Come February 15th, Cardinals pitchers and catchers will officially report to the Roger Dean Stadium Complex, and soon thereafter, the position players will be joining them under the southeast Florida sun. As reported by the organization a few days ago, eighteen non-roster invitees (NRIs) will be making the trip as well—bringing the final head count of players to 57.
However, of the 18 NRIs, there really is only one player with a legitimate shot at making the opening-day roster, and that's newly acquired long-reliever/spot-starter Carlos Villanueva. With an open spot on the 40-man roster, there are no real barriers for the right-handed throwing Villanueva, and as Ben worded it yesterday, "all he has to do is pitch well enough in spring training to make the opening-day roster."
While they won't be starting the regular season in St. Louis, the 17 other invitees will gain invaluable experience (learning from successful MLB players) and will be given a chance to impress on likely the biggest stage of their young careers. Let's take a look at each invitee's 2014 statistics and provide a brief outlook on what we can expect during spring training.
Tim Cooney (LHP)
While I believe there is a chance that Cooney spends a solid portion of 2015 at the big-league level, his absence from the 40-man roster makes it nearly impossible for opening day. At this point, he's still behind Tyler Lyons, who owns a spot on the 40-man and will be competing for a 25-man spot himself. Cooney's spring goals include showing he's capable of pitching out of the bullpen and that he has improved over the last year. Barring catastrophic health issues from those ahead of him on the pitching staff, Cooney will almost certainly start in AAA, but he's still one of the main prospects I will be keeping track of this spring.
John Gast (LHP)
With three MLB starts (in 2013) under his belt, it has to be disappointing for Gast that his only ticket to big-league spring training in 2015 was through a non-roster invite, but he has the health of his throwing shoulder to blame for that. Once seen as a decent starting pitching prospect, the 25-year-old left-hander has one primary goal this spring: prove he's healthy enough to pitch effectively.
Mitch Harris (RHP)
While Lt. Harris is a terrific story, he is 29 years old and his big-league window appears to be closing. After spending time in the Arizona Fall League, the Cardinals extended an invitation to this year's spring training. As a graduate of the Naval Academy, Harris has been through much tougher experiences than baseball, so I am not about to doubt his capabilities, but he has a slew of right-handed relievers ahead of him at this point. If he has a good 2015 with Memphis, I wouldn't be surprised if he is one of the September call-ups as rosters expand, and we will have a clearer picture of who truly belongs on the 40-man roster at that point.
Marcus Hatley (RHP)
To be honest, I don't know much about newly-signed Hatley other than the fact that he pitched all of last season for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs (maybe Ben saw him pitch at some point?). However, I like his strikeout and walk rates, so it may be worth taking a closer look at how the 6'5" righty performs this spring. If interested, the Des Moines Register published a pretty interesting article on Hatley titled, "Iowa Cubs pitcher Marcus Hatley's unusual ride through baseball."
Dean Kiekhefer (LHP)
After concluding 2013 with an appearance in the Arizona Fall League, Kiekhefer enjoyed a successful 2014 coming out of the Springfield and Memphis bullpens. As made clear in this 2013 Fangraphs article, the odds of making the big leagues are against this soon-to-be 26-year-old lefty. However, his 2014 numbers, particularly what he was able to do in AAA, warranted a non-roster invite, and let's hope he can learn from players such as Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist, Sam Freeman, and Marco Gonzales.
Mike Mayers (RHP)
As you can see, Mayers performed really well in the hitter-friendly Texas League. At 23-years-old, the 6'3" right-hander is still considered a prospect, and 2015 will be a pivotal season for him. In case you missed it, Eric already profiled Mayers as he is a player who just barely landed outside of Future Redbirds' top 25 prospect list.
Zach Petrick (RHP)
Petrick was one of the two shining stars of the farm system in 2013, but he came back to reality with Triple-A Memphis in 2014 (5.13 FIP). Toward the end of the season, the 25-year-old Petrick was moved to the Memphis bullpen, and I am genuinely curious to see if that continues into 2015. ZiPS projects him to be worth 1.1 zWAR, so at this point, he is good pitching depth to have readily available in the system.
Miguel Socolovich (RHP)
As with Hatley, I do not know much about Socolovich, who was in the Mets organization last season. All scouting reports I've read have his fastball sitting in the high-80's/low-90's range, so I'm not all that excited about him. Then again, he was a late-in-the-offseason minor-league signing, so that should be telling. However, with how successful he was in AAA last season, it didn't necessarily hurt to give the 28-year-old a spring training invite.
Carlos Villanueva (RHP)
The 2012 supplemental first-round draft pick has had his fair share of hitting troubles at the professional level. I went to a Peoria game against the South Bend Silver Hawks last season, and Bean threw out a runner he had no business throwing out, which was promising, but his struggle even to make contact (22.1 K%) is alarming. As a catcher, it is a no-brainer to invite him to spring training, though.
While Kelly is one of the organization's top prospects (I have him ranked fifth on my list), he has two primary tasks this spring: 1) Absorb as much knowledge as humanly possible from Yadier Molina as he continues his transition to catcher, and 2) Help catch the abundance of pitchers. Kelly turns 21 in 2015, so next year will be an even more pivotal spring training for him.
Newly-signed Rosario (previously in the Dodgers organization) will play a very important role this spring: catching bullpen sessions from some of the 26 invited pitchers.
The 27-year-old catcher has spent six seasons in the organization after being drafted in the 19th round of the 2009 draft. He, like Rosario, will also help catch bullpens during spring training.
The Cardinals re-signed Moore, a minor league veteran, for the 2015 season after spending all of 2014 with Triple-A Memphis. His bat flashed a little bit of pop (.161 ISO), but at 31-years-old, this feels more like a courtesy invitation than anything else.
I will have more on Valera in the coming weeks, but at this point, I would just like to share that I am happy no one snagged the 22-year-old in the Rule-5 draft.
Wilson, who has been complimented by both Keith Law and the red baron, is closer to the big-leagues than nearly all of the NRIs and is one of the few that has a real chance at having a productive MLB career. It will be interesting to see how he hits this spring, particularly in terms of extra-base hits. He will start 2015 in Triple-A, and his hitting numbers will be something regularly covered by Future Redbirds.
Ortega had a decent 2014 season with the Springfield Cardinals, and the organization rewarded him with a cup of coffee at the Triple-A level. He turns 24 in a little over three months, and the main thing going for him is the fact that he is able to play center field.
Ranked as the top prospect in the Cardinals organization by Keith Law, the 2012 supplemental first-round draft pick has a lot to prove this spring after producing an average hitting season at Triple-A Memphis in 2014. With six outfielders already on the 40-man roster, it is not quite Piscotty's time for a big-league splash, but it could come sooner rather than later, especially if he is able to add a little bit of power to that right-handed bat of his. His contact rates are desirable, but as a corner outfielder, one would ideally expect some more extra-base hits than we saw last season.
So, which non-roster invitee are you most looking forward to seeing this spring?