Cardinals reduce camp roster by nine

March 20th, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. -- A day after the Cardinals added Ruben Tejada to the shortstop mix, the club subtracted another, sending Aledmys Diaz to the Minors as part of a wave of cuts on Sunday morning.

Diaz, who had been making a push to be considered for the Major League roster, was optioned to Triple-A Memphis, along with infielder Dean Anna. The Cardinals also reassigned six players -- pitchers Austin Gomber, Jeremy Hefner and Deck McGuire; catcher Carson Kelly; and infielders Patrick Wisdom and Jonathan Rodriguez -- to Minor League camp.

With the departure of those nine players, the Cardinals, who sit two weeks away from their season opener, have 41 players remaining in Major League camp.

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Though Diaz has played only 14 games above the Double-A level, he emerged as a candidate for a big league job after Jhonny Peralta went down with a left thumb injury earlier this month. Diaz had a four-hit performance the day after Peralta's injury was announced and finished 9-for-34 (.265) in Grapefruit League play.

"You talk about what you saw a year ago compared to what we witnessed here this spring and it's radically improved," manager Mike Matheny said. "Just excited for him and the prospect of what he could be if he continues to improve."

Diaz will open the year as the starting shortstop for Memphis, where he can get everyday at-bats. The Cardinals believed regular playing time was key for Diaz's development, and it was something they could no longer promise in big league camp.

"He needs to play to get better," Matheny said. "He's real close. What you all saw, what we saw, he's shown he has range. He has a good arm. There are some things he can clean up and get better at, but those come with experience, and he's going to get experience by being on the field."

Position players Anna, Wisdom, Garcia and Rodriguez are expected to be a part of the Triple-A club. Hefner and McGuire, both non-roster invitees, will take two spots in that Memphis rotation.

Gomber, the organization's reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year and 17th-ranked prospect, is expected to start for Class A Advanced Palm Beach. 

Kelly, who ranks No. 13 on the Cardinals' prospect list, had five hits in 12 spring at-bats. He won a Gold Glove Award catching for Palm Beach last season and is likely to move up a level this year. Kelly, like Diaz, had a standout spring.

"Just real proud of how he's handled all of the things we've put on his plate," Matheny said. "It's been a lot, and he's handled it all with flying colors. He opened a lot of peoples' eyes, and I'm not talking about staff, either. I had a number of pitchers come up to me and talk about him.

"I told him, 'You might really appreciate a compliment from us, but I want you to know, that's the ultimate compliment for a catcher to have that staff say the kind of things they were saying about him.' For a kid who has just been [catching] for two years, that's impressive."