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Rule 5 pick Cordoba faces Cards for first time

MLB.com @AJCassavell

ST. LOUIS -- Allen Cordoba strode onto the Busch Stadium infield Tuesday, approximately two years ahead of his projected arrival date. Much to the chagrin of the Cardinals, he did so sporting Padres batting practice garb.

Once a highly regarded prospect in the Cardinals system, Cordoba was plucked by the Padres with the No. 3 selection in December's Rule 5 Draft. Having never played a game above Rookie ball before this season, many doubted whether he'd be able to stick at the Major League level.

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ST. LOUIS -- Allen Cordoba strode onto the Busch Stadium infield Tuesday, approximately two years ahead of his projected arrival date. Much to the chagrin of the Cardinals, he did so sporting Padres batting practice garb.

Once a highly regarded prospect in the Cardinals system, Cordoba was plucked by the Padres with the No. 3 selection in December's Rule 5 Draft. Having never played a game above Rookie ball before this season, many doubted whether he'd be able to stick at the Major League level.

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That's no longer in question. With nine days until rosters expand, Cordoba is a lock to remain in the Padres' organization, even if he's likely destined for a return to the Minors next season.

Cordoba wasn't in the starting lineup for Tuesday's opener at Busch Stadium.

"It's special," Cordoba said. "It's really cool to be here. It's the team that gave me the opportunity to play professional baseball. I'm with San Diego now, obviously, and I had always imagined that I'd come up with the Cardinals. That wasn't what destiny had in store. But I'm here now, and hopefully I can get in and play and show them they made a mistake."

Per Rule 5 stipulations, the Padres needed to keep Cordoba on their active roster for the entire season or offer him back to the Cardinals. He's cooled significantly since his hot start to the season, as he's now hitting just .217 with a .608 OPS.

Video: NYM@SD: Cordoba lays out to rob Rivera of a hit

But Cordoba's value to the Padres goes beyond his numbers. He spent his time in the Cardinals' system as a shortstop. But the Padres have converted him to a do-everything utilityman. Cordoba has played all three outfield spots this year, along with second, third and short in the infield.

"It's actually been relatively easy to keep him because of the versatility he's provided," said Padres manager Andy Green. "Once he became an asset in the outfield, defensively, that is a real value add in the 25th spot on the roster. Even if he doesn't play, you can always hold that guy on your bench and understand that if anything happens, he can cover you in the infield and outfield."

There's no denying that Cordoba's growth as a shortstop has been stunted by his lack of playing time there this season. But the Padres feel the big league experience he's received has mitigated that fact.

It's likely Cordoba opens the 2018 season in the Minors, though it remains a question as to which level. He'll arrive in camp as a utility man, but will see the duration of his playing time at short.

"If he fights his way back to the big leagues down the road in a utility role, he'll know exactly what to expect," Green said. "[His time as a Rule 5 pick] will serve him very well. It's been a different kind of development for him. It's probably hard to say which one makes him better in the long run. This is his path now, and I think he's embraced it."

At the time of his selection, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak noted, "I still think there's a pretty good chance we get him back." Given Cordoba's inexperience, that seemed a reasonable assumption.

Four and a half months later, Cordoba is still a Padre. And he will be for the foreseeable future -- even if his first season has been a roller coaster.

"There's a ton to learn, having skipped all those levels," Cordoba said. "It's not easy to make that jump. Being here in the big leagues, I've learned a ton. Everything is different at this level. The game is different, the whole atmosphere is different. I've learned a ton just being here, being around my teammates. And I know I have a lot more to learn."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Allen Cordoba