-256 in seventy-six Triple-A games. He has spent at least part of three consecutive seasons at the Triple-A level and got a brief stint with the Mets in 2003. Redman is currently assigned to the Memphis roster.

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