Four Sent Down as Cardinals Cut Ten

The St. Louis Cardinals assigned infielders Tagg Bozied and Edgar Gonzalez plus catchers Eli Marrero and Brian Esposito to Memphis (Triple-A) plus ten minor leaguers were released.

As the St. Louis Cardinals head into their final week of the 2007 Spring Training, the necessary task of thinning out rosters is now being executed in earnest at every level of the system.

At the major league level, two expected moves occurred when first baseman Tagg Bozied and second baseman Edgar Gonzalez were assigned to Memphis (Triple-A). The two were signed to minor league free agent deals over the winter and were in major league camp by invitation.

Gonzalez demonstrated a strong bat, putting up a .348/.444/.739 (BA/OBP/SLG) line this spring, but was shaky at times defensively. Bozied proved steady with the glove at first and even played some outfield, but offensively, his .256/.302/.282 line wasn't good enough to unseat an incumbent bench player.

In addition, two catchers left the major league camp late Sunday, Eli Marrero and Brian Esposito.

Marrero's non-roster bid to make the big club's 25-man roster as a third catcher and backup at first base and the outfield to open the season ended as he was also assigned to Memphis. Marrero batted a respectable .292 with eight RBIs this spring, seeing extended duty as Gary Bennett was slowed by injury. Bennett remains as the Cardinals reserve catcher, but Marrero will stand ready if needed.

Esposito joins Ryan Christanson, Michel Hernandez and Marrero in a crowded catching competition at Memphis. Esposito, who was primarily in the major league camp to assist with the extra pitchers, collected one hit in seven spring at-bats with the Cards. The 28-year-old batted .234 with Memphis in 2006.

With several weeks of scrimmages and full-fledged games under their belts, the Cardinals minor league on-field brain trust, led by coordinators Mark Riggins (pitching) and Jim Riggleman (field) have been busily working with executives Jeff Luhnow, John Vuch and others to decide and carry out a series of roster changes across the system.

Riggleman recently told me that about 90% of the in-camp evaluation decision occurs as a result of game play and only about 10% is based on workouts, unless there were other factors to consider on an exception basis only, such as tardiness or attitude.

On Saturday, three pitchers were released. Justin Garza was on the Memphis working roster and Jason Adams and A.J. Montano were on the Palm Beach squad.

That group was joined by seven more on Monday morning. They include some very prominent names: four position players - Matt Dryer, Kevin Estrada, Miguel Negron and Matt Wilkerson plus three pitchers - Mark Michael, Matt Michael and Jordan Pals.

First baseman Matt Dryer had been working with the Memphis squad, but it is pretty clear that Tagg Bozied will be starting for the Redbirds this coming season. And with Randy Roth set at Springfield and Mike Ferris and Mark Hamilton with Palm Beach, the position is well-stocked up and down the system. After joining the organization as a free agent in 2004, Dryer split the 2006 season between high Class A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, where he hit .263/.329/.452 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs.

Miguel Negron is a former first-round draft pick (Toronto, 2000) who won the winter league batting title in Puerto Rico. However, as an outfielder, Negron faced a stiff challenge for playing time from returnees like Rick Ankiel, Nick Stavinoha and fellow signee Ryan Ludwick on the Redbirds' roster. In addition, the big club will still be sending down another outfielder or two.

Outfielder Matt Wilkerson had been working out with Palm Beach and faced similar challenges as did Negron at his level. Wilkerson was having a nice spring, hitting .478 (11-for-23) and like several of these players, should be able to catch on elsewhere. The 24-year-old joined the organization in 2005 as a non-drafted free agent and is a career .232 hitter in A-ball.

Kevin Estrada is a well-liked and versatile infielder who had been working out with the Springfield club this spring. He hit .259 (6-for-27) this month with a home run and two RBIs. The 26-year-old was taken in the 42nd round in 2002 and hit .227 between Memphis and Springfield last season.

Jordan Pals had been working out with Memphis this spring. He had been charged with three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings pitched, striking out one and walking one. Pals had been selected in the 20th round of the June, 2003 First-Year Player Draft. He went 8-7 with a 4.94 ERA as a starter at Springfield in 2006.

Coming off injury, former top prospect Mark Michael was converting from starter to reliever. As always, he was good with the strikeout, six in 7 1/3 innings. But, he also walked four and allowed six earned runs in camp. The 6-foot-4 right-hander was taken in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, but his Cardinals career was limited by elbow and shoulder injuries.

Lefty Matt Michael was on the Quad Cities working roster. He was charged with six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, walking two and fanning four. Last season, the 23-year-old pitched for rookie-level Johnson City after being selected in the 39th round of the 2006 draft. He registered a 3.12 ERA while there.

Justin Garza had allowed six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, walking three and striking out only one. He had been taken in the ninth round in the 2003 draft and posted a 3.12 ERA between Palm Beach and Springfield in 2006.

Jason Adams gave up seven runs in six innings on the mound. He fanned two and walked one. Adams, 21, had been signed as a non-drafted free agent last July and posted a 2.51 ERA for Johnson City last season.

A.J. Montano had allowed a single unearned run in six spring innings. He struck out six and walked two. Montano had been signed as a non-drafted free agent last August. The reliever had a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings with Johnson City in 2006.



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

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