All posts by Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.

Reliever Jason Motte Returns to Cardinals on Minors Deal

photo: Jason Motte (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Who says you cannot go home again?

For the second time this month, the St. Louis Cardinals have signed one of its former closers to a minor league contract for 2018. Following the path of Edward Mujica is Jason Motte, whose deal, pending a Monday physical, was announced by Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch on Friday night. One difference between the two is that Motte will be in major league camp as a non-roster invitee.

Jason Motte (Getty Images)

Motte, who last pitched for St. Louis in 2014, has since been a member of the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies and most recently, Atlanta Braves.

Now 35 years of age, the hard-throwing former catcher first reached St. Louis in 2008. He worked his way up to closer in 2012, when he saved his career high of 42 games, a total which included every save for the team that year. After sitting out 2013 following spring Tommy John surgery, Motte returned during the 2014 season in a setup role with reduced effectiveness before leaving that fall as a free agent.

Motte then signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs for 2015, but departed after one season for a two-year, $10 million contract with Colorado that covered 2016-2017. However, Motte was released following spring training 2017 and hooked on with Atlanta, for whom he split last season between Triple-A and the majors.

In 397 2/3 career innings over 444 games in parts of nine seasons in the majors, Motte has a career ERA of 3.30. 54 of his 60 career saves were recorded with St. Louis.

His career strikeout rate is 8.5 batters per nine innings, with his walk rate on the high side at 2.8 per nine. The recent trend is not positive. Last season with Atlanta, Motte’s K and BB rates were his worst ever, at 6.0 and 4.4, respectively. At first blush, his 3.54 ERA would appear more encouraging, but his 5.54 FIP last season, two full runs higher, suggests otherwise.

One would assume that barring spring injuries to St. Louis’ relievers, Mujica and Motte may open the season in the Memphis bullpen, perhaps vying to get the ball in the ninth inning at Triple-A and waiting for the call to the bigs once again.

There obviously has been no announcement yet, but it is worth noting that Motte’s old uniform number 30 for the Cardinals is currently unassigned. It was last worn by Carson Kelly and Jonathan Broxton last season.

Link to Motte’s career stats

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Prospects on BaseballHQ’s Mega-Lists

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Spring Training 2017: A Final Look Back

With the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals having assembled this week in Jupiter, Florida, let’s look back one last time at Spring Training 2017.

A camp that began with a major disappointment culminated with an exceptional Grapefruit League record. However, the club could not sustain during an uneven regular season that ended in a second consecutive playoff miss.

Personnel changes

Mike Matheny (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The club’s first major move of the 2016-2017 off-season, announced on November 3, was a bit of a surprise. Coming off the team’s first playoff miss in five years and with one year remaining on his contract, manager Mike Matheny was given a three-year extension that runs through the 2020 season.

On the field, the club welcomed two important newcomers, both free agent signees, to spring training camp in February, Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil.

Center fielder Fowler was signed to a five-year deal as a free agent, essentially taking departed free agent Matt Holliday’s spot on the roster. The only other significant 2016 contributor to leave was outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss, who likely played his way out of a 2017 contract due a horrendous September 2016.

Brett Cecil (USA TODAY Sports Images)

With Zach Duke slated to be out for most of 2017, the Cardinals signed fellow lefty Cecil to a four-year contract to join Kevin Siegrist in the bullpen.

Other free agents not asked back for 2017 were oft-injured reliever Jordan Walden and journeyman pitcher Jerome Williams.

Left-handed starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, with one year to go on his contract, had been traded during the off-season to Atlanta for three minor leaguers.

For the second year in a row, free agent catcher Eric Fryer signed with St. Louis on a minor league contract with the intent of being added to the big-league roster at the end of spring training.

Carlos Martinez (USA TODAY Sports Images)

In a widely-celebrated deal announced on February 2, Carlos Martinez avoided arbitration, agreeing to a five-year, $51 million contract with additional options covering his third and fourth potential free agent years in 2022 and 2023.

There were two key changes in the coaching staff from 2016. Triple-A manager Mike Shildt was added in a new position, quality control coach, and high-A manager Oliver Marmol was named first base coach. 2016 first base coach  Bill Mueller returned to his 2015 job of assistant hitting coach after Derrick May was not retained.

Spring training injuries

Alex Reyes (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The major blow of the spring was delivered on the very first day of camp. The top pitching prospect in the game and projected starter Alex Reyes was lost for the year due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

This put greater focus on the questions coming into spring camp with two returning starters – the strengthened, but untested shoulder of Michael Wacha and the repaired elbow of Lance Lynn. Both passed their spring tests with flying colors.

Wacha’s resurgence was crucial because not only was Reyes lost, but fellow prospect Luke Weaver struggled in camp and reliever Trevor Rosenthal, promised a chance at starting, was injured for much of the spring and opened the season on the disabled list.

Tyler Lyons (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Along with Duke, Reyes and Rosenthal, two other pitchers began the season on the shelf. Impressive spring starter John Gant, part of the take in the Garcia trade, suffered a groin injury late in camp. Likely, he would have opened with Memphis had he been healthy. Also, lefty Tyler Lyons, coming back from off-season knee surgery, was deemed not quite ready to go.

All position players were active for the April 3rd opener – a major contrast to 2016 when three hitters began the season on the DL.

Spring training results

On the field, the club played well. In fact, its 20-8-4 record (.714) was St. Louis’ best showing in its 20 years of Grapefruit League play at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium.

However, spring attendance was down almost 20 percent from 2016 with a 20-year low in per-game average. The opening of the nearby Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, new spring home of the Astros and Nationals, had to be a factor.

Continuing the pattern from the prior three years, the pitching led the way, with the very best team ERA in MLB at 3.28. The offense was inconsistent, however, with a .735 OPS that was 23rd in MLB. The Cardinals were 22nd of the 30 teams in spring runs scored.

With an announced focus on baserunning for the third straight spring, the Cardinals were smack in the middle of the MLB pack with 22 stolen bases. Their success rate was a below-average 64.7 percent. For comparison, the MLB spring average was 67.6 percent.

The Cards did take a few extra bases as evidenced by their MLB-leading 17 triples. However, do not celebrate, as their spring doubles count of 48 was 50 behind the MLB leader and just one two-base hit out of the cellar. Overall, the team slugging mark of .407 was 23rd, a foreshadowing of problems ahead.

Controversy and contracts

Kolten Wong (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The March after the Cardinals and Kolten Wong agreed to a five-year contract, the second baseman was again in the news, but for the wrong reason. The 26-year-old took exception to his manager’s suggestion to the media that he might be platooned during the regular season, making a trade request from which he quickly backed down.

With catcher Yadier Molina entering the final year of his then-current five-year contract, his agent put the Cardinals’ feet to the fire in the spring. Either an extension needed to be in place by the start of the regular season or the 34-year-old would test the free agent market in the fall.

Yadier Molina (USA TODAY Sports Images)

A few hours before the first pitch on Opening Day, the two sides agreed to a three-year extension, which covers 2018-2020. The deal, which will net Molina $60 million, makes the franchise icon its highest-paid player in terms  of annual contract value.

The very next day, the club and Stephen Piscotty announced a six-year deal, covering the right-fielder for the 2017-2022 seasons, plus a 2023 option. Piscotty will make a minimum of $33.5 million to as much as $50.5 million from the contract, which will cover one or two of his free agent years.

