30 Cardinals prospects will get an extended opportunity to show off their talent during spring training.
On a somber first day of spring training that was highlighted by the news that Alex Reyes will likely have season-ending surgery, there was some more intriguing St. Louis Cardinals news, especially for all the prospect lovers out there. The Cardinals announced the names of 30 minor-league players on Tuesday who will attend their S.T.E.P. camp (Spring Training Early Program), arriving at the Cardinals’ facility in Jupiter, Florida nearly two weeks before the rest of the minor-leaguers.
Pitchers Chris Ellis, Junior Fernandez, Zac Gallen, Derian Gonzalez, Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Connor Jones, Andrew Morales, Johan Oviedo, Ronnie Williams, and Jacob Woodford, catchers Chris Chinea, Jose Godoy, Ryan McCarvel, and Brian O’Keefe, infielders Luke Dykstra, Tommy Edman, Alex Mejia, Delvin Perez, Dickie Joe Thon, and Luke Voit, and outfielders Randy Arozarena, Dylan Carlson, Bryce Denton, Blake Drake, Vincent Jackson, Nick Martini, Oscar Mercado, Nick Plummer, and Austin Wilson will attend the camp.
Perez (5), Fernandez (8), Hudson (10), Plummer (12), Woodford (13), Jones (14), Arozarena (16), Carlson (19), Williams (20), Denton (21), Gallen (22), and Ellis (23) are all included on MLB Pipeline’s current Top 30 prospects list.
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Seven 2016 draftees–Perez, Carlson, Hudson, Jones, Gallen, Edman, and Jackson–will attend the camp, joining big-league camp invitees Jeremy Martinez and Andrew Knizner to make it nine players among the class who will make the early trip to Jupiter. In addition, Plummer and Woodford were first-rounders in 2015 and will take part in the camp.
New additions to the Cardinals organization among the group include Ellis and Dykstra, who were acquired from the Braves in the Cards’ trade for Jaime Garcia this winter, Thon, who was signed as a free agent out of the Blue Jays organization, and Wilson, who was taken in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft from the Mariners.
Players in S.T.E.P. camp who were semi-surprising snubs from the major-league camp roster include Hudson, a 2016 first-rounder who reached Double-A by the end of the season, O’Keefe, a 23-year-old catcher who posted a .808 OPS with 13 homers at Low-A Peoria last year, and Voit, a first baseman who had an .849 OPS with 19 homers at Double-A in 2016 and is likely the organization’s best prospect at his position.
The players who participate in the S.T.E.P. camp are basically in the middle ground between the big-league non-roster invitees and the players who only attend minor-league spring training. They won’t participate in daily workouts with the major-league club and won’t receive big-league meal money, but they’re arriving (February 25) much earlier than the rest of their minor-league counterparts (pitchers and catchers on March 6, position players on March) and thus will get a lot of extra exposure in front of the front office powers that be.
With 10 big-league spring training games taking place before regular minor-league pitchers and catchers report, the S.T.E.P. players will have added chances to participate in Grapefruit League contests. The Cardinals have a pair of split-squad games on February 27, meaning that bodies will be needed to fill out both rosters, and they’ve got a two-and-a-half-hour road trip to Atlanta’s facility on February 28, meaning that most of the club’s established players will probably be given the day off and allowed to work out in Jupiter instead.
When you consider that the team a total of five multi-hour excursions for road games–and that 10 players could miss part of spring training while participating in the World Baseball Classic–it’s easy to see how there could be opportunities for players from the S.T.E.P. camp to see significant action in big-league games. Those cameo appearances aided players like Magneuris Sierra, Harrison Bader, and Paul DeJong in increasing their organizational stock last year, and they could provide a similar lift for any of the players listed above this spring.