The first, spring training, is where those players in line to compete for one of the four full-season clubs strut their stuff.
Once March moves into April and the full-season teams break camp, the holdovers continue in what is called extended spring training.
We are now at the third phase, marked by the May 15 date on the calendar. The two academy teams in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are preparing to start their summer regular seasons. Here in the US, it is roughly one month to go before the three short-season clubs begin play.
At this point, technically May 16 this year, extended spring training is "extended" by the addition of a combination of players to those who arrived earlier. Most are foreign players who have competed overseas for multiple seasons and are being considered for jobs in the States, playing on foreign soil for the first time.
Cardinals director of minor league operations John Vuch characterizes the group this way. "For the most part, the 5/16 reporting guys are those who have not previously played in the US and are likely to be with the Gulf Coast League club when the short season teams get started."
The final in-season phase is the beginning of short-season play. Between now and then is the June draft. The influx of as many as 45 additional players via the draft puts additional pressure on the rosters of the three short-season clubs, Batavia of the New York-Penn League, Johnson City of the Appalachian League and the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
The organization's director of international operations, Moises Rodriguez, acknowledges the numbers crunch and has been making plans to move ahead without the players just sent to Jupiter, Florida.
"We're counting on a lot of the guys who are traveling to extended spring training to either stay (in the US) or be released and not return to the academies," Rodriguez predicted. "With that in mind, you go start filling roster spots you know you are going to have."
Joining the 65 players already in camp, nine of the 11 players arriving on Sunday are academy players. Eight were first signed in 2007 and as such are now in their 20's – at the point where it is either time to step up or step aside.
The oldest is right-handed pitcher Francisco Guzman, now 22 years of age. In a popular move across the Cardinals system, the Venezuelan converted from catcher during the 2008 season.
Along with the eight "veterans" is one very promising prospect, right-handed pitcher Bryan Martinez, signed out of the Dominican last June. The 19-year-old posted a 6-0 record with a 3.02 ERA in 13 games including three starts for the DSL Cardinals. Martinez struck out 38, walked 18, and picked off five runners over 41 2/3 innings in his first professional action.
The other two May 16 additions to extended spring training camp are a pair of players on thin ice for a different reason – drug suspensions.
After being selected in the 11th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, infielder Alan Ahmady began his professional career with Batavia, where he posted a credible .292/.407/.391 line in 296 plate appearances.
However, the 22-year-old, who also was suspended twice during his final season at Fresno State, was sat down for the first 50 games of the 2010 season after a positive test for an amphetamine. The penalty was announced on October 4, 2009 and Ahmady was placed on the restricted list.
Drafted as a shortstop, but converted to outfield, now-19-year-old Tyler Bighames struggled at the plate in his professional debut last season. The Cardinals' 31st-round pick posted a .216/.300/.330 line in 100 plate appearances over 33 games with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
Bighames was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2010 season for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. His penalty was announced on December 21, 2009. Just two weeks later, he was arrested in Florida for DUI, resisting arrest, speeding and driving in the wrong lane.
The 11 additions to extended spring training camp may have taken different routes to get there, but they all need to step up to prove they deserve a spot on a Cardinals short-season roster. The ones who don't may soon find themselves ex-Cardinals.
Such is the harsh reality of the game of baseball.
Cardinals extended spring training additions, May 16, 2010
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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