Andrew Knizner, Gabriel Lino, Jeremy Martinez, Dennis Ortega, Alberto Rosario
As the only guy among this group with big-league service time, Rosario is expected to be the Cardinals’ fourth-string catcher this year, and that’s no small role considering that the team used six different catchers last season and five the year before. However, Rosario will serve as the backup catcher for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic, meaning that there will be plenty of game reps to go around for the other guys–particularly Lino, a 23-year-old minor-league free agent addition who logged 195 at-bats with the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in 2015.
Martinez (fourth round) and Knizner (seventh round) were both 2016 draftees, and while both players were taken out of college and thrived in short-season ball, it’s extremely surprising to see them in big-league spring training so soon. That’s particularly the case considering that 2015 seventh-rounder Jesse Jenner, who played 32 games in the upper minors last season, and 2014 seventh-rounder Brian O’Keefe, who had an .808 OPS over 420 plate appearances at Low-A Peoria, did not make the cut. The Cardinals are obviously intrigued by their recent draftees and want to get them experience in big-league camp as soon as possible.
Perhaps the oddest name on the list of non-roster invitees is that of Dennis Ortega, a 19-year-old who has played in just 125 professional games, all of which have come in either the Dominican Summer League or in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Ortega has yet to hit a homer as a pro and has a .680 career OPS, but he obviously must be intriguing behind the plate considering he’s already earned an invitation to major-league camp. It’d be reasonable to expect him to see action for a full-season team this season.