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Schrock ranked No. 8 second-base prospect

Cardinals intrigued by offensive potential, may utilize him at 3B, OF
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- While their decision to deal Stephen Piscotty last month was, in part, dictated by a need to unclutter a crowded roster of outfielders, the Cardinals were not going to send the right fielder away without an appropriate return.

They found a match with the A's, who sent a pair of Minor League infielders back to the Cardinals. One of those was Max Schrock, who, on Monday, was ranked eighth on MLB Pipeline's preseason list of second-base prospects.

ST. LOUIS -- While their decision to deal Stephen Piscotty last month was, in part, dictated by a need to unclutter a crowded roster of outfielders, the Cardinals were not going to send the right fielder away without an appropriate return.

They found a match with the A's, who sent a pair of Minor League infielders back to the Cardinals. One of those was Max Schrock, who, on Monday, was ranked eighth on MLB Pipeline's preseason list of second-base prospects.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Schrock is the third Cardinals player to dent one of MLB Pipeline's Top 10 positional lists. Last week, Alex Reyes was named the seventh-best right-handed pitching prospect entering 2018, while Carson Kelly ranked second on the list of catchers. Schrock is currently the organization's 11th-ranked prospect.

Though it's his strongest defensive position, Schrock, 23, won't necessarily be utilized solely as a second baseman with his new organization. The Cardinals have also considered getting the former 13th round Draft pick some exposure at third base and in the outfield. With Oakland, Schrock played almost exclusively at second.

What most intrigued the Cardinals about the left-handed hitting Schrock, though, was his offensive potential. In his first full season at Double-A, Schrock batted .321/.379/422 with an .801 OPS in 2017. He struck out only 42 times in 457 plate appearances. Schrock has a career slash line of .324/.372/.439 in three Minor League seasons.

"Everywhere he's been, he's hit," said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. "When you're looking at all the different things you're trying to do [with creating roster flexibility], it's nice to be able to find a couple players that we can just stick right into Double-A and Triple-A and know that they're going to be productive."

Schrock will get an invite to Major League Spring Training, where he'll be able to make his first impression in front of the big league coaching staff. While he's a longshot to make the Opening Day roster, Schrock's versatility could carry him to the Majors sometime later in the 2018 season.

Ranking ahead of Schrock on MLB Pipeline's list of top second basemen were Philadelphia's Scott Kingery, Luis Urias (Padres), Keston Hiura (Brewers), Isan Diaz (Brewers), Nick Solak (Yankees), Shed Long (Reds) and Garrett Hampson (Rockies). Brandon Lowe (Rays) and Kevin Kramer (Pirates) round out the Top 10.

MLB Pipeline is revealing a new Top 10 positional list daily as a lead in to its reveal of the Top 100 prospect rankings on Saturday. 

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Max Schrock

Blue Jays land Grichuk from Cards for 2 arms

Right-hander Leone, pitching prospect Greene headed to St. Louis for outfielder
MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' potential Opening Day lineup received a little bit more clarity on Friday afternoon when Toronto acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk in a three-player trade with the Cardinals.

Right-hander Dominic Leone and prospect Conner Greene were sent to St. Louis as part of the deal. It marks the second move between these organizations this offseason, coming on the heels of a December trade that saw infielder Aledmys Diaz join Toronto.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' potential Opening Day lineup received a little bit more clarity on Friday afternoon when Toronto acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk in a three-player trade with the Cardinals.

Right-hander Dominic Leone and prospect Conner Greene were sent to St. Louis as part of the deal. It marks the second move between these organizations this offseason, coming on the heels of a December trade that saw infielder Aledmys Diaz join Toronto.

Grichuk immediately becomes the heavy favorite to replace free agent Jose Bautista as the Blue Jays' starting right fielder. The 26-year-old is coming off a season in which he hit 22 home runs over 412 at-bats for the Cards. While nothing is guaranteed, Toronto envisions using him as an everyday player.

"I think he'll have the best chance of our group to take that position over for us in right field," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "But the fact is, we have options and we'll have some balance. In today's game, asking someone to get 700 plate appearances is a lot. There are very few players who are doing it day in and day out. So where that number ends up, we'll see, but I think he has the best chance at the outset to be the regular for us."

Video: STL@BOS: Statcast™ measures Grichuk's five-star catch

Toronto's outfield appears somewhat set following the trade and the recent signing of Curtis Granderson. Grichuk is expected to start in right field with Kevin Pillar in center and a platoon of Granderson and Steve Pearce in left. That scenario would leave Ezequiel Carrera without a job and the prospect duo of Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez beginning the year at Triple-A Buffalo.

Carrera recently avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal worth $1.9 million. He has spent the majority of the past two seasons as Toronto's fourth outfielder, but there's no longer a clear path to playing time now. He could be shopped to fill a hole elsewhere or it's possible Carrera will stick as additional insurance during Spring Training.

"We have to stay open about all of the players on our roster," Atkins said when asked about a possible move. "If there's any way to make our team better, more fluid, provide more versatility, we'll look to do that."

If Grichuk becomes the final piece of significance the Blue Jays add this offseason, the question will become whether Toronto did enough to improve its offense. The Blue Jays ranked last in the American League with 693 runs scored, and while the team undeniably has more depth following the additions of Grichuk, Diaz and Yangervis Solarte, most of the starters remain.

Video: PIT@STL: Statcast™ measures Grichuk's 478-foot homer

Instead of adding a big name this offseason, the Blue Jays are banking on a return to health as the primary way to improve. Full seasons from Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis would certainly help, but if the injuries become a problem once again, at least Toronto is in a better position to handle them.

