The St. Louis Cardinals came to spring training with very few roster decisions to make. Most of those decisions have been reached in the last few days.
Kolten Wong appears to be the starting second baseman, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos will share time in center field, Joe Kelly will be the fifth starter, Carlos Martinez will serve as the eighth-inning reliever and Pat Neshek has seemingly made the club. That leaves only one decision to be made: Which pitcher will join the bullpen as the seventh reliever?
The competition comes down to three young hopefuls: Jorge Rondon, Scott McGregor and Keith Butler. Those three arms head into the final week of spring training hoping to win a spot on the roster of players heading north to Cincinnati for Opening Day.
Butler is the known commodity of the group, having pitched 20 innings over 16 games for the Cardinals in 2013. His performance was far from dominant, walking 11 hitters while striking out 16, but it is enough to earn him consideration yet again.
His spring performance does not look that great either, having thrown just over eight innings and surrendering eight runs. His five walks this spring may raise a flag concerning control. His minor league stats from 2013 do not seem to suggest it is a long term problem, as he only walked 11 hitters over 41 innings.
Rondon is another in the long line of power arms the Cardinals seem to be able to produce from their farm system. The difference with him is that he may not have full control over the lively stuff he pushes across the plate. He has only walked three hitters this spring while striking out seven.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that Rondon has yet to surrender a run. Rondon did pitch in Memphis last season and did well despite the control issues he faced. In just under 68 innings, he walked 37 hitters while striking out 42. He may need a little more time in the minors to prove he has his control settled before making the team.
Manager Mike Matheny shared his thoughts on Rondon with Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
With Rondon, you’re looking at stuff and someone who has improved. We gave him a task of pounding the strike zone and simplifying his approach. He’s done well and seen some results.
The long shot of the group is McGregor, who is a non-roster invitee to camp. His four innings over three games this spring have yielded three runs, two walks and a pair of strikeouts. McGregor spent 2013 as a starter in the Cardinals' minor leagues and is seemingly being looked at as a long relief option.
While he struggles for consistency as well as playing time, his placement on the team would also require a subsequent roster move to make room on the 40-man.
Rondon and McGregor may have taken advantage of the situation to get their names in the minds of those in charge. Unfortunately, it may come down to experience and the product Matheny already knows.
The final relief position likely belongs to Butler unless something goes horribly wrong.
Statistics courtesy of MLB.com and current through 3/24/14.