Destined to become a free agent in the fall, Lance Lynn expressed interest in working with the club on an extension, as well, but the Cardinals consistently avoided the subject, preferring instead to bring prospects into the MLB rotation in preparation for a different look in 2018.

Tommy Pham (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Spring competitions

Though no one would likely admit it, there were really only two open roster spots in camp. Sure, not all names were written in ink, but the leaders at each spot would have had to play their way off the team – and they did not.

The one exception to that was outfielder Tommy Pham, who had been with both St. Louis and Memphis in 2016, between being active and on the disabled list. He was thoroughly outplayed by the hitting surprise of camp, Jose Martinez, and the former opened the season in Memphis.

Pham came in with no momentum, having hit .226 with a 38.8 percent strikeout rate with St. Louis in 2016. In 2017 camp, he dropped to .209 with a 32 percent whiff rate. Pham would soon be back with a vengeance, however.

Sam Tuivailala (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The final bullpen spot went to Miguel Socolovich. As he had no minor league options remaining, it was not surprising the right-hander made the team after pitching well during spring training.

Actually, that turned out to be the second-to-last bullpen spot. Rosenthal was not placed on the DL until camp ended, with Sam Tuivailala recalled from Triple-A in response to make his first-ever opening day in the majors.

With a full 40-man roster as camp closed, the Cardinals placed Duke on the 60-day disabled list to make roster room for reserve catcher Fryer, a move that was expected all spring.

Prospect spring standouts

Paul DeJong (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Among minor league pitching standouts in Florida were starting prospects Gant, Mike Mayers, Jack Flaherty and Sandy Alcantara and lefty reliever Ryan Sherriff.

Hitters catching coaches’ eyes included infielders Paul DeJong and Patrick Wisdom and outfielders Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra. Recent signee Adolis Garcia also showed glimpses of speed and strong defense. Carson Kelly did not hit much (.182), but the catcher continued to draw praise for his maturity and leadership.

Individual spring results

Lance Lynn (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Among starters, Lynn and Martinez posted spring ERAs of 1.20 and 1.38, respectively, with Wacha also at a solid 2.42. Mike Leake came in at 3.81 but Adam Wainwright limped to a concerning 7.78 spring ERA over six starts.

Among the relievers with ERAs under 2.00 were Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton and Rosenthal. The unheralded star, however, was 2016 Rule 5 pickup Matt Bowman, who did not allow an earned run over 12 innings.

Jose Alberto Martinez (USA TODAY Sports Images)

On the offensive side, .300 hitters included Aledmys Diaz, Matt Adams, Fowler and Martinez, the team leader at .380. Martinez also paced the club with 15 RBI, and his four home runs were one behind the leader, Adams.

The slimmed-down reserve first baseman was also second on the club with 11 RBI, but fanned over 37 percent of the time. Oddly, the team waited until very late in camp to experiment with Adams in left field, intended to increase his versatility. However, the move was not considered a success.

In a bit of a concern, four players who opened the season on the active roster finished the Grapefruit League under the Mendoza line – Matt Carpenter, Wong, Jedd Gyorko and Piscotty. Then again, it was the second straight spring that Carpenter and Gyorko batted under .200 in Florida and both went on to perform well in 2016.

Ready for Opening Day

Stephen Piscotty (USA TODAY Sports Images)

There seemed enough concern about Piscotty’s spring that veteran Jhonny Peralta opened the season as the cleanup hitter, with the right fielder hitting sixth.

The top three in the lineup appeared set – Fowler, Diaz and Carpenter, followed by Peralta, Molina and Piscotty, with Randal Grichuk, Wong and the pitcher bringing up the rear.

Carlos Martinez was named to make his first Opening Day start, followed by Wainwright, with Lynn, Wacha and Leake completing the rotation.

Seung-hwan Oh returned for what was expected to be his first full season as closer. Other bullpenners were Cecil, Siegrist, Broxton, Bowman, Socolovich and Tuivailala.

Reserve hitters were Gyorko, Greg Garcia, Adams, Fryer and Jose Martinez.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Prospects on BaseballHQ’s Mega-Lists

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Formalize Bud Norris Signing, DFA Rowan Wick

photo: Bud Norris (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have signed free-agent right-handed pitcher Bud Norris to a one-year contract, and that he will be in the Cardinals Major League Spring Training Camp that opens today with the first workout for pitchers and catchers.

Bud Norris (Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Norris, 32, appeared in a career single-season high 60 games (57 in relief) for the Los Angeles Angels last season, and led the Halos with 19 saves, ranking 10th among American League closers.  The 6-0, 215-pound veteran of nine Major League seasons owns a career mark of 68-84 with a 4.49 ERA in 291 games (188 starts) with Houston (2009-13), Baltimore (2013-15), San Diego (2015), Atlanta (2016), Los Angeles Dodgers (2016) and the Angels (2017).

Norris’ 19 saves last season were the first of his career, as he converted 19 of 23 opportunities.  He fanned 74 batters in 62.0 innings pitched, posting the best strikeout/9 IP ratio (10.7) of his career.   After securing his first career save on April 22, Norris recorded monthly highs with five saves in April, May and July and he had three saves of at least four outs.  Norris had two stints (June 19-July 1 and August 27 to Sept. 6) on the disabled list last season due to right knee inflammation, but returned to pitch in six games down the stretch, including starts in his final two appearances of the season.

Known by Cardinals fans for his early career success against the Redbirds (7-2, 2.17 ERA in first 11 career meetings), Norris is a lifetime 8-7, 3.44 ERA against St. Louis, including a 4-5, 4.55 mark in 10 career games (9 starts) at Busch Stadium III.

A California native, Norris was a 6th round draft choice by Houston in 2006 and he won a career-high 15 games for Baltimore in 2014, helping the Orioles to the American League East title.

To make room for Norris on the team’s 40-man Major League roster, the Cardinals have designated right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick for assignment.

Norris has been assigned uniform no. 26.

Brian Walton’s take

It only makes sense to have Norris prepare as a starter – in case there is an epidemic of rotation injuries this spring. Most likely, however, the right-hander will open the season in the bullpen. The late-innings situation is fluid, with Norris potentially joining Luke Gregerson, Tyler Lyons and Dominic Leone in the mix.

Rowan Wick (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Wick, 25, a former catcher and slugging outfielder,  had been selected by St. Louis in the ninth round in 2012. The right-handed hitter launched a team-record 14 home runs for short-season State College in 2014.

After struggling with off-speed offerings in full-season ball, the hard-thrower was converted to the mound in 2015. Wick was placed on the 40-man roster prior to the December 2016 Rule 5 Draft. The Canadian native is The Cardinal Nation’s 49th-ranked prospect for 2018.

Establishing the cutter (or some off-speed pitch) displacing his curve ball as a truly effective secondary offering seemed to be the inhibitor to Wick achieving his potential.

From my vantage point, Wick made little to no progress as a prospect over the last year. In 2016, he had dominated at high-A Palm Beach, then gotten his feet on the ground at Springfield. Next, Wick pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where he was selected to participate in the Fall Stars Game. Then he joined his first big-league camp following his addition to the 40-man roster. His stock was clearly rising.

What occurred since last spring were recurring injuries, addressed via rest and rehab, and spotty mound results.

Wick was clearly not ready for Triple-A, where he opened 2017, and after his two DL stints with Memphis, he was moved back down to Springfield in mid-July. While his Texas League stats line looks good on the surface – 2.08 ERA, opposing batting average of .208 – digging deeper led to concern.