The Blue Jays still have some flexibility to make additional moves, but the focus now shifts to the pitching staff. Toronto remains in the market for a fifth starter, and following the departure of Leone, another piece in the bullpen could be needed as well.

"I think at this point [it's] pitching," Atkins said. "If there's a way to improve our position player roster, we'll look to do that. At this point that would mean subtraction, or other players being optioned. We have a little bit of uncertainty around playing time for some of our players so we have to build as much depth as possible."

Video: Zinkie on fantasy impact of Grichuk to Blue Jays

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Now set to hold a regular role on a team with a hitter-friendly home park, Grichuk has the power (lifetime 39.7 percent hard-hit rate, .239 ISO) to tally 30 long balls and 75 RBIs in spite of his poor plate discipline (career 0.2 BB/K ratio). While the 26-year-old gains late-round status in mixed leagues, the deal will have the opposite effect for Hernandez. Likely to open 2018 in Triple-A, Hernandez can go undrafted in all mixed formats. Meanwhile, Jose Martinez (career .903 OPS) becomes a sleeper in deep mixed leagues on the expectation that he will serve as a fourth outfielder and backup first baseman for the Cardinals.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, Randal Grichuk

Cardinals' Kelly rated No. 2 catching prospect

Youngster on track to open season as Molina's backup
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- While Yadier Molina begins a three-year countdown to retirement this year, Carson Kelly sits patiently behind him, still waiting for his turn.

Opportunity is about the only thing slowing Kelly these days, as he once again ranks among the top catching prospects in baseball. A year after topping MLB Pipeline's positional list, Kelly enters 2018 second, behind only Indians catcher Francisco Mejia.

ST. LOUIS -- While Yadier Molina begins a three-year countdown to retirement this year, Carson Kelly sits patiently behind him, still waiting for his turn.

Opportunity is about the only thing slowing Kelly these days, as he once again ranks among the top catching prospects in baseball. A year after topping MLB Pipeline's positional list, Kelly enters 2018 second, behind only Indians catcher Francisco Mejia.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Kiebert Ruiz (Dodgers), Sean Murphy (A's), Jake Rogers (Tigers), Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Chance Sisco (Orioles), Danny Jansen (Blue Jays), Zack Collins (White Sox) and Victor Caratini (Cubs) round out the top 10.

Kelly, who made his Major League debut in 2016, joined the Cardinals for the final two months off the '17 season. He served as Molina's backup and logged 14 starts, 162 innings and 75 plate appearances. The limited exposure hindered Kelly's ability to find much offensive traction, and he finished the year with a .174/.240/.217 slash line. He's still looking for his first big league home run.

"It's a learning experience," Kelly said. "It was different for me [playing part time], but I think what I experienced [last] year is really going to help me coming into next year. I made a lot of adjustments this offseason with my workouts and my approach at the plate and catching and everything. A little bit more power. More power and more consistency. With maybe not getting at-bats every single day, it's going to be an adjustment. Being very consistent and simple with my approach and my swing is going to help me out in the long run."

Video: STL@CHC: Kelly drives in two on first hit of season

One of two catchers currently on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, Kelly is projected to open the season with St. Louis. Playing time will again be sporadic, as the Cardinals do not anticipate reducing Molina's workload significantly this year. Molina has started at least 128 games behind the plate in eight of the past nine seasons.

However, at some point over the next three years, the Cardinals will begin to focus more on the future. That will mean more on-field exposure for the 23-year-old Kelly. That's why the Cardinals have been intent on holding on to the young catcher despite widespread trade interest.

For now, Kelly said he hopes to soak up whatever he can while working behind arguably the best catcher of this generation, and he's adjusted his preparation to match his current role.

"It's being ready when the opportunity presents itself," Kelly said. "Who knows what is going to happen in the future? I think this offseason, simplifying a lot of my game and my workouts and putting myself in the city here has opened up a lot of doors for me. I think I'm going to be in a great spot come Spring Training."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Carson Kelly

Cards excited to get Reyes back on mound

After missing '17, prospect is No. 7 on MLB Pipeline's Top 10 RHPs
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Though the Cardinals continue to canvass the free-agent and trade markets for a potential pitching boost, they repeatedly come back to what they already have. And that begins with Alex Reyes.

Ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball one year ago, Reyes never had the opportunity to validate the hype. Before he could throw his first bullpen session of Spring Training, Reyes found himself seeking an explanation for the sudden pain in his elbow. A few days later, he was undergoing surgery.

ST. LOUIS -- Though the Cardinals continue to canvass the free-agent and trade markets for a potential pitching boost, they repeatedly come back to what they already have. And that begins with Alex Reyes.

Ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball one year ago, Reyes never had the opportunity to validate the hype. Before he could throw his first bullpen session of Spring Training, Reyes found himself seeking an explanation for the sudden pain in his elbow. A few days later, he was undergoing surgery.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

The procedure cost Reyes the entire 2017 season, but it did little to dampen the long-term expectations for a 23-year-old right-hander who the Cardinals foresee as a future ace. While there is uncertainty about how he'll pitch immediately upon coming back from Tommy John surgery, Reyes dropped only a few spots in MLB Pipeline's new prospect rankings.

He'll enter 2018 ranked as the No. 7 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who was aggressively courted across baseball before signing with the Angels in December, tops the list. Also slotting in ahead of Reyes is Forrest Whitley (Astros), Michael Kopech (White Sox), Brent Honeywell (Rays), Walker Buehler (Dodgers) and Mitch Keller (Pirates). Hunter Greene (Reds), Triston McKenzie (Indians) and Sixto Sanchez (Phillies) round out the Top 10.

Some of Reyes' teammates would argue that such a ranking is selling the potential National League Rookie of the Year Award contender short.

