The veteran minor-leaguer Juan Richardson, 26, is returning to the Cardinals organization after playing for Springfield in 2006. He hit .311 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs, and then became a minor league free agent following the season. Richardson has yet to play a game at the Triple-A level, though he has been a minor leaguer since 1999.
A right-handed hitting third baseman from the Dominican Republic, Richardson was a highly-regarded Phillies prospect not all that long ago. He slammed 40 home runs and drove in 166 runs in 2001 and 2002 and established a reputation as a solid defender at third.
In fact, our Scout.com counterparts in Philadelphia, PhillyBaseballNews.com, rated Richardson their #18 prospect in the Phils' system just three years ago. They were not the only ones to mention him in the same breath as soon-to-be Phillies first baseman, slugging St. Louisan Ryan Howard.
The two players' paths diverged when Richardson missed much of the 2003 and 2004 seasons due to serious ankle and shoulder injuries. He was ultimately designed for assignment by the Phillies in September, 2005. On the other hand, Howard was named the National League Rookie of the Year shortly thereafter and followed up with the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2006.
Richardson is the sixth of the Cardinals' 26 minor league free agents from last fall to re-sign for 2007. Pitchers Troy Cate and Andy Cavazos snagged spots on the 40-man roster, while catcher Brian Esposito, pitcher Jose Garcia and shortstop Rico Washington also elected to return.
As the table below reiterates, last-season Richardson was among the most offensively-productive of the Cardinals' 15 then free-agent-to-be position players.
Top 2006 offensive standouts among Cards minor league free agents
Home runs: Rico Washington – 18, Juan Richardson – 17.
Runs batted in: Richardson – 78, Washington – 76, Ryan Barthelemy – 68.
Stolen bases: Junior Spivey – 13, Shaun Boyd – 12.
Batting average: Jorge Toca - .329, Richardson - .311.
On-base percentage: Dan Moylan - .433, Washington - .393.
Slugging percentage: Toca - .548, Richardson - .500, Washington - .494.
In direct contrast to the incumbent Richardson, Robert Ransom is joining the Cardinals organization for the very first time.
The 25-year old right-hander competed for Vanderbilt University from 2001 through 2003 and the prestigious Cape Cod League in the summers.
After being drafted in the 23rd round by the Chicago Cubs in '03, he did not come to terms immediately. After playing summer ball, then apparently receiving an offer to his satisfaction, Ransom signed, forfeiting his senior season of eligibility.
In 2004, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder pitched at three levels, ending the season in Double-A. He put together a sparkling 6-2, 2.35 ERA campaign, striking out 54 and walking just 12 in 88 2/3 innings-pitched. But, his rapid ascent was quickly nipped in the bud.
The Georgia native had begun to feel shoulder pain late in that 2004 season and when rehabilitation failed, he had to undergo surgery in 2005 to repair a frayed labrum. A second surgery was later required to clean up scar tissue.
Ransom had also previously undergone labrum surgery in his sophomore year at Vandy. After having missed two full seasons of action, he was ultimately released by the Cubs earlier this winter.
Steve Holley, our Scout.com publisher at Inside the Ivy, knows Ransom's situation well. "Like many young Cubs prospects without a big signing bonus, Robert Ransom's exit was more or less stamped after one good injury. It's a shame because he received a lot of notice in the Cape Cod League and while he was not overpowering, he showed genuinely effective command."
Holley still sees potential in Ransom's right arm. "If the Cardinals can get or keep him healthy, he could provide a suitable arm in a Double-A rotation or bullpen spot this year," Holley explained.
Given Ransom's history, the Cardinals plan to bring him along slowly, with his likely starting point being Extended Spring Training. That way, he can gradually work his way back up to full speed after the long layoff.
As a result, Ransom is not expected to be ready to join the Springfield club until sometime well after the regular season is already underway.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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