First of all, there was his Double-A walk rate of 4.6 per nine innings. Though it was better than his 6.4 mark in his 2016 Springfield debut, it is nowhere near an acceptable range. Perhaps some of that is due to him learning a new pitch, but still…

Next is a very low BABIP of .246, which is likely not sustainable, especially for a fly-ball-oriented pitcher. Finally, his FIP of 4.01 brings home the suggestion that his basic numbers may be misleading.

Once thought to have the potential to be a closer at the Major League level, Wick’s Cardinals career is at a turning point. In removing him from the 40-man roster, the Cardinals have up to seven days to trade, release or outright him to the minors. The latter assumes he is not selected off waivers by one of the other 29 organizations, willing to place him on their 40-man.

Update: Friday, February 16

As he cleaned out his Cardinals locker on Friday, Wick told reporters that his contract has been claimed by the San Diego Padres.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Prospect Interview: Juan Yepez

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Sign Reliever, Ex-Nemesis Bud Norris

photo: Bud Norris (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Back in the good old days when the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros regularly battled for the National League Central Division title, Astros right-hander Bud Norris consistently dominated St. Louis hitters like no other club.

Bud Norris (Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports Images)

That led to the famous 2010 slip of the tongue by then-Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, who mistakenly called the hurler “Chuck”. Given the way Bud had pummeled Cardinals hitters, the tie between the Texan martial arts expert/action hero and the pitching nemesis seemed most appropriate. Hence, the coining of “BudChuck” as the opponent’s nickname.

The now-32-year old, entering his 10th year in the majors, has been well-traveled since leaving Houston in 2013. Norris has made St. Louis his sixth major league organization after coming to terms with the club on a one-year big league contract, pending a physical. The salary amount has yet to be disclosed.

The current version of Norris is very different from the one of years ago. With his career at a crossroads, Norris became a reliever in 2017 with the Angels. He junked his four-seamer, instead relying on a cutter and his off-speed stuff that enabled him to reverse a career-long problem with left-handed hitters.

It seemed to work very well initially. In 36 1/3 first-half innings, Norris posted a 2.23 ERA that was backed up by a ground ball rate of 47.6 percent. He fanned 47, but had control issues with 14 walks. Installed as the Halos’ closer, Norris saved 13 games before the break.

Everything fell apart in the second half, though, after right knee inflammation twice forced him onto the disabled list. Perhaps his body was not fully used to the relief role as he struggled to a second-half ERA of 7.01. Norris added six more saves to total 19 in 23 opportunities in 2017.

It appears Norris will be used as another relief option out of the Cardinals 2018 bullpen, where another free agent signee, Luke Gregerson, has been anointed closer. Other late-inning options in the made-over pen include trade acquisition Dominic Leone and returnee Tyler Lyons.

With the Cardinals’ 40-man roster full, space will need to be cleared when the Norris signing is made official. There are no 60-day disabled list moves apparent, so unless a trade is in the works, the 40-man spot of a player such as Mike Mayers, John Gant and Breyvic Valera appears to be most at-risk.

Norris arrives with some personal baggage. Two years ago, he criticized foreign players for their “antics” and not respecting the game – and then apologized. Details can be found here.

Update

Norris’ salary will be $3 million plus “significant incentives” per Ken Rosenthal. The Post-Dispatch reports that Norris will be stretched out in the spring such that he could start or relieve, based on team needs.

My take is that Norris is going to open in the pen unless there is a significant run of bad luck during spring training with the starters.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: 2018 Cardinals Minor League Spring Training Schedules

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase our new 193-page 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oquendo Takes Managerial Speculation off the Table

photo: Jose Oquendo, Yadier Molina, Mike Matheny (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

As the cornerstone of the plan to make the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals a better executing defensive and base running unit than the 2017 edition, long-time third base coach and infield instructor extraordinaire Jose Oquendo was convinced to return to the major league staff.

Jose Oquendo (USA TODAY Sports Images)

This move – strategically announced the day before the 2017 World Series opened in late October – was coupled with another hiring that was also wildly popular with fans – the addition of Cardinals Hall of Famer Willie McGee as a coach. Together, they helped ease disappointment over the team’s underachievement in 2017 and foster hope for the future.

While a number of players voiced their support of Oquendo’s decision, as well, there was still an undercurrent of internal pressure raised by some observers. Was the return of Oquendo intended by the front office in part to increase the heat on Mike Matheny?

After all, the manager was already under fire (at least externally) due to his clubs uncharacteristically missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons following declines in regular season wins. Those two down years coincided with the time during which Oquendo was away from the major league squad, having chosen to work with minor leaguers in Florida instead.

Mike Matheny (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Some fans took it as far as to wonder if Oquendo was brought back to be on the ready should replacing Matheny be deemed necessary.

Even before pitchers and catchers officially report to 2018 spring training camp, Oquendo seized the offensive, shutting down this line of speculation. In a conversation with Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch, Oquendo made it clear that his days of longing to become a major league manager are over.

In doing so, Oquendo removed this potential perception issue of being Matheny’s replacement in waiting – before it could fester and become a distraction for the 2018 Cardinals. This was a very positive pre-emptive strike, in my opinion.

At the time of the 54-year old’s departure, during spring training 2016, the explanation was the need for dual knee surgeries. However, as what was initially announced to be a medical leave of absence continued through its second season, there was speculation that more could be behind it. What is clear is that a personal visit in Florida from President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and Matheny was the final step to convince Oquendo to rejoin the big-league staff.

Oquendo, employed by the Cardinals since 1985 and a member of the major league staff from 1999 until 2016, had long hoped to secure a managerial job in the majors. With the full backing of Tony La Russa, “The Secret Weapon” interviewed for field manager openings with San Diego, Seattle and the New York Mets in the 2006-2010 period, but was passed over each time.

The misses most notably included the St. Louis job, which opened with La Russa’s retirement following the 2011 season. Another former Cardinals player in Matheny – but one with no professional coaching experience of any kind – was hired instead. Even as what appeared to be Oquendo’s best managerial shot evaporated, he remained loyal to the organization, agreeing to stay on as third base coach on Matheny’s staff.

Three years later, as La Russa was in charge of baseball operations in Arizona, he disclosed his list of nine candidates to replace fired manager Kirk Gibson. La Russa interviewed seven of them before hiring Chip Hale. Oquendo was not among the nine. Whether he was asked and declined or was not included, either way, it suggested his time as a prime managerial candidate had passed.

Yadier Molina (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Last summer, flames of discontent were fanned by a Yadier Molina social media post. It drew considerable attention as the team’s icon proclaimed his longing for Oquendo’s return – though the desired role was unstated. It had followed a negative public reaction by the catcher to a suggestion made by his manager to the media that Molina appeared tired. (Matheny returned to the subject in an in-depth radio interview just this past week.)

Molina and Oquendo, natives of Puerto Rico, are close. This winter, Oquendo served as first-time manager Molina’s bench coach for Puerto Rico’s Under-23 squad, which competed in the World Cup qualifier tournament in Panama and secured a berth.

Skeptics will always remain, some wondering if Oquendo’s declaration is 100 percent truthful, but only he knows that in his heart. What is clear is that he took the initiative to try to get any speculation off the table that he might be gunning for Matheny’s job.

