In recent years, the St. Louis Cardinals have had good luck in finding minor league free agents that have come up and contributed to the big league squad. Last year it was outfielder Ryan Ludwick who got off to a hot start at Triple-A Memphis before being called up and contributing 14 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Lefty relief specialist Randy Flores helped the Cardinals win a World Championship in 2006 after originally coming to the organization as a minor league free agent.
In 2003 it was Kiko Calero that provided a boost out of the bullpen. Calero appeared in 26 games and posted a 2.48 ERA. 2004 saw Calero doing much of the same; this time appearing in 41 games and posting a 2.78 ERA. After that season, Calero was packaged with Dan Haren and Daric Barton and sent to the Oakland Athletics for Mark Mulder.
So who could it be in 2008? With the organization in need of power arms and middle infield depth, here are a few names I found after scouring the transaction wire:
Dewon Brazelton (27)
was selected third overall by the Tampa Devil Rays in the 2001 draft. To say his development was rushed is
like saying it's cold in
Jake Dittler (25)
was originally selected in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Cleveland Indians and has bounced back and forth between Double-A and Triple-A since
2005. Dittler is a big-bodied
right-hander who induces quite a few groundballs. The
Jesse Foppert (27)
big right-hander was once regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball. Foppert has struggled with injuries
including Tommy John surgery in 2003 and only pitched in one game in 2004 due to
his rehab. The Giants included him
in a trade to
Jeremy Johnson (25)
put together a good year at Triple-A Toledo, posting a 3.44 ERA in 39 games, 37
of those in relief. The
right-hander is playing in the Mexican League this winter, having appeared in
five games, all starts. In 28
innings, he has posted a 2.83 ERA.
Johnson should be strongly considered to provide depth in the rotation at
Corey Ragsdale (24)
was selected as a shortstop by the Mets in the 2001 draft out of
Sendy Rleal (27)
The Dominican has a big arm but also command issues. Rleal was once very highly-regarded but has fallen out of favor due to losing composure when things get tough as well as wearing down as the season progresses. The right-hander appeared in 42 games at the big league level in 2006 but did not pitch above Double-A in 2007. With a fastball that can reach 97 at times, Rleal is well worth taking a flyer on.
J.D. Closser (27)
switch-hitter was once regarded as the
Rene Rivera (24)
made the Seattle Mariners as a 21-year-old but struggled offensively. He received another chance at the end of
2005 and took advantage of the situation by hitting .396. Rivera had a chance to
break camp with the club in 2006 but struggled in spring training. The native of
Justin Knoedler (27)
Another one-time well-regarded prospect that has failed to make it over the hump. Knoedler has gotten three cups of coffee with the Giants but failed to produce, hitting .111 in 14 games. Even though he is old for a prospect, Knoedler is well worth taking a shot on due to the fact he has never has gotten a chance to get comfortable in the big leagues. That is the same situation Ryan Ludwick found himself in at this time last year.
Brooks Conrad (27)
A switch-hitting grinder that has always made it more with determination than God-given ability, Conrad could provide some depth in the system. He had put together two decent years at Triple-A Red Rock before struggling in 2007. How often does a player not advance and really struggle when having to repeat a league? A change of scenery could really do Conrad good.
Fernando Cortez (26)
hit .289/.343/.385 at Triple-A Omaha.
Originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 2001 draft, Cortez
has never received much of a shot at the Major League level, logging only 27 at
Rodney Choy Foo (26)
Mike Shannon have fun with this name?
Once well-regarded in the Indians' system but is blocked by Jhonny
Peralta, Josh Barfield, and Asdrubal Cabrera. The native of
Tony Granadillo (23)
A former Cardinals' farmhand who was lost to the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 Minor League Rule 5 draft, Granadillo has put up steady numbers in his Minor League career hitting .300/.385/.466. Although not ready for a big league job, Granadillo would provide infield depth in a system in need of infielders.
Jesus Guzman (23)
solid middle infielder in a
Ivan Ochoa (24)
The former Indian farmhand had his best season with the bat, .296/.337/.430, at Triple-A Fresno. That is probably as good as it gets for the Venezuelan native and falling back to his career average of .246/.330/.307 is probable. But you have to like his career on-base percentage especially compared to his average. Ochoa might not bring a lot of offense to the table, but he offers superb glovework and an above-average arm. The young pitching at Triple-A Memphis would really learn to love to have him backing them up in 2008.
Greg Porter (27)
A great big (6'5") lefty who could man a corner outfield spot or first base, Porter could provide some left-handed pop off the bench. He posted a .498 slugging percentage at Double-A Arkansas in 2006. Porter was assigned to repeat Double-A in 2007 and struggled in the early going. He was then promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake and raked, hitting .345/.403/.510.
Anthony Webster (24)
A nice prospect that is still relatively young, 24, and would provide good depth at Triple-A Memphis. Webster repeated Double-A Frisco in 2007 and hit .277/.320/.411 while stealing 30 bases. He puts the bat on the ball, with only 55 strikeouts in 411 at bats, but could definitely draw more bases on balls.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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