Today Cardinal beat writer Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals will be bringing 22 non-roster invites to Spring Training with them. As far as prospects go, the most recognizable names will be 2014 first round pick Luke Weaver, followed by 2012 first round pick Carson Kelly. Weaver placed 5th on The Red Baron's Top 21(ish) prospect list, with Kelly placing 15th. Corey Littrell will also be in attendance, who was 21st on the list and you might know as the other part of the Lackey trade. Austin Gomber, Justin Wilson, and Patrick Wisdom will all represent the "Just Missed" portion of the list.
Most of the other players are organizational depth and players a little too old for their level to be considered prospects. Silfredo Garca (RHP), Trey Nielsen (RHP), Daniel Poncedeleon (RHP), Steve Bean (catcher), Jonathon Rodriguez (INF), David Washington (INF) represent the apparent non-prospects (or perhaps fringe prospects) whereas Juan Gonzales (RHP), Jeremy Hefner (RHP), J.C. Sulbaran (RHP), Eric Fryer (C), and Jeremy Hazelback (OF) represent minor league free agent signings. Robby Rowand (RHP), Tyler Waldron (RHP), Albert Rosario (C) were minor league free agent signing last year. There's also Deck McGuire, former 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft but has struggled to be above-average at the Triple-A level, who came over via minor league signing early this offseason. The article mentions a catcher named Luis Cruz, a 22-year-old catcher who spent most of his time in Peoria last season.
After the few legitimate prospects this is a pretty boring list. What is much more interesting is the list of players the Cardinals invited to take part in their STEP (Spring Training Early Program) camp. Those 26 players are highlighted by #1 VEB prospect Alex Reyes, #2 ranked Jack Flaherty, #3 Edmundo Sosa, #7 Magneuris Sierra, #11 Harrison Bader, #13 Junior Fernandez, #14 Nick Plummer, #16 Paul Dejong, #17 Darrin Serefina, and #19 Oscar Mercardo.
Also invited are Sandy Alcantara and Jake Woodord from the "Just Missed" list. Prospect readers will also recognize Arturo Reyes, Mike Mayers, Rowan Wick who recently converted to pitching, Juan Herrera, and C.J. McElroy who are at best fringe prospects at this pont.
This is the sixth year the Cardinals have utilized the STEP program. These younger players, not close enough to the majors for the Cardinals to invite to Big league spring training, will nevertheless help fill in lineup spots in early spring workouts. The players also get a chance to be seen by the Major League staff and to be around Major League players and see how they go about their business. They're also, as a group, fairly likely to receive NRI's to next year's Major League spring training and/or to get time in the Arizona Fall League at the end of the next season.
It sure seems like the Cardinals' STEP program is essentially a grouping of prospects the Cardinals consider their best non-NRI prospects. Of course we ourselves won't get to see these guys as I don't think they end up in actual MLB spring training games, but it's neat to get a glimpse of the internal valuations the Cardinals place on them. And I think its fairly likely that we'll get a chance to see them in Spring Training games in 2017.
For now though, we'll have to "settle" for getting to see Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, and Corey Littrel, in addition to prospects already on the 40 man such as Aledmys Diaz, Marco Gonzales, Anthony Garcia, Charlie Tilson, and Dean Kiekhefer. As far as I'm concerned I'll just be happy to see Baseball again, but as a bonus that list does give us a lot to look forward to that most of us haven't seen before.