It should not matter whether you are a Matheny backer, a critic or somewhere in between. Unless you inexplicably believe that internal staff pressure would be a positive for the 2018 Cardinals team on the field, there should be no response other than to respect Oquendo’s action to clear the air regarding his intentions.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: 2018 Cardinals Minor League Spring Training Schedules

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase our new 193-page 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Former Cardinal Bests New Cardinal in Caribbean Series

photo: Anthony Garcia (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

After a promising start, the 2018 Caribbean Series did not end well for Nestor Molina and Venezuela.

Nestor Molina (Los Rojos del Veracruz)

After splitting its first two games last Friday and Saturday, Venezuela turned to recent St. Louis Cardinals addition Molina to face host Mexico Sunday night. The 29-year old right-hander went 5 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs on five hits, one walk and four strikeouts, as his club advanced to the semi-finals. (Link to box score)

Following another loss, however, 2-2 Venezuela entered Wednesday’s contest with Puerto Rico in a must-win situation. The victor would face the Dominican Republic in Thursday’s final, with the loser eliminated.

Anthony Garcia (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Entering the sixth, Venezuela was cruising with a 4-0 lead – until starter Daryl Thompson tired. He was pulled from the contest with one out and the bases loaded, replaced by Molina. Puerto Rico’s next batter, none other than ex-Cardinal Anthony Garcia, launched a game-tying grand slam. With that, Molina left the mound, his series ERA up to 5.07.

Venezuela was not done, however, retaking the lead in the seventh, but the pen again let it get away in the eighth. The final score was in Puerto Rico’s favor, 6-5. (Link to box score)

In Thursday’s final, Puerto Rico defeated the Dominican Republic 9-4, to win the Series. Another former Cardinal, Ruben Gotay, contributed a two-run double.

A notoriously streaky hitter, Garcia was clearly red-hot during his week in Mexico – named Caribbean Series MVP on the basis of three home runs, four doubles, eight RBI and eight runs scored in six games. The outfielder batted .500 with a 1.598 OPS.

Garcia, who signed with Oakland for 2018 after leaving the Cardinals as a minor league free agent last fall, has a track record of success in winter play, including the MVP award of the Puerto Rico League in 2014-2015.

However, as a Cardinal, Garcia peaked at Double-A, a level he first reached in 2015. The 26-year old did not perform well in Triple-A trials in each of the last two seasons and was removed from the 40-man roster in April 2017, going unclaimed.

Winter ball is now officially done for another year.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: 2018 Cardinals Minor League Spring Training Schedules

Not yet a member? Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase our new 193-page 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2018 Cardinals Spring Training Number Assignments

photo: Carson Kelly, Jose Martinez, Harrison Bader (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Baseball is a game of numbers and what is more relevant than the digits players wear on their uniforms?

We take our annual dive into the spring training number assignments for St. Louis Cardinals players and coaches. I will provide two views below. The first is a straight 1-99 view. The second will be a more detailed breakdown, including changes from 2017.

As one will see below, all numbers from 1 through 96 are currently spoken for, with the exception of seven – 8, 15, 26, 30, 33, 34 and 49. Three others remain out of commission in unofficial retired status, and 97 through 99 are available, likely to be used on minor leaguers brought in from the backfields for the afternoon, once “1:00 p.m.” games begin on February 23.

# Roster Spring 2018
1 Ozzie Smith (retired) 51 Willie McGee
2 Red Schoendienst (retired) 52 Michael Wacha
3 Jedd Gyorko 53 John Gant
4 Yadier Molina 54 Alex Mejia
5 Albert Pujols (since 2011) 55 Dominic Leone
6 Stan Musial (retired) 56 Bryan Eversgerd
7 Luke Weaver 57 Darryl Kile (since 2002)
8 58 Preston Guilmet
9 Enos Slaughter (retired) 59 Mike Mayers
10 Tony La Russa (retired) 60 John Brebbia
11 Jose Oquendo 61 Steven Baron
12 Paul DeJong 62 Yairo Munoz
13 Matt Carpenter 63 Tyler O’Neill
14 Ken Boyer (retired) 64 Sam Tuivailala
15 65 Ryan Sherriff
16 Kolten Wong 66 Wilfredo Tovar
17 Dizzy Dean (retired) 67 Matt Bowman
18 Carlos Martinez 68 Austin Gomber
19 Carson Kelly 69
20 Lou Brock (retired) 70 Tyler Lyons
21 Jordan Schafer 71 Derian Gonzalez
22 Mike Matheny 72 Rowan Wick
23 Marcell Ozuna 73 Patrick Wisdom
24 Whitey Herzog (retired) 74 Oscar Mercado
25 Dexter Fowler 75 Adolis Garcia
26 Bud Norris 76 Kleininger Teran
27 Brett Cecil 77 Josh Lucas
28 Tommy Pham 78 Randy Arozarena
29 Alex Reyes 79 Max Schrock
30 80 Edmundo Sosa
31 Mike Maddux 81 Rangel Ravelo
32 Jack Flaherty 82 Tommy Edman
33 83 Mike Shildt
34 84 Daniel Poncedeleon
35 Greg Garcia 85 August Busch (retired)
36 Sean Gilmartin 86 Arturo Reyes
37 Oliver Marmol 87 Jake Woodford
38 Jose Martinez 88 Ryan Helsley
39 Miles Mikolas 89 Jordan Hicks
40 Luke Voit 90 Conner Greene
41 Breyvic Valera 91 Dakota Hudson
42 Sutter/Robinson (retired) 92 Hector Mendoza
43 Bill Mueller 93 Andrew Knizner
44 Luke Gregerson 94 Jamie Pogue
45 Bob Gibson (retired) 95 Jeremy Martinez
46 Francisco Pena 96 Dennis Ortega
47 John Mabry 97
48 Harrison Bader 98
49 99
50 Adam Wainwright

Next is a view by grouping. In every case, I list the individual’s spring number as well as who wore it last spring, as applicable. When the player had the same number in 2017, his number is just listed instead of repeating his name, for visual clarity.

On the left are the 23 non-roster invitees. On the right are the 40-man roster players.

Note the significant change from year to year. Only 19 of the 63 players invited to 2018 spring camp were at the 2017 camp wearing the same number. Of course, some of the others are back, but with different digits assigned.

