The St. Louis Cardinals' 2013 NRI list is a little more exciting than usual, which is yet another happy side-effect of having the consensus best farm system in baseball. Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, and Michael Wacha will join the usual non-roster invitee mix of backup catchers (for all those pitchers who are just about to start reporting) and AAA veterans in camp with the Cardinals' 40-man roster.
Jenifer Langosch has the full list. Here are some players worth watching, for various reasons.
Spring Training surprises
Greg Garcia, coming off a breakout season in AA Springfield, is my pick for the NRI most likely to make a surprise impact in St. Louis, although the Ronny Cedeno signing makes the immediate path to Busch Stadium a little more treacherous. But this year's ZiPS projections took a lot of air out of his .284/.408/.420 line in the Texas League; his .239/.329/.336 projection puts him even with Daniel Descalso (.254/.322/.361), his defensive doppelganger.
He could surprise, then, but it might be better, in the short term, if he's left to answer two lingering questions in Memphis: Can he hit outside Hammons Field? Will he play shortstop even when Kolten Wong isn't playing second base?
Wong, for his part, is probably a better bet, but he's also a little less surprising. Despite being outhit by Garcia in Springfield, his own ZiPS projection is really aggressive—at .279/.328/.390, the strongest in the Cardinals' weak middle infield class. I find the recent theorizing in the comments about the Cardinals' conservative offseason being a way to prepare him for an early trip north increasingly interesting.
Maybe next spring
John Gast, Tyler Lyons, and Seth Maness are familiar with anyone who's looked at the back half of a Cardinals prospect list recently, and any one of them could find their way into the major league bullpen at some point in 2013. Gast is already famous for last spring's pick-off-move master class. Lyons and Maness are pitchers with great high-minors peripherals and lingering questions about their stuff, which sounds like perfect bullpen material to me.
Starlin Rodriguez is probably in the wrong system—he finds himself immediately behind Garcia and Wong on the middle infield depth chart, despite being the same age. But he had a really nice year in Palm Beach (.300/.373/.442, albeit with a worrying BAbip) and he'll be fortunate enough to move from a pitcher's league and park to a hitter's league and park in 2013, which could send him shooting up lists by midseason.
Yes, of course I know who [PLAYER NAME] is
Justin Christian signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals early in the offseason, after two years in the San Francisco Giants' system. He's a 33-year-old Frontier League refugee who's managed to earn three MLB stints since 2008; in 2011 he stole 54 bases in 59 minor league opportunities, which is cool.
He'll plug one of the gaping holes Memphis had in its outfield last season—you'll remember they tried this last year with ex-prospects Lou Montanez and Cedric Hunter, among other stopgaps.
Rob Johnson is the veteran backup catcher the Cardinals signed, presumably to freak Tony Cruz out now that Bryan Anderson is gone.