Cards farmhands playing well in winter ball

Cards farmhands playing well in winter ball

ST. LOUIS -- This year's Caribbean winter leagues don't feature a large number of Cardinals players participating, but a few noteworthy farmhands are enjoying nice seasons thus far.

Relief prospects Eduardo Sanchez and Francisco Samuel are both pitching well, as is recent Minor League signee Raul Valdes. The tireless Amaury Cazana is having a decent winter season as well, though not up to his usual standards.

The most notable is likely Sanchez, who has emerged as one of the most exciting arms in the St. Louis farm system. The right-hander is pitching for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, and getting regular work. He's made 10 appearances, pitching 8 2/3 innings. Sanchez has struck out seven against six walks and has allowed three earned runs on 10 hits. His second outing for Aragua was rough, with four walks in two-thirds of an inning, but since then he's been sharp. Sanchez has gone seven straight appearances without issuing a free pass.

"He's throwing well there," said Cards farm director John Vuch. "His velocity is as it has been in the past. He's got a great arm. He's doing a nice job down there."

Samuel is pitching less often, with five appearances in five weeks for Estrellas de Oriente of the Dominican Winter League. He's allowed one run on one hit in five innings, striking out five against three walks. Vuch said that Samuel is healthy and available, but that as the Dominican winter season stretches on, teams tend to use prospects less often and Major League players more of the time.

Valdes, meanwhile, is interesting for what he's doing as much as for how he's throwing. The lefty, who signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training earlier this winter, is starting for Toros del Este in the Dominican. He's made nine appearances, eight of them starts, and has a 2.54 ERA in 49 2/3 innings. Valdes has struck out 46 with just 12 walks.

It's likely that if Valdes makes the Cardinals at any point in 2011, he'll do so as a reliever. However, Vuch explained that it's entirely possible that at Triple-A Memphis, Valdes will do some starting.

"I think we're looking at him primarily as a reliever," Vuch said, "but [starting is] not out of the question. He's not that prototypical lefty specialist type of guy. ... If he started at Triple-A, he'd still be a bullpen candidate at the Major League level."

Cazana, who tattooed pitchers in both the Mexican League and Pacific Coast League this summer, is off to a relatively slow start with Culiacan of the Mexican Winter League. He's batting .266 with a .321 on-base percentage and a .440 slugging percentage.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.