Cardinals STEP Camp sees pluses and minuses

Scott McGregor joins STEP Camp

Major league spring training camp needs creates additional opportunity for three pitchers.

The effects of Jaime Garcia's shoulder injury turned into a positive step for three young pitching prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals system.

On Saturday, right-handers Kurt Heyer and Boone Whiting were "promoted" to big-league camp from the organization's early minor league program, called STEP Camp (Spring Training Early Program). Righty Scott McGregor has been added to STEP Camp from regular minor league spring training.

Beyond Garcia's injury, the major league Cardinals also have spring innings to cover due to the continued absence of non-roster invitee Jose Almarante. The right-handed reliever, born in Haiti near the Dominican Republic border, has been stuck in his adopted Dominican homeland due to a visa issue. Signed by the Cards in 2007, the right-hander was then named Eduard Estalis until he became Almarante before the 2011 season.

As a result of these moves, major league camp grows to 60 players – 39 40-man roster members plus 21 non-roster invitees. The latter group includes Heyer and Whiting. STEP Camp drops to 23 with the subtraction of the two plus the addition of McGregor.

Heyer
Heyer, 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, moved up to Palm Beach in late May. There, the California native made 14 starts and a relief appearance. The 23-year-old fanned 61 and walked 22 in 84 1/3 frames, Heyer's Florida State League ERA was 3.42.

The Cards' 2012 sixth-rounder from the University of Arizona made eight starts at Peoria to start the 2013 season with numbers remarkably similar to his later Palm Beach results – 3.40 ERA, 35/22 K/BB in 39 2/3 frames.

It was Heyer's first extended professional action as he pitched just six innings in 2012 after being drafted. His early 2013 Peoria performance earned him a Midwest League All-Star berth, though he was promoted before the game.

Due to the numbers problem ahead of him, I had forecast Heyer to remain at Palm Beach to start 2014. However, if Garcia is unable to answer the bell, at least one more pitcher at each level could move up.

Whiting
Whiting made 21 starts for the Redbirds last season, logging a 4.09 ERA over 105 2/3 innings. The former Centenary hurler struck out 99 and walked 40.

Our 30th-ranked Cardinals prospect coming into the season was left unprotected in the December 2013 Rule 5 Draft. Whiting was not selected, as he is not yet projected to be major league-ready.

In my Memphis roster projection, I suggested Whiting will be back to be a member of the Redbirds' 2014 starting five.

Whiting pitched in the Arizona Fall League in 2012. The 24-year-old became a Cardinal via his selection in the 18th round of the 2010 draft.

McGregor
Another beneficiary of these moves is Scott McGregor. Added to the STEP Camp roster on Saturday, the 27-year-old gets to report to Jupiter early.

Like Whiting, McGregor was among the Redbirds' pitching leaders in 2013 with 100 2/3 innings. The right-hander went just 6-10 with a 4.83 ERA in Pacific Coast League action. McGregor struck out 67 and issued 29 free passes.

McGregor began 2013 in Springfield. In the Texas League, he made eight starts with 48 whiffs in 48 innings. His ERA was 2.44. The Ohio native had first reached Double-A in 2010 before missing the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery.

The former University of Memphis star was the Cards' 15th-round selection in the 2008 draft. This winter, McGregor appeared in six games for Lara of the Venezuelan League, where his ERA was 5.55.

Like Whiting, McGregor is forecast to return to the Triple-A rotation to begin the regular season.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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