The Cardinals announced this afternoon that both Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader are headed to the injured list. Flaherty, as a pitcher, lands on the 15-day IL with what the team is calling a right shoulder strain. The position player Bader heads to the 10-day IL as he battles plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
To replace the duo on the active roster, the Cards selected outfielder Conner Capel and reliever James Naile onto the big league club. St. Louis had a pair of vacancies on the 40-man roster after placing southpaws Génesis Cabrera and T.J. McFarland on the COVID-19 list in recent days. Each of Capel and Naile would be making their major league debuts if they get into a game.
Flaherty’s injury is the most notable development. The star right-hander has spent a good chunk of the last two years on the IL, most recently as he’s battled continued shoulder problems. He lost a month last season due to a shoulder strain (in addition to a longer stint with an oblique injury), then spent the first two-plus months of this year on the shelf with what the pitcher identified as bursitis in Spring Training. Flaherty was only just activated for his season debut a couple weeks ago, and he made three appearances before leaving yesterday’s start after the second inning.
It’s an alarming recent injury history, and it seems the 26-year-old is going to miss a notable chunk of time yet again. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters (including Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) that Flaherty’s again dealing with bursitis. Mozeliak said the club was “pretty optimistic” Flaherty will be able to return at some point this season, but he didn’t provide more specifics on a timeline.
Flaherty joins Steven Matz on the injured list, leaving the club with a starting four of Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Andre Pallante at the moment. Top prospect Matthew Liberatore would seem the logical candidate for the fifth spot, but he has just four MLB appearances under his belt. The Cards sit a game back of the Brewers in the NL Central and seem likely to at least dabble in the trade market for starting pitching before the August 2 deadline, particularly if Flaherty’s indeed looking at another months-long recovery process.
In addition to losing arguably their best pitcher, St. Louis will be down their primary center fielder for at least a week and a half. Bader has started 65 of the team’s 75 games this season, hitting .256/.303/.370 with five home runs through 264 plate appearances. That’s a step back from his offensive production of 2020-21, but he’s swiped 15 bases and consistently rates as one of the game’s top defensive outfielders.
Bader’s absence leaves the club without a true center fielder, as right fielder Dylan Carlson looks likely to slide up the middle for now. That figures to be a notable defensive downgrade, although the Cards do have players like Lars Nootbaar and designated hitter/corner outfielder Juan Yepez capable of subbing in for Carlson in right.
Capel joins that mix, having spent much of his minor league career in right field. Originally selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, the Texas high school product was dealt to St. Louis in the Oscar Mercado trade in 2018. He’s spent the past few seasons slowly moving through the ranks in the upper minors, and he earns a big league call with a career-best 2022 showing for Triple-A Memphis.
Over 252 plate appearances this year, Capel is hitting .271/.361/.466. He’s popped nine homers, stolen 16 bags and drawn walks at an excellent 11.9% clip. The 25-year-old hasn’t appeared on an organizational prospects list at FanGraphs or Baseball America since 2019, and the Cards decided against adding him to the 40-man roster last winter — leaving him eligible for selection in a Rule 5 draft which never wound up transpiring. He’s elevated his stock enough in the past couple months to join the big league corner outfield rotation.
Naile, 29, is a seven-year minor league veteran. Originally a 20th-round selection of the A’s in 2015 out of UAB, he remained in the Oakland system through 2021. The right-hander never reached Oakland’s 40-man roster and hit minor league free agency at the end of last year. He signed a non-roster pact with St. Louis over the winter.
After working as a starter for much of his time in the A’s system, Naile has come out of the bullpen for 24 of his 27 outings with Memphis. He’s tossed 46 2/3 innings of 3.28 ERA ball in that new role, often working two innings at a time. Naile has a modest 21.1% strikeout rate, but he’s only walked 5.5% of batters faced. He’s also induced grounders on over 55% of batted balls, a trait the front office has prioritized given the club’s excellent infield defense. He’ll add a multi-inning arm to Marmol’s bullpen.
Jones first reported Naile’s and Capel’s promotions before the team announcement.