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Colorado Rockies give Stephen Cardullo a shot after four long years in independent leagues

Stephen Cardullo hasn't played affiliated ball since 2011, but some serious perseverance has landed him a shot with the Colorado Rockies.

Stephen Cardullo has a chance this spring, and that's all that matters.
Stephen Cardullo has a chance this spring, and that's all that matters.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It's difficult to explain the path Stephen Cardullo has been on the last six years, having gone from underdog to starter for Florida State University's prestigious baseball program, then to a farm hand in the Arizona Diamondbacks' system, and on to four consecutive years in the purgatory that is independent league baseball.

It really may not matter much, though, because he's here now. Earlier in January, the Colorado Rockies signed Cardullo to a minor league deal, bringing him back into a Major League organization at least for spring training after the infielder-turned-outfielder logged nearly 1,600 plate appearances outside of affiliated ball over the last four summers.

(Side note: apologies for the delay in writing up this player profile, as I've been doing for every Rockies newcomer this winter. It got away from me with all the recent longform and interview stuff we've been posting in addition to all the Gerardo Parra news that we've been covering around here. But we're back now!)

Anyways, just by signing with the Rockies and getting out of the Canadian-American Association, Cardullo has already won, in a way. He absolutely will not impact the Major League team this year. He may not even make it out of spring training before the Rockies decide they don't need him considering their organizational depth, and he gets released again! But Cardullo has already won, having done enough to attract a Major League team to his talent despite being so far removed from both affiliated ball and major college action, and damn near 30 years old. Kudos for that.

Scouting Stephen Cardullo

Cardullo had a solid but not necessarily spectacular college career, and the Diamondbacks selected him out of Florida State back in 2010, in the 24th round of the MLB Draft. He then turned in two straight years for the Dbacks' rookie-level affiliate in the Pioneer League, the Missoula Osprey. A tough first season turned into a solid second season—Cardullo slashed .288/.372/.525 for the Osprey in 2011—but a 23-year-old who had yet to play above rookie ball probably didn't exactly scream "prospect" to Arizona. They cut him.

Four years of indy ball later, and here were are. Not that we should overlook that time outside of an affiliated organization, though; while the quality of competition is always a question for indy leagues, Cardullo controlled his own game and improved significantly every season through 2015, predominantly playing for the Rockland Boulders of the east coast's Can-Am League.

Some stats:

2010 Missoula Pioneer (Rk.) 20 66 58 4 10 0 0 0 5 6 19 0 1 .172 .258 .172
2011 Missoula Pioneer (Rk.) 61 254 219 38 63 14 4 10 38 24 52 3 7 .288 .372 .525
2012 Two teams Frontier (Ind.) 87 363 312 46 82 20 3 3 35 40 50 15 3 .263 .351 .375
2013 Rockland Can-Am (Ind.) 100 420 360 51 96 28 4 6 56 43 51 19 5 .267 .349 .417
2014 Rockland Can-Am (Ind.) 92 381 352 43 105 20 3 6 51 16 46 8 4 .298 .339 .423
2015 Rockland Can-Am (Ind.) 93 427 359 76 119 34 3 9 76 49 42 23 3 .331 .410 .518
6 yrs Career Totals MiLB/Ind. 453 1911 1660 258 475 116 17 34 261 178 260 68 23 .286 .361 .438

Obviously, Cardullo significantly improved across the last three years in Rockland, and he does some things that, at least on paper, should interest the Rockies. Over the last three summers, he's stolen 50 bases while only being caught 12 times in 285 games. In that same stretch, he's walked 108 times while only striking out 139 times. That could be an indictment of the competition in the Can-Am League, of course, but a speedy outfielder who gets on base is certainly worth a spring training flyer.

Here's a throwback video of Cardullo from his time at Florida State, showing him employing a Chuck Knoblauch or Jason Kipnis-like batting stance:

And here's an only-in-minor-league-baseball interview Cardullo did back in August:

Courtney's Corner is my new favorite show.

Cardullo's best comp on the Rockies

None. There is none. He's not going to make the big league club this year. It's even tougher to gauge where he might end up based on his time with the Rockland Boulders. Start in Asheville, get his feet wet, move up to Modesto and then Hartford? Throw him in the deep end at Hartford to start the season? Cut him out of spring training if the Rockies realize they don't really need the depth? He is already 28 years old, after all.

He does things the Rockies have indicated they like in their system, namely seeing pitches and taking walks. That indicates a good game plan and a mature approach at the plate. Granted, that could be against far inferior competition in Rockland, but something tells me he's been facing competition somewhere in that High-A/Double-A range, and you should probably expect him to be in Hartford if he can make a club out of spring training. We'll see.

What to expect in 2016

For a guy who showed up at Florida State begging to play, and then earned himself a starting job off a no-guarantees walk-on spot only to later put in four long seasons of independent league ball after being unceremoniously dumped from affiliated leagues, Cardullo certainly has mental toughness. It'll be interesting to see how the Rockies use that trait—and the rest of what he brings to his game—this spring. Maybe he's just a hat tip signing, acknowledging good work by rewarding him with a no-cost flyer that, if he surprises in March, could turn into a ticket to Modesto, Hartford, or Albuquerque.

Whatever the case, the things he does—talk walks while being hard to strike out, namely—ought to be a blueprint for offensive traits that would serve the Rockies well to continue to scout and develop at all levels. Maybe in some way, Cardullo is a tip-off to the more general type of position player the Rockies may seek to draft and develop in the coming years under general manager Jeff Bridich.

Whatever the case, March will be the biggest month thus far in Cardullo's career.