"When I look back at all the trade negotiations and all the stuff I was reading about and hearing about, I was just thinking, 'Please don't trade Alex Reyes,'" veteran starter Adam Wainwright said. "Man, that guy can be a superstar in this game. I think he's got humongous talent. I think he can be one of the best pitchers in the game."

Video: Top Prospects: Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals

Reyes still has some rehab work to complete before he can work toward such standing. He's returning to Florida this week to start throwing off the mound. By next week, Reyes hopes to be facing hitters. The Cardinals will be cautious with his workload during Spring Training and have set May 1 as a soft target for his return.

When he's ready, Reyes is likely to jump right back to the Majors, which is where he ended his 2016 season. And though the Cardinals see him a starter for the long-term, Reyes is likely to log some of his first innings of '18 in the bullpen. That will allow the club to monitor his workload.

From there, his fit will be determined by need.

"My arm feels good. My body is feeling great," Reyes said. "I feel like I learned a lot throughout this [last] year being able to watch, read hitters, read approaches. And just being able to dissect video was something I was able to learn this year. Once I get the ball, we will see where it goes from there."

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes

Cardinals confident Gregerson can close

Prospect Reyes progressing after Tommy John surgery
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Though more experienced closers remain available on both the free-agent and trade markets, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, speaking on the first day of the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up, expressed confidence in one the club already has: Luke Gregerson.

It may not be the splashy sign that most expected when the Cardinals stated their intentions to address a ninth-inning void this offseason, but to this point, it's the move they've made. Signed last month to a two-year, $11 million contract, Gregerson last closed regularly for the Astros in 2016. He lost the job two months into the season, one year after tallying 31 saves.

ST. LOUIS -- Though more experienced closers remain available on both the free-agent and trade markets, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, speaking on the first day of the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up, expressed confidence in one the club already has: Luke Gregerson.

It may not be the splashy sign that most expected when the Cardinals stated their intentions to address a ninth-inning void this offseason, but to this point, it's the move they've made. Signed last month to a two-year, $11 million contract, Gregerson last closed regularly for the Astros in 2016. He lost the job two months into the season, one year after tallying 31 saves.

Mozeliak went on to assert that, should Gregerson not seize another opportunity to close now, the club has sufficient protection behind him.

"I do think, when you look at our bullpen, there's going to be opportunities to see people take on more responsibility or more roles," Mozeliak said. "There's no doubt last year was a disappointment, when you think about the blown saves, close games lost. But we also feel like this year, we have a group of guys that are ready to take that next step up. In terms of who it looks like, it might be faceless today, but I feel like by the time we leave Jupiter [Fla.], we'll have a pretty good idea of what those roles look like."

Video: Gregerson to join St. Louis' bullpen in 2018

And then there's the Alex Reyes factor.

Reyes, who estimated that he's dropped 10-15 pounds since last season, has so far avoided any setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have set a soft target of May 1 for his return, and when he does, his fit is likely to be in the bullpen.

That will not only give the Cardinals better control over Reyes' workload, but it would also inject a power arm into the 'pen. And the Cards have already begun to envision how the No. 1 prospect's presence could change the look of the ninth.

"I would love to pitch as a starter, reliever, whatever it is," Reyes said on Saturday. "I'm here to help. Whatever they throw at me, I'm willing to take forward."

Video: Top Prospects: Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals

Reyes plans to be back in Florida next week, and he'll begin throwing bullpen sessions when he gets there. He hopes to progress to sessions of live batting practice -- where Reyes will be able to see how hitters react to his pitches -- about a week after that.

"I want to show up to Spring Training," Reyes said, "and show what I have."

As for the Cardinals, what they have now is potential in Reyes, past performance in Gregerson and a collection of other late-innings arms who could challenge for the chance to get closing opportunities if Plans B or beyond are needed. There's still the chance, too, that the Cards change course and pounce to add another option before the start of the season.

One name struck from that possible shopping list on Saturday was Addison Reed, whose two-year agreement with the Twins began trickling out on social media moments after Mozeliak wrapped up a Q&A session with fans.

"I've heard a lot of people write and speculate, 'Are you done? What's next?'" Mozeliak said. "The approach has always been for us, if there's something we can do to improve, we're going to look at that or explore that. I think most importantly, when you look at where our club is today, we certainly feel like we're better off than we were when the season ended. We are very excited about the club we have assembled."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Luke Gregerson, Alex Reyes

Flaherty soaks up lessons, talks 1st MLB stint

Righty one of 3 Cards prospects to attend career development seminar for young players
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- After weeks of hearing his name swirl in trade rumors, Jack Flaherty opened 2018 still a member of the Cardinals' organization, and he represented St. Louis at Major League Baseball's Rookie Career Development Program last week.

He was one of 20 prospects from MLB Pipeline's current Top 100 list to participate in the annual event, which includes seminars designed to help future big league players with off-field issues like media training and finances. Three other Cardinals prospects -- Jordan Hicks, Tyler O'Neill and Jose Adolis Garcia -- were in attendance, as well.

ST. LOUIS -- After weeks of hearing his name swirl in trade rumors, Jack Flaherty opened 2018 still a member of the Cardinals' organization, and he represented St. Louis at Major League Baseball's Rookie Career Development Program last week.

He was one of 20 prospects from MLB Pipeline's current Top 100 list to participate in the annual event, which includes seminars designed to help future big league players with off-field issues like media training and finances. Three other Cardinals prospects -- Jordan Hicks, Tyler O'Neill and Jose Adolis Garcia -- were in attendance, as well.

"I was definitely intrigued as to what exactly we were getting into," Flaherty said during his time in Leesburg, Va. "I think in the long run it's going to be a lot of help, even if I can just take away one thing from being here. I'm going to try and make it a successful trip out here."

