Three days before the start of the regular season, Stephen Piscotty was reassigned to the Cardinals’ minor league camp.
The fact Piscotty lasted that long was testament to the impression he left on manager Mike Matheny. The reality behind the demotion was a tribute to the organization’s depth.
Piscotty would’ve earned the Opening Day roster for many teams. He batted .342 with a homer, eight RBI and a measly three strikeouts in 38 spring at-bats. But he, like many other Cards prospects, will have to practice patience. He’ll have to stand in line before getting on one of the best rides in baseball over the past decade.
Everywhere on the Redbirds’ roster, there’s a “No Vacancy” sign for newbies looking to crack the 25-man roster. Possessing a logjam of talent is a nice problem to have for the defending National League champs.
At nearly every starting position, the Cardinals boast either cheap, cost-controlled youngsters or a veteran locked into a long-term, team-friendly contract.
At 34, left fielder Matt Holliday is a fossil compared to the fresh-faced roster assembled around him. He’s signed through 2017 at $17 million a year. In five seasons wearing the Birds on the Bat, he’s hit .303 while averaging 147 games, 24 homers and 96 RBI.
New center fielder Peter Bourjos is just 26 and loaded with untapped potential. Already a stud defender, if he carries the success from spring training into the regular season, St. Louis may have its long-term answer at that position.
Allen Craig is established as a premier RBI man in the big leagues. He’s amassed a .311 average while driving in 189 runs the past two seasons. Where he lines up in the diamond—first base or right field—doesn’t matter. The Cardinals want that stick in the lineup.
Even though Craig will be 30 this season and has injury concerns, he’s a bargain at $46.2 million over the next five seasons. He’ll make just $2.75 million in 2014.
Craig had to retreat to right because of the presence of behemoth first baseman Matt Adams. The lefty-swinging “Big City” clubbed 17 homers in only .296 at-bats last season. He won’t be eligible for free agency until 2019.
Slick-fielding Kolten Wong bumped NL MVP candidate Matt Carpenter from second to third. The rookie failed offensively during a call-up last season, but he came to life in the Grapefruit League. After an 0-for-10 start, he finished spring training batting .375. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2017.
The Cardinals signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53.5 million deal in the offseason. The money was a slight reach, but the club took advantage of payroll flexibility by front-loading the contract.
Carpenter goes back to his natural position at third after the team sent David Freese to the Angels. After finishing fourth in the MVP voting last season, the Cardinals locked up the 28-year-old to a six-year, $52 million extension.
Behind the plate, the heart and soul of the team, Yadier Molina, is signed through 2018. All he’s done is won six straight Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves.
The pitching bounty is just as plentiful.
The elder statesman of the rotation, Adam Wainwright, is signed through 2018 at $19.5 million per season. That doesn’t look too bad considering the mega deal signed by Clayton Kershaw. And while the Dodgers’ southpaw is six years younger than Wainwright, he’ll make over $30 million a year starting in 2015.
The rest of the starting staff—Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly—won’t see free agency until 2018 when Lynn gets first crack. He’s also the oldest of the group at 26.
In the bullpen, the Cardinals have three flamethrowers 24 or younger in Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist.
So there’s no immediate path to playing time in St. Louis for someone like Piscotty, short of an injury or bench assignment. And he’s got plenty of competition to contend with at Triple-A Memphis.
Oscar Taveras, one of the prized prospects in baseball, is heralded as the Redbirds’ future in right field. Despite his brief, injury-riddled spring training, he’s got the highest upside of any slugger in the system.
Randal Grichuk, another outfielder with pop, also impressed the Cards’ skipper in Florida. Diminutive Mike O’Neill posted a .424 on-base percentage last season by striking out just 37 times in 471 at-bats. First baseman Xavier Scruggs has four straight 20-homer seasons in the minors, including 29 last season for Double-A.
Carson Kelly and James Ramsey are impressive hitters who could be ready to make an impact in a couple of years.
The team also has a stockpile of young arms, including Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, Rob Kaminsky and Alex Reyes.
Organizations like the Dodgers, Yankees and Angels pull in billions from new TV deals in bigger markets, giving them tremendous financial resources. But the Cardinals’ on-field success, shrewd deals and bountiful farm system give them the kind of wealth that make even the big spenders envious.
The Cardinals are in such a favorable position that even if they wanted to deal some of their abundant talent, what hole would they fill? What player not locked into a huge deal would be a better option?
Injuries are bound to creep up. Some prospects won’t live up to the hype. Opportunities will arise.
Currently, however, the path to St. Louis for those eager young ‘Birds is filled with obstacles, with no end to the obstruction in sight.