I am in the process of unveiling my annual pre-camp predictions for the season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals and their four full-season minor league affiliates. (To date, St. Louis (free) and Memphis (The Cardinal Nation members only) have been published, with Springfield, Palm Beach and Peoria coming soon.)
Another related item on my work schedule for the next two weeks is to post the spring training refresh of the Roster Matrix, which is a feature here on The Cardinal Nation Blog that lists all 270 players in the Cardinals system by level and position.
A point always driven home especially hard during these efforts is the competitiveness for jobs. In a number of cases, players appear to be ready for promotions, but others ahead block their advancement. Active rosters, limited to 25 players, usually have more competitive candidates than places to put them.
Over time, this issue appears to be greatest for pitchers and catchers. The latter offers a particularly specialized challenge due to the uniqueness of the position. When a catcher is needed, no one else can do the job.
With only two roster spots typically available for catchers on any 25-man team, how do organizations ensure they have enough catching to go around when the inevitable injuries hit? During spring training, catchers are in high demand due to the sheer number of pitchers who need someone to throw to. Once camp is over, however, there are invariably more healthy bodies than places to play them.
For example, this spring, between major league and minor league camp, the Cardinals are expected to have 15 catchers competing for 10 jobs (two roster spots times five teams, including St. Louis).
Granted, a couple of the lower-level combatants who lose out can be shuffled off to extended spring training camp, to be ready for the first injury somewhere in the system. However, that EST relief valve is not there at the higher levels of the system. Take Double-A Springfield, for example, where I see four candidates for two catching jobs.
As a direct result of minor league baseball not having a roster mechanism to enable organizations to keep ready reserves, teams are forced to bend the rules or risk major injury exposure. The “phantom disabled list” is often deployed to accommodate the need to have a few extra catchers available across the system – players who aren’t really hurt, but instead are victims of the numbers game.
I get that using this practice, which is wide-spread across minor league baseball, causes no apparent harm. Then again, if there is an ongoing need that everyone has, why not address it head on, instead of habitually bending the rules with a wink?
I propose creating a taxi squad of at most one player per each full-season minor league level club. This player could travel with the team and be available to be activated in case of another player going onto the disabled list.
While catcher would be an obvious use for this taxi squad spot, if an organization wanted to use it on a pitcher instead, for example, it would be their choice. Or, if they want to leave the spot empty, so be it.
My take is that since everyone is already doing it, why not legitimize it?
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