ST. LOUIS • Each February, as the Cardinals pass out spring training invitations to prospects and journeymen, they leave open the possibility that some of them, any one of them, could leave Jupiter, Fla., on the opening day roster.
This spring they're counting on it.
The Cardinals will have 25 non-roster invitees to start spring training, general manager John Mozeliak confirmed. That list includes prospects Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong, winter signings Todd Cunningham and Chad Huffman, and, of course, Eric Fryer. The Cardinals' once and future backup catcher is coming to spring training as a non-roster player simply because the Cardinals have so little roster space.
The team expects to add Fryer to the 40-man roster at some point in March, or even on the eve of opening night. They'll be able to clear a spot for him by moving a player to the 60-day disabled list. A team cannot do that until midway through spring training. Zach Duke is an obvious candidate.
The rest of the NRIs — baseball lingo for non-roster players — will be left to make an impression, as Jeremy Hazelbaker did a year ago and dozens of others have in the recent decade.
DeJong and Bader are in-house prospects who could get a good run during spring training and earn a future promotion with their work. Both prospects are set to start at Class AAA Memphis, where Bader will be a starting outfielder and leadoff hitter and DeJong the everyday shortstop. DeJong started his pro career at third base, and he has college and pro experience at second. The Cardinals want to push him defensively at shortstop to improve his versatility and ready him for that utility role when he initially arrives in the majors. Bader can play three outfield spots and could compete with others for a fourth/fifth outfielder role.
On the pitching side, Sandy Alcantara is poised to start his breakout year with a spring appearance. The power righthander showed great advancement this past season as a starter, and he leapfrogged other contemporaries into the Cardinals' Top 10 prospects rankings because of his ability to control and mix secondary, off-speed pitches with a fastball that touches 100 mph.
Jordan Schafer is listed as a pitcher NRI, though the former prospect will be coming to the Cardinals as a multi-tasker. He'll be trying to win a role as a lefty reliever and sometimes outfielder — a player who could be on the bench as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner or trotting out to the bullpen to get the call as a specialist.
Here is the complete list of NRIs: