Schafer hoping for comeback following surgery
NRI pitcher/outfielder had Tommy John procedure last year; Valera getting look for roster; Gant shorn of luscious locks
JUPITER, Fla. -- On an early morning stroll through the backfields at the Cardinals' Spring Training complex, Jordan Schafer, glove in hand, glanced at the row of pitching mounds and shook his head.
"Not today," he said, before jogging toward a distant outfield.
Maybe tomorrow. Likely tomorrow.
• Spring Training info | Schedule | Tickets
For the second straight spring, Schafer expects his role to change daily. Some days, the non-roster invitee will hop on one of those mounds and throw, the fastball launched from his repaired left arm clocking in near 92 mph. Other days, he'll work out with the outfielders. A day before pitchers and catchers officially reported, Schafer stood at the edge of a bullpen watching others pitch, holding a bat in his hands.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
The grand idea is, just maybe, he can do both.
"It's like high school all over again," said Schafer, who was one of the best two-way amateur players in the country when the Braves drafted him in 2005.
Now 31, Schafer hasn't appeared in a Major League game since 2015, when his six-year career as mostly a backup outfielder ended unceremoniously with the Twins. He converted to pitching and signed with the Cardinals in 2016, and entered camp last year looking to carve out a new, unique role: pinch-runner/pitcher/defensive replacement.
"The thinking was I could go back and forth in the middle of an inning," Schafer said. "Maybe pinch-run, then face a guy, go play the outfield, come in to face another lefty."
But Schafer tore his ulnar collateral ligament in March, spoiling that plan for at least the short term. He's throwing (and swinging) less than a year post-Tommy John surgery because his elbow required just a repair, not a full replacement.
"I was really lucky," he said.
Not on the 40-man roster and long out of options, it'll be difficult for Schafer to make the club. But he's far from the only player in baseball looking to carve out a hybrid role. The Angels won the sweepstakes for Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, and will try using him as a starter/outfielder this year. The Astros selected former Tigers center fielder Anthony Gose in the Rule 5 Draft, and plan on deploying the lefty as a reliever.
Don't sleep on Valera
For weeks, the Cardinals have been rumored to be a club that could potentially swoop in and sign a big, left-handed hitter, like Logan Morrison.
But when speaking to reporters this week, Cardinals president of baseball operations and general manager John Mozeliak identified an option for the club's 25th roster spot with a skillset diametrically opposed to one Morrison would present.
That player is switch-hitting infielder Breyvic Valera, who for years has steadily climbed through Cardinals' system with a high-contact, low-power offensive approach. Valera, 26, made his Major League debut late in 2017 after eight Minor League seasons.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2010, Valera has hit .303 (with a .359 on-base percentage) in his Minor League career, including .303 over two seasons at Triple-A Memphis. He's hit just 14 home runs in 800 games, but also racked up more walks (260) than strikeouts (236). Valera has experience all over the field, logging time at all three outfield positions as well as second base, shortstop and third.
"The one guy internally I feel like we overlook is Breyvic," Mozeliak told reporters.
Barring injury, the 25th roster spot looks like the Cardinals' lone camp battle on the position player side. Greg Garcia and Jose Martinez have roles as backup infielder and first base/outfield type, respectively. Carson Kelly projects as the backup catcher. That leaves Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill, Luke Voit and Valera as internal options in the mix for the final spot.
New years ultimately bring new looks, and several Cardinals debuted theirs Tuesday. Few teammates recognized reliever John Gant, who cut his shoulder-length hair after growing it out for more than a year ("You're going to throw 106 now!" Adam Wainwright joked with him). When told Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom also cut his famous locks recently, Gant said: "It was a bad winter for flow."
Reliever John Brebbia showed up looking very different after shaving his thick, red beard. Brebbia spent Tuesday jokingly re-introducing himself to teammates, including his catcher, Yadier Molina.