Cards Sign Five More to Minor League Deals

Memphis catcher Brian Esposito will be back

Four newcomers plus one returnee via minor league free agency have been signed to 2007 contracts by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Following on the heels of their earlier announcements of the return of minor league free agent-eligibles Troy Cate, Rico Washington and Jose Garcia plus the signings of Alex Pena and Matt Hirsh, the St. Louis Cardinals have dipped even deeper into the free agent pools, signing four more players new to the organization.

All have all been assigned to Memphis (Triple-A) for purposes of Rule 5 protection. Where they actually end up playing in 2007 will be determined during Spring Training, but based on their ages and experience levels, they could all make the Redbirds' roster next season.

The newest Cardinals:

Mike Smith – right-handed pitcher
Ryan Christianson - catcher
Tagg Bozied – first baseman
Edgar Gonzalez – second/third baseman

In addition, catcher Brian Esposito, who played in the Cardinals' system at Memphis last season, has re-signed with them.

Mike Smith

The 29-year-old right-handed starter was originally a fifth-round selection in the 2000 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays at the age of 22 and completed his seventh minor league season in 2006. His career minor league record is 49-47 with a 3.87 ERA.

Initially, Smith rose quickly in the Toronto system, making his major league debut in just his third season as a professional, during the 2002 campaign. His 14 appearances included six starts. He ranked #21 on the Jays' prospect list according to Baseball America following that 2002 season.

However, the Massachusetts native was back in Triple-A for the Jays the next two years before moving to the Philadelphia Phillies organization for 2005 as a free agent. With the exception of one Triple-A start, Smith spent that entire season in Double-A.

2006 brought a new challenge for Smith, as a free agent again. This time he joined the Minnesota Twins, for whom he won a career-high 11 games at Triple-A Rochester. That led to a six-day, one-start return to the bigs for the first time since 2002. Smith gave up four earned runs in 3-2/3 innings against the Royals before being sent right back down.

Over his minor league career, the 5'11', 205 pound Smith has struck out 6.6 batters per nine innings, but walked 3.5. He has a 90+ MPH fastball and a power sinker, but his off-speed stuff is said to be ordinary at best. Smith is currently pitching Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, with the Azucareros del Este.

An interesting factoid is that his sister is married to the son of former Boston Red Sox president John Harrington.

Ryan Christianson

The 25-year-old catcher was originally selected by the Cardinals in the 27th Round of the 1998 draft, but did not sign. The next year, he was the 11th overall selection and signed with the Seattle Mariners.

The 6'2", 210 pounder played in that organization for seven years, missing time in 2002 due to a broken foot and most of 2003 following labrum surgery. He disappeared off the prospect radar after being ranked #11 in 2002 and #29 in 2003 in the M's organization by Baseball America. Christianson moved to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization in 2006 upon reaching his six-year minor league free agency.

After having spent part of 2004 and all of 2005 at Triple-A, Christianson dropped back down to Double-A with the Rays in 2006, where he hit a paltry .195 in 328 at-bats, though he did set a new personal career high with 14 home runs.

Overall, Christianson is a career .246 hitter. He is said to have decent power to all fields, but is pull and lift-happy.

Tagg Bozied

The Cardinals add yet another great baseball name to go with the likes of Blake Hawksworth. After a celebrated college career at the University of San Francisco, Bozied was the San Diego Padres' third-round selection in the 2001 draft, but did not sign until November, playing independent ball instead.

The 6'3', 220 pound first baseman led the Padres' organization in home runs (24) and RBI (92) his debut season and set an Arizona Fall League home run record. He began his second season in pro ball in Triple-A and was ranked the Padres' #4 prospect by BA, ahead of Josh Barfield and Jason Bay.

In 2004, Bozied received notoriety when he ruptured his patella tendon jumping on home plate while celebrating a game-winning grand slam. The right-hander is considered an average first baseman defensively and a liability against left-handed pitching.

As recently as 2005, Bozied was still BA's 12th-ranked Padres prospect, but after playing just 26 games that season due to back and continued knee problems, he was off to the Mets organization. After signing a minor league deal with them in mid-May, Bozied appeared in just 60 games at the Triple-A level in 2006. The 27-year-old has never since approached the kind of productivity demonstrated in 2002.

Edgar Gonzalez

The 6'0", 170 pound infielder signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after being their 30th round pick in 2000. In 2001, Gonzalez led the New York-Penn league in hits and total bases and was second in batting average at .332.

After stealing 21 bases and driving in 62 runs at Single-A in 2002, Gonzalez moved up to A-Advanced in 2003, where he again drove in 62 while batting .298. That caught the attention of the Texas Rangers, who plucked Gonzalez in the minor league phase of the 2003 Rule 5 draft.

Ala Hector Luna, Gonzalez became a two-time Rule 5'er when the Washington Nationals claimed him in December, 2004. Despite his solid work at the plate, split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2005, Gonzalez was waived by the Nats in Spring Training, 2006.

The California native joined the Florida organization this April, starting back in A-Advanced, but worked his way back up to Triple-A by seasons-end. Across all three levels, Gonzalez led the Marlins' system in batting average in 2006 while putting up a very impressive .327/.401/.502 line. He hit 13 home runs, drove in 71 and took 50 walks and is a career .295 minor league hitter.

An interesting factoid is that the 28-year-old is the elder brother of San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Brian Esposito

The fifth-round draft pick of Boston in 2000, Esposito was released by the Red Sox during the 2003 season. He was picked up by Anaheim and then released at the end of Spring Training, 2004.

The Rangers signed him for 2004 and 2005. In 2005, the 6'1", 190 pound catcher spent most of the season at Double-A Frisco and hit only .228 in 136 at-bats.

Esposito was signed to a minor league contract by the Cardinals last November. The 27-year-old hit .234 in 175 at-bats with Memphis in 2006. Overall, he is a career .221 hitter in 372 career minor league games.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2006 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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