(KMOV.com) -- Pitching depth – long one of the strengths of the St. Louis Cardinals organization – is all but depleted and what remains is slowly wilting under the strain of injuries.
The loss of Lance Lynn, Mitch Harris and Jordan Walden are well documented, but the substructure that supports the future of the mound corps is crumbling as well, something that will surely be addressed in this June’s free agent player draft.
In Memphis, where tomorrow’s big league pitchers are incubated, trouble is already at the doorstep of Redbirds manager Mike Shildt. Marco Gonzales, the Cards’ 2013 first round pick out of Gonzaga University, is done for at least this year, having elected to undergo Tommy John surgery. This is just the latest setback for the promising youngster who dazzled Cardinals fans when he was called up from Class AA near the end of the 2014 season, posting a 4-2 mark and nearly a strikeout an inning.
Also unable to perform is Tim Cooney, a third round pick in 2012 who won his only decision for the Cardinals, that one coming as a fill-in last year. His on and off shoulder injury does not seem to be progressing and he is currently on the disabled list. Also on the disabled list is reliever Tyler Waldron.
Those are the known and prominent losses, but a close examination of the Memphis roster shows just how devoid of potential major league depth the Cardinals are. Currently, there are just three pitchers on the 40-man roster still available to be recalled and none are compelling choices. The three are:
•Miguel Socolovich, who threw for three teams in 2012 without distinction (ERA near 6), was out of baseball for three years and returned to the Cards last year where he was serviceable (4-1, 1.82 ERA). But he will turn 30 this year, limiting his long-term value.
•Sam Tuivailala, a 23-year-old with some promise but a 5-7 record in the majors and an uninspiring start to this season (0-1, 9.82 ERA).
•Dean Kiekhefer, a 36th round pick who turns 27 this year. While he was adequate in spring training, 2015 was his first year in Class AAA, meaning he needs at least this year to prepare, putting him on the back end of his career.
Also on the 40-man is Alex Reyes, who must sit out another 40 games or until about the end of May as he serves his 50-game suspension. It will take him considerable time to get up to speed and while Cardinal fans are anxious to see him, he has not pitched above Class AA yet. The 21-year-old has promise, but rushing him into service could be detrimental, given his past immaturity.
The grim news does not stop there. In addition to a lack of major league-ready arms, there is very little on the Memphis pitching roster to get excited about. So poor is the Cards pitching at this level that they were forced to sign several minor league free agents in the off-season, just to provide enough arms to compete. J.C. Sulbaran, 26, (30th round pick, Reds), John Church, 29, (23rd round, Mets), Deck McGuire, soon to be 27, were all signed to free agent contracts, joining former Mets starter Jeremy Hefner, 30, who is recovering from two arm surgeries.
All of those signed to free agent contracts appear to be chair warmers, signed only to fill spots until younger players mature. Hefner is a long shot to return as a spot starter, and not until mid-season as he continues to find the feel lost to inactivity. McGuire is a former first round pick of Toronto and had some success in the low minors but in three different seasons in Class AAA is just 10-13 with an ERA over 5. He’s had a good start in Memphis (0.79 ERA in 11 innings) but the past performance does not leave a lot of optimism that he can make the jump to the majors and stick.