List of 2021 Cardinals alternate training sites
After the pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, we hoped there would be no need to resort to the “alternate training site” procedure that was in place last season. At first, the 2021 AAA season was scheduled to start on time on April 4, with the other full-season minor league clubs scheduled to start a month later. Major league camps were limited to 75 players at the complexes, and players not invited to that camp would not be allowed to report to minor league camp until March 31, when major league players had left the complex. The idea was that the Opening Day AAA roster should be made up entirely of players invited to spring training, as this allocation of up to 75 players would be the only players getting supervised work.
Commentators who follow the minor leagues seriously felt that this planned schedule was a pipe dream because AAA clubs travel by commercial air, and they did not believe that major league clubs would allow players to be moved around in their atmosphere which does not didn’t face the same strict isolation protocols. In the end, those commentators were right and the AAA season has now been pushed back to May, along with the other full season clubs. Surely there was hope in that decision that the delay would allow players to get vaccinated, and it would ensure a smoother transition when major league clubs inevitably needed to recall players from the AAA list.
The result is that for at least the first month or so we will have the same alternate training site procedure that prevailed last season. Instead of the AA Springfield facility the club used last year, the site is being set up in Sauget, Illinois at GCS Credit Union Ballpark, home of the independent Frontier League’s Gateway Grizzlies. I went to St. Louis University for college, and I heard that this august city is just across the river from St. Louis, a few miles from Route 3 South . The Grizzlies’ season doesn’t start until May 27, and it’s hoped the Cardinals will be out of the facility before then. Official transactions such as options and contract purchases will be to and from the alternate training site for approximately the first month, and I will have to resist the temptation to describe a player as optional on the “east side”. .
The Cards provided the media with the list of 2021 alternate training venues, and thanks to Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat, we now have the list. Jones’ Twitter page is here, and it is still worth a look as it provides timely cardinal information. The coaching staff will consist almost entirely of what will be the AAA Memphis coaching staff: manager Ben Johnson, pitching coach Last Orozco, hitting coach Brandon Allen, athletic coach Dan Martin and the strength and conditioning coach Frank Witowski. Former Cardinal Bernard Gilkey, who was hired last season as a co-hitter coach for the Gulf Coast League affiliate, is also listed as a coach of indefinite description.
If I understand correctly, the alternate training sites will be limited to 28 players. Last season, no match was played between the different ATS clubs. Bleed Cubbie Blue’s Al Yellon reports that the Cubs and White Sox ATS teams are supposed to have a 13-game schedule against each other. The Cubs facility in South Bend, Indiana is approximately 2 hours from the White Sox facility in Schaumburg, Illinois. Schaumburg itself is about 45 minutes from Chicago, and one of the games is expected to be at the White Sox major league stadium when that club is on the road. Whether or not this plan works, I don’t expect the Cardinals to follow with anything similar. A complete list of 2021 ATS locations for all 30 MLB clubs is here. The Cincinnati Reds moved their ATS from Mason, Ohio to their AAA facility in Louisville, Kentucky this year. It’s the closest ATS site to the Cardinals, and it’s still about 260 miles east of St. Louis on Interstate 64.
With this procedure in place, and the minor league camp set to begin very soon, a question arose. Of the players who were invited to major league camp but did not make the major league opening day roster, which players would benefit most from being in a minor league camp/a extended spring training, rather than being assigned to the ATS. One would expect the ATS to be made up of the players who were close to making the opening day roster, and others who would be the next man in an emergency. The club’s decision to staff the ATS with AAA coaching staff also reflects a judgment that players assigned to the ATS are likely to be part of the AAA club. Here is the list.
