The St. Louis Cardinals came into the Major League phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft with the appearance of unusual roster flexibility. Despite a flowing minor league pipeline of prospects at or close to the majors, the club had just 37 players on its 40-man roster.
In the case of the projected 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, however, the bigger challenge is the 25-man roster. It already appears to be very crowded even before the club adds a right-handed hitting infielder reserve as expected. Selecting a player in the Major League phase would have gobbled up another spot.
As a result of that, compounded by them picking last, it is not surprising that the Cardinals ended up passing in the Major League phase of the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, held Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
In addition, no Cardinals from the Memphis roster were one of just nine players changing homes across MLB. (To see the eligible Cardinals organization players by level protected, check this earlier article, exclusive to subscribers to The Cardinal Nation.)
In the Triple-A phase, the Cardinals were very busy, taking two players while losing three.
They focused on the left side of the infield, selecting shortstop Greg Miclat from the Texas Rangers’ Double-A roster and third baseman Jesus Ustariz from the Detroit Tigers.
The Cardinals lost reliever Kevin Thomas, who had been placed on the Springfield roster for purposes of Rule 5, to the Tigers. Springfield shortstop Jake Lemmerman was selected by the Padres and left-handed pitcher Hector Hernandez was taken by the Diamondbacks.
As far as my detailed records go back, 2002, the Cardinals have never lost three players in a Rule 5. The 2013 actions would seem to reinforce the overall talent improvement in the Cardinals system.
As a footnote, former Cardinals minor league catcher Charlie Cutler moved a second time in the Rule 5, this year from the Pirates to the Cubs. The Cards lost him in the 2011 Rule 5 to the Bucs.
Miclat, 26, is a 5-foot-8, 180-pound switch-hitter. He was originally selected by the Orioles in the fifth round of the 2008 draft from the University of Virginia and was traded to the Rangers following the 2011 season. Miclat was ranked among the Orioles top prospects in 2008 (#23) and again in 2010 (#26).
Miclat, who can play second and a bit of third in addition to his natural shortstop position, spent most of 2013 at the Rangers’ Triple-A club in Round Rock. There, he posted a power-free line of .239/.329/.279/.608. Miclat stole 10 bases but was caught five times.
The infielder received a good look from the Rangers in 2012 Major League spring camp, playing in 15 games and batting .257. However, in 2013, he received just six plate appearances.
In 2014, I project Miclat to be in the mix with Vance Albitz to man a utility infield roster spot at Memphis.
Ustariz, a 20-year-old native of Venezuela, was a July 2nd signing by the Tigers in 2009. After two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League and two more in the Gulf Coast League, the 6-foot-1, 192-pounder finally reached the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League late this summer.
In four seasons, Ustariz has compiled a line of .292/.382/.420/.802. His strikeouts and walks are in good balance at 88 and 87, respectively, in 678 career at-bats. Power is not his game, however, with just 12 home runs during that time.
Defensively, Ustariz has played most at first base, but also has some experience at third. The latter is the position called out in the draft.
With just 39 at-bats to-date in the NYPL, it seems most likely that Ustariz would open 2014 in extended spring training camp and put in some time in State College before potentially moving up to full-season ball late next summer.
Thomas, 27, had also been exposed in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft, but was not selected. The right-hander has shown slow progress each season. In his third summer at Double-A, Thomas was a 2013 Texas League All-Star. This season, he appeared in 46 Springfield games, all in relief, logging a 6-4 record with a save. His ERA was 2.56 and he logged a strikeout to walk count of 75 to 17 in 59 2/3 frames.
In late August, Thomas was promoted to Memphis for a second time this season. With the Redbirds, he yielded six runs, four earned, in just 3 1/3 frames. Thomas originally joined the organization in the 33rd round of the 2008 draft.
Lemmerman, 24, became a Cardinal in the Skip Schumaker trade last winter. With a good glove but inconsistent bat, Lemmerman lost playing time as the season progressed at Springfield. He finished his one season in the system with a line of .231/.353/.367/.720 in 308 at-bats over 98 Texas League contests.
Hernandez, still just 22, finished 2013 with A-Advanced Palm Beach after his July promotion from Peoria. The Puerto Rican native was St. Louis’ 10th-round selection in the 2009 Draft. In 86 career games, including 71 starts, Hernandez has a 21-19 record with a 3.93 ERA. He fanned 311 and walked 141 in 389 innings.
Remember that players taken in the minor league phase do not have to be returned to their former organization no matter where they are assigned in 2014. In other words, Miclat and Ustariz should remain with the Cards, while Thomas, Lemmerman and Hernandez will not be returning.
To see the entire Cardinals system, by level and position, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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