With the first game of the exhibition season slated to be played in about three weeks, the Cardinals announced on Thursday that they have invited 25 non-roster players to big-league Spring Training starting in the middle of the month.
Among the 25 invited are five Cardinals participants from the Arizona Fall League, including outfielder Harrison Bader, infielder Paul DeJong, left-hander Austin Gomber, and right-handers Corey Littrell, and Ryan Sherriff. The team actually had seven total representatives in the AFL; the other two — Carson Kelly and Rowan Wick — are already on the 40-man roster and, in turn, invited.
The 22-year-old Bader was able to reach the Triple-A level for 49 games last year but notably stood out in his 82 games at Double-A. At Springfield, Bader shined with a .143 wRC+, .214 ISO, and 32 extra-base hits, including twelve doubles, four triples, and sixteen long balls.
In addition to his discernible power, Bader can hold his own in the speed department as well. Across his 192 career professional games, Bader has successfully stolen 30 bases in 49 attempts, a solid success rate of over 60 percent for a player not renowned for his speed.
After a respectable 2015 campaign between Class-A and Rookie ball, DeJong pieced together a fine season at Springfield last year, maintaining a .348 wOBA and busting out 22 home runs after hitting just nine the year before. In correlation with the increased number of homers, DeJong saw his strikeout rate soar, reaching over 26 percent in 2016, up from 17.8 the year prior.
DeJong’s uptick in power may serve as the cause to his declines in batting average and stolen bases, two traits that made him stand out in his first year in the Cardinals’ farm system. The attractive .316 hitting mark DeJong displayed in 2015 dipped to .260 this past year, and, following a year with thirteen thefts, the 23-year-old corner infielder swiped just three bags in 2016. Nonetheless, somewhat comparable to the situation previously depicted regarding Bader, stolen bases aren’t overly important for a guy who has revamped himself as a power hitter.
Recently said to be the organization’s premier left-handed pitching prospect by Senior Vice President & General Manager John Mozeliak, Gomber will get a chance to support (or further support) Mozeliak’s claim this spring.
Gomber has been one of the most underrated pieces of the farm system since he was selected by St. Louis back in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, despite never having an ERA over 2.69 in any of the last three years and starting over 20 games in each of the previous two.
Last year, Gomber started 21 games between High-A Palm Beach and Springfield and whiffed 116 batters in 127 frames, during which he maintained a 1.06 WHIP.
Along with Bader, DeJong, Gomber, Littrell, and Sherriff, the Cardinals have invited ten non-roster pitchers (Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty, Kendry Flores, Josh Lucas, Trey Nielsen, Zach Phillips, Daniel Poncedeleon, Arturo Reyes, Rob Rowland, Jordan Schafer), six catchers (Eric Fryer, Andrew Knizner, Gabriel Lino, Jeremy Martinez, Dennis Ortega, Alberto Rosario), two infielders (Wilfredo Tovar, Patrick Wisdom), and two outfielders (Todd Cunningham, Chad Huffman.)
Pitchers and catchers are required to report to the club’s training complex by February 14, a week from this coming Tuesday, and full-squad workouts will commence on February 18. The Cardinals will play their first Spring Training game on February 26 against the Miami Marlins.