St. Louis Cardinals: Review of Non-roster Invitees

Mar 11, 2015; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; A wide view of the field during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game between the the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2015; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; A wide view of the field during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game between the the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Spring Training brings with it each season a set of non-roster invitees who may break camp with the big squad, may break camp with the minor squad, or may find themselves released. This spring, the St. Louis Cardinals are inviting eight players to Spring Training (as of today).

The St. Louis Cardinals utilize Spring Training no differently than any other team: to test prospects and to audition non-roster invitees. For many the journey ends at the conclusion of Spring Training but for other players the audition will end with a roster spot with the MLB club. The 2017 Spring Training will have eight players joining the St. Louis Cardinals in an audition setting.

While the roster seems set with the players on the squad at this point, keeping the doors open for any additional strength or backup is a very wise move.

Should someone shine, then stick them on the roster (e.g. Jeremy Hazelbaker‘s roster placement thanks to his performance in the 2016 Spring Training). Should someone show promise but no shine, then stick them in Memphis and let them develop and protect the MLB squad.

Let’s take a look at who the Cardinals have invited. Let’s begin with the pitchers. The St. Louis Cardinals have invited Kendrys Flores, Zach Phillips, and Jordan Schafer.

Flores comes to the Cardinals from the Miami Marlins organization where he last pitched on their AAA team. Flores was signed by the San Francisco Giants as an amateur free agent in 2009. Despite being signed some eight seasons ago, Flores maintains his rookie status since he has never pitched in fifty-or-more innings in the Bigs.

Flores, in 2016, pitched in 102 innings in AAA and three innings in the majors. His AAA ERA ended at 4.15 having surrendered 112 hits, forty-seven earned runs, and eighty strikeouts. What might seem like a sure-fire AAA destination, Flores could surprise us all this spring and find himself able to shore-up the middle of the pen should this former-starter (like Michael Wacha) agree to move to the pen.

Phillips comes to the Cardinals from the Pirates organization. He was drafted in the twenty-third round of the 2004 draft by the Texas Rangers. After climbing the ranks with Texas and Baltimore, Zach took a stint in 2014 in Japan. He returned to the States in 2015 as part of the White Sox (in AAA) and then appeared with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in 2016.

In 2015 in AAA, Phillips pitched in 54.2 innings amassing a 3.13 ERA surrendering forty-seven hits and nineteen earned runs while also striking out sixty-four batters. Phillips, a left-handed pitcher, could well find himself breaking camp with the MLB squad thanks to the squad dearth of left-handed pitching.

Schafer, another left-handed pitcher, came to the Cardinals after a stint with the Dodgers where he transitioned from an outfielder to a pitcher.

I wrote about Schafer as the next Rick Ankiel (read it here) and shared my excitement with this player. I, for one, cannot wait to watch Schafer in Spring Training and desperately hope that Mike Matheny will allow him to pitch, then move to the outfield for a batter, then return to the mound for the next batter.

As I note in the earlier article, Schafer amassed a slash line in 2015 of .217/.250/.261 which wasn’t great and neither was his defense in the field where his career UZRs are -0.7 in LF, -14.6 in CF, and 1.3 in RF. The Dodgers moved him to the mound in the minors and had him climb from single-A to AAA. His best work came in AA where he posted an ERA of 3.15 across forty innings.

I predict that Schafer will break camp with the AAA squad but that he could find himself playing many positions and might reach the majors as needed or when the rosters expand.

Two catchers received non-roster invitees: Eric Fryer and Gabriel Lino. I am a huge fan of Eric Fryer (as can be witnessed from my writings). For a deep review of Fryer as compared to Carson Kelly, jump over and read my piece on them both. To the point, though, Fryer is a great addition to the squad (again) in that his offense slash line is .254/.332/.328 and his defense is a .990 fielding percentage behind the plate.

I predict- at least I hope- that Fryer will break camp with the major squad such that Kelly can play every day in Memphis.

Lino is an interesting add to me. That said, he is the quote-unquote replacement for Alberto Rosario who the team released after 2016. Rosario owned a career minor league slash of .238/.290/.308. Lino owns a career minor league slash of .230/.303/.341 illustrating a near one-to-one replacement.

Lino, like Rosario before him, will likely find himself in the minor league camp at the conclusion of Spring Training. His bat needs to develop as does his defense which is currently sitting at a minor league fielding percentage of .984 behind the dish.

Two infielders, Chad Huffman and Wilfredo Tovar, will join the Spring Training activities with the Cardinals in 2017. Huffman comes to the Cardinals from the Tigers system. He is a a first baseman and outfielder who last played in AAA for Detroit in 2016 all while batting injuries. In 2016, in 430 at-bats, Huffman posted a .286/.387/.505 slash line.

Huffman should be seeking a promotion in 2017 and should show well in Spring. That said, Huffman is thirty-one years old and his age timeline is expiring (at least by baseball standards) so perhaps we should all temper our expectations on him.

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Tovar is less known to me. Tovar hails from the Twins organization where this twenty-five year-old played short stop. In AAA in 2016, Tovar posted a .249/.301/.327 in 450 at-bats. Of interest to the St. Louis Cardinals was surely his speed: Tovar stole twenty-nine bags and was only caught nine times. The Cards are surely hoping he shows his speed this Spring and could impress in AA/AAA in 2017.

Lastly, Todd Cunningham is the St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder receiving a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. Cunningham, comes to the Cardinals after serving in the Angels organization. Cunningham appeared in AAA and MLB in 2016 where he posted a .278/.378/.387 and a .148/.179/.259 respectively. Will 2017 be the year that Cunningham carries his AAA numbers to the majors?

I predict that Cunningham will get a great deal of playing time during Spring Training to show if he can best the incumbent backup outfielder, Tommy Pham. Should Cunningham have a great Spring, the St. Louis Cardinals could afford themselves some options other than keeping Pham.

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All things stated, I look for each of these invitees to have plenty of playing time this spring and look for the likes of Fryer, Phillips, and maybe Cunningham to have the best chance at breaking camp with the major squad. Look for this excitement this spring!