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Elehuris Montero

Third baseman Elehuris Montero of the Peoria Chiefs watches his 428-foot home run in a 2018 game against the Burlington Bees at Peoria's Dozer Park.  (Photo by Ron Johnson / Courtesy of Peoria Journal Star)

The Cardinals added three minor leaguers and designated veteran reliever Dominic Leone for assignment Wednesday as they set their 40-man winter roster at 40 players a few weeks ahead of the winter meetings.

In one of the moves, they promoted a Class A pitcher in Alvaro Seijas, fearful that they might lose him as they did righthander Luis Perdomo, a Class A pitcher in 2015 who leaped right onto the San Diego roster the next spring, winning nine games for the Padres after being taken in the Rule 5 draft at the December winter meetings.

The most notable additions were righthanded pitcher Jake Woodford, a 23-year-old who pitched at Class AAA Memphis, and 21-year-old third baseman Elehuris Montero, who was mostly at Class AA Springfield but had to battle a fractured hamate bone in his left hand for much of the season. The third promoted was 21-year-old Seijas, who excelled in Class A at both Peoria and Palm Beach.

Woodford, impressive this past spring training in Cardinals camp, was 9-8 with a 4.15 earned run average at Memphis, where he was a mid-season All-Star and went on to rank second in the Pacific Coast League in innings pitched at 151⅔ and first in both opponents’ batting average and slugging average at .223 and .384, respectively.

Woodford, who was rated the No. 16 prospect in the Cardinals organization by Baseball America before the season, was a supplemental first-round choice in the 2015 draft and relies more on location than high velocity.

Montero, who was Baseball America’s No. 5 Cardinals prospect for 2019 (behind Alex Reyes, Nolan Gorman, Andrew Knizner and Dakota Hudson), batted only .188 at Springfield in two stints covering 63 games. He never really found himself after the injury.

The year before, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was the Midwest League Player of the Year at Peoria when he hit .322 and had an OPS of .950 before a late-season promotion to High-A Palm Beach. After his 2019 season, he played in the Arizona Fall League where he batted .200 in 15 games.

Plunked by a pitch in the left wrist in late April, Montero went on the Springfield injured list for a while and then returned but struggled and ultimately submitted to surgery in June.

“He rehabbed and tried to come back, and he just wasn’t getting stronger,” general manager Michael Girsch said on Wednesday night.

“It was basically a lost season for him. But he already was 21 years old and was at Double-A. You can afford to have a lost season at 21 and recover from that and still be young for Double-A when he starts there next year.”

Girsch said Montero, who was hitting .219 before he was hurt, would continue to project as a third baseman. “Will he be playing third base when he’s 31? We’ll see. For now, we still think he has the tools to be a good third baseman," Girsch said. 

Seijas, a Venezuelan product, was 8-6 with a 2.81 ERA over 24 starts for Peoria and Palm Beach and was named a Midwest League All-Star. He had a complete-game shutout among his wins and had six scoreless outings of five innings or more.

The 28-year-old Leone, acquired from Toronto in the Randal Grichuk trade after the 2017 season, was beset with a nerve ailment for much of the 2018 season in which he was 1-2 with a 4.50 earned run average. He was up and down between St. Louis and Memphis in 2019, holding opponents to a .250 average in 40 outings for the Cardinals but being left off the postseason roster. He was out of options.

Girsch said, “He was a great sport. He was a guy who had a lot of big-league experience and ended up back in Memphis, didn’t complain and worked his butt off. But as we look at our bullpen … we just felt it was a move that made sense for both sides.”

Woodford might contend for a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation next spring, especially if one of the Cardinals’ veteran starters has an issue.

“He definitely will be coming into spring training stretched out and competing for a starting spot somewhere,” said Girsch.

Although Leone is gone, Gircsch said that John Gant, who was 11-1 in relief, likely will be offered a contract as the Cardinals’ only arbitration-eligible player.

Montero likely would be at Springfield again, along with possibly Seijas (pronounced Say-hoss).

“Seijas’ velocity is just starting to come,” said Girsch, “and he performed better in the second half of the season than in the first. He’s put himself into a position where we didn’t risk losing him.”

With Perdomo’s case fresh in mind, Girsch said, “You have to decide when you take that risk (of promoting a player) and when you don’t. We decided we’d rather protect (Seijas) and make sure we kept control.”

Among those they left exposed was lefthanded-hitting infielder Max Schrock, who has spent the past two seasons at Memphis, where he hit .249 and .275, respectively, and was in big league camp both years after being obtained from Oakland in the Stephen Piscotty trade, which also netted Yairo Munoz.

“When we acquired him, he’d been a .300-plus hitter basically at every level since college,” said Girsch. “We just haven’t been able to quite unlock that at Triple-A yet. I still think he has the skills to put it together but it just hasn’t happened."

Also left unprotected was a former No. 1 pick (2015), lefthanded-hitting outfielder Nick Plummer. Unless protected at the major league level, players eligible to be drafted in December generally are college signees from 2016 or before and high school players signed in 2015 or before.

Plummer, 23, batted .199 with a .345 on-base percentage, .315 slugging percentage, 18 homers and 415 strikeouts in four minor-league seasons (one in Rookie ball, three in Class A). In 96 games at Palm Beach in 2019, Plummer batted .176 with 119 strikeouts in 289 at-bats.

Cardinals prized prospects Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman don’t have to be protected because they were high school draftees in 2016 and 2018, respectively.