Non-Roster Invitees (23) 40-Man Roster (40)
# 2017 Pitchers (10) # 2017 Pitchers (22)
36 Aledmys Diaz Sean Gilmartin 67 67 Matt Bowman
58 Jose Martinez Preston Guilmet 60 Kendry Flores John Brebbia
88 Harrison Bader Ryan Helsley 27 Jhonny Peralta Brett Cecil
89 Arturo Reyes Jordan Hicks 32 Matt Adams Jack Flaherty
91 Robby Rowland Dakota Hudson 53 53 John Gant
92 Jack Flaherty Hector Mendoza 68 Alberto Rosario Austin Gomber
84 Josh Lucas Daniel Poncedeleon 71 Carson Kelly Derian Gonzalez
86 Patrick Wisdom Arturo Reyes 90 D. Schutzenhofer Conner Greene
21 Brett Cecil Jordan Schafer 44 Trevor Rosenthal Luke Gregerson
87 Paul DeJong Jake Woodford 55 Stephen Piscotty Dominic Leone
77 Chris Maloney Josh Lucas
# 2017 Catchers (5) 70 70 Tyler Lyons
61 Alex Reyes Steven Baron 18 18 Carlos Martinez
93 Sandy Alcantara Andrew Knizner 59 59 Mike Mayers
95 Daniel Poncedeleon Jeremy Martinez 39 Jamie Pogue Miles Mikolas
96 Andrew Knizner Dennis Ortega 29 Zach Duke Alex Reyes
46 Kevin Siegrist Francisco Pena 65 Chad Huffman Ryan Sherriff
64 64 Sam Tuivailala
# 2017 Infielders (6) 52 52 Michael Wacha
82 Gabriel Lino Tommy Edman 50 50 Adam Wainwright
54 Zach Phillips Alex Mejia 7 open Luke Weaver
81 Anthony Garcia Rangel Ravelo 72 72 Rowan Wick
79 Magneuris Sierra Max Schrock 26 Seung-hwan Oh  Bud Norris
66 66 Wilfredo Tovar # 2017 Catchers (2)
73 Breyvic Valera Patrick Wisdom 19 Jordan Schafer Carson Kelly
4 4 Yadier Molina
# 2017 Outfielders (2)
78 Trey Nielsen Randy Arozarena # 2017 Infielders (9)
75 75 Adolis Garcia 13 13 Matt Carpenter
12 open Paul DeJong
35 35 Greg Garcia
3 3 Jedd Gyorko
62 Luke Weaver Yairo Munoz
80 80 Edmundo Sosa
41 Eric Fryer Breyvic Valera
40 Mitch Harris Luke Voit
16 16 Kolten Wong
# 2017 Outfielders (7)
48 Todd Cunningham Harrison Bader
25 25 Dexter Fowler
38 Mike Shildt Jose Martinez
74 Eliezer Alvarez Oscar Mercado
63 Miguel Socolovich Tyler O’Neill
23 Bill Mueller Marcell Ozuna
28 28 Tommy Pham

Then we have the coaches and the retired numbers everyone is most familiar with from the outfield wall at Busch Stadium.

Going clockwise, next are the numbers that appear to be unofficially out of service to honor former team greats. That group declined by two for 2018 with the return of Jose Oquendo and Willie McGee joining the big-league staff for the first time.

By simple process of elimination, the final group of seven remains. Interestingly, all seven were active last season. Two players were traded, one departed as a free agent, one changed his number, two coaches were fired, and one coach left the Cardinals for another organization. The common thread is these numbers remain open and ready to be assigned.

# 2017 Coaches (13) # Retired (12)
56 Marco Gonzales Bryan Eversgerd 1 Ozzie Smith
22 22 Mike Matheny 2 Red Schoendienst
47 47 John Mabry 6 Stan Musial
31 Lance Lynn Mike Maddux 9 Enos Slaughter
37 37 Oliver Marmol 10 Tony La Russa
51 51 Willie McGee 14 Ken Boyer
43 open Bill Mueller 17 Dizzy Dean
11 11 Jose Oquendo 20 Lou Brock
83 Ryan Sherriff Mike Shildt 24 Whitey Herzog
94 Austin Gomber Jamie Pogue 42 Bruce Sutter/Jackie Robinson
76 76 Kleininger Teran 45 Bob Gibson
85 August Busch
Available (7)
# (last worn/year) # Unofficially out of service (3)
8 Mike Leake (2017) 5 Albert Pujols (since 2011)
15 Randal Grichuk (2017) 57 Darryl Kile (since 2002)
26 Seung-hwan Oh (2017) 69
30 Carson Kelly (2017)
33 David Bell (2017)
34 Derek Lilliquist (2017)
49 Blaise Ilsley (2017)

Notable changes

Of the major leaguers who left the Cardinals this past off-season, Randal Grichuk’s number 15 most noticeably remains open. Despite the fact it has been worn by several others since, some Cardinals fans will always associate it with team Hall of Famer Jim Edmonds.

Paul DeJong (USA TODAY Sports Images)

As many know, as part of Oquendo’s return, he reclaimed his 11 from Paul DeJong, who somewhat surprisingly had been issued it last May (after being assigned 87 last spring). For 2018, the shortstop has moved up one digit to 12, which was unused in last year’s camp, though reliever Juan Nicasio was given it when traded to St. Louis last September.

The team’s newest marquee acquisition, outfielder Marcell Ozuna, took over Bill Mueller’s 23, with the assistant hitting coach moving to 43, last worn by Magneuris Sierra during last season. New pitching coach Mike Maddux inherited Lance Lynn’s 31.

Recently-signed closer Luke Gregerson assumes old closer Trevor Rosenthal’s 44. Top prospect Alex Reyes has taken over the 29 worn by Zach Duke. Reliever Dominic Leone now has Stephen Piscotty’s old 55.

Mike Shildt (USA TODAY Sports Images)

First baseman-outfielder Jose Martinez went from 58 to Mike Shildt’s old 38. The new bench coach reversed his digits, taking a number for which there should be no competition – 83.

Carson Kelly made his second shift since he donned 71 last spring. During the 2017 season, the catcher took Jonathan Broxton’s old 30 before dropping down to 19 for 2018.

With at least 20 Cardinals spring games to be televised, and potentially a few more to be added, you are going to want to know who is who. (Check this link for the updated schedule.)

Update 2/13/18: New Cardinals pitcher Bud Norris has been assigned Seung-hwan Oh’s old number 26.

For more

The Roster Matrix and the St. Louis Cardinals roster here at The Cardinal Nation are fully up to date. The former indicates all players invited to Major League spring training camp, 40-man roster players and non-roster invitees, but uniform numbers are not designated on the Matrix.

Our St. Louis roster here at TCN does include uniform numbers, with players listed based on a 25-man roster view. All players remain on their official year-ending 2017 teams until they have a firm assignment to open 2018. All eight minor league affiliates’ rosters are kept up to date, as well. The Matrix and all rosters can always be accessed from the menu on the left column.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: 2018 Cardinals Minor League Spring Training Schedules

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase our new 193-page 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Prepare for 2018 Minor League STEP Camp

The St. Louis Cardinals have invited almost three dozen selected minor leaguers to their annual early Spring Training camp. Included are three of The Cardinal Nation’s top 20 prospects – Delvin Perez, Junior Fernandez and Dylan Carlson. Brian Walton analyzes the roster.

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Expanded 2018 Cardinals Spring Training Broadcast Schedule

One of my self-assigned tasks each spring is to scan the broadcast schedules of the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training opponents to create something that is not available in one place anywhere else.

What follows is a list of all known Cardinals spring television games, whether the broadcast originates from the Cardinals side, from their opponents or via a national network. After all, if you are like me, following the long winter, you have a thirst to watch any Major League Baseball no matter who is at the mike.

On Thursday, the Cardinals spring television schedule was jointly announced by the team and FOX Sports Midwest. 15 games will be shown on the home of the Cardinals, starting with three straight games to open the spring, from February 23-25. Generally, the telecasts will be of the Friday, Saturday and Sunday contests, with one Thursday and one Monday thrown in for good measure. One Friday evening game, on March 9, offers a special viewing treat.

So far, two additional Cardinals games will be televised by other sources, increasing the tentative TV plans to 17 contests. Spring road games against Baltimore (Wednesday, February 28) and Washington (Friday, March 16), will both be on the MASN network, adding two unique Cardinals games to the overall television schedule.

