Pitchers and catchers officially reported to Jupter, Florida two days ago for 2020 Spring Training and had their first workout yesterday. The Cardinals also officially noted the loss of IF Ramon Urias to the Baltimore Orioles on an outright assignment waiver claim. In this article I will provide an analysis of the spring training roster as well as provide some transactional notes that are particular to spring training.
This year, a whopping 72 players will be in spring camp as opposed to the 65 in 2019 and 64 in 2018. We start with the 40-man roster, which is full. The number in parentheses indicates the number of minor league options the player has remaining. If there is no number in parentheses, that player is out of minor league options. If “N/A” is in parentheses, that indicates that the player has minor league options remaining, but because the player has at least 5 years of major league service time, he may not be sent to the minor leagues in any capacity without his consent.
John Brebbia (2), Genesis Cabrera (2), Brett Cecil, Junior Fernandez (3), Jack Flaherty (2), Giovanny Gallegos (1), John Gant, Austin Gomber (1), Ryan Helsley (2), Dakota Hudson (3), Kwang-Hyun Kim (N/A), Carlos Martinez (N/A), Miles Mikolas, Andrew Miller, Daniel Ponce de Leon (1), Alex Reyes (2), Ricardo Sanchez (1), Alvaro Seijas (3), Adam Wainwright (N/A), Tyler Webb, Jake Woodford (3)
Andrew Knizner (2), Yadier Molina (N/A), Matt Wieters (N/A)
Matt Carpenter (N/A), Paul DeJong (3), Tommy Edman (3), Paul Goldschmidt (N/A), Brad Miller (N/A), Elehuris Montero (3), Yairo Munoz (1), Rangel Ravelo, Edmundo Sosa (1), Kolten Wong (N/A)
Harrison Bader (1), Austin Dean (2), Dexter Fowler (N/A), Tyler O’Neill (1), Lane Thomas (2), Justin Williams (1)
60-DAY IL (1)
40-MAN ROSTER NOTES
*Both Giovanny Gallegos and Yairo Munoz were optioned for a third season in 2019, but did not spend at least 20 days on option. Therefore their third option years were not burned, and each has one option remaining. Edmundo Sosa has burned three options, but as I demonstrated in this article here, he should have a fourth minor league option available this season. Junior Fernandez was optioned for a part of the 2019 season, but because he did not spend at least 20 days on option, he did not burn an option year and has all 3 minor league options remaining.
*Kwang-Hyun Kim has a clause in his contract preventing him from being sent to the minor leagues without his consent.
As for the Non-Roster Invitees, the Cards have invited 32 to camp, 26 of which are pitchers and catchers. Since Matt Wieters re-signed with the Cardinals, the club won’t have to roster a back-up catcher at the end of spring training. Thus, this could be the first season in a while that no NRI cracks the opening day roster. They are listed below with last level played in parentheses.
Akeem Bostick (AAA), Nabil Crismatt (AAA), Jesus Cruz (AAA), Bryan Dobzanski (AA/AAA), Seth Elledge (AAA), Alex FaGalde (AA), Rob Kaminsky (AAA), Evan Kruczynski (AA), Matthew Liberatore (A), Johan Oviedo (AA), Tommy Parsons (AA/AAA), Roel Ramirez (AA/AAA), Griffin Roberts (A+), Angel Rondon (AA), Ramon Santos (A+), Zack Thompson (A+), Kodi Whitley (AAA)
Aaron Antonini (R), Jose Godoy (AAA), Oscar Hernandez (AAA/MLB), Ivan Herrera (A+), Dennis Ortega (A+), Pedro Pages (A), Julio Rodriguez (AA), Carlos Soto (A), Alexis Wilson (A)
Luken Baker (A+), Nolan Gorman (A+), Evan Mendoza (AA/AAA), John Nogowski (AAA), Max Schrock (AAA)
Dylan Carlson (AA/AAA)
*Of this year’s 32 NRIs, only catcher Oscar Hernandez has prior MLB experience. Eight 2019 Cardinal NRIs had prior MLB experience, and seven 2018 NRIs had prior MLB experience. The Cards typically have at least one pitcher NRI that has prior MLB experience projected as at least AAA Memphis depth, but have none this year.
*Hernandez will battle Jose Godoy for the AAA Memphis starting catcher job. The Venezuelan originally signed with the Tampa Bay Rays as a 16-year old international free agent in 2010, but was the first player taken in the major league portion of the December 2014 Rule 5 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, having never played above Low-A ball. He has 47 career PA and 10 total starts across 2015-2016 for the Diamondbacks before that organization outrighted him to AAA in the middle of the 2017 season. After declaring Rule 55 minor league free agency in November 2017, he spent the last two seasons with the Boston Red Sox organization on minor league deals. The Red Sox actually purchased Hernandez’s contract and kept him on the 25-man active MLB roster for 3 days last season, but he did not appear in any games before the Red Sox burned his final minor league option then designated him for assignment and eventually outrighted him to AAA. He declared free agency as soon as the 2019 season ended, and he had that right because he had been outrighted to the minors previously in his career.
