With the decline of Kolten Wong’s option and the loss of Max Schrock through waivers (to the Cubs no less), the Cardinals are woefully short on middle infield depth at the major league level and the high minors.
Tommy Edman is likely to fill some of this role for the Cardinals. Even though he is penciled in as the starting second baseman, the Cardinals have security in knowing that his glove can play all over the infield if he has to. Paul DeJong is locked in at shortstop. Matt Carpenter is the odds on favorite to hold the starting third base job, barring any unexpected additions. (You can get more of my thoughts on Carpenter in this article from earlier in the week.) Beyond them, the Cardinals only have Edmundo Sosa on the 40-man roster as a capable middle infielder and Elehuris Montero as a potential third base challenger.
While fans (and this writer!) are clamoring for names that can legitimately threaten Carpenter or Edman in their starting positions or perhaps push Sosa to AAA, the Cardinals aren’t yet ready to spend. Instead, they have fallen back to one of their favorite strategies: invite a bunch of non-roster players to Spring Training!
The Cardinals made two such signings this week, bringing in versatile middle infielders with some major league experience: Max Moroff and Jose Rondon.
Let’s take a look at each player, see if we can find why they appeal to the Cards and make some early guesses on where they will land on the depth chart.
We have signed switch-hitting INF Max Moroff to a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp.— Cardinals Player Development (@CardsPlayerDev) December 16, 2020
Moroff, 27, has appeared in 104 Major League games with the Pirates and Indians and spent last season in the Mets system. pic.twitter.com/50a44rNTxk
Moroff is a switch hitter. That’s probably all you need to know about why the Cardinals are interested in him. Mike Shildt loved the versatility that Tommy Edman brought to his squad, not only in his defensive proficiency at almost any position but also in his usefulness in the lineup. If Edman is locked in at 2b, it makes sense that the club would go looking for someone who could step into that role.
Don’t expect Moroff to be another Tommy Edman though. He’s only 27 but has eight seasons in professional ball. He came through the Pirates system as a 16th round pick. Moroff didn’t do much to distinguish himself until he arrived in AA at age 22. There he posted a nice 128 wRC+ and a .359 wOBA. His slash line was .293/.374/.409, which was more than respectable for a middle infielder. He had a K rate below 20% and a walk rate of over 11%. That’s an intriguing player, right?
Sure it is! The next year, at AAA, his walk rate skyrocketed to 17.3% but his BABIP fell and his overall line collapsed to just .230/.367/.349.
That’s where we get a pretty good picture of who Moroff is. Since then, he’s bounced around a little between the majors and AAA. He draws walks everywhere he goes. He can occasionally run into some extra-base power. Against major league pitching, though, he can’t hold down his K rate and he hasn’t been able to make enough contact to survive.
His career major league line is .183/.277/.319 in 244 PAs with a walk rate of 10.2% and a K rate of 34.8%.
Though he started at shortstop, he did not stick there for every long. The Pirates moved him to second early in his pro career and gave him plenty of time across the diamond at third. In small sample sizes, his defense seems adequate everywhere on the infield.
Where does he fit in the depth chart?
Moroff seems like a legitimate challenger to Edmundo Sosa for the Cardinals’ middle infield bench spot. His defensive versatility, ability to switch hit and high walk rate are enough of a reason to give him an invite to Spring. Honestly, with his ridiculous ability to draw walks, it really wouldn’t take that much hitting for him to be above replacement level, which is all a club can ask out of a non-roster invitee. Steamer thinks Moroff could hit .213/.313/.359 with an 81 wRC+. For comparison’s sake, that wRC+ is better than what they project for Edmundo Sosa - .245/.289/.371 with a 74. It’s also better than the recently departed Max Schrock - .250/.308/.350 with a 73 wRC+.
If the Cardinals don’t make another addition to their infield, I would give Moroff pretty decent odds of breaking camp with the Cardinals.
Here’s a video of him hitting a home run once because a video of him drawing a walk is boring.
We have signed INF José Rondón to a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp. pic.twitter.com/ROV9h5iBiv— Cardinals Player Development (@CardsPlayerDev) December 18, 2020
Rondon’s profile is a bit harder to pull out of his career minor league stats. Fangraphs actually has prospect ratings still available for him. That gives us a great starting point to evaluate his professional performance:
As you can see, Rondon’s skillset revolves around defense. A 2016 scouting report described him as a “dynamite shortstop” with great range, arm, and “athleticism that lead to some acrobatic plays”. His bat has lagged far behind his glove for most of his professional career. His first look at AA with the Padres in 2015 produced a 20 wRC+. (For context, 100 is league average.) He was a little better in 2016, providing a 98 with a .279/.310/.386 slash line. That’s pretty indicative of most of his time in the minors.
Except something interesting happened in 2018. In AAA with the White Sox, Rondon hit 18 home runs. For context, he had 19 home runs total in the 7 seasons before ’18. That earned him a call up with the Sox where he hit 6 more homers in 107 PAs with a 103 wRC+. In 2019 the power disappeared again but he did earn 157 MLB PAs across two teams.
Where does he fit on the depth chart?
Rondon is AAA depth. If the front office has to reach down into the minors for an emergency shortstop, it makes sense for that player to have an outstanding glove. The heart of the club has been and will be pitching and defense. Maybe the minor league hitting coordinators can figure out what worked for him in 2018 and pull that hidden power out of his stroke. Don’t count on that.
As a right-hander, it might be tempting to see him as a potential platoon partner with Carpenter at 3b. It doesn’t look like he could fit that role, even if his bat hits its upper-end potential. Steamer projects just a .222/.278/.360 line with that hint of power included. That’s a 66 wRC+, which is far below Elehurius Montero, who is already on the 40-man roster, and someone like Juan Yepez, who isn’t.
Here are some of Rondon’s defensive highlights. You can easily see his athleticism.
Remember these players are just non-roster invitees. They have some intriguing qualities. They have some obvious flaws. That’s why they’re not on any team’s major league roster. The Cardinals clearly did not sign these players as obvious solutions to the holes on their active roster. They’re depth players. They’ll provide some competition in the spring and some security at AAA. That’s probably it. For those roles, Moroff and Rondon are pretty good signings. Hopefully, more is coming!
Enjoy your Saturday.