Cardinals add Thurston, but why?

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of 29-year-old infielder Joe Thurston to a minor league contract and invited him to their 2009 major league spring training camp.

Thurston spent the 2008 season in the Boston Red Sox organization, the majority at Triple-A Pawtucket. The second baseman led the International League with 160 hits and ranked third in batting with a .316 batting average. It was the second straight season that his batting average eclipsed .300.

Thurston is currently playing winter ball for Ponce in Puerto Rico and is batting .298 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 104 at-bats. The left-handed hitter has appeared in just 59 major league games in his ten-year professional career and owns a .227 (15-for-66) batting average.

The Dodgers’ fourth-round draft pick in 1999 used to be a top prospect way back when. Then known as “Joey Ballgame”, Thurston was ranked as the #5 Dodgers prospect by Baseball America in 2003 and was being touted before the season as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Instead, he gradually played his way into becoming the non-prospect he is today.

Thurston has seen MLB action for the Dodgers (2002-2004), Phillies (2006) and Red Sox (2008) and played in the Yankees system in 2005. Thurston appeared in three games for the Red Sox from April 18-21 last season after having his contract purchased on April 16.

Walton’s take: I don’t get it. I thought the Cardinals were done with this type of minor league veteran fill-in signings for Memphis. Thurston is primarily a second baseman and can play shortstop and outfield.

Memphis already has Brian Barden, Tyler Greene, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Jose Martinez up the middle, with the first three already on the 40-man roster. And we already know how crowded the outfield is at the top of the system, even before we might see Allen Craig and/or David Freese out there for the Redbirds.

Bottom line, this seems like a wasted signing. If Thurston sticks with Memphis, he will just take away at-bats from legitimate prospects with little chance of a call-up. Think of it as the 2009 version of D’Angelo Jimenez without the MLB track record.