Past history says one or two might make it, at least for awhile. Last spring, left-handed reliever Bill Pulsipher was injured even at the time he was selected and didn't last the month before returning to the oblivion from which he came.
Jewels are also sometimes uncovered via the NRI route, too. An unheralded eight-year veteran middle infielder from the Pirates, Abraham Nunez, came from nowhere, not only to make the team but also to secure a career-high 421 at-bats as the starting third baseman for the 2005 Cardinals squad that ultimately won 100 games.
Currently the 40-man roster sits at 38 players, meaning two of these players could be added without another player being waived. Of course, that doesn't mean any of them will actually make it.
But of those 23 who have a chance, my forecast is that switch-hitting infielder Scott Spiezio and right-handed reliever Jeff Nelson seem to have the best shot. I handicap the former to have 3-1 odds to be on the initial 25-man roster, with Nelson at 5-1. The rest range upward from there to the extra catchers who I peg to have a 1,000,000-1 chance of making the Cardinals this spring.
We'll find out how good my handicapping skills are in about a month. In the meantime, here is my commentary on all 23 NRIs.
|Folklore has it that Benes "almost" made the 2004 team. Only problem was that he was hurt on March 12th. A great feel-good story, but Benes' last effective season in the major leagues was 1997. Still, his name alone cut his 100-1 odds in half.|
|Way short on experience. While he is here because someone in the hierarchy likes him, Cavazos' chances would be enhanced significantly if he was somehow mistaken for Jeff Nelson.|
|Had a nice run closing at Memphis last season, but only a tremendously bad run of injuries would open up a spot. His career major league ERA is seven.|
|Has upside potential, but probably too many bodies to climb over. Odds would be three times higher if I wasn't considering him as a swingman here instead of a starter. Looks like a member of Memphis' rotation, and that isn't bad insurance to have.|
|Leek had a nice season in Springfield in 2005, so should stay around the organization, likely starting in Memphis.|
|Has good size (6-foot-5), so looks great in the uniform. Only 27, but in his fifth organization already. Has some big-league time, so could be valuable in Memphis.|
|The best chance of anyone here, but how many specialists can the Cards carry? In addition, his recent declining numbers and advancing age (39) mean Nelson is far from a lock. Like all of these NRI pitchers, he'll have to pitch his way onto the team.|
|Has significant major league experience with decent results, but would have to beat out Nelson, Juan Mateo and/or Brad Thompson. Seems unlikely to happen.|
|Being the fifth lefty (behind Ricardo Rincon, Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson and Carmen Cali) in a competition where only two or three at most will make the team pretty much says it all. I hear Springfield is a nice place to spend the summer.|
|Being a starter is a serious disadvantage in this competition, when the Cardinals have at least seven guys ahead of him. That and the fact that Tankersley couldn't make the pitiful Royals staff last year should speak volumes. Was a top prospect once, though.|
|Another guy whose claim to major league "fame" was with the Royals. Not necessarily a positive. No room at the inn, anyway.|
|Former Devil Ray is Triple-A rotation material.|
|All the potential in the world, but a 19-year-old 2005 draftee isn't going to make this team.|
|Brian Esposito||R/R||1,000,000-1||Ain't gonna' happen. Like winning Powerball.|
|Iker Franco||R/R||1,000,000-1||A Double-A Rule 5 pick-up. No way.|
|I only cut the default NRI catcher's odds in half since Johnson is well-liked by the organization.|
|Jason Motte||R/R||1,000,000-1||Would make fans long for the return of Cody McKay.|
|A versatile guy with a lot of experience has the misfortune to be in the most competitive battle of the spring. Still, could be a sleeper, but only if Deivi Cruz bombs and even then would need help.|
|Has the name recogniton, but that may be his best asset. Still has a chance, but seems to be behind Rick Ankiel (organizational favorite) and Scott Spiezio (more versatile - can play third). In fact, if John Gall hit left-handed or Chris Duncan had proven defensive skills, I wonder if Daubach would be in camp.|
|Another veteran who can play several positions including outfield, but seems destined to be lost in the numbers game.|
|Two years ago, Spiezio would have been a lock. If he can prove he didn't lose his bat up in the Northwest woods somewhere, he still has a very good chance to make this team, both because of his switch-hitting and his glove.|
|Came to camp with an injured knee due that happened during winter ball. Bad timing. Also played some second base in the past and might have competed otherwise.|
|Kerry Robinson made this team more than once, so anything could happen. But, realistically, the Cardinals have too many outfielders ahead of Redman. Emil Brown started off hitting almost .400 two springs ago and couldn't crack the 25-man. I wonder if Redman would make it if he hit .500?|
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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