Shortstop Delvin Perez, the Cardinals first pick in last yea's draft, is one of the players coming to the early spring camp. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals begin their schedule of spring training games on Saturday, but while the players trying to earn a spot on the major-league roster are busy inside Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., there will be more activity on the back fields of the complex.

That is where the team’s future will be on display.

As the organization has been doing for several years, some of the best prospects in the farm system are coming to Jupiter a couple of weeks in advance of the normal reporting dates for minor leaguers to get some special instruction. The group includes several players selected in last year’s amateur draft.

The rest of the minor league pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on March 6, with position players’ reporting two days later.

Here are 10 of the players invited to the early camp, listed in alphabetical order, all of whom will be in spring training with the Cardinals for the first time:

Randy Arozarena, outfielder –
The oldest of three Cuban prospects signed by the Cardinals last year, Arozarena turns 22 on Monday. He did not play for a Cardinals affiliate after signing, but had a solid winter season playing in Mexico, posting a .289 average with a team-leading 16 stolen bases. A right-handed hitter, he is projected as leadoff hitter/center fielder. What will be interesting is to see how aggressive the Cardinals are in placing Arozarena on a team to begin the season, most likely either Palm Beach or Springfield.

Dylan Carlson, outfielder – One of the Cardinals’ top high-school selections in last year’s draft, Carlson got off to a slow start with the GCL Cardinals but finished strong with a .279 average in August with 16 RBIs in 23 games. Like Arozarena, he also is projected as a center fielder but is expected to develop into more of a middle of the order hitter. A switch-hitter who will play all of this season at 18, Carlson would seem to be headed to Johnson City for this season.

Luke Dykstra, second base – The trade with the Braves which sent Jaime Garcia to Atlanta brought three prospects in exchange, including Dykstra, the son of former major-leaguer Lenny Dykstra. Now 21, Dykstra has been a career .300 hitter through his first three seasons in the minors, including .304 last year for Class A Rome, Ga. Dykstra probably will begin the year at either Palm Beach or Peoria.

Chris Ellis, right-handed pitcher
– The 24-year-old Ellis, who also came to the Cardinals in the trade with the Braves, is coming off a big year at Double A. The former Mississippi pitcher was 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA in 13 starts but struggled in 15 starts at Triple A. How he pitches this spring, combined with how other starters are doing, likely will be the determining factor if Ellis starts this year at Springfield or Memphis.

Jordan Hicks, right-handed pitcher – There was a reason a lot of teams were asking about Hicks in trade discussions before last year’s deadline. Pitching at 19, he was a combined 6-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 12 starts split between Johnson City and State College and is quickly moving up in the prospect rankings among pitchers in the organization. A stop in Peoria is likely his next step up the organizational ladder.

Dakota Hudson, right-handed pitcher
– One of the Cardinals’ top picks in last year’s draft out of Mississippi State, Hudson had a glittering start to his pro career. In 12 games for the GCL Cards and Palm Beach, Hudson was a 2-1 with a 0.68 ERA allowing just one earned run in 13 1/3 innings. He also pitched in two playoff games at Springfield, and it is not out of the question the 22-year-old will pitch there this season as he appears to be on the fast track to St. Louis should the Cardinals need bullpen help.

Connor Jones, right-handed pitcher – The Cardinals’ second-round pick out of Virginia in last year’s draft, Jones made a combined 11 relief appearances between the GCL Cardinals and State College Spikes. Jones was a starter in college, so the organization has to decide which role will be better for him as a professional – and that decision likely will determine where Jones is assigned to begin this season.

Johan Oviedo, right-handed pitcher – Perhaps one of the two most intriguing names of all those on this list, primarily because so few have seen him, but all of the scouts who have seen him talk about Oviedo’s huge potential. Already 6-foot-6, Oviedo was one of the other Cuban prospects signed by the Cardinals and will pitch all of this season at 19. He made seven starts for the Dominican summer league team last year and had a 1.66 ERA, striking out 29 and walking six in 21 2/3 innings. If the Cardinals want to be aggressive with Oviedo – who could be the prospect with the highest ceiling behind Alex Reyes – they could have him start this year at Peoria.

Delvin Perez, shortstop – The best position prospect in the organization, Perez had a quality start to his pro career last season with the GCL Cardinals. Playing the full season at 17, he hit .294 and showed the defensive skills and speed the team expected after drafting him in the first round. As with Oviedo, it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Cardinals are with Perez’s assignment to start this season – whether they push him to Peoria or let him stay in extended spring and then join short-season State College or Johnson City.

Austin Wilson, outfielder
– Seven years after he was drafted by the Cardinals out of high school, Wilson finally joined the organization when he was selected from the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft. He has spent the last two years at Bakersfield in the Class A California League and the Cardinals hope the change of scenery will provide him with a fresh start. Now 25, Wilson needs to reach Double A or even Triple A this season before time begins to catch up with him.

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