The St. Louis Cardinals optioned six players from spring training to minor league assignments including presumed backup catcher Carson Kelly, the team's third-highest rated prospect.
There were no surprises among the others. They include pitchers Jack Flaherty, John Gant and Ryan Sherriff as well as infielder Breyvic Valera and outfielder Oscar Mercado. The move leaves 40 players in the major league camp, including 11 non-roster invitees.
Kelly, 23 and the second-highest regarded catcher among professional prospects, struggled this spring, hitting safely in just three of 30 at-bats. His demotion leaves catchers Francisco Pena, Andrew Knizner and Steven Baron, none of which were on the team's 40-man roster.
In Knizner, the Cardinals possess another premier catching prospect. A seventh-round pick in 2016, he's quickly reached double-A Springfield where last season he batted. 325 with four home runs in 182 at bats. He is five for 24 this spring. Two of his five hits are home runs.
Pena, 28, has played in parts of four major league seasons with the Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles. In 28 games, he's hit .246 with three home runs and five runs batted in. The Cardinals picked him up as a free agent in December and so far this spring is 4 for 16 with three RBIs.
Baron, 27, is a career minor leaguer. He's hit .125 in the spring.
Flaherty is the Cardinals No. 2 overall prospect. His eventual minor league assignment has been anticipated, but still will provide depth for both the rotation and bullpen in St. Louis as the season progresses.