The pitchers and catchers have been working out for a few days and position players will soon follow suit, as the Cardinals are scheduled to play their first exhibition game of the spring season on February 22.
After losing franchise leader in single-season saves Trevor Rosenthal to Tommy John surgery (this led to the club releasing him) and Seung Hwan Oh, Juan Nicasio, and Zach Duke to free agency, St. Louis entered the offseason with several bullpen pieces on their shopping list. The Cardinals added relievers Luke Gregerson, Dominic Leone, and Bud Norris this offseason, and the club named Gregerson the closer to begin the season earlier this winter.
A recent story of Jupiter, Florida, by Hall of Fame writer Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured one of Yadier Molina’s under-the-radar picks to close for the team: Sam Tuivailala.
The 25-year-old Tuivailala, who debuted at the big-league level in 2014, is out of options entering camp and seems poised to get a spot in the Opening Day bullpen. His contractual situation does play in to this likelihood, yet Tuivailala has matured since his first stint and pitched well enough last year to deserve a role when camp breaks this year.
After flip-flopping between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis seven times before August, Tuivailala was in the Majors for good when he was promoted on August 4. In total, Tuivailala logged 42 1⁄3 innings for the Cardinals in 2017, facing 171 batters and posting a 2.55 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 37 appearances. Tuivailala picked up his first three wins way while maintaining a 34:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio along the way.
When Rosenthal and Oh were out of commission in the final stretch of last season, it was Tyler Lyons, John Brebbia, and Nicasio who helped alleviate the stresses of the ninth inning, while Tuivailala and Matt Bowman pieced in to help fill other voids. While his past makes one believe he could do the job, Tuivailala did not get a chance to close last season and has no experience doing so above Triple-A. This is acknowledged.
In the story, Molina notes that Gregerson has the experience Tuivailala does not - and this is why Gregerson will be the club’s closer out of the gate. Gregerson has 68 saves under his belt in the big leagues, including 31 in 2015 with the Astros. On the other side, Tuivailala has 41 saves in Triple-A and is still searching for his first in the Majors.
With all points in mind, the idea of Tuivailala closing for the Cardinals will be a thought to follow this spring and beyond. One can’t get experience doing something if they are never allowed to do it.
And usually when Molina advocates for something, it happens.
The video of Tuivailala is credited to the official Major League Baseball YouTube channel.