*Of this year’s 32 NRIs, only 5 players (catcher Oscar Hernandez and pitchers Akeem Bostick, Nabil Crismatt, Rob Kaminsky, and Matthew Liberatore) were not in the Cardinal organization last season. We’ve covered Hernandez.
*Most people are familar with Kaminsky, the Cards’ first round draft choice in 2013 whom the Cards traded to the Cleveland Indians for Brandon Moss at the trade deadline in 2015. Considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Cardinal organization at the time, Kaminsky’s star has faded. He struggled the first half of 2016 and tried to bounce back from a back injury, then lost basically the whole 2017 season to forearm tightness. Moved from the rotation to the bullpen the last two years, he didn’t crack AAA until last season. While he had his highest K rate last year since his first minor league season, he has also had control issues in the bullpen, walking over 5 men per 9 in AAA in 2019 and over 6 men per 9 in AA in 2018. Signed as a Rule 55 minor league free agent, the Cards hope the 25-year old can regain some of his former promise.
*Liberatore, part of the return in the Arozarena/Cafecito trade from the Tampa Bay Rays, is now one of our top prospects. Already ranked the #3 prospect in the Cardinal organization by Fangraphs, the 20-year old only has 2 minor league seasons, 24 starts and 111 IP under his belt, but he’s only allowed 2 HRs over that span and increased his GB% by over 13% last year. He’s expected to start the season as a 20-year old for Palm Beach in the Florida State League.
*Bostick was a 2nd round draft choice by the Texas Rangers in 2013 out of high school, was traded to the Houston Astros organization in 2015, then released last August by AAA Round Rock. The soon-to-be 25-year old got crushed by the long ball in AAA last year, giving up over 2 homers per 9. He also had his worst walk rate since 2016. He projects as Memphis rotation depth.
*Crismatt signed with the New York Mets in 2012 as a 17-year old international free agent out of Colombia. Initially used as a reliever, he didn’t crack full-season ball until 2016. By that time he had 8 starts under his belt, but only played 13 games total that season. After a strong 2017 in Class A-Advanced and strong first-half of 2018 in AA, Crismatt struggled when promoted to AAA in July of 2018, posting a career-worst walk rate of over 4 men per 9, and a career-worst ERA of almost 9. He elected Rule 55 minor-league free agency after the 2018 season and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners with a 2019 spring training invite. He again split the season between AA and AAA. His 13-start stint in AA was the 5th time in his career that he posted a FIP under 3.00 and combined it with over 9 Ks per 9 and miniscule walk and home run rates. After a mid-July promotion, he got crushed in 10 games and 5 starts in AAA, however, with a preposterous 10 home runs allowed, 9.06 ERA and a 35.7% HR/FB rate. He has yet to get hit for less than a .405 BABIP in 2 AAA stints. Interestingly, he did have the best K rate of his career, striking out over 13 men per 9 innings. Before that promotion, he was one of the minor league leaders in K-BB% differential. Crismatt is another candidate for the Memphis rotation.
*This will be the 3rd Cardinal NRI spring training invite in a row for IF Max Schrock and C Dennis Ortega. It’s very doubtful if Schrock has a future in this organization now, and I wouldn’t expect him to crack the Cards’ roster unless a bunch of injuries strike. Always known as an extreme contact hitter with high BABIPs, his 2018 season in AAA showed what can happen when the BABIP fairy withholds her favor. With the same amount of PA and AB as he had in 2017, his 84-point BABIP drop resulted in 30 fewer hits and 2 fewer home runs which in turn resulted in his ISO dropping 20 points and his slash stats dropping 80 points each (OBP down from .379 to .296, thanks in part to 2% fewer walks). This all translated to an ugly 63 wRC+. Schrock increased his walk rate to a career-high 12.2% in 2019, but paired it with a career-high 16.2% strikeout rate. While his BABIP bounced back closer to his career norms and his OBP jumped back up to .366, he still managed only an 89 wRC+. He lost about a month-and-a-half to the injured list last season, and for the first time in his career, spent the majority of the time at a position other than his natural second base, with 54 starts at third. With no power and lacking the range and arm for shortstop, Schrock looks to have a 3rd spin in a row at Memphis, this time as the primary 2nd baseman. More organizational soldier than prospect, the 22-year old Ortega has been in the Cardinal organization since 2014, but has been eligible for 2 Rule 5 drafts now, and has never played above Class A-Advanced.
