Another method of considering the stock of a prospect is by analyzing the behavior of the organization itself. One such approach is to review the differences in the names of players that make up those invited to major league camp and early minor league camp from year to year.
There is an implied hierarchy in the structure of invitations. Of course, every player wants to make the 40-man roster. By default, those players are invited to big-league camp. The next best thing is to score a non-roster invitation (NRI) to major league camp. Next in the pecking order are those minor leaguers invited to early minor league camp, followed by the regular minor league camp invitees.
Especially earlier in the major league spring training schedule, the Cardinals call for extra players to be brought over from minor league camp to fill in during MLB games. These players, with no name on their back and a number in the 90s, are often sourced from these early camp attendees. After all, they are not only among the better minor leaguers, but also the ones who have been in camp longest and therefore, are in the best game shape.
After all, who can forget the famous shot of "Minor League Guy," aka Oscar Taveras, from one of last spring's telecasts? (see photo above) I took the following photo of Minor League Field Coordinator Mark DeJohn carting Taveras from the minor league quads to the main stadium for a late-game appearance for St. Louis last spring.
I should note that a player dropping in the hierarchy from year to year does not necessarily mean that he had a career setback. It could be that a different assignment is due to recovery from injury or perhaps the competition is simply stiffer. Certainly the strong 2012 draft class of the Cardinals is a factor. With the organization limiting the early invites to two dozen players, some difficult tradeoffs likely have to be made.
So, let's get into the details. The red color indicates a lower level invitation this year compared to last. Yellow is equal and green is a step (or multiples) upward.
The first table compares the pitchers' invitations between 2012 and 2013.
|40 man-reg camp||Reifer|
|NRI-40 man||J Kelly||S Miller||Rosenthal||Siegrist|
|Early-Early||De Leon||Gaviglio||Wright (L)|
|Early-reg camp||Blazek||Ferrara (L)||Hernandez (L)||Hooker||Paulino|
While a number of players who were on the 40-man last spring have left the organization, only one that dropped off the 40-man remains. Adam Reifer is not on the 2013 NRI list or the early minor league camp invitee list, hence his red designation.
The three hurlers in yellow are John Gast, an NRI both years, and two pitchers who were NRIs last year, but are minors early camp invitees this year. Jordan Swagerty and Tyrell Jenkins are both coming off injury and the organization wants to avoid the risk of them trying to push themselves too hard, too quickly by trying to impress in big league camp. In a recent spring, I recall one pitching prospect who may have done that very thing.
Next, we will move down the table to the 2012 early camp invitees. Three pitchers are clearly on the upswing. Eric Fornataro has moved onto the 40-man, while both Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez have moved from being in early minor league camp last spring to receiving NRIs this year.
Following, we have five hurlers who received an early minor league camp invitation in 2012, but will just be attending regular minor league camp in 2013. They are Michael Blazek, Anthony Ferrara, Hector Hernandez, Deryk Hooker and Willy Paulino. Again, there is nothing wrong with these players. Others were simply chosen ahead of them in 2013.
In what should be considered somewhat impressive, all of the 2012 NRI and early minor league camp pitchers are still in the organization as 2013 opens.
The position players
The next table is the same format as the preceding one, with the only change being its focus on the changes in position player invitations between 2012 and 2013.
|40 man-reg camp|
|NRI-gone||K Hill||S Hill||L DeLaCruz||Velez||Cora|
|Early-NRI||A Perez||G Garcia||S Rodriguez||Taveras|
|Early-reg camp||Klein||Lewis||Scruggs||B Valera||Gil|
Six position players who were NRIs last spring did not receive invitations in 2013. Robert Stock is a special case as he was in 2012 camp as a catcher, but is now a pitcher. The other five 2012 position player NRIs are no longer in the organization. Three are catchers (Koyie Hill, Steven Hill and Luis De La Cruz) and two are veteran infielders (Eugenio Velez and Alex Cora).
Next in green we have four position players who have moved up from receiving early minor league camp invitations in 2012 to becoming NRIs in 2013. They are Audry Perez, Greg Garcia, Starlin Rodriguez and Taveras.
A big group of eight position players were part of the early minors camp group in 2012, but not in 2013. They are in red – Geoff Klein, Adam Lewis (a tryout player last year), Xavier Scruggs, Ronny Gil, Nick Longmire, Lance Jeffries, Kenny Peoples-Walls and one surprise, Breyvic Valera.
I asked Cardinals farm director John Vuch if Valera, our number 19-ranked prospect in the system, is ok. "Breyvic is healthy," Vuch replied. "We just had some other infielders who we felt would benefit more from the camp."
A ninth early camp invitee last spring, outfielder Kyle Conley, has retired.
2012 draft rockets
As many Cardinals fans know, the organization had five selections in the regular and supplemental first rounds in the 2012 draft. They are well-represented within the invitees.
|Draft-Early||Cooney (L)||Stoppelman (L)|
The 19th overall selection, pitcher Michael Wacha, received a coveted big-league camp invite as an NRI. The former Texas A&M hurler finished his first partial professional season at Double-A Springfield.
2012 Cardinals draftees make up one-third of the 24 early minors camp invitee list. They are pitchers Tim Cooney and Lee Stoppelman, catcher Steve Bean, infielders Jacob Wilson, Carson Kelly and Patrick Wisdom plus outfielders Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey.
Let's not forget those prospects drafted prior to 2012 that have scored their first invitations.
The organization's 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Seth Maness, is a great reminder that not getting an early camp invite should not be considered damning. He is in big league camp in 2013 as an NRI. Young catchers Adam Ehrlich and Jesus Montero will almost certainly be among the early cuts, but should still covet their first NRIs.
Other in-system early camp invitees
|In-system Early||Blair||Russell||Kiekhefer (L)|
|In-system Early||Velazco||Vargas||Walsh||A Garcia||Pham|
Pitchers Seth Blair, Zack Russell and Dean Kiekhefer are attending early minor league camp this year after not having been among the 2012 invitees. Same for five offensive players – catcher Gerwuins Velazco, infielder Ildemaro Vargas, infielder/outfielder Colin Walsh and outfielders Anthony Garcia and Tommy Pham.
New addition Jake Lemmerman rounds out the group. The second baseman was acquired from the Dodgers in the Skip Schumaker trade and played at the A-Advanced level last season.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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