Flaherty, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as St. Louis' No. 3 prospect and No. 48 in the game overall, hopes to do the same from his first stint in the Majors, which included six appearances (five starts) and plenty of time to observe.

"It was just a lot of watching and learning from the guys," Flaherty said. "When it came to pitching … I didn't do what I normally do well, which is get ahead, throw strikes, work off my fastball. In everything else, it was just a lot of watching and learning and seeing how these guys went about their business every day."

Video: Flaherty named Cardinals' Pipeline Pitcher of 2017

Flaherty climbed two levels in 2017 before finishing the year in St. Louis, where he went on to post a 6.33 ERA, strike out 20 and walk 10 over 21 1/3 innings. It wasn't exactly the first impression he had long imagined, as Flaherty labored to pitch deep into games and didn't come close to replicating the walk rate of 2.6 per nine innings he had averaged over four Minor League seasons.

However, the righty did feature an uptick in velocity from 2016-17, and his success in the Minors showed a fruitful course correction from struggles he endured the previous season. In 25 combined starts with Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis last year, Flaherty had a 2.18 ERA and averaged nearly one strikeout (147) per inning pitched (148 2/3).

"It was really getting back to doing what I do well," Flaherty said. "My walks went down. I felt like I was getting ahead more. For me to get back to what the basics were and what I do well, I think that really led to some of the changes and me having more success."

His ability to take the lessons learned from his month-long stint in the Majors will impact how Flaherty fits with the Cardinals in 2018. Though Luke Weaver will enter Spring Training with the inside track on securing the team's final open rotation spot, Flaherty can make that decision more complicated with a standout spring, or at least position himself as next in line should another rotation vacancy arise.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Poncedeleon sees silver lining from freak injury

Righty focused on positives during long road to recovery following brain surgery
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- There are portions of that day, May 9, 2017, that Daniel Poncedeleon still vividly remembers.

It was a school-day game, he recalls, which meant that hundreds of children from the greater Des Moines, Iowa, area had packed into Principal Park to watch a game between the Cardinals' and Cubs' Triple-A franchises. Poncedeleon, who had opened the season in Memphis' rotation, was especially looking forward to the start since it was to be his first time working with catcher Alberto Rosario that season.

ST. LOUIS -- There are portions of that day, May 9, 2017, that Daniel Poncedeleon still vividly remembers.

It was a school-day game, he recalls, which meant that hundreds of children from the greater Des Moines, Iowa, area had packed into Principal Park to watch a game between the Cardinals' and Cubs' Triple-A franchises. Poncedeleon, who had opened the season in Memphis' rotation, was especially looking forward to the start since it was to be his first time working with catcher Alberto Rosario that season.

With the game scoreless entering the bottom of the second, Rosario gave his signal: a two-seamer, down and away. It was to be the 14th pitch of Poncedeleon's 62nd professional start.

It also became his last.

Poncedeleon remembers having enough time to regret the pitch as it came out of his hand. It stayed center-cut with little movement, and Iowa's Victor Caratini lined it right back where it came from. The 6-foot-4 right-hander couldn't react quickly enough. The ball struck Poncedeleon in the head, knocking him to the ground. He felt a tingling sensation throughout his arms and legs before trainer Scott Ensell could reach the mound.

When Ensell arrived, he immediately braced Poncedeleon's head.

"I was like, 'What are you doing? I'm fine,'" Poncedeleon recalled in a recent conversation with MLB.com. "I thought I was going to have to pass concussion protocol and maybe be out a week or two. It was once I got into the ambulance, that's when it started hitting me that something might be wrong."

It's been nearly eight months since Poncedeleon took an impact that nearly took his life. The scars and small dent that remains in his head serve as a permanent reminder.

The details of what happened during Poncedeleon's early hours in the hospital have since been relayed back to him. His father flew in from California. His girlfriend, along with their son and her parents, rushed north from Florida while Poncedeleon went in for emergency brain surgery.

He next remembers waking up with a headache, and, later, grasping the gravity of why. In those early days of Poncedeleon's recovery, the doctors didn't speak much about baseball. They were focused on much simpler things. Could he move his hands? What about his feet?

But for Poncedeleon, the benchmarks were always more far-reaching.

"I was already planning how I was going to come back and play," he said. "I knew that I'd feel fine. It was just a matter of when my skull was going to heal up."

At some point during those first few days, Poncedeleon came across video of what had happened. His reaction wasn't one of horror, but rather of disgust at himself. He still believes he should have reacted quickly enough to deflect the line drive.

He feels fortunate, though, that the road to a full recovery had been mostly linear. He spent nearly three weeks in that Des Moines hospital before receiving permission to return to his home in Florida. It then became a test in patience. While he waited for the brain swelling to reduce and his skull to heal, Poncedeleon watched several of his teammates get called up to the Majors.

He tried not to let his mind wander to whether that could have been him.

Poncedeleon also soaked in the unexpected time he had to spend with his infant son, and he committed himself to reading more about nutrition and health. About three months post-surgery, he was medically cleared to start baseball training again. It was never a question in Poncedeleon's mind whether he would.

"Once the doctors went through everything with Daniel, we started to get a sense that he wanted to get back," said Gary LaRocque, director of player development for the Cardinals. "He was extremely positive about the road back, and he was making tremendous progress early. And so every time we'd make a call or get the reports, it would always suggest, 'Hey, he's doing well. He's doing really well.'"

Poncedeleon resumed throwing in August. He rejoined the Memphis club, as a spectator, for its September postseason run. Later that month, Poncedeleon returned to the mound to face hitters for the first time since May.