LIST OF ALTERNATIVE TRAINING SITES
Pitchers (15): Jesus Cruz, Seth Elledge, Junior Fernandez, Connor Jones, Evan Kruczynski (L), Matthew Liberatore (L), Johan Oviedo, Tommy Parsons, Johan Quezada, Roel Ramirez, Angel Rondon, Zack Thompson (L), Austin Warner (L) , Kodi Whitley, Garrett Williams (L)
Seekers (3): Tyler Heineman, Dennis Ortega, Ali Sanchez
Infielders (4): Evan Mendoza, Max Moroff, Jose Rondon, Kramer Robertson
Voltigeurs (4): Conner Capel, Scott Hurst, Lars Nootbaar, Lane Thomas
*** The list as I described it was not reported to Jeff Jones and other media the way I presented it, so let me explain, lest people think I shoot them quickly. The Cards have announced a 5-man taxi squad, consisting of RHP Seth Elledge, RHP Kodi Whitley, C Ali Sanchez, IF Jose Rondon and OF Lane Thomas. These five names were not registered as members of the ATS. The reason I presented it the way I did is that the taxi brigade only operates on the road. Once the Cardinals return for a home series, the only member of the taxi team allowed to remain with the club is the taxi team catcher, who will be permitted to serve as the bullpen catcher. The other four players must report to ATS. For all intents and purposes, you can think of the taxi crew as members of the ATS, who can take a break on site on Cardinal road trips. So rather than constantly changing the number and staff of the ATS to suit different taxi crew members over time, I think it’s best to consider them all as ATS members. Because other than the catcher of the taxi team, they ARE members of the ATS when the cards are playing at home.
*** This is the first season I know of, at least in my lifetime, where a taxi team will exist in conjunction with the minor league season. Taxi teams have always been banned by collective agreements, as the union did not want to allow clubs to place players on the 40-man list in this type of status in limbo, where they were required to report to a club but not eligible to play in Games. Last season, there was no problem with roster limits as there was no minor league season, and therefore no AAA active roster limit to adhere to. All the club had to do was make sure their club player pool was at or below 60 players.
***We expect to have a minor league season this year. Historically, AAA clubs have had an active roster limit of 25, much like major league clubs. I don’t know if the AAA active roster has been increased to 26 like the major league club. One area I’m still confused about is if or how the Taxi team players will count on the AAA roster once the season begins. Suppose the AAA season starts when we think it does and the Sauget site is released. Unless you believe that AAA clubs will play short of 5 players, what will happen to the taxi squad players when the Cards are not on the road? Will the active list of AAA clubs be extended to accommodate the taxi brigade? Or will there have to be constant cascading roster changes throughout the minor league organization. When the taxi crew members go back to AAA Memphis when the cards go home does that mean every time this happens Memphis will have to send 5 players to Springfield who will have to send 5 players in Peoria, which will have to send 5 players to Palm Beach, which will have to send 5 players to Extended Spring Training. Honestly, I don’t know the answer to this question, but if it’s an incredible pain, if it will be the procedure. Perhaps the answer lies in the MLB 2021 Operations Manual, which to my frustration I was unable to obtain. When the AAA season begins, there may need to be a strict separation between a taxi team roster and a AAA roster, just as was conveyed to Jones and other media regarding the ATS.
*** Of all the players the Cardinals have as minor league options, the only one not in the ATS is Ivan Herrera, who was always set to start the season in AA. Nolan Gorman isn’t on the ATS list either, but Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson are. Although the current ATS roster (including the Taxi Squad) is two players short of the 28 player limit, we can compile a list of players who have been invited to major league spring training, but left behind in the minor league camp. The full list of players is as follows: RHP Griffin Roberts, LHP Domingo Robles, C Ivan Herrera, C Aaron Antonini, C Pedro Pages, C Carlos Soto, 1B Luken Baker, IF Nolan Gorman, IF Delvin Perez, OF Matt Szczur and OF Justin Toerner. The numbers are verified and we can reconcile them that way. There were 67 players who were invited to the major league camp, which consisted of the 39 players on the 40-player roster, in addition to 28 unregistered invitees. The opening day roster is 26 players, the ATS roster (including taxi team players) is 26 players and 4 players will be on the major league disabled list. That leaves 11, which is the exact number of players I listed who were left behind in the minor league camp.