As the minor league season was about to start, I provided previews for each of the Cardinals’ full-season clubs. At that time, it was unclear what would happen to the Complex League and Dominican Summer League clubs. At first, there was a push in some quarters to have no official games for the Complex and Dominican Summer Leagues in 2021 and to run those clubs like a long extended spring training for the entire season. That view did not prevail, and the clubs in both leagues have had regular games this year.
The DSL season runs from July 12th through October 2nd. The Complex Leagues started play on June 28th, and is almost over, with the season running only until September 18th. This is a switch from prior years, when the Complex League seasons would start in late June and be done by the very end of August and the DSL seasons would start at the beginning of June and be finished about a week before the Complex Leagues. The schedule for both leagues is also a bit different, as the DSL clubs most recently played 71 games and the Complex League clubs played between 50 and 60.
NOTES ON THE FCL CARDINALS
The Complex leagues were re-named from the Arizona League and Gulf Coast League, respectively to the Arizona Complex League and Florida Complex League. The Cardinals’ club is called the Florida Complex League Cardinals, and played in the FCL Southeast Division with the clubs form the Mets, Astros, Marlins and Nationals. With the Short-Season A and Rookie League affiliates gone, the FCL club is the Cards’ only short-season affiliate left stateside. The Cards’ club is currently in the basement of its division. The most important thing to note about the Complex Leagues is that there is no limit on the size of the active rosters. My last count shows that the FCL Cardinals have an active roster of 41, and any of those players are eligible to play in a game.
Of all the players that have appeared for that club, there have only been 26 players that have taken a plate appearance. Of those, several have been on rehab assignments from other clubs, and only six have at least 100 trips to the plate. For that reason, in addition to the fact that the games are not televised on MILB.TV, it is difficult to get a strong read on anyone. Adanson Cruz has a 16% walk rate and a nice .387 OBP, but that mark tops his SLG, and he’s struck out over 35% of the time. Somehow he has a .255 AVG with a .426 BABIP. Probably the most well-rounded offensive player has been 19-year old outfielder Hansel Otamendi, with his .305/.365/.421 line, but he’s running a .384 BABIP. Darlin Moquette, a 21-year old outfielder, has also rocked a .348/.427/.409 line, but his BABIP is an even more preposterous .469. The only 2021 draftee that has appeared as a position player with the FCL club is 2nd round draft choice Joshua Baez. He’s 8th on the club in plate appearances, but has slashed .158/.305/.303 with a 14.3% walk rate.
There’s so many different pitchers the club has had to evaluate. There have been 30 different pitchers appear in games for the club, and only seven have thrown as many as 20 innings. The leader in innings is 19-year old Yordy Richard, who pitched in 2019 in the DSL for the Cards as a 16-year old and was actually demoted this season after starting the year with Low-A Palm Beach. He’s been the club’s primary starter, and has a K/BB ratio over 5.00. Only three pitchers on the club have started more than the five that third-round draft choice Austin Love has started, but he was only used as an opener, topping out at 5 innings pitched, with only 2 hits allowed, no walks and 9 strikeouts out of 17 batters faced. The 22-year old was promoted to Low-A Palm Beach three days ago.
The Cardinals still have two clubs in the Dominican Summer League, called DSL Red and DSL Blue. There are many players on these clubs that are repeating the level after having played there in 2019 and losing a season in 2020. Like with the FCL, the games are not televised, and the sample size is small. Eighteen players have batted for the DSL Red club, and the standout offensive player by far is 18-year old outfielder Felix Taveras. He signed in July of 2019 for future service as a 16-year old, and has slashed .327/.380/.627 with four homers. Catcher Carlos Linarez has a 17.6% walk rate and a .471 OBP, but only in 51 trips to the plate. It’s hard to judge, as 10 out of the 18 hitters on the DSL Red squad have an OBP of .355 or higher. On the Blue squad, 17-year old center fielder Luis Pino is the offensive standout with a .271/.387/.441 line while tying for the club lead with 5 homers. Pino just signed with the organization this past April.
On the pitching side, several of the pitchers are 20 years old, compared to none on the hitting side. Diorys Guerrero has flat-out dominated for the Red club. He’s got a FIP just slightly over 2.00, a 33.6% strikeout rate, and a K/BB ratio of 6.71, but he’s also one of the older players, and is repeating the level. Benjamin Arias, Hancel Rincon, and Yonael Dominguez (7.00 K/BB ratio!) are additional pitchers to keep an eye on.
It’s worth pointing out, for those of you that might not have known, that many players in the DSL are super young. These players are part of the international signing classes of the major league clubs. They can be 17 years old at the time of signing, or 16 years old at the time of signing, as long as they attain the age of 17 years prior to September 1st of the first season covered by the contract. Some players thus start play as early as 16 years of age.
Players are also allowed to sign for what is known as “future service,” which means the contract is for services to commence after the calendar year of the signing. The international signing period used to run from July 2nd of one year to June 15th of the next year. The 2019-2020 period was thus supposed to run from July 2nd, 2019 through June 15th, 2020. Because of COVID, that period was extended through October 15th, 2020. The 2021 period was re-structured to start on January 15th, 2021 and extends through December 15th, 2021. Thus, there were no international signings at all between October 16th, 2020 through January 14th, 2021. Some players have been waiting a long time to get started. Some of them signed for future service in the prior international signing period, and there was no minor league season in 2020. Others had to wait longer than the normal amount of time to sign because of the extended earlier period.
