2014 rising, falling stock of Cards prospects

Tim Cooney will be in his first big-league camp

Looking at changes in the lists of those receiving an invitation to St. Louis Cardinals spring camps.

One way to try to assess the rising or falling status of a St. Louis Cardinals prospect is to make a simple comparison of his top 40 prospect ranking from year to year. This information can be found in the tables listed in "The Final Tally" article as part of the top 40 countdown series.

Another method of considering the stock of a prospect is by analyzing the behavior of the organization itself. One such approach is to review the differences in the names of players that make up those invited to major league camp and early minor league camp, STEP Camp, from year to year.

There is an implied hierarchy in the structure of invitations. Of course, every player wants to make the 40-man roster. By default, those players are invited to big-league camp. The next best thing is to score a non-roster invitation (NRI) to major league camp. Next in the pecking order are those minor leaguers invited to early minor league camp, followed by the regular minor league camp invitees.

Especially earlier in the major league spring training schedule, the Cardinals call for extra players to be brought over from minor league camp to fill in during MLB games. These players, with no name on their back and a number in the 90s, are often sourced from the STEP Camp attendees. After all, they are not only among the better minor leaguers, but also the ones who have been in camp longest and therefore, are in the best game shape.

Jose Oquendo and unknown Oscar Taveras
Who can forget the famous shot of "Minor League Guy," aka Oscar Taveras, from one of the spring 2012 telecasts?

I should be clear that a player dropping in the hierarchy from year to year does not necessarily mean that he had a career setback. It could be that a different assignment is due to recovery from injury or perhaps the competition is simply stiffer. Certainly the strength of the Cardinals' recent draft classes is a factor. With the organization limiting the early invites to two dozen players, some difficult tradeoffs likely had to be made.

Let's get into the details. The red color indicates a lower level invitation this year compared to last. Yellow is equal and green is a step (or multiples) upward.

The pitchers

The first table compares the pitchers' invitations between 2013 and 2014.

2013-2014 Pitchers      
40 man-reg camp Gast (L)      
         
NRI-40 man Lyons Maness Martinez Wacha
NRI-NRI        
NRI-reg camp        
NRI-gone Browning (L)      
         
Early-40 man        
Early-NRI Cooney (L) Gaviglio Swagerty Stoppelman (L)
Early-Early Blair      
Early-reg camp De Leon Jenkins Kiekhefer (L) Wright (L)
Early-gone Russell      

While a number of players who were on the 40-man last spring have left the organization, only one that dropped off the 40-man remains. Coming off surgery, John Gas is neither on the 2014 NRI list or the early minor league (STEP) camp invitee list, hence his red designation.

Next are the NRIs last spring. Four pitchers who were NRIs last spring now hold down 40-man roster spots – Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. They are surely "green."

The only other 2013 non-roster invitee pitcher not accounted for is reliever Barrett Browning. The lefty had been removed from the 40-man during last off-season. By Memorial Day, he was released.

Stoppelman
Next, we will move down the table to the 2013 early camp invitees. Four pitchers are clearly on the upswing, having moved from being in early minor league camp last spring to receiving NRIs this year. They are lefties Tim Cooney and Lee Stoppelman and right-handers Sam Gaviglio and Jordan Swagerty.

In yellow is one pitcher invited to early minors camp both years – Springfield right-hander Seth Blair.

Following are four hurlers who received an early minor league camp invitation in 2013, but will just be attending regular minor league camp in 2014. They are lefties Dean Kiekhefer and Justin Wright and righties Victor De Leon and Tyrell Jenkins. The latter is coming off surgery. Again, there is nothing wrong with these players. Others were simply chosen ahead of them in 2014.

Finally, we have right-hander Zack Russell. The right-handed reliever was in 2013 early camp, but has since left the Cardinals organization as a free agent.

The position players

The next table is the same format as the preceding one, with the only change being its focus on the changes in position player invitations between 2013 and 2014.

2013-2014 Hitters      
40 man-reg camp        
         
NRI-40 man Perez G Garcia Wong Taveras
NRI-NRI Stanley      
NRI-Early Montero      
NRI-reg camp Ehrlich S Rodriguez    
NRI-gone Johnson Towles Christian  
         
Early-40 man        
Early-NRI C Kelly Wisdom Piscotty Ramsey
Early-Early Bean Wilson A Garcia McElroy
Early-Early Pham Tilson    
Early-reg camp Velazco Vargas Walsh  
Early-gone Lemmerman      

Garcia
One year ago, Audry Perez, Greg Garcia, Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras were non-roster invitees, hoping to make a good impression, but with no realistic chance of making the opening day roster. This spring, they are all on the 40-man, fighting for spots on the 25-man opening day roster. Wong has the best chance, but Taveras' time is clearly coming soon and Garcia may not be too many months behind.

