Growing Concerns





ST. LOUIS—The number of suspensions the Cardinals had in their minor league system last season for so-called "drugs of abuse" under baseball's discipline plan has the team considering ways to improve its education programs for players.

Tyler Bighames, a 31st-round draft pick last June out of high school in Florida, was suspended 50 games for testing positive a second time for a drug of abuse, making him the third Cardinals minor leaguer to get hit with a 50-game suspension since the start of the 2009 season. Three other farmhands have been suspended for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug.

"It is a concern," farm director Jeff Luhnow said. "Any time one of your players is suspended for a drug of abuse it's troubling . . . because these are substances you can avoid. It is an education issue. It has to do with influences and lifestyles when they are not at the ballpark, when they are at home and when they're not within the structure we try to provide."

Like other clubs, the Cardinals have programs to educate players in the system about banned substances and the other drugs that can lead to suspensions. There is also an employee-assistance program in place for players who seek help with off-field issues, such as addictions.

Earlier in the season, pitchers Kenny Maiques and Deryk Hooker were both suspended 50 games for a second positive test with a drug of abuse. Maiques was later released. Hooker returned to go 1-6, 3.98 for short-season Batavia.

"When you have three (suspensions) in the last year, absolutely you wonder if what we're doing is enough," Luhnow said. "Do we need to bolster the education? Do we need more monitoring when they're not with the team? And how do we do that? These are the questions."

REDBIRD CHIRPS

• The Cardinals released pitcher Mark McCormick. McCormick earned an $800,000 signing bonus as the 43rd overall pick in 2005. Plagued by shoulder trouble, he never pitched more than 60 innings in a season, and even a move to the bullpen couldn't keep the Baylor product healthy.

• Ruben Gotay signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals and could emerge as the switch-hitting infielder the club likes to have on its bench. Gotay hit .272/.429/.450 with more walks (102) than hits (101) for Triple-A Reno in 2009.