Having spent the latter part of this past season trumpeting the depth of pitching they saw in their system, the Cardinals moved Tuesday to protect more of it.
The club added four Class AA pitchers to the organization’s 40-man roster in order to prevent other teams from taking them in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Righthander relievers Eric Fornataro, Michael Blazek, and Keith Butler joined lefty Kevin Siegrist as the last additions to the 40-man roster before Tuesday’s deadline.
“When you get added to the 40-man roster and you’re coming from Class AAA or AA, it’s not unrealistic to project they might contribute in some way to the 2013 season,” general manager John Mozeliak said of the four newcomers.
The Cardinals released Class AAA starter Brandon Dickson on Monday so that he could pursue a contract with a team in Japan’s professional league.
The series of moves leaves the Cardinals with 39 players on the 40-man roster. In addition to continued flexibility, the open spot gives the team the option to take part in the Rule 5 draft, which will be held the first week of December.
Eligible players — those who have been in the organization four or five years, depending on their age when they first signed — had to be protected on the 40-man by Tuesday or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Any team can select an available player and wrestle control of his rights by keeping him on the active 25-man roster for the entire season.
Although the Cardinals do not expect the four additions to make the major-league roster out of spring training, the club “suspected” they could be taken in the draft, Mozeliak said.
Siegrist, 23, just completed a strong turn in the Arizona Fall League, the invitation-only offseason league that is called baseball’s “finishing school.” The 6-foot-5 lefty, a 41st-round pick in 2008, went 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 innings in the AFL. Injuries limited his innings during the regular season, but used mostly as a starter he was 7-2 overall with a 2.77 ERA in 18 games. Siegrist could transition into a lefty reliever as he nears the majors in 2013 or 2014, though he’s not expected to be a factor in the Cardinals’ current search for a second lefty. They seek an established reliever.
Of the four additions, Fornataro, 24, is viewed internally as the closest to the majors. The strapping righty recast himself — and his place in the organization — with a move to the bullpen this past season. At Class AA, he led the Texas League with 16 holds, and had a 2.39 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings. A sixth-round selection in 2008, Fornataro joined the ranks of the Cardinals’ power relievers with his 97-98 mph fastball. A teammate of his, righty Jorge Rondon, was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month, and he hit 100 mph with his fastball.
That tandem joins the group that emerged in the majors this past season as hard-throwing relievers — Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller.
The returning relievers will compete for an opening in the starting rotation, and how that sorts out will determine whether Rondon, Fornatero, or the other righties on the 40-man roster, such as Eduardo Sanchez, will have an opening in the bullpen to take.
For Fornataro “it’s a very big spring,” Mozeliak said. “He needs to show that this wasn’t an outlier for him, that this is where he’s headed as a reliever.”
A 35th-round selection in 2007, Blazek, 23, struck out 83 batters in 80 innings at Class AA Springfield. He had eight holds in a setup role and finished the season with a 4.16 ERA. Butler, 23, emerged as Double-A Springfield’s closer, finishing second in the Texas League with 25 saves. The 24th-round selection in 2009 used a wily slider for a 2.76 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings.
The Cardinals learned Monday from a scan taken of Rafael Furcal’s injured right elbow that the torn ligament had healed and the shortstop can continue his rehab. Mozeliak said Furcal has started playing catch, though he won’t begin the formal throwing program until January. The Cardinals remain interested in seeking depth for the middle infield as the offseason continues. Utility fielder Skip Schumaker, who has a year remaining on his contract, is a member of the current roster the Cardinals would consider trading. The veteran had a diminished role late in the 2012 season.
“Right now, he is a part of our club in 2013,” Mozeliak said. “If something makes sense for both parties (Schumaker and the club), we could explore it. It would have to be the right situation for everyone.”
CARDINALS 40-MAN ROSTER
Pitchers: Michael Blazek, Mitchell Boggs, Barret Browning, Keith Butler, Chris Carpenter, Maikel Cleto, Eric Fornataro, Sam Freeman, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Victor Marte, Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, Edward Mujica, Jorge Rondon, Trevor Rosenthal, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Kevin Siegrist, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook.
Catchers: Tony Cruz, Yadier Molina.
Infielders: Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Ryan Jackson, Pete Kozma.
Outfielders: Carlos Beltran, Adron Chambers, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, Skip Schumaker.