Also, two spring training games will be covered by both respective team’s networks. MASN will also telecast the Sunday, March 11 contest at the Nats, along with FS Midwest. Same with FOX Sports South and Midwest both covering the St. Patrick’s Day game at the Braves.

ESPN’s spring schedule does not include any St. Louis games.

There is still more to come, however.

At this point, two of St. Louis’ most frequent spring opponents have not yet disclosed their plans, the Mets and Marlins. Same with the Toronto Blue Jays, hosts for the final two games to be played in Montreal on March 26-27.

Also yet to announce their broadcast schedules are national entities MLB Network, FOX Network and TBS. Typically, MLB.TV picks up all televised games, as well, though no news from the subscription service is yet available.

Audio coverage of all Cardinals spring training games except one will be available either via KMOX and the Cardinals Radio Network (CRN) or MLB.com. The one game not on the airwaves is a split squad game while the other contest is being televised. Therefore, there is no need for me to track opposing team radio plans for spring 2018.

Keep an eye on this page as I will keep it updated as more information becomes available.

February 5 update: Sportsnet.ca has announced that both of the Blue Jays’ Montreal exhibition games against the Cardinals, on March 26 and 27, will be televised.

February 12 update: The Mets and Marlins have announced their respective spring television schedules. The three Marlins games on FOX Sports Florida were already on the FOX Midwest schedule. Two Mets games will be televised – one on WPIX that coincides with an FSM game and one new telecast, on SNY on March 23.

Unless MLB Network adds any unique games, which seems unlikely, that should close the book on spring plans, with 20 unique games covered, 15 by FOX Sports Midwest.

Day Month Date Opponent Location Time# StL TV Other TV MLB Net Audio
Friday Feb. 23 at Marlins Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest FS Florida KMOX/CRN
Saturday Feb. 24 Mets PtStLucie 1:10 FS Midwest WPIX KMOX/CRN
Sunday Feb. 25 Astros Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest no KMOX/CRN
Monday Feb. 26 Twins Ft Myers 1:05 no stream
Tuesday Feb. 27 Red Sox Ft Myers 1:05 no stream
Wed. Feb. 28 Orioles Sarasota 1:05 MASN stream
Thursday March 1 Twins Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest no stream
Friday March 2 Red Sox Jupiter 1:05 FS MW Plus no KMOX/CRN
Saturday March 3 Braves Disney 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Sunday March 4 Astros Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest no KMOX/CRN
Monday March 5 Nationals Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest no stream
Tuesday March 6 at Marlins Jupiter 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Wed. March 7 Nationals Jupiter 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Thursday March 8 Marlins Jupiter 1:05 no stream
Friday March 9 Astros WPB 6:05 FS Midwest no stream
Saturday March 10 Marlins Jupiter 1:05 FS MW Plus FS Florida KMOX/CRN
Sunday March 11 Nationals WPB 1:05 FS Midwest MASN KMOX/CRN
Monday March 12 OPEN
Tuesday March 13 at Marlins Jupiter 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Wed. March 14 Astros WPB 1:05 no stream
Thursday March 15 Orioles Jupiter 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Friday March 16 Nationals WPB 1:05 MASN
Marlins Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest FS Florida stream
Saturday March 17 Braves Disney 1:05 FS Midwest FS South KMOX/CRN
Sunday March 18 Nationals Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest no KMOX/CRN
Monday March 19 OPEN
Tuesday March 20 Mets Jupiter 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Wed. March 21 at Marlins Jupiter 1:05 no stream
Thursday March 22 Braves Jupiter 1:05 no KMOX/CRN
Friday March 23 Mets PtStLucie 1:10 SNY stream
Saturday March 24 Mets Jupiter 1:05 FS Midwest no KMOX/CRN
Sunday March 25 Nationals WPB 1:05 FS Midwest no KMOX/CRN
Monday March 26 Blue Jays Montreal 7:07 Sportsnet
Tuesday March 27 Blue Jays Montreal 7:07 Sportsnet
Wed. March 28
Thursday March 29 Opener New York

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: BaseballHQ: Cardinals System Remains in MLB’s Middle

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Special offer – Annual members may purchase The Cardinal Nation’s new 193-page 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinals System’s Most Exciting Game of 2017

photo: Kevin Herget (Memphis Redbirds)

Editor’s note: This guest column was written by John Baker, a long-standing member of The Cardinal Nation’s very active message board community, where he is known as “14NyquisT”. I liked it, so I decided to share it with you.

By John Baker

The most exciting game in 2017 in the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization was played on September 14th. The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds were home to the El Paso Chihuahuas in the pivotal second game of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.

As many know, Manager Stubby Clapp’s Redbirds had cruised through the regular season, winning the division by 22 games (91-50). On the other hand, El Paso finished just four games over .500 (73-69), but had beaten Reno in their initial play-off series. Memphis was coming off a set with Colorado Springs having scored 39 runs in the last three games.

The El Paso series was to begin on September 12 following an off-day, but the opener was pushed back a day due to rain. Dakota Hudson then pitched Memphis to a 6-4 Game 1 win.

By the time the post-season had arrived, the Redbirds rotation had completely turned over from July – when it consisted of Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, John Gant, Jack Flaherty and Mike Mayers. By play-off time, the starting five was Hudson, Zac Gallen, Matt Pearce, Ryan Helsley and Kevin Herget.

Kevin Herget (Memphis Redbirds)

Because of the rain-out, the Redbirds had to go with all five starters – and it so happened that Game 2 was Herget’s turn to get the ball. He might have been skipped had the series gone according to schedule. A swingman, Herget had started nine games at Triple-A with a modest 4.62 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. The right-hander had pitched in the opening round of the play-offs and lost 5-0.

Down 0-1 in the series, El Paso would need a victory to avoid having to win the last three games of the set at home. They had their ace going, Bryan Rodriguez, winner of six of his last seven decisions and with a 3.34 ERA over his last 10 outings. As a make-up game, the start time was noon on a Thursday. Schools were in session, so the attendance figure was low at 3,750.

The game had gone 7 1/2 innings with no score when the starters were replaced. Rodriguez had given up just four hits. Herget not only matched him but had completely dominated, pitching eight innings on four hits with an amazing 15 strikeouts. In fact, Herget had pitched the best game for Memphis over its entire season based on his 93 game score. Certainly, none was more important.

With the game in the hands of the bullpens, the Redbirds offense had its chances to score. In the eighth, Breyvic Valera hit a two-out double, but was stranded. In the ninth, Adolis Garcia singled with one down, and in the 10th, Wilfredo Tovar’s lead-off single went for naught when he was erased trying to steal.

Meanwhile, Mayers pitched through the ninth and 10th before Sean Gilmartin started the 11th. After he yielded a two-out single, Rowan Wick took over. The runner was stranded on first due to an inning-ending strikeout.

With one out In the home half of the 11th, Aledmys Diaz reached with a single. After a strikeout, Garcia launched a two-run walk-off bomb to left-center, giving Memphis the 2-0 win and a 2-0 lead in the series.

So what? The Redbirds were the heavy favorites to win the title, you say. As it turned out, the Chihuahuas wouldn’t go away. With play heading to Texas, El Paso battled back to knot the series at 2-2 with another shutout win, 3-0, on Friday and a 5-1 victory on Saturday.

That set up the decisive Game 5 on Sunday. Patrick Wisdom’s two-run homer in the fifth was the difference in the 3-1 Redbirds win to wrap up the League Championship. Starter Pearce allowed just one run on five hits, striking out eight over six innings.

