Three Minor League Free Agents to Return

Left-handed pitcher Troy Cate, right-hander Jose Garcia and shortstop Rico Washington will return to the Cardinals system in 2007, while 23 other former organization players have become free-agents.

Minor league free-agent eligibles left-handed pitcher Troy Cate, right-hander Jose Garcia and shortstop Rico Washington have decided the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.

Despite being eligible for minor league free agency, these three players agreed to terms with the St. Louis Cardinals on contracts for the 2007 season.

All played for Springfield (Double-A) this past season, though Washington finished with Memphis (Triple-A). Another common denominator is that they have already seen the other side of that fence, having played a majority of their careers to-date in other organizations.

Troy Cate, left-handed pitcher

Turning 26 years of age next week, Cate is behind some pitchers of his age due to the fact that he went on a two-year Mormon mission following high school. He signed with the Seattle Mariners after being selected in the sixth round of the 2002 amateur draft.

The finesse lefty's command is considered a plus as his ability to change speeds. His two and four seam fastballs are in the 85-90 MPH range, while his curveball is his strength. Cate's changeup is slightly above average, but his slider is inconsistent.

Cate was suspended for 15 games in 2005 due to a negative test for banned performance-enhancing drugs. He was ranked #29 in Baseball America's Mariners prospects in 2003 and moved up to #26 in 2004 before falling off the map.

Cate was switched from starting to relieving prior to 2005, when he fanned 54 in 42-2/3 innings. However, keeping matters in perspective, it was his fourth season in A-ball.

He was clearly ready for Double-A in 2006 and excelled after his mid-season promotion to Springfield. Cate must have liked the number 127, as that was both his ERA (1.27) and his opposing batting average (.127). His strikeout to walk ratio was an out of this world 4.4.

Jose Garcia, right-handed pitcher

25-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Jose Garcia was originally a top prospect of the New York Yankees after being signed in Venezuela at the age of 17. He went 18-13 with a 2.36 ERA in 48 appearances over four seasons in the Yankees system.

After the 2003 season, the Yankees traded Garcia, their 20th best prospect according to Baseball America, to the Texas Rangers. He moved on to the Cardinals organization two seasons ago after being selected from the Rangers in the Triple-A portion of the 2004 Rule 5 Draft.

Garcia was a swing man in Palm Beach with 20 starts in 30 game appearances in 2005 and did a decent job, postiing a 4.35 ERA, while striking out 122 and walking 41 in 134-1/3 innings.

He sports four pitches - a 90 MPH fastball with good sink and an above-average changeup and slider. His curveball still is a work in progress, but has good command of his repertoire, allowing him to work both sides of the plate.

In 2006, Garcia returned to the Palm Beach rotation, going 5-4, 3.84 before earning a promotion to Springfield. He stood out there, posting a 1.35 ERA in limited action.

Rico Washington, shortstop

In recent years, Washington could be considered sort of a minor league version of former Cardinal Reggie Sanders. The Cardinals are Washington's fourth organization since he signed his first professional contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates nine years ago. The Cards were his third system in the last three seasons, so it is a bit of a surprise he is returning for a second year.

Washington first reached Triple-A in 2003 with the Padres and has bounced back and forth between there and Double-A since. He has yet to hit 20 home runs in any of his professional seasons, but his 76 RBI in 2006 represents his career best.

Washington, 28, was named to the 2006 Texas League All-Star Game. For the season, he ended with 18 home runs across the two levels. It would take a significant run of injuries for Washington to ever make the big club.

The others

Via not re-signing by October 15th, 23 other former Cardinals farmhands have now officially become six-year minor league free agents. They include long-time Cardinals Alan Benes, Bo Hart and former first-round draft pick Shaun Boyd.

All 23 names, with their 2006 statistics, are listed in this story, "26 Cards Six-Year Minor League Free Agents".

A later addition to the list is catcher Mike Rose, who was removed from the Cardinals' 40-man roster following the completion of the 2006 regular season. One other name was struck from the free-agent list when reliever Andy Cavazos was re-signed and added to the 40-man recently.

Though these 23 free agents will soon be able to sign elsewhere if they so choose, the Cardinals still hold interest in several of them, meaning it is possible that a few fan favorites could still return to the organization in 2007.

Cardinals Manager of Baseball Operations John Vuch explains. "There are still a few other players that we're likely to talk with, but did not agree to terms prior to them becoming free agents. But there's nothing that precludes them from returning if there's interest from both sides."

Starting next week, on October 22, the Cardinals may also begin to sign other teams' minor league free agents, a process that will likely be used to plug anticipated holes in the projected Memphis and Springfield 2007 rosters.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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