Spring Training: Prospects, Invites And More

A few things happened so far this week that were indications of what the future might hold for the Cardinals and their young talents.

First, the organization released the names of the non-roster invitees to spring training. This list naturally includes stars like Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong (the two most talked about up-and-comers), as well as veterans Rob Johnson, J.R. Towles and Justin Christian, to name a few.

No real surprises there, especially based on the second bit of news: Taveras was included at No. 3 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect Rankings list.

As a fan, I can’t decide if I like the hype surrounding the young outfielder, because I know it is founded in facts and evidence to support it, or if I don’t like it, because it means the expectations and pressure on Taveras will be even greater than the norm for young new guys playing in St. Louis.

Regardless, the hype is there. And, it’s nothing new.

All the way back to his low-A ball days, Oscar was no stranger to raking in the honors, this from the Quad Cities River Bandits website from September 20011:

Two-time Midwest League Player of the Week Oscar Taveras has been recognized by MLBAM, the Official Statistician for Minor League Baseball, with another prestigious honor, Midwest League Batting Champion.

Taveras, 19, hit .386 for the River Bandits but only had 347 plate appearances, 31 shy of the number initially required to qualify. Because of Rule 10.22(a)*, his adjusted numbers resulted in qualification for the title. His adjusted stats are: 383 plate appearances, 346 at bats, 119 hits and an average of .351.

The talented outfielder was twice named the Midwest League Player of the Week. The first occasion was July 11-17 when he hit .600 over six games. The other instance was August 22-28 when he hit at a .581 clip for the week. The Cardinals also named him organizational Player of the Month for July after he hit .402 with 3 home runs and 27 RBI.

The praise just keeps coming, and I hope, with spring training less than two weeks away, that it isn’t long before we start to see the fruit of his labors on a big-league level!

Taveras, though, wasn’t the only “baby bird” to make the top 100 list. Not even close.

One year after having only two prospects dent MLB.com’s Top 100, the Cardinals put four in the top 50. Right-handed pitchers Shelby Miller (No. 25), Carlos Martinez (No. 33) and Trevor Rosenthal (No. 43) round out that bunch. Landing among the next 50 are the team’s top picks from its last two Draft classes: second baseman Kolten Wong (No. 79) and right-hander Michael Wacha (No. 83).

I don’t know about you, but I am kind of crazy about the idea that there’s so much young talent within the organization … and, that it’s being recognized nationally!

Speaking of talented baby birds, the Cardinals also announced the players who will take part in an early spring training:

PITCHERS: Seth Blair, Cooney, Victor De Leon, Sam Gaviglio, Tyrell Jenkins, Dean Kiekhefer, Zach Russell, Lee Stoppelman, Jordan Swagerty, Justin Wright

CATCHERS:  Steve Bean, Gerwuins Velazco

INFIELDERS: Carson Kelly, Jake Lemmerman, Ildemaro Vargas, Colin Walsh, Jacob Wilson, Patrick Wisdom

OUTFIELDERS: Anthony Garcia, CJ McElroy, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, James Ramsey, Charlie Tilson

The idea here is to give these young players (and some players returning from injury, such as Swagerty) some special attention in preparation for their minor league seasons without the distractions of attending the Major League camp.

One player who will be at the major league camp a few weeks from now is new “insurance” acquisition and former Mariner/Pirate/Met/Cub Ronny Cedeno. Yep, John Mozeliak has done it again — bringing in an ex-Cub middle infielder as the backup option, should Rafael Furcal fight to be healthy and Pete Kozma fail to regain his post-season spark. If it (the season, that is) works out as well  as the last time Mo made that move … well, I won’t complain!

The 30-year-old Cedeno spent last season in a part-time role where he hit .259 for the Mets.

Sadly, there’s one other part of that news: Barret Browning, our 2012 poetry inspiration, was designated for assignment in order to make room for Cedeno.

But, hey — if that news of Browning makes you a touch nostalgic as you think back about the role he played in last season’s playoff run, never fear! You can read all about it in the newly released 2013 United Cardinal Bloggers Annual: An Unexpected Journey. (See what I did there?)

The best news of all, though, is that there are just 12 more days before pitchers and catchers report. Ah, the light at the end of the long, cold, winter tunnel!

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.

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