St. Louis Cardinals Add Aledmys Diaz, Dean Kiekhefer, Charlie Tilson to 40-Man Roster


The deadline for MLB teams to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft is coming up on Friday night, so the St. Louis Cardinals took early action on Thursday afternoon, announcing the addition of three Rule 5 eligible players to the 40-man roster. Lefthanded relief pitcher Dean Kiekhefer, shortstop Aledmys Diaz, , and outfielder Charlie Tilson were placed on the 40-man, meaning that they will automatically be invited to major-league spring training and will likely have an advantage in earning a call-up to the major leagues.

Though he’s the least-celebrated prospect, Kiekhefer may be on the fastest track to the major leagues. The 26-year-old lefty had a 2.41 ERA over 59.2 innings at Triple-A Memphis in 2015, striking out 37 and walking just seven. He allowed a solid amount of contact to both lefthanded and righthanded hitters and finished with a .285 opponent batting average, but obviously he did a good job of stranding those runners. Kiekhefer, who incorporates some sidearm action into his delivery, is viewed as more of a lefty specialist than pitchers like Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales, but he interestingly faced more righthanded batters than lefties in 2015 and did not really have a discernible difference in his effectiveness against lefties as compared to righties.

Kiekhefer, along with the two other players who joined him on the 40-man roster on Thursday, has been taking part in the Arizona Fall League with the Cardinals’ affiliate, the Surprise Saguaros, and he’s performed well, limiting hitters to a .200 average while striking out 14 and walking one through 15.2 innings. Kiekhefer has a 2.93 ERA and two saves during that span.

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Kiekhefer will be competing for a bullpen spot with Lyons and Gonzales during spring training, and though Lyons clearly has the edge right now, the organization may still consider him to be part of their depth in the starting rotation as well. That means that injuries in the starting rotation could create an opportunity for Kiekhefer to enter the fray in the bullpen if Lyons is forced to become a starter once again.

The 25-year-old Diaz signed a four-year, $8 million-dollar deal with the Cardinals in the spring of 2014 and was viewed by many at that time to be the team’s shortstop-in-waiting behind Jhonny Peralta. He struggled for his first season-and-a-half in the Cardinals organization, however, being held back by injuries in his first season and playing just 34 games for Double-A Springfield, then hitting just .230/.286/.335 prior to the All-Star break this season in his second go-round at Springfield. Being outrighted off the Cardinals’ 40-man roster on July 8 seemed to motivate him, though, as he hit .317/.381/.559 with seven homers and 26 RBI following the break at Springfield, then was promoted to Triple-A Memphis on August 24, where he hit a ridiculous .380/.448/.620 with three homers and six RBI through 50 at-bats to close the season.

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Over 19 AFL games with Surprise, Diaz continued his hot hitting, accumulating a .309/.368/.618 slash line with four homers and 14 RBI over 68 at-bats. Combined with his reputation as an above-average fielder, that extended streak of strong performance at the plate should put him in line to make his major-league debut at some point in 2016, especially considering that the Cardinals designated Pete Kozma for assignment earlier this offseason.

Tilson, a second-rounder in 2011, has continually been solid as a minor-leaguer but has not yet had the out-of-his-mind type of season that usually propels a player to the major leagues. The 22-year-old Tilson is a career .296/.346/.389 hitter, but he’s averaged just five homers and 40 RBI per full season. The one area where Tilson has made a clear progression, especially as of late, is as a baserunner. He stole a career-high 46 bases in 2015, which far exceeded his previous high of 15 in a season.

The lefthanded-hitting Tilson struggled in the Fall League, hitting .203/.309/.254 through 59 at-bats, though he was a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts. His odds of actually playing in the major leagues are frankly rather low, as he has yet to play in Triple-A and will become the eighth outfielder on the 40-man roster (not including Brandon Moss, who can play the corner outfield spots as well as first base). That number also doesn’t include free agent Jason Heyward, who the club hopes to re-sign. Even if the Cardinals don’t bring Heyward back, many prognosticators expect the club to spend big on another corner outfielder or first baseman, so Tilson is going to be pretty far down the depth chart in any scenario.

The Cardinals now have 36 players on their 40-man roster, meaning that the last four spots will likely go to any veteran free agents that the organization may sign this offseason.

Next: Cardinals Should Consider Signing Mark Buehrle with Lance Lynn Out for 2016

Head to our Cardinals page for more news as the hot stove heats up this offseason.