The Cardinals’ annual kick-off event, the Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up, is taking place this weekend in downtown St. Louis at the Hyatt Regency, and once again I-70 Baseball will be on site to chronicle all the happenings over the next three days. The Warm-Up, which is the team’s top fan event features player appearances, autograph signings and unique merchandise sales and presentations all gear toward funding for the club’s community outreach program, Cardinals Care.
However, in-between meeting and greeting fans, the players and management also stop to speak to media across the three day schedule and I-70 will keep update the action as it happens. Check back regularly throughout the day and follow on Twitter at @I70Baseball for notices on when new player interviews and content are available.
And kicking off day 1….Peter Bourjos
Bourjos had hip surgery during the winter, and said his rehab kicked up during the past week. “I feel really good. I’ve been running on a gravity treadmill which de-weights you and I got up to 100% two or three days ago. I have run back to back-to-back days and it feels good.”
He expressed that the injury was lingering one that had bothered him in Anaheim as well, but he had monitored it closely. The injury began to worsen in September of last year, and finally necessitated that he address it via surgery in November. “When I broke my wrist in Anaheim and had wrist surgery, so I didn’t play a whole lot because I was hurt most of the year. So it felt alright and we didn’t get it checked on” Bourjos explained. “Then last year as the year was going on, I was having a lot more trouble getting out of bed and walking after games. It would be pretty sore and finally we had an MRI in September and it showed it was getting progressively worse and not headed in a good direction.”
He characterized the injury as varied in intensity, depending on often he had played the day before. “If I had played all nine innings, it would be pretty sore. But if I just came in for defense it would be okay.”
Regarding his first season in St. Louis, he had mixed feelings on his performance. “Obviously I didn’t get off to a good start and in then in the second half I played a bit better and it was nice to make the strides and developments I did.