Injured Cards Draftees Create Intrigue

St. Louis Cardinals' 11th round draft pick Adam Reifer joined 22nd rounder Charlie Kingrey as signees recovering from injury. 19th round selection Nick Peoples remains unsigned and a bonus Kyle Russell update is provided.

At least three of the 52 players selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the June First-Year Player Draft have been dealing with medical issues prior to the draft and since. Information about them has been sketchy at best, despite the fact that two have reportedly already come to terms with the organization.

These three players include 11th round pick, right-handed reliever Adam Reifer from the University of California, Riverside (elbow-signed), 19th round selection Nick Peoples, a second baseman from the University of Texas (collarbone-unsigned) and 22nd rounder, outfielder Charlie Kingrey from McNeese State (wrist-signed).

Let's look into each.

Adam Reifer

Reifer (pronounced RYE-furr) was a most interesting pick, as the junior suffered through an injury-shortened 2007 campaign for the UC Riverside Highlanders, having last pitched in game action way back on March 3. Since he appeared in just six contests in 2007, Riverside's projected closer may have been eligible for a medical redshirt season.

Either way, Reifer could have returned in 2008 to further leverage considerable talent that some watchers believe was at a first or second-round level. This season, the 6-foot-3, 195 pound right-hander posted an ERA of 2.45 over 7 1/3 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .148 batting average.

In 2006, Reifer appeared in 20 games, going went 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA, while fanning 17 batters in 24 innings. His freshman year, he pitched in 19 games, posting a 2-0 record with 4.76 ERA, striking out 23 batters in 28 1/3 innings. In between, Reifer had a 3.22 ERA for the Hyannis Mets in the prestigious Cape Cod Summer League, where wooden bats are used. The previous summer, he closed for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League.

One report pegged Reifer's March injury as a bone spur in his pitching elbow. A later examination allegedly identified tendinitis-related stress reaction in the bone. No surgery was required. Though he did not subsequently appear in games, Reifer returned to the mound in April, apparently demonstrating enough to Cardinals scouts for them to select him.

Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow gushed about the pick to MLB.com on draft day.

"Adam was a guy we thought might be considered for the top two rounds," Luhnow said. "He's got a plus-fastball, a hard, late slider, has all the elements you look for in a premier college closer who could move pretty fast through the system... He's got a 91-94 [mph] fastball and a slider at 84.

"To get a top-of-the-Draft arm in the 11th round is great," Luhnow said. "Obviously we have to be careful with him. To get a first- or sandwich-round talent in the [11th] round that could be something that really makes this Draft."

Instead of coming back to Riverside for 2008, Reifer made the decision to turn professional now. In a one-line notation in a laundry list of transactions last week, Baseball America noted that the pitcher had signed with the Cardinals.

At the time of the draft, Luhnow shared the organization's plans for Reifer. Even though the pitcher didn't come to terms for almost a month following, it seems quite possible this same formula is being followed.

Said Luhnow on draft day, "If we sign him the next couple of days, we'll send him down to Jupiter [Fla.] and have our doctors look at him and come up with a program."

There has been no official announcement on the signing. The Cardinals did not comment when asked about Reifer. All the Riverside media relations director could offer was an acknowledgement that "he has already headed out to some minor league outpost, as far as I know."

Reifer's signing brings the list of 2007 Cardinals draft under contract to 38 out of 52, with the new August 15 signing deadline less than six weeks away.

As an interesting sideline, the 21-year-old Californian shares his alma mater with new Cardinals reliever Troy Percival. Reifer's 38-21 UCR squad was eliminated in the NCAA Regionals last month.

Charlie Kingrey

Like Reifer, outfielder Kingrey signed with the Cardinals organization, though no one other than his college, McNeese State, is talking about it. The Cards' 22nd round selection came to terms at least 2 ½ weeks ago, according to a release from the school. The Cardinals have yet to acknowledge the signing, however, and it is unclear whether or not Kingrey has reported.

The common thread between the two, Reifer and Kingrey, appears to be injury rehabilitation. The Louisiana native is recovering from a wrist injury that occurred before the draft and forced him to miss the final seven games of the Cowboys' season.

The 6-foot-2, 210 pound Louisiana native led McNeese State in the triple crown categories for two straight seasons, posting a .360 batting average, hitting 15 home runs and driving in 47 runs in 2007. Kingrey completed his career by becoming the Cowboys' all-time hit leader and was a two-time All-Southland Conference pick.

Nick Peoples

Though the Cardinals' 19th round pick, a senior outfielder/infielder from the University of Texas is still unsigned, many fans do not seem to understand why. There seems to be a good reason to move slowly.

Just a few days prior to the draft, on June 3, 22-year-old Nick Peoples suffered a broken collarbone while competing for UT in the NCAA Regionals in front of his home crowd. Our Scout editor from InsideTexas.com, Ross Lucksinger, tells the story.

"Wake Forest shortstop Dustin Hood hit a ball into left-center which would have fallen in for a base hit if not for a spectacular diving catch from Peoples to get the out. The Texas senior suffered a broken left clavicle (collarbone), ending his final season with the Horns on a key defensive play, his trademark at the University.

"In between the top and bottom of the fourth, the assembled Texas faithful gave a standing ovation for Peoples as he walked with the Texas trainers back to the Longhorn dugout with his left arm tightly wrapped," Lucksinger wrote.

Given the normal recovery period from a broken collarbone, Peoples may not be fully ready to play by the new August 15 signing deadline. As a result, both the Cardinals and Peoples may have to make their decisions with incomplete information.

The 5-foot-9, 188 pound Round Rock, Texas native batted .329 and was successful in 18 of 23 stolen base attempts this past season. He played in centerfield and at third base at UT but was listed as a second baseman on draft day.

Kyle Russell update

On a related topic, Peoples' teammate and Cards fourth-round pick Kyle Russell, Lucksinger confirmed on Friday that the slugging sophomore outfielder has reported to his summer league team, the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League.

The 6-foot-5, 185 pound lefty has appeared in three games for the Foresters, two in centerfield and one as designated hitter. Russell is 2-for-8 with four strikeouts, but has also walked four times and scored five runs.

Unconfirmed past rumors were that Russell was looking for first-round type money, $1 million, from the Cardinals in return for turning professional. Unlike Peoples, whose eligibility has been exhausted, Russell has a choice.

"Russell's reporting to his summer league team means he'll probably be returning to Texas. Not set in stone, obviously, but indications are he'll be back in Burnt Orange next season," Lucksinger explained.



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

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