Only one position player is back as a NRI again in 2014 – catcher Cody Stanley. In fact, it the Springfield backstops third consecutive big league camp.

Five position players who were NRIs last spring did not receive invitations in 2014. Catcher Adam Ehrlich is coming off an injury-wrecked 2013 while Starlin Rodriguez was moved from second base to the outfield. The other three 2013 position player NRIs are no longer in the organization. Three are catchers Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles and outfielder Justin Christian.

Next in green we have four position players who have moved up from receiving early minor league camp invitations in 2013 to becoming NRIs in 2014. They are catcher Carson Kelly, third baseman Patrick Wisdom plus outfielders Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey.

A whopping six players scored early minor league camp invitations both years. As such, they are in yellow – catcher Steve Bean, infielder Jacob Wilson and outfielders Anthony Garcia, Tommy Pham, Charlie Tilson and C.J. McElroy.

A group of four position players were part of the early minors camp group in 2013, but not in 2014. They are in red. Catcher Gerwuins Velazco and infielders Ildemaro Vargas and Colin Walsh will be in regular minor league camp. Infielder Jake Lemmerman left the organization in the Rule 5 draft.

Special outfield notice

Reg camp-40 man O'Neill  
Trade-40 man Grichuk  
Waivers-40 man J Butler Ortega

O'Neill
It cannot go without passing to remember that there are four new 40-man roster outfielders since last spring. Especially notable is Mike O'Neill's rise from having not even been among the early camp invitees last spring to being among those with an automatic invitation in 2014.

Three others joined the organization during this off-season. Outfielder Randal Grichuk was acquired from the Angels in the David Freese-Peter Bourjos trade while Joey Butler and Rafael Ortega were claimed via waivers. Each had been on his former club's 40-man roster.

2013 draft rockets

The Cardinals organization had two first round selections in the 2013 draft. The left-handed pitchers are both among the invitees as are the second- and third-rounders and a very high-profile amateur international signee.

2013 Draft-2014 Pitchers  
Draft-NRI Gonzales (L)  
Draft-STEP Kaminsky (L) Mayers
Free agent-STEP Alex Reyes  
     
2013 Draft-2014 Hitters  
Draft-NRI    
Draft-STEP Mercado  

Gonzales
The 19th overall selection, pitcher Marco Gonzales, received a coveted big-league camp invite as an NRI. The former Gonzaga hurler finished his first partial professional season at A-Advanced Palm Beach.

2013 Cardinals draftees among the 24 STEP Camp invitees are the other first-rounder, pitcher Rob Kaminsky, shortstop Oscar Mercado (second) and right-handed pitcher Mike Mayers (third). One other key STEP Camp attendee will be right-hander Alex Reyes, signed out of the Dominican Republic before last season.

The five new additions pale in comparison to the nine players from the 2012 draft to score NRIs or early minors camp invitations one year ago. Then again, remember that the Cardinals had an unprecedented five first-round selections in the 2012 draft.

Other NRIs

Let's not forget those prospects drafted prior to 2013 that have scored their first invitations. They certainly have a lot about which to be proud.

2014 NRIs Pitchers      
In-system NRI Almarante Petrick    
External NRI Neshek      
         
2014 NRIs Hitters      
In-system NRI Rasmus Tartamella Mateo  Scruggs
External NRI Easley Moore    

For the second straight year, the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year will be in big league camp as an NRI. This time around, it is Zach Petrick, following Seth Maness last year. Petrick will be joined by reliever Jose Almarante and recently-signed veteran Pat Neshek.

Two catchers – Casey Rasmus and Travis Tartamella - will almost certainly be among the early cuts, but should still celebrate their first NRIs. Same for infielders Luis Mateo and Xavier Scruggs.

The final two NRIs are MLB veterans from other organizations – catcher Ed Easley and third baseman Scott Moore.

Other STEP Camp invitees

2014 STEP  Pitchers      
In-system STEP Billbrough Heyer Jones Llorens
In-system STEP Tuivailala Whiting    
         
2014 STEP  Hitters      
In-system STEP J Rodriguez Mejia B Valera Peoples-Walls
Trade-STEP Herrera      
Rule 5-STEP Miclat      

Ten of the players invited to STEP Camp were already in the organization and are moving up from regular minor league camp last spring. Pitchers include Logan Billbrough, Kurt Heyer, Cory Jones, Dixon Llorens, Sam Tuivailala and Boone Whiting along with infielders Jonathan Rodriguez, Alex Mejia and Breyvic Valera and new outfielder Kenny Peoples-Walls.

Two new shortstops round out the group. Juan Herrera was acquired from the Indians in the Marc Rzepczynski trade and Greg Miclat was picked up from the Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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