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.
|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.|
|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 email@example.com.
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