He made only one request to the players who stepped into the batter's box that day.

"Swing as hard as you can," Poncedeleon told them. "Don't be scared to hit me."

The mental scars had healed.

"He's really ready to get back after it," LaRocque said. "He's a remarkable young man with a great intensity and focus. Without a doubt, he's going to compete in the highest levels, and he'll get plenty of opportunity to be seen."

All that time spent marking forward progress preceded Poncedeleon's current countdown. Spring Training can't arrive quickly enough.

Because of the time missed last season, Poncedeleon began his offseason throwing program in early November. He has also been packing on the pounds after dropping 17 during his first week in the hospital. He's pleased to be up about 20-25 pounds now.

What you won't find Poncedeleon doing is feeling sorry for himself. He'll never know if 2017 could have been his year to ascend to the Majors, or whether a strong season performance would have led the Cardinals to add the right-hander to their 40-man roster this fall.

Instead, he dwells on the blessings.

Like being present for several of his son's first milestones. Or the relationship he formed with Caratini, who brought home-cooked food to the hospital for Poncedeleon's family. Or the heartfelt well-wishes and prayers that poured his way from strangers and schoolkids and St. Louisans.

It's those gestures, he says, that superseded any setback.

"I don't let my mind dwell on what could have been because that's not what happened," Poncedeleon said. "I just look ahead. It gave me new perspective, getting hit in the head."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Bader, Flaherty named Minor Leaguers of Year

Bader wins Cards Player of Year honors, while Flaherty is Pitcher of Year
MLB.com

In 2017, Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader flashed the potential that made them top Major League prospects, and they'll get some new hardware for their efforts.

Bader and Flaherty were named Cardinals Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, on Thursday, for their accomplishments in the Minors. They will be presented their awards at the St. Louis Baseball Writers' Association of America Awards Dinner on Jan. 14.

In 2017, Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader flashed the potential that made them top Major League prospects, and they'll get some new hardware for their efforts.

Bader and Flaherty were named Cardinals Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, on Thursday, for their accomplishments in the Minors. They will be presented their awards at the St. Louis Baseball Writers' Association of America Awards Dinner on Jan. 14.

Tweet from @Cardinals: Congratulations to @aybaybader & @Jack9Flaherty for their selections as the #STLCards 2017 Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year! pic.twitter.com/zcbwncznGq

A third-round Draft pick out of Florida in 2015, Bader shot up the Cardinals' Minor League system in '17, earning a promotion to Triple-A during his second professional season and debuting in the Majors on July 25 at age 23. He spent most of this season at Triple-A Memphis, where he excelled, routinely showing five-tool talent over two separate stints with the club. A strong, speedy center fielder, Bader hit .283/.347/.469 with 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 123 games at Triple-A.

Video: Flaherty named Cardinals' Pipeline Pitcher of 2017

Flaherty struggled during his first Major League stint at age 21 (six appearances), but he was dominant at two Minor League levels in 2017, going 14-4 with a 2.18 ERA over 25 starts. The hard-throwing righty began the year at Double-A Springfield before earning a promotion to Memphis on June 1. He went 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 15 starts for the Redbirds and participated in the MLB All-Star Futures Game.

Together, Flaherty and Bader headline an emerging young core that could make a big impact in St. Louis in 2018 and beyond. Hader will have a chance to earn a spot as a versatile backup outfield option next season, while Flaherty, a former first-round Draft pick, could provide high-upside depth at the back end of the rotation.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Harrison Bader, Jack Flaherty

Martinez hones 1B skills in Venezuelan League

Knizner among Cards' prospects to thrive in Arizona Fall League action
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- For more than a decade, Jose Martinez has returned to Venezuela in the offseason and represented his hometown club in the Venezuelan Winter League. He continued that practice this year, though this time Martinez returned with a full season of big league experience under his belt.

He also returned with a specific to-do list in mind.

ST. LOUIS -- For more than a decade, Jose Martinez has returned to Venezuela in the offseason and represented his hometown club in the Venezuelan Winter League. He continued that practice this year, though this time Martinez returned with a full season of big league experience under his belt.

He also returned with a specific to-do list in mind.

Martinez left St. Louis ready to get additional exposure at first base this winter, and he's done that this month. Since making his season debut with the Tiburones de la Guaira on Nov. 2, Martinez has started nine games at first. His other four starts have come as a designated hitter.

Martinez's intention was to utilize his winter ball stint to build upon the first-base experience he gleaned with the Cardinals, who had him start 29 games at the position in 2017. They project to utilize him there, likely in a backup role, again next season.

Video: MIL@STL: Martinez drives a two-run ground-rule double

"Being available at a couple positions this year, I think, has been great," Martinez said before departing St. Louis last month. "I think the work that I put in with coaches has worked. I just want to go out there and learn a little more defense."

Martinez planned to play in Venezuela until sometime in December and then report to Florida in January to get individualized instruction from infield instructor Jose Oquendo. He planned to take additional precautionary measures upon returning to his unstable home country.

Offensively, Martinez has anchored the Tiburones' lineup. In 13 games, he has posted a .383/.446/.638 slash line and a 1.085 OPS. Martinez has scored 12 runs, driven in 13 and tallied seven extra-base hits.

Out in the desert

The Arizona Fall League's six-week season concluded last week, thus ending the showcase and instructional opportunity for the Cardinals' eight participants. The Cards had especially strong showings from their position players, which included catcher Andrew Knizner, infielder Edmundo Sosa and outfielder Oscar Mercado.