One final note on signing for future service. A player may be signed for future service only during the window from July 1st through December 31st and only with the consent of the club and the player. It happens a lot in international free agency because the player is typically 16 or 17 years old and may not yet be ready to play in professional games. While technically any player that’s either a Rule 4 draft pick, non-drafted free agent or international free agent can sign for future service, you only typically see it for international free agents. The reason is that signing for future service does not delay the player’s eligibility for selection in the Rule 5 draft, but it does delay their eligibility for Rule 9 minor league free agency by one year. Players that are old enough typically wouldn’t want to make that sacrifice.
While clubs are limited to 50 total players that may be signed for future service in the aggregate across the the High-A, Low-A, Complex and DSL clubs, the Cardinals have no players signed for future service right now, according to my count. The only note I have seen about future players is that RHP Reimy Garcia plans to sign with the Cardinals in the 2022 international signing period, but has not yet signed on the dotted line.
NEW ROSTER RULES
It used to be that every minor league affiliate had a reserve list that had to be filed on November 20th of every year with the Commissioner’s Office, along with the 40-man rosters of major league clubs. The major league reserve list is the official name for the major league club’s 40-man roster, and these minor league reserve lists were the equivalent for the minor league clubs. It was 38 players for AAA, 37 for AA, and 35 for every other classification. In addition to the 40-man roster for the major league club, that meant that the Cards used to be able to hold up to an additional 38 players for AAA Memphis, 37 for AA Springfield, and 35 each for Peoria, Palm Beach, State College, Johnson City, the Gulf Coast League Club and both Dominican Summer League clubs.
With one exception, that has all been scrapped. The clubs still have to file a list of players reserved. The only other size limit for a specific club now is the 38-man AAA reserve list. The significance of that list is that players placed on that list, if eligible for the Rule 5 draft, may only be taken in the major league phase of that draft, which would require the claiming club to carry the selected player on its 26-man active roster all season, or risk losing him. Once the Rule 5 draft is over that list has no significance.
Now, there are two minor league reserve lists: the Domestic Reserve List, and the International Rookie Reserve List.
DOMESTIC RESERVE LIST
The Domestic Reserve List represents the list of players who are a party to minor league deals assigned to domestic affiliates. There is a 180-player limit from the earliest opening day of the minor league season, until 5:00 P.M. EST on the 5th day following the day that the last game of the World Series starts. During that time period, the 180-player limit includes players on the MLB 40-man roster who are optioned to the minors. The limit expands to 190 players at 5:00 EST on the 5th day following the day that the last game of the World Series starts until the earliest opening day of the subsequent minor league season. During that latter period, players that were on option to the minor leagues in the previous season do not count against the 190-player limit.
What about newly-drafted players? Players who signed a minor league deal after being drafted in the most recent Rule 4 draft are exempt from the Domestic Reserve List until that player had appeared in a minor league game, or until the day after the MLB regular season, whichever happens first. Players who sign as undrafted free agents have to be added within 15 days of signing, or until the player plays in a game, whichever occurs first.
Players on the minor league Restricted, Disqualified, Ineligible, Voluntary Retired, Military, Club Suspended, or the 60-day IL don’t count against the Domestic Reserve List limit. But all players on the minor league 60-day IL must be added back to the Domestic Reserve List on the 5th day following the conclusion of the World Series.
It might sound like these limits are tough to meet, but that has not turned out to be the case. The Cards drafted 21 players in the most recent draft. All except 20th round draft choice Xavier Casserilla signed. Of the 20 draftees that did sign, all have already played in minor league games for the Cardinal organization except 7th round pitcher Alec Willis. The club, by my count, signed an additional four undrafted free agents right around the time of the draft, and all four have also played. By my count, the Cards have 166 out of 180 spots on the Domestic Reserve List filled, which includes 156 regular minor league domestic players, plus an additional 10 players on the Cards’ 40-man roster on option to the minors.
The club will have to add Alec Willis after the MLB season, plus an additional 7 minor league players that are on the minor league 60-day IL. But remember that the list expands to 190 shortly after the World Series, which also eliminates the 10 players on option to the minors from the list. Not only that, but Rule 9 minor league free agency will also clear out several players from the organization, which will further trim the list, and that automatic free agency takes also takes place on the 5th day after the World Series. The reduction in the size of the draft and the elimination of two domestic affiliates has made it relatively easy to comply.
INTERNATIONAL ROOKIE RESERVE LIST
The rules for this list are relatively simple. The DSL clubs have an active roster limit of 35, and clubs have a 35-man reserve list for each DSL club in the organization. Because the Cardinals have two DSL clubs, their International Rookie Reserve List is at 70. The list stays at 70 at all times. Once a player on the International Rookie Reserve List is transferred to a domestic affiliate, including the Complex League, that player immediately counts towards the Domestic Reserve List limit, and may not be transferred to a DSL club unless pre-approved by the Commissioner’s Office. The Cards’ International Rookie Reserve List limit is at 69, with one spot open.