St. Louis Cardinals Pitching Prospect Corey Littrell Suspended 50 Games

The Cardinals’ lefthanded bullpen depth has been further decimated after the suspension of Corey Littrell.

Fate had already taken an ax to the St. Louis Cardinals’ lefty reliever depth chart over the past year heading into this year’s spring training. Former first-rounder Marco Gonzales, who excelled out of the bullpen down the stretch in 2014, went down with Tommy John surgery last April and isn’t scheduled to begin pitching competitively again until May of this year. Lefty swingman Tyler Lyons was placed on the DL with a stress reaction in his knee last August, and while it was initially thought to be one that would only keep him out for a month or so, it’s become progressively more complicated and may now keep him out beyond the start of the regular season.

After finishing the season strong, veteran lefty Zach Duke surprisingly underwent Tommy John surgery in October. Lefty specialist Dean Kiekhefer, who debuted with the Cardinals last May, and promising lefty Tim Cooney, who pitched well with the big-league club in 2015 before missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, were both lost on waivers in November as the Cardinals created 40-man roster space to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft.

Things continued to fall apart on Wednesday, as lefthanded reliever Corey Littrell was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse a second time. While he wasn’t expected to begin the season on the major-league roster, Littrell was expected to be one of the Cardinals’ primary lefthanded depth options this year.

Kevin Siegrist and newly-signed Brett Cecil will probably be the only lefties who begin the season in the Cardinals’ bullpen, but with Littrell now out for the first two-and-a-half months, the Cardinals will have to rely on a quick return from Lyons or Gonzales if they need extra lefthanded help. They could also bank on the successful transition of former big-league outfielder Jordan Schafer to the mound. The 30-year-old Schafer, who will work as a two-way player in major-league camp this spring, posted a 3.83 ERA with a .283 opponent batting average, 59 strikeouts, and 18 walks in 49 1/3 combined innings between the Dodgers’ rookie league, Double-A, and Triple-A teams last season.

26-year-old Ryan Sherriff, a late bloomer who posted a 2.84 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP at Triple-A Memphis last season, could also be a factor. He’s a non-roster invitee in big-league camp this spring, though he could be away from the team for a while, as he’s in the designated pitcher pool for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Since they now have four injured pitchers on the 40-man roster and another three who will participate in the World Baseball Classic, plus three more non-roster invitees who are set to pitch in the WBC and one (Kendry Flores) who is hurt, there will be plenty of opportunities for Cardinals minor-leaguers to step up during spring games. During early games, several guys from the Cardinals’ S.T.E.P. camp could end up getting called up to pitch.

If the Cardinals still want to add some more experienced lefthanded depth, 38-year-old Chris Capuano is still on the free agent market. He pitched in 16 games for the Milwaukee Brewers last season, posting a 4.13 ERA and 1.58 WHIP.