Video: Cardinals' Knizner leads Saguaros in Fall League

Knizner, ranked by MLBPipeline as St. Louis' 27th-best prospect, slashed .358/.403/.537 in 17 games. His .940 OPS ranked seventh-best in the league. Sosa (No. 12) hit .305/.359/.356 over 17 games, while Mercado (No. 18) posted an on-base percentage of .363 while tallying five doubles and driving in 11.

On the pitching end, Sandy Alcantara (No. 9) followed his first taste of the Majors with five AFL starts. He finished with a 4.20 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 14 strikeouts to eight walks in 15 innings. Opponents batted .208 against the hard-throwing righty. Jordan Hicks (No. 14) led the four Cardinals pitchers with 15 2/3 innings, while Josh Lucas and Arturo Reyes pitched exclusively in relief.

Worth noting

• Tickets for Cardinals Winter Warm-Up go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. CT and can be purchased online at cardinals.com/WWU or at the Busch Stadium ticket office. Adult ($40) and child ($10) tickets are available for the event, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch from Jan. 13-15. Each ticket purchased is good for admission on all three days.

• The Cardinals and Cardinals Care will hold their sixth annual gift drive Dec. 6 to support area youth and children of military families at Scott Air Force Base. Fans are asked to donate new, unwrapped toys or gift cards at the Gate 4 entrance to Busch Stadium between 6 a.m.-1 p.m. CT. For more information, visit cardinals.com/giftdrive.

• FOX Sports Midwest has expanded its Cardinals offseason programing and will debut its Cardinals Rewind show Wednesday. The one-hour program will showcase some of the most memorable games from last season. Also, each Wednesday this offseason, FSM will air its 30-minute Cardinals Warmup program, featuring the latest Hot Stove news.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Jose Martinez

Tough decisions loom as Rule 5 deadline nears

Cards have until Monday to protect players by adding them to 40-man roster
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Another round of roster decisions looms for the Cardinals, who have until 7 p.m. CT on Monday to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on their 40-man roster.

It's an annual exercise of risk and projection for clubs given the limited number of roster spots they have available. The Cards have five openings on their 40-man roster, though they'll also need some of that roster space for acquisitions this offseason.

ST. LOUIS -- Another round of roster decisions looms for the Cardinals, who have until 7 p.m. CT on Monday to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on their 40-man roster.

It's an annual exercise of risk and projection for clubs given the limited number of roster spots they have available. The Cards have five openings on their 40-man roster, though they'll also need some of that roster space for acquisitions this offseason.

Players who signed at the age of 18 or younger become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after five seasons. Those who were 19 or older have to be protected within four seasons. Any such player left off the roster becomes available to the other 29 teams in the Rule 5 Draft, which, this year, falls on Dec. 14.

While the Cardinals benefited from the Rule 5 Draft two years ago with their selection of right-hander Matt Bowman, they've also recently experienced some losses. The Padres plucked an unprotected Luis Perdomo from the Cards in 2015 and then dipped into St. Louis' system again last year to take Allen Cordoba.

Video: STL@CIN: Bowman retires Turner to strand a pair

The Padres kept both on their 25-man roster the following season to secure the permanent rights to the player.

The moves caught the Cardinals by surprise given that neither player had ascended beyond the Class A level at the time of their respective selections. But as a club in the midst of a rebuild, the Padres had the luxury of manipulating their roster to retain both.

That strategy has forced the Cards to rethink who they protect and more equally weigh future potential with proximity to the Majors.

There are more than 50 players in the organization who would be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if not protected. Here are a few who stand out:

The top prospects: Three players on St. Louis' Top 30 Prospects list -- Tyler O'Neill (No. 4), Austin Gomber (No. 15) and Oscar Mercado (No. 18) -- fall into this mix, and all three are expected to be added to the 40-man roster by Monday's deadline.

Video: Mayo on Cards acquiring top prospect Tyler O'Neill

The Cards acquired O'Neill in a non-waiver Trade Deadline swap with the Mariners last July, and they remain intrigued by the outfielder's power potential. Gomber, a left-handed starter, had a strong year in Double-A and could make a push for a big league roster spot in 2018. Mercado, a converted outfielder, followed a breakout season in Double-A with a standout showing in the Arizona Fall League.

Eligible yet again: Corner infielder Patrick Wisdom may present the most intriguing case. He has been eligible and passed over in the Rule 5 Draft twice already, but Wisdom is coming off a year in which he slugged .507 with 25 doubles, 31 homers and 89 RBIs for Triple-A Memphis. The Cardinals considered him for a big league callup at various junctures throughout the season.

Working against Wisdom, however, is his age. At 26, he no longer dents prospect lists, and the Cardinals have others ahead of him on the depth chart. But if Wisdom is not protected again, it seems likely another team would finally take a chance on him.

Other notable names: Pitchers Matt Pearce, Trey Nielsen, Andrew Morales, Kevin Herget and Daniel Poncedeleon all reached Triple-A in 2017. Poncedeleon's time there, though, was cut short as he required head surgery after being struck by a line drive in early May.

Two other players the Cardinals were contemplating as adds -- first baseman John Nogowski and pitcher Arturo Reyes -- gave the organization additional time for evaluation by participating in the AFL. Neither posted strong numbers.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

DeJong worthy of NL Rookie of Year Award

Cardinals shortstop an offensive force at key position
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- While not the favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong certainly built a compelling case for inclusion in the discussion.

DeJong is one of the finalists, along with first basemen Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and Josh Bell of the Pirates, for the award, which will be presented during an MLB Network special at 5 p.m. CT on Monday. The Cardinals haven't had a player finish as high as second place in the voting since 2001, when Albert Pujols won the honor.

ST. LOUIS -- While not the favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong certainly built a compelling case for inclusion in the discussion.

