Select prospects get in STEP with Cards' program

Select prospects get in STEP with Cards' program

ST. LOUIS -- Continuing an initiative started five years ago, the Cardinals have invited a select group of Minor League players to participate in their Spring Training Early Program, during which players will receive unique access to Major League coaches, participate in various seminars and get a head start on their preparations for the 2015 season.

Gary LaRocque, director of player development for the Cardinals, will run STEP, which is to include 23 Minor League participants. Among them are three former first-round Draft picks -- Luke Weaver (2014; 27th overall pick), Jack Flaherty (2014; 34th overall pick) and Rob Kaminsky (2013; 28th overall pick), as well as the organization's most recent Minor League Player of the Year, Magneuris Sierra.

Also receiving a STEP invitation is outfielder Charlie Tilson, whose rehab from a December sports hernia procedure should be completed before the program begins. Tilson, who finished the season in Double-A, rehabbed a stress fracture injury earlier in the offseason.

The STEP participants will hold their first workouts at the Cardinals' spring facility in Jupiter, Fla., on March 1. The rest of the organization's Minor League pitchers and catchers will begin workouts on March 10, with the position players to follow two days later.

One of the reasons the Cardinals organize these early workouts is to have a group of players ready for when the Cardinals need to summon Minor League players to provide extra coverage during Grapefruit League games. This gives the STEP participants the opportunity for exposure in front of the Major League staff in addition to the more individualized instruction they receive early on from the Minor League coaches.

In the past, almost every player in the STEP program had the opportunity to be in uniform for at least one Grapefruit League game.

Because these STEP workouts take place in the afternoon, after Major League camp has wrapped up for the day, there are opportunities for big league coaches to stop by and watch bullpen sessions, batting practice and other drills.

There is also a classroom component to the Cardinals' STEP initiative. Past seminars have included character-building instruction and a media training session, during which members of the St. Louis press meet with STEP participants to discuss the player-media relationship.

The full list of STEP invitees is as follows:

Pitchers: Kyle Barraclough, Joe Donofrio, Flaherty, Silfredo Garcia, Kaminsky, Andrew Morales, Trey Nielsen, Chris Perry, Alexander Reyes and Weaver.

Catchers: Luis Cruz, Mason Katz and Brian O'Keefe

Infielders: Juan Herrera, Oscar Mercado, Jonathan Rodriguez, Edmundo Sosa and Patrick Wisdom.

Outfielders: Blake Drake, Anthony Garcia, C.J. McElroy, Sierra, and Tilson.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.