Catcher Paul Vazquez, scheduled to be in camp, has instead decided to retire. To protect the organization's rights in case the 25-year-old wants to return later, the Cardinals are expected to place the right-handed hitter on the restricted list once the season begins.
Signed as a non-drafted free agent in June 2007, Vazquez split the 2008 season between Quad Cites and Palm Beach. He missed most of July and the first half of August 2009 due to injury, finishing a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League after having played in 44 games with Palm Beach. His combined line was .251/.279/.355 last season.
Nine pitchers are in minor league camp, but are not part of one of the four work groups, instead working on the Rehab program.
Perhaps the most notable is pitcher Scott Bittle, shut down early in camp due to continued shoulder soreness. After having been examined by several specialists, it was determined that surgery was not necessary.
I can verify that Bittle pitched a bullpen on Saturday, which is the first time I have ever seen him pitch. Among the others watching carefully was Cardinals director of minor league operations John Vuch.
There is no timetable for the 23-year-old's return to normalcy, yet to throw a pitch in an official game as a professional. At this point, no one is willing to commit that the Cardinals' fourth-rounder in 2009 will be ready to start the season.
George Brown suffered a shoulder injury late last season and reported for rehab in January. The 23-year-old left-hander may not pitch competitively at all in 2010. If he does come back this year, it will be very late, I have been told.
Josh Dew is in the rehab program due to prior elbow soreness, but is participating in a throwing program and currently is feeling good. An earlier rumor that he had broken his arm in winter ball was apparently in error.
Samuel Freeman had his Tommy John surgery this past week and has headed home for a few weeks until his elbow is ready to begin the rehab process. At that point, the left-hander will return to Jupiter.
The Cardinals are very proud of their Tommy John rehab process, with recent returnees arriving ahead of schedule because of no setbacks. Jaime Garcia is offered as Exhibit "A" and Rule 5 loss Mike Parisi, Exhibit "B".
Trainer Adam Olsen and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have been teaming up to head the program in Jupiter. Adam is now going to be the third trainer in St. Louis this season, with his official title Assistant Athletic Trainer/Rehab Coordinator. Athletic trainer Keith Joynt has stepped in to become the resident Jupiter program leader under Adam's guidance.
Kyle Mura should be good to go and will soon be off the rehab report completely.
Matt North may be a bit delayed to start the season, but will be close. The right-hander is throwing but has not quite progressed to game-level competition. The 21-year-old is beginning his fifth season in the system after having been taken in the ninth round of the 2006 draft but has yet to play above Johnson City. He missed all of 2009.
Brett Zawacki is coming back from knee surgery. While the 20-year-old right-hander remains on his rehab schedule and should pitch in games before camp is out, he may not be on pace to break camp with one of the full-season clubs.
Not in camp
Outfielder Joey Hage is not in camp this spring and out indefinitely. He may not be able to play this season depending on his recovery from an intestinal ailment.
Rehabbing position players
A couple of position players were also coming back from shoulder problems.
Second baseman Jose Martinez has moved off the rehab list in the last few days after 2009 shoulder surgery. At this point, the 24-year-old Venezuelan is 50-50 to be ready for the regular season start. Whether he returns to Springfield or can earn a job in Memphis will depend his readiness as well as his competition.
Because Jonathan Rodriguez' procedure was also shoulder-related, he will likely be kept at first base at least for the time being since the position is easier on the arm. The organization sees him as a potential third baseman once healed.
Another non-official rehabber
Two players not on the official camp invitee list were in Jupiter for different reasons – one for recovery and the other to begin a well-traveled position change.
Right-handed pitcher Angelo Echeverria is at the rehab facility as part of his recovery from elbow surgery about a week ago. The 18-year-old left-hander will return to Venezuela soon to continue his rehab from a procedure to shave down some bone growth.
The only true position change
The next in the line is Jeudis Polanco a.k.a. Luis Polanco, a catcher from the Dominican Republic. The 19-year-old has returned to that country's academy from Florida to continue his conversion to pitching, a decision made during the off-season. He reportedly is already hitting 92 mph on the gun.
First signed before the 2007 season, Polanco appeared in his first year of play in the US in 2009. In just 22 games for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, he posted a very quiet line of .193/.270/.298.
While there are plenty of players bringing multiple gloves to camp, Polanco is the only official position change the organization is announcing.
Note: Also remember to check out my weekly Minor League Notebook, which runs at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat each Wednesday.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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