DeJong is one of the finalists, along with first basemen Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers and Josh Bell of the Pirates, for the award, which will be presented during an MLB Network special at 5 p.m. CT on Monday. The Cardinals haven't had a player finish as high as second place in the voting since 2001, when Albert Pujols won the honor.

VOTE NOW: Esurance MLB Awards

DeJong's case for consideration is built not only on the offensive production he provided, but also on the stabilization he gave the Cardinals at a key defensive position. A team receiving underwhelming production at shortstop found its answer in DeJong, who became the first member of the organization's 2015 Draft class to ascend to the Majors when he was called up in late May.

Within a month, he had taken over as the starting shortstop. DeJong never lost the job.

Complete 2017 Awards coverage

His impact only grew, too, as the Cardinals eventually turned to DeJong in their search for a three-hole hitter. DeJong ended up batting third 51 times, more than any other player on the team.

Video: MIL@STL: DeJong smacks a solo homer to left-center

DeJong's production warranted such a prominent spot in the lineup. He hit the first of his 25 home runs in his first Major League at-bat and became the first rookie to lead the Cardinals in home runs since Pujols. DeJong's 25 homers in his first 108 games ranked second among all rookies in 2017, as did his 52 extra-base hits. Only Bellinger eclipsed DeJong in both categories.

"You take 25 home runs at 24 years old and then add [the] 13 [he hit in Triple-A] to it, that's rare air for a seasoned veteran, let alone a 24-year-old shortstop who is in his second full [professional] season," manager Mike Matheny said. "That goes beyond surprising for me. That goes to amazing. ... The mental toughness of handling that position, hitting third in the order, being so young in the game, I don't know if you could ask any more of a young player than what he did."

Even though DeJong did not make his debut until May 28, he co-led NL rookies in doubles (26), ranked second in slugging percentage (.532), third in total bases (222), fourth in home runs, fourth in RBIs (65), fourth in hits (119), fifth in runs (55) and eighth in game-winning RBIs (5).

Video: Bell, Bellinger, DeJong named NL ROY finalists

DeJong further highlighted his breakout season with some unique individual accomplishments. His eight extra-base hits during a July series against the Mets were the most by a Cardinals player in a three-game set since 1900. He also became the first Cards rookie to tally four extra-base hits in one game since Terry Moore in 1935.

DeJong's string of six straight games with an RBI in late July was the fourth-longest in the NL this season, and DeJong tied for the team lead with 10 three-plus hit games.

In comparing DeJong's final statistics to his fellow finalists, it's worth noting he accrued all these numbers in significantly fewer games (108) than Bell (159) and Bellinger (132).

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Paul DeJong

Cardinals' Nogowski making most of new opportunity

Former A's farmhand now with St. Louis following stint in independent leagues
MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Life in the Minors is all about trials and tribulations, something John Nogowski knows all too well after beginning the season in the Independent Leagues and finishing it in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

"It's definitely been a journey," Nogowski, a first baseman in the Cardinals organization said. "Just a blessing to get an opportunity. I think that's the biggest thing for guys in the Minor Leagues, to just get an opportunity."

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Life in the Minors is all about trials and tribulations, something John Nogowski knows all too well after beginning the season in the Independent Leagues and finishing it in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

"It's definitely been a journey," Nogowski, a first baseman in the Cardinals organization said. "Just a blessing to get an opportunity. I think that's the biggest thing for guys in the Minor Leagues, to just get an opportunity."

The Athletics selected Nogowski in the 34th round (No. 1,032 overall) of the 2014 Draft, but he was released prior to the 2017 season, despite having slashed .273/.345/.402 across two levels in 2016.

The setback easily could have derailed Nogowski's career, but he wasn't ready to give up on baseball and still believed he was capable of playing at a high level.

"It was pretty high," Nogowski said of his confidence. "I had two really, really good years in High A in my first two years of pro ball. I knew I could hit and I knew I could play first and play the outfield."

So Nogowski opted for the Independent Leagues and signed on with the American Association's Sioux City Explorers.

Once there, it became clear why Nogowski had confidence in his ability to hit: The 24-year-old absolutely raked.

Over 34 games, he batted .402, led the league with a .482 on-base percentage and led his team in RBIs (28) and slugging percentage (.607).

In those 34 contests, Nogowski posted 17 multi-hit efforts, including a stretch of seven in a row.

The Cardinals took notice and signed him to a Minor League contract on June 27. As fate would have it, Nogowski was assigned to Double-A Springfield just as the Cardinals were getting set to face the Midland RockHounds -- Nogowski's old team.

"There was a little extra [motivation] there for sure," Nogowski said. "I think anytime someone's willing to give up on you and then you show them, 'I can do this,' much less against one of their top prospects, so that got me going a little bit."

If Nogowski's goal was to show the A's organization what it was missing, he didn't make them wait long.

In his third at-bat of the game, Nogowski homered off of Heath Fillmyer, the Athletics' No. 19 prospect.

"I was much more excited than I would have been [if it were any other team,]" Nogowski said. "But it's a business at the end of the day and I was happy to hit a home run."

Nogowski went on to hit .295/.378/.382 in 59 games with the Cardinals and is looking to build on that in the AFL.

"He has good discipline," Jobel Jimenez, the hitting coach for both the Springfield Cardinals and the Surprise Saguaros, said. "His walk percentage is higher than his strikeouts. He has good plate discipline, he's a line drive guy and at the end of the season he showed he has some pop."

Nogowski had 14 extra-base hits (two homers) with Springfield, but Jimenez believes he'll be able to develop a bit more power and Nogowski admitted it was something he was working on as well.

"He's got the potential to produce more runs and create more power and drive more balls," Jimenez said.

