Any lingering uncertainty regarding Jordan Swagerty's role in the Cardinals' Minor League system can be put to rest, as Cardinals farm director John Vuch confirmed that Swagerty will return to the starting rotation in 2012.
Ranked by MLB.com as the organization's seventh-best prospect going into this season, Swagerty made just one-third of his 36 appearances in 2011 as a starter. That was by design. Given that it was Swagerty's first season in the Minors and that he had pitched in a relief role in college, the Cardinals were cautious with his workload.
That prompted a midseason move to the bullpen, where Swagerty thrived. His first professional season included stops at three Minor League levels.
"Never being a starter, I had to go about business a little differently and get my arm going," Swagerty said. "There were a lot of things that were different, but at the end of the day it's still baseball and you have to get outs. It was a good learning experience."
The chance to be a starter early in 2011 did aid in Swagerty's ability to further develop his changeup. He has four pitches that he can already throw for strikes, which is why the Cardinals don't want to pigeonhole the former second-round Draft pick into a relief role yet. Having accrued 93 2/3 innings last season, Swagerty should also be ready to shoulder the workload of a starter for a full Minor League season.
His starting assignment will be determined during Spring Training, but expect Swagerty to receive strong consideration for a spot in Double-A Springfield's rotation. He will be a participant in Major League camp.
"I just want to go out there and do [well] in Spring Training and get off to a hot start," said Swagerty, 22. "When you get to go to big league camp and work with the big league guys, you get to learn new things and have to take it all in. Hopefully you take a few things that can help you in the season."
Carpenter willing to relocate for job
Aware of where he falls on the depth chart, third baseman Matt Carpenter intends to prove his versatility this spring in an effort to make a case for inclusion on the Major League roster.
With David Freese set to handle full-time duties at third base in St. Louis for the foreseeable future, Carpenter's shot at breaking into the Majors could hinge on his ability to prove that he can be plugged in elsewhere on the field.
Carpenter's experience in the Minors has been almost entirely limited to third base, though he is expected to get some looks at second base and the outfield this spring. It will be up to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as to how much Carpenter will bounce around while in big league camp.
If Carpenter is unable to crack the Cardinals' roster, he'll resume duties at third base in the Minors. Farm director John Vuch said that Carpenter is projected to be the starting third baseman at Triple-A Memphis, if he is sent down.
"I'm just going into camp ready and healthy and just try to make an impression," Carpenter said. "Obviously, everyone's goal going into Spring Training is to try and make the team. That's obviously my goal. Whatever role that might be, I'm just going to try and go in and make a good impression."
Cardinals intend to keep Jackson at shortstop
Though Ryan Jackson's time in the Arizona Fall League was spent jumping around on defense, the Cardinals intend to continue prioritizing work at shortstop for the 23-year-old infielder.
Before playing in the AFL, Jackson, who was drafted in 2009, had been used exclusively as a shortstop. That changed, though, when he landed on the same AFL club as Mariners shortstop prospect Nick Franklin. With Franklin taking most of the at-bats at short, Jackson was forced to try his hand at other infield spots to find a way onto the field.
He handled the challenge just fine, and, if anything, the exposure to other positions will only help Jackson in the future.
While the Cardinals intend to put Jackson back at shortstop this season, there is one significant variable in that plan. Should Jackson move up to Triple-A, he and Pete Kozma would have to split time at short. That would leave the Cardinals little choice but to have both prospects also playing elsewhere on defense.
"Whatever helps me get to the big leagues faster, I'm all for that," Jackson said. "Whatever the Cardinals want me to do, I'm all for it."
Dickson expected to start at Triple-A
Unless there is an unexpected need for another bullpen arm in St. Louis, right-hander Brandon Dickson is slated to be a part of the Triple-A rotation at season's start. There is nothing substantial left for Dickson to prove in the Minors, but he'll have to bide his time there since the Cardinals rotation is already set. The Cardinals would prefer not to move Dickson into a relief role unless there is a need.
The Cardinals have no plans to move prospect Zack Cox away from third base. There had been external speculation last year that Cox might be better suited to move across the infield to second. Cox was recently named by MLB.com as the fifth-best prospect in the Cardinals' system.
For the second straight year, the Cardinals are holding an early camp for select Minor League players. Twenty-four players will be participating in the early camp, which begins on Feb. 25. In addition to working out after the Major League players, these Minor Leaguers will be introduced to various Major League coaches and will sit through some educational sessions.
The rest of the organization's Minor League players will arrive in Jupiter, Fla., during the first week of March. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to begin their workouts on March 5, with position players all taking the field together for the first time two days later.
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.