Handicapping the Cardinals' NRIs - 2007

Without trades or injuries, only a few of those players not already on the St. Louis Cardinals' 25-man roster have any realistic chance of making the 2007 club out of Spring Training.

As they do every year, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and his coaching staff will come into Spring Training with an open mind – at least in their comments made for public consumption. Everyone in camp has a chance to make their club.

This means not only the forty players on the club's 40-man roster, but also the group of players who will be arriving in Jupiter, Florida in two weeks facing the most uphill battle of all – the non-roster invitees (NRIs). More than anyone else in camp, these players hope the open competition offer is real.

In 2007, the Cardinals have invited 18 non-roster players to their major league camp. Each surely will be reporting with a dream to impress the brass enough to beat the odds and become one of the 25-players selected to come north with the team to start the regular season.

These NRIs can basically be split into two groups. The majority of them, 12, are older players, signed as minor league free agents. Several of them have prior major league experience, such as pitcher Mike Smith and outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

The other six are youngsters. Some, like top prospect Colby Rasmus, are getting their first taste of big league camp before it is required to add them to the 40-man. Others, like catcher Brian Esposito, are in major league camp only until some of the pitchers are cut. None of the six have a shot at making this year's team.

Additional background on each one of the 18 players can be found in my recent article "Cards Non-Roster Spring Training Invitees".

Past history indicates one or two of the more experienced NRIs might actually make it, at least for awhile. Though here in 2007, the 40-man roster seems unusually well-stocked with players who are firmly in the way of these NRIs' dreams. Logjams are most prevalent in the outfield and among the relief corps.

Last spring, Scott Spiezio was my top pick at 3:1 to make the club from among the 23 NRIs the Cardinals invited to their 2006 spring camp. With a fast start in March, Spiezio not only earned a spot on the 25-man roster, but later became an important member of the World Series champions. Following the season, the utilityman received a new, two-year deal as a reward.

In addition, my 2006 12:1 shot, Josh Hancock, completed a successful transition from starting to relieving after coming over to the Cardinals from Cincinnati. Because of his solid pitching in Florida, Hancock making the club was no longer a surprise by the end of March. Hancock's strong showing enabled the Cards to cut loose veteran reliever Jeff Nelson, to whom I had assigned 5:1 odds.

The previous year, in 2005, an unheralded eight-year veteran middle infielder from the Pirates, Abraham Nunez, came from nowhere. He only made the team but also went on to secure a career-high 421 at-bats as the starting third baseman for that Cardinals squad that ultimately won 100 games.

On the other hand, left-handed reliever Bill Pulsipher was the other NRI to make the 2005 Opening Day roster. He was injured at the end of spring training and didn't last the month before returning to the oblivion from which he came.

Currently there is seemingly no room at the inn. The Cardinals 40-man roster is full – at 40 players - meaning for every NRI added, another player currently on the 40-man roster must be waived, traded or placed onto the 60-day disabled list. Mark Mulder may free up one spot for the latter reason, as he is not expected to be ready to compete until mid-season.

To reinforce the uphill battle this group faces from another perspective, 16 of the 23 Cardinals 2006 NRI's are no longer in the organization.

Of those 18 who have received 2007 invitations, my forecast is that catcher/outfielder Eli Marrero has the best shot of sticking by a considerable margin. I handicap the former Cardinal at 3:1 odds to be on the initial 25-man roster.

Next is right-handed starter Mike Smith at 20:1. The rest range upward from there to the extra catchers whom I peg to have a 1,000,000:1 chance of making the Cardinals this spring. And that is probably optimistic.

We'll find out how good my handicapping skills are in about 60 days as camp breaks. If there are any major changes to the roster due to signings or trades in the interim, I will update this story.

Also, look to our site in the upcoming days as I will be handicapping the chances of those on the 40-man roster of making the 25-man coming out of spring training, too. Matters such as guaranteed contracts, options, outrighting, service time, pitching/hitting splits and more means there are numerous additional considerations to take into account with that group.

Without further ado, here are my odds and commentary on all 18 Cardinals 2007 spring training non-roster invitees.


Position Name Age Odds Comment
Pitcher Mike Smith 29 20:1 2007 version of Tankersley - ready in Memphis, but may never get call.
  Kelvin Jimenez 26 1000:1 Coming off elbow surgery, former Rangers prospect needs to prove himself.
Catcher  Ryan Christianson 26 1,000,000:1 Former 1st-rounder was interesting, but seems on the way down.
  Brian Esposito 28 1,000,000:1 Came back to the organization and was rewarded with an invite.
  Danilo Sanchez 26 1,000,000:1 Hasn't played above Double-A and is slotted for Springfield.
  Eli Marrero 33 3:1 If he can catch effectively, he could beat out Bennett and/or be utility man.
First base  Tagg Bozied 28 200:1 Pujols owns the spot, with others ahead in line capable of backing him up.
Second base Edgar Gonzalez 29 1000:1 No Major League experience at age 29 and won't get it now.
Utility Jolbert Cabrera 34 40:1 About the same chance Deivi Cruz had in '06. Probably gone before April.
Outfield Ryan Ludwick 29 40:1 Has some Major League experience, but needs a lot of help to get more.
  Miguel Negron 25 80:1 Tools guy will need to prove himself in Memphis despite winter batting title.
  Rick Ankiel 28 100:1 After not playing for all of 2006, there are too many bodies to climb over. 


Position Name Age Odds Comment
Pitcher Chris Lambert 24 200,000:1 Chance to get visibility, but that is it.
  Mike Parisi 24 100,000:1 Give him a taste of the bigs.
  Mike Sillman 25 100,000:1 Reward for a good 2006?
  Mark Worrell 24 100,000:1 Future as a middle reliever?
Catcher Bryan Anderson 20 200,000:1 Lots of potential, but not ready yet.
Outfield Colby Rasmus 20 10,000:1 All eyes will be on the #1 prospect.

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

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