In addition to developing power, Nogowski also wants to develop as an outfielder and is trying to add left field to his skill set.

"If I can add another position, that's another opportunity for me to get in the lineup," Nogowski said.

And, as he's shown in the past, an opportunity is all Nogowski needs.

William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals' Arizona Fall League overview

Mercado continues progress following move to center field
MLB.com

Players at all levels set goals. Some are statistical, others are more about stages of development. Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado had his sights on one postseason accomplishment: an invite to the Arizona Fall League.

"It was actually a goal of mine before the year started," Mercado said. "I figured it could help me out a lot. I was like if you have a good year, maybe you get the chance to do it. They talk about all the guys who go through here and get the chance to play in the big leagues, so obviously it was something I really wanted to do. I was just happy I was able to accomplish my goal, represent the organization out here, obviously with the best players. It's something I'm going to try to take in, enjoy and go out there and do my best."

Players at all levels set goals. Some are statistical, others are more about stages of development. Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado had his sights on one postseason accomplishment: an invite to the Arizona Fall League.

"It was actually a goal of mine before the year started," Mercado said. "I figured it could help me out a lot. I was like if you have a good year, maybe you get the chance to do it. They talk about all the guys who go through here and get the chance to play in the big leagues, so obviously it was something I really wanted to do. I was just happy I was able to accomplish my goal, represent the organization out here, obviously with the best players. It's something I'm going to try to take in, enjoy and go out there and do my best."

Arizona Fall League roster & stats

Mercado playing well enough to warrant a trip to play for the Surprise Saguaros this fall was no slam dunk. Prior to the 2017 season, the 2013 second-round pick had a career .230 average and was coming off a 2016 season that saw him finish with just a .567 OPS, albeit in the pitching-friendly confines of Palm Beach. This was not a player who looked like he was on the verge of a breakout.

"I always worked hard every offseason, but going into this offseason I kind of felt like it was more on me to get after it and make a statement," Mercado said. "I felt like it was my last chance to really prove myself. Just give it your all and if it happens, it happens. If not, at least you can live with the fact that you gave it your all. I think it paid off, obviously. I was really happy about that and now it's just a matter of keeping going."

Mercado moved up to Double-A and proceeded to hit .287/.341/.428 with 13 homers and 38 stolen bases. There is still work to be done in terms of plate discipline (32 walks vs. 112 strikeouts), but the Cardinals' No. 18 prospect certainly seems headed in the right direction for the first time.

Video: Mercado hits at the AFL Bowman Hitting Challenge

"I think what happens is every player eventually goes through some sort of failure," Mercado said. "It just happened that I went through it more than a lot of players. I cherish it a lot because it helped me grow as a person, it helped me mature and helped me become more mentally strong."

While that maturity, both mentally and physically, has been a huge factor, a move from shortstop to center field clearly played a role in this resurgence. Mercado made the switch in 2016 and played center every day for all of 2017. His comfort level there was on display early on in Fall League action.

"Shortstop was fun; I grew up playing short, but center field, I have a lot of fun out there," Mercado said. "I love every single game going out there knowing I get to make some good plays and help out my pitcher. That's not the kind of confidence I had at shortstop. Just doing that kind of helps me play with a clear mind and it helped me out at the plate a lot."

Cardinals hitters in the Fall League

Andrew Knizner, C -- Knizner, who began his college career at North Carolina State as a third baseman, moved behind the plate after his freshman year. He's taken to the position well and really jumped on the prospect map with a strong first full season in 2017, double jumping from A ball to Double-A and hitting a combined .302/.349/.471. The Cardinals' No. 27 prospect has continued to swing the bat well this fall, going 11-for-28 with a pair of homers and seven RBIs in his first seven Fall League games.

Video: Cards prospect Knizner on competition in Fall League

John Nogowski, 1B -- The Cardinals signed Nogowski out of the independent league American Association in June and he proceeded to hit .295/.378/.382 in Double-A over 59 games. He's on the taxi squad in the AFL, meaning he can only play twice a week, but it could set him up for a return to the Cardinals' upper levels in 2018.

Edmundo Sosa, SS/2B -- Injuries have hampered Sosa's development, and he again missed two months this year following hamate bone surgery. So the Cardinals' No. 12 prospect is making up for lost time with Surprise this fall while also seeing time at shortstop (his primary position), second and third base defensively.

Cardinals pitchers in the Fall League

Sandy Alcantara, RHP -- There is no question about Alcantara's raw stuff, headlined by a fastball that touches triple-digits, to go along with an above-average changeup and a power breaking ball that has the chance to be better than average, too. St. Louis' No. 9 prospect is continuing to work on refining his command, something he'll need to do to remain a starter, though he did pitch out of the bullpen during his big league debut this season.

Jordan Hicks, RHP -- Though Hicks was drafted in 2015, he didn't make his pro debut until the following year because of a shoulder issue. He jumped on the radar with a strong summer and followed it up with a solid first full season in 2017, reaching the Florida State League in the process. The Cardinals' No. 14 prospect still needs to work on command, but he also just turned 21 in September.

Josh Lucas, RHP -- Drafted back in 2010, Lucas didn't exactly make a beeline up the organizational ladder. But after recording 33 saves in the last two years, he did make his big league debut in 2017. The 6-foot-6 26-year-old continues to get relief work in this fall, with an eye toward a full-time big league gig in 2018.

Arturo Reyes, RHP -- A 40th-round pick in 2013 out of Gonzaga, Reyes started for much of his Minor League career until he made the move to the bullpen in 2017. He's showing how the transition is going by continuing to pitch out of the bullpen in the AFL as he tries to show he is worthy of a spot on the 40-man roster.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

St. Louis Cardinals