Cardinals Invite 5 Newcomers to Minors Camp

The St. Louis Cardinals have signed two players and invited three others without contracts to their 2008 minor league spring training camp, now underway in Jupiter, Florida.

Among the 157 players that reported to the St. Louis Cardinals minor league spring training camp this week are five players new to the organization, yet to play in regular season games, but hoping for the chance.

Three are simply invitees, in camp without contracts or any promises, hoping for their chance to make it as a professional. They join Korean right-handed pitcher Jai Chul Chung and Hungarian catcher Denes Simonyi in that status.

Two, Brandon Johnson and Joe Rogers, are players looking to jumpstart their careers with a new organization. One is a shortstop from Mexico experiencing his first play in the USA, Ivan Bellazetin.

The other two new Cardinals players, Carlos Pupo and Cardoza Tucker, have been signed to contracts for the 2008 season. The former joined the organization late last season, fresh from college, while the latter has a diverse baseball past.

Under contract

Carlos Pupo, 22, (right) is from Purdue University and listed by the Cardinals as a first baseman. The 6-foot-4, 250 pound specimen is well-traveled himself, having also played for Palm Beach Community College (2004) in Palm Beach, Florida, Indian River Community College (2005) in Fort Pierce, Florida as well as Newberry College (South Carolina) in 2006.

Primarily a right fielder during his only season at Purdue, the right-handed hitter started 12 games and appeared in another 17 for the Boilermakers in 2007, putting up a .175/.262/.298 line and an .833 fielding percentage.

Pupo actually joined the Gulf Coast League Cardinals late in the 2007 season, but was not rostered and of course, did not appear in any game action. Given his lack of professional experience, I would expect Pupo not to make a full-season club and instead remain behind for Extended Spring Training camp.

A right-handed pitcher, Cardoza Tucker, 23, (pictured) was originally drafted out of high school by the Seattle Mariners in the 48th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft as a draft and follow. He pitched for Fresno City College before signing his first professional contract prior to the 2003 season. Tucker promptly injured his pitching arm in rookie ball, requiring Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.

After being released by Seattle, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Californian pitched in the independent Golden and Northern Leagues from 2004 through 2006 and for Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy before being signed by the Houston Astros prior to last season.

In 2007, Tucker appeared in just six games in relief for Houston's New York-Penn League affiliate, the Tri-City Valley Cats, allowing a tidy 12 earned runs in 12 innings pitched. He fanned ten but walked nine before being released in late July.

Tucker would seem a candidate to return to the NY-P in 2008, with it being possible he could catch onto the back end of the Quad Cities bullpen with a standout March.

Invitees

Ivan Bellazetin, 21, is a shortstop who hails from Mexico City. The 5-foot-8, 148-pound right-handed hitter played for the Petroleros de Minatitlan of the Mexican League in the summer of 2007, a teammate of Springfield Cardinals outfielder Amaury Marti.

Last summer, Bellazetin posted a .247/.275/.305 (BA/OBP/SLG) line in 223 at-bats over 95 games and had a team-high 16 errors in the field. This past winter, he batted .302 in winter ball for the Gavilanes de Minatitlan of the Veracruz Winter Instructional League in Mexico. The previous regular season in Mexico, his numbers were a power-free .227/.276/.255.

Brandon Johnson, 23, is a switch-hitting second baseman originally selected by Chicago White Sox in the 44th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft from Crowder College, but did not sign. One year later, in June, 2004, he did become a professional with the Sox as a non-drafted free agent.

By his fourth season, the 6-foot-0, 190-pound Johnson had reached the A-Advanced Carolina League, where he batted just .195 while also seeing time defensively at third base and the outfield. His career minor league results are .232/.292/.343 over 815 at-bats.

The Cardinals once again stepped into the wayback machine for this addition. Left-handed knuckleballer Joe Rogers (right) was originally signed by the organization at the age of 19 as a non-drafted free agent in July, 2001.

Rogers, now 26, pitched in relief for Johnson City in 2001 and Peoria of the Midwest League in 2002 and 2003 before being released at the end of spring training, 2004. His Peoria mound teammates included Brad Thompson and Blake Hawksworth.

With the Cardinals, the Californian had posted a 2.50 ERA in 111 2/3 innings, fanning 130 and walking just 26, but there were rumors at the time about discord over Rogers' use of the deceptive floating pitch with the often unpredictable results.

After leaving the employ of the Cardinals, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder pitched for the Red Sox in A ball in 2004 and part of the 2005 season, where he was encouraged to deploy the knuckler. Rogers had briefly reached Double-A in 2004 before being released again, in July, 2005.

He finished that season in independent ball, where he also toiled in 2006 and 2007. This past winter, Rogers pitched for the same Minatitlan club as Bellazetin, where he fanned a league-best 95 in 91 2/3 innings.



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

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