*This will be the 2nd Cardinal NRI spring training invite in a row for catchers Jose Godoy and Julio Rodriguez, OF Dylan Carlson, RHP Seth Elledge and LHP Evan Kruczynski. Carlson needs no introduction and has an outside shot to crack the Cards’ roster this season. When Yadier Molina went on the injured list on July 11th, 2019 during the MLB All-Star Break and Andrew Knizner was recalled from AAA before the first game of the 2nd half, Godoy was promoted from AA to AAA. When Knizner was optioned to AAA on Molina’s activation from the IL, Godoy stayed in Memphis in a time-share with Knizner and Joe Hudson. Another organizational soldier, Godoy has been with the Cardinals since 2012 and has been eligible for Rule 55 minor league free agency for two years now, but keeps signing successor minor league deals. This will be his 9th season with the organization. Rodriguez is only 22, having spent 5 years in the Cardinal organization, and split last season between Palm Beach and Springfield. He’s the presumptive starter for the AA club going into 2020. Elledge, traded straight up from the Mariners for Sam Tuivailala near the 2018 trade deadline, was arguably the best reliever AA Springfield had in 2019 before his late-June promotion to AAA Memphis, striking out over 11 men per 9 innings. Although his peripherals got worse across the board in AAA, Elledge is a reasonable candidate for addition to the 40-man roster to protect him from the December 2020 Rule 5 draft, if not before. Kruczynski, who will turn 25 before the season starts, was a 9th round draft choice in 2017. Although he has rocketed up the system, he got hit harder and more often in a reunion tour with AA Springfield and he coupled that with worse control. Things only got worse when he was given a 7 game, 6 start cameo for AAA Memphis. He might be relegated to the Springfield rotation again to start 2020.
Spring Training Transactional Notes
*Regardless of their spring training performances, 40-man roster players 3B Elehuris Montero, RHP Alvaro Seijas and RHP Jake Woodford will last in MLB camp until at least March 6th. Why? Because these players were eligible for the December 2019 Rule 5 draft and were added to the 40-man roster between August 15th and the Rule 5 draft, the Major League Rules deem them to be “Rule 6(e) draft-excluded players.” By rule, these players may not be sent to the minor leagues by optional or outright assignment any earlier than 20 days prior to MLB opening day. For that reason, do not read anything into how long these players last in spring. Not that this would happen anyway, but if the Cards need another 40-man roster spot for some reason before March 6th, they can’t outright one of these guys, instead having to trade or release them.
*As Article XX-B free agents (players with 6 or more years of major league service time) that signed major league contracts after the 5th game following the conclusion of the World Series, both UT Brad Miller and C Matt Wieters have automatic no-trade protection through June 15th of the 2020 season. They can waive this no-trade right, but even if so, the Cards can only trade them for player contracts or cash with a maximum aggregate value of $50,000, an easy standard to meet.
*Although Jordan Hicks has been placed on the 60-day IL to make room for Brad Miller on the 40-man roster, the 60 days do not begin to run until the regular season starts. Regardless of when during spring training a player is placed on the 60-day IL, the player must spend the first 60 days of the regular season on the IL. Thus, Hicks is not eligible for activation until May 25th. The Cardinals do not, however, expect Hicks to be available until July at the earliest.
It sounds amazing, but even with the institution of an additional roster spot and the trades of two outfielders, there are very few jobs available in camp. Let’s assume, for the sake of this conversation, that C Molina, 1B Goldschmidt, 2B Wong, SS DeJong, 3B Carpenter, LF O’Neill, CF Bader and RF Fowler win the starting position player jobs.
Let’s further assume that the starting rotation is Flaherty, Mikolas, Hudson, Wainwright and Carlos Martinez. The roster will be limited to 13 pitchers. Brebbia and Gallegos seem like locks for bullpen jobs based on last year’s performance unless they completely fall flat in spring. If Cecil has anything at all left in the tank, he will be given a chance. Neither Gant, Andrew Miller, Kim nor Webb can be optioned. If Kim is not in the bullpen, he will be in the rotation, and Carlos Martinez will be in the bullpen instead. That leaves just one bullpen job between Cabrera, Fernandez, Gomber, Helsley, Reyes, Sanchez and Ponce de Leon. I would give the edge to Helsley, based on his velocity, repertoire and ability to throw multiple innings.
In addition, Wieters is a lock as the backup catcher. Whoever is not starting between Edman and Carpenter will be on the bench. Brad Miller is now a presumptive favorite, having just signed a $2 million contract and may not be optioned. Ravelo is out of options. That leaves just one job between Munoz, Sosa, Dean, Thomas and Williams. While Carlson might have an outside shot at cracking the roster if someone gets injured and/or he completely tears the cover off the ball in spring, the most likely outcome in my opinion is that Thomas gets the job, as he is probably the best candidate to come in as a defensive replacement late in the game and can actually play center field. I would expect whoever loses the left field job between Thomas and O’Neill to get the final bench spot.
The most interesting part of spring, therefore, may not be who makes the opening day roster, but where the players that do make it are situated. Injuries usually sort these issues out, but barring injury, there may not be much to decide this year.