Yet, the pivotal moment of the series was Herget’s Game 2 outing.  Despite his name not appearing on top prospect lists, for one day, the 26-year old was the top pitcher in the organization.

Footnote

Some pitching gems across the Cardinals system over the course of the 2017 season:

St. Louis
6-10-17 Carlos Martinez – 9IP 4H 0R 11K
7-18-17 Michael Wacha – 9IP 3H 0R 8K
 
Memphis
9-14-17 Kevin Herget – 8.0IP 4H 0R 15K
 
Springfield
4-17-17 Jack Flaherty – 7.2IP 2H 0R 9K
5-26-17 Matt Pearce – 9.0IP 4H 0R 6K
 
Palm Beach
4-19-17 Junior Fernandez – 8.0IP 1H 0R 6K
 
Peoria
5-20-17 Mike O’Reilly – 8.1IP 1H 0R 10K
6-10-17 Austin Sexton – 7.0IP 1H 0R 10K
6-30-17 O’Reilly – 8.0IP 2H 0R 9K
7-10-17 O’Reilly – 9.0IP 1H 0R 12K*
 
State College
6-25-17 Daniel Castano – 8.0IP 4H 0R 9K
8-26-17 Johan Oviedo – 8.0IP 2H 1R 9K

* highest game score = 104

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: 2018 Cardinals Minor League Spring Training Schedules

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Mujica Returns to Cardinals on Minor League Deal

photo: Edward Mujica (David Welker/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals added minor league relief depth in their Wednesday signing of Edward Mujica. In an indication the right-hander is not being counted on for immediate help in St. Louis, the 33-year old did not receive an invitation to major league spring training camp as a non-roster player. Of course, he could earn his way back up later on.

Edward Mujica (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images)

The native of Venezuela is well-traveled to say the least, with this his 10th affiliated organization stop, including second with St. Louis. Mujica first joined the Cardinals at the July trade deadline in 2012 from the Miami Marlins in return for first-round bust third baseman Zack Cox.

In 2013, Mujica became St. Louis’ closer by attrition as the bullpen went through significant turmoil. The spring began with incumbent Jason Motte requiring Tommy John surgery. Mitchell Boggs flamed out and was traded away. Same with primary lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Former closer Fernando Salas spent most of the season back in Memphis.

Mujica was named a National League All-Star on the way to logging 37 saves in 41 chances, but faded late. He was replaced as the closer by Trevor Rosenthal and departed as a free agent following the Cardinals’ defeat in the 2013 World Series. He soon joined the reigning World Champions, the Boston Red Sox, on a two-year, $9.5 million contract, but from there, his career went downhill.

From St. Louis, Mujica became a true baseball vagabond, moving to six organizations in the last five years – Boston, Oakland, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Minnesota and Detroit. The last two seasons, he had primarily pitched in a set-up role at Triple-A for the Tigers.

After having not pitched in the majors since 2015, Mujica did receive a brief audition with Detroit last August, but it went very poorly and ended quickly. He served up long balls in four of his five outings on the way to a 9.95 ERA.

Mujica’s initial 2018 assignment would appear to be at Triple-A Memphis.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: BaseballHQ: Cardinals System Remains in MLB’s Middle

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Cardinals 2018 Hall of Fame Fan Ballot Set

photo: Vince Coleman, John Tudor, Lee Smith, Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

As the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame moves into its fifth year of existence, it will again soon be time to open the fan-driven voting process for “Modern Era” players – those greats who retired in the last 40 years.

Of course, one important prerequisite remains – the ballot of names for you to consider.

To that end, the 2018 edition of the “Red Ribbon Committee” of Cardinals baseball experts met recently. Our mission was to evaluate the merits of over 20 former team greats, with the goal of whittling that list down to somewhere around a third.

That is never an easy job with so many more deserving candidates than votes allowed.

Modern era fan vote opens March 1

On Wednesday evening, the Cardinals disclosed the names of the 2018 Modern Era finalists – seven individuals delineated by the committee’s voting distribution.

2018 marks the arrival of four new choices. This is the first time that Vince Coleman, John Tudor, Lee Smith and Ray Lankford will appear on the fan ballot. They join returnees Keith Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen and Scott Rolen.

2017 Cardinals Hall of Fame inductees (Brian Walton photo)

Two are assured of entering the Cardinals Hall in 2018.

Fans will select the winners from this list via an online voting process that will run from March 1 through April 12. In August, the pair will be among the fifth elected class to be enshrined into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

When inducted, they will join the 2017 fan vote winners Tim McCarver and Mark McGwire, and veteran selection Pepper Martin, along with the 34 prior Hall of Fame members.

Steve Carlton and Edgar Renteria fell short in committee votes and did not return to the ballot this year, however, they could return later, unlike the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, Carlton left the fan ballot and returned once before.

Among other former Cardinals greats considered in the secret ballot process are outfielders George Hendrick and Brian Jordan and infielders Tom Herr, Jose Oquendo and Garry Templeton. Pitchers also under consideration for the Modern Era fan ballot include Joaquin Andujar, Al Hrabosky, Joe Magrane, Jeff Suppan and Todd Worrell.

Two other potential Hall additions

The “Red Ribbon” committee of Cardinals baseball experts has one other annual task. After considerable discussion, via another secret ballot, we voted in one individual from the “Veteran Era” category – those having completed their careers more than 40 years ago.

The merits of eight very strong candidates from St. Louis’ rich baseball history were considered in depth. They are first basemen Ripper Collins, Orlando Cepeda and Bill White, third baseman Whitey Kurowski, outfielder Ray Blades and pitchers Harry Brecheen, Mort Cooper and Bill Doak.

The final annual inductee may be an important figure from team history, such as a coach, broadcaster or member of the front office. This pick, if made, will be done at the club’s discretion and would be the fourth member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame Class of 2018. This selection was skipped in 2017.

These two final selections – the “Veteran Era” and the ownership selection – will be announced along with identities of the two “Modern Era” ballot winners following the close of fan voting.

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Gallery (Brian Walton photo)

What is next?

When voting is open, please participate. It is easy and logical to think that one vote does not matter, but it does. For example, in 2016, just two hundredths of one percent separated the second and third-place candidates – with one getting in and the other not. Just a handful of votes could have swung that election in the opposite direction.

Here are the key dates to remember. Voting opens on Thursday, March 1. The 2018 Class will be announced on Friday, May 4 during a Hall of Fame announcement special on FOX Sports Midwest, and also in a pre-game ceremony at Busch Stadium that evening. The formal enshrinement ceremony will take place on Saturday, August 18, culminating the Cardinals Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

Going deep

For details on each of the seven Modern Era candidates during the St. Louis segment of their careers, check out the following, provided courtesy of the Cardinals:

Vince Coleman (Getty Images)

Vince Coleman (#ColemanHOF)
Years: 1985 – 1990 .265/.326/.339, 937 H, 549 SB, 556 R, 56 3B (878 Games)

Vince Coleman burst on to the scene in 1985 by stealing 110 bases as a rookie, a MLB record that still stands today, and winning National League Rookie of the Year honors. Coleman would continue to lead the National League in stolen bases throughout his six seasons as the Cardinals primary left-fielder while being named to two All-Star teams. A member of two National League pennant winning teams in 1985 and 1987, Coleman’s 549 career stolen bases rank him second all-time in franchise history behind Lou Brock.

Keith Hernandez (Getty Images)

Keith Hernandez (#HernandezHOF)
Years: 1974 – 1983 .299/.385/.448, 1217 H, 265 2B, 81 HR, 595 RBI, 662 R

Keith Hernandez played 10 seasons with the Cardinals, winning six straight Gold Gloves from 1978-1983 at first base. He was a National League co-MVP in 1979, batting a league leading .344 with 11 HR and 105 RBI. The two-time All-Star was a member of the 1982 World Championship team and batted .299 that season with 94 RBI.

Jason Isringhausen (Getty Images)

Jason Isringhausen (#IzzyHOF)
Years: 2002 – 2008 217 Saves, 2.98 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Jason Isringhausen spent seven seasons with the Cardinals. During his time with the team, the Cardinals won the Central Division in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006 with World Series appearances in 2004 and 2006, winning the World Series in 2006. He registered a National League-leading 47 saves in 2004, tying the franchise record which Lee Smith set, until Trevor Rosenthal broke the record in 2015. An All-Star in 2005, “Izzy” still holds the franchise record for saves with 217, and is sixth with 401 appearances with St. Louis.

Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

Ray Lankford (#LankfordHOF)
Years: 1990 – 2001, 2004 .273/.365/.481, 1479 H, 928 R, 228 HR, 829 RBI, 250 SB (1580 Games)

Ray Lankford was known for his combination of speed and power during his 13 seasons in St. Louis. Lankford recorded five 20-20 seasons (with four consecutive from 1995-1998) and ranks fifth all-time in club history in home runs and stolen bases. He is the only player in Cardinals history with at least 200 home runs and 200 steals, and hit more home runs in Busch Stadium II than any other player (123). The long-time Cardinal center fielder was named to the All-Star team in 1997 and still ranks in the all-time Top-10 franchise leaders in Runs (9th), Total Bases (10th), Doubles (9th), Runs Batted In (8th), Walks (5th) and Game Winning-RBI (T-2nd).

Scott Rolen (Getty Images)

Scott Rolen (#RolenHOF)
Years: 2002 – 2007 .286/.370/.510, 678 H, 421 R, 173 2Bs, 111 HR, 453 RBI (661 Games)

In his five plus seasons with the Cardinals, Scott Rolen dominated the hot corner winning Gold Gloves in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006, and a Silver Slugger award in 2002. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, and named to the All-Busch Stadium team as the third baseman by vote of fans. In 2004, Rolen slashed .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs and 124 RBI. His stellar 2004 campaign continued during the postseason with his pennant-clinching, two-run homer off Roger Clemens in the 6th inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series vs. Houston. In 2006, Rolen helped the club to its 10th World Championship, closing out the postseason with a 10-game hitting streak.

Lee Smith (Getty Images)

Lee Smith (#SmithHOF)
Years: 1990 – 1993 160 Saves, 2.90 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 266.2 IP (245 Games)

Known as one of the most feared closers in baseball history, Lee Smith recorded at least 43 saves in three of his four seasons with the Cardinals, leading the league in 1991 and 1992. During his Cardinals career, Smith earned three All-Star selections and finished in the Top-4 of National League Cy Young voting twice. His 160 saves stood as a club record until Jason Isringhausen surpassed that total in 2007.

John Tudor (Getty Images)

John Tudor (#TudorHOF)
Years: 1985 – 1988, 1990 62-26, 2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 12 SHO, 881.2 IP (125 Games Started)

During his five plus seasons in a Cardinals uniform, John Tudor accumulated a .705 winning percentage and 2.52 ERA over 125 starts, both of which still stand as all-time Cardinals records (minimum 750.0 IP). The left-hander’s finest season came in 1985 when he won 21 games (went 20-1 after June 1) with a miniscule 1.93 ERA, including 10 complete game shutouts, and finished second in National League Cy Young voting. A member of two National League pennant winning teams in 1985 and 1987, Tudor won at least 10 games in each of the four full seasons he pitched for the Redbirds.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: BaseballHQ: Cardinals System Remains in MLB’s Middle

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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Cardinals Non-Roster Spring Camp Invitees

photo: Dakota Hudson (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

While the St. Louis Cardinals have not yet issued their formal press release naming their non-roster player invitations (NRIs) to 2018 major league spring training camp, a list of 23 invitees was disclosed on Tuesday by Rob Rains of StL Sports Page.

The 23 names are denoted with a “yes” in the “Rains ann” column in the table below. They include four top 10 members of The Cardinal Nation’s 2018 prospect list – pitchers Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley plus catcher Andrew Knizner.

Pitchers 2017 Top 50 1st camp Rains ann (10) BW score
Fernandez, Junior PB 17 miss –
Helsley, Ryan Spr 9 yes yes
Hicks, Jordan Spr 7 yes yes
Hudson, Dakota Mem 6 yes yes
Jones, Connor Spr 23 yes miss –
Morales, Andrew Spr HM yes miss –
Poncedeleon, Daniel Mem 31 yes
Woodford, Jake PB 18 yes
Gilmartin, Sean (L) * Mem yes # yes
Guilmet, Preston * Japan yes # yes
Pearce, Matt * Mem 35 yes miss –
Reyes, Arturo * Mem HM yes
Schafer, Jordan * Mem yes
Mendoza, Hector * PB yes yes miss +
Catchers 2017 Top 50 1st camp Rains ann (5) BW score
Knizner, Andrew Spr 8 yes
Martinez, Jeremy PB HM yes
Ortega, Dennis Peo HM yes
Rodriguez, Julio JC HM yes miss –
Pena, Francisco * AAA yes # yes
Baron, Steven * AA yes # yes
Infielders 2017 Top 50 1st camp Rains ann (6) BW score
Edman, Tommy Spr 27 yes yes
Mejia, Alex * Mem yes yes
Schrock, Max * AA 15 yes # yes
Wisdom, Patrick * Mem 40 yes
Ravelo, Rangel Mem yes yes miss +
Tovar, Wilfredo Mem yes miss +
Outfielders 2017 Top 50 1st camp Rains ann (2) BW score
Garcia, Adolis Mem 12 yes
Arozarena, Randy * Spr 13 yes yes
* Not at Instructs
# with Cardinals
HM honorable mention

The table was originally created to display my earlier NRI predictions for members of The Cardinal Nation and has been updated to incorporate the Rains report. Of the 25 names I guessed would be invited, I got 20 right.

The three I missed were Cuban pitcher Hector Mendoza, who finished last season at high-A Palm Beach, and Memphis infielders Rangel Ravelo and Wilfredo Tovar. The trio are noted in the far right column as “miss +”.

The five players I predicted would receive invitations but apparently did not, are called out with “miss -“. They are pitchers Junior Fernandez, Connor Jones, Andrew Morales and Matt Pearce and catcher Julio Rodriguez.

Of course, there could be changes even after the formal announcement, such as last spring when pitchers Fernandez and Jake Woodford were late big-league camp additions.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: BaseballHQ: Cardinals System Remains in MLB’s Middle

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

BaseballHQ: Cardinals System Remains in MLB’s Middle

In the second installment of a seven-part series, we review the in-depth rankings of the National League Central Division organizations according to the Minor League Baseball Analyst. We also look at the details behind the St. Louis Cardinals changes from prior years in four key areas – hitting, pitching, top-end talent and depth. St. Louis is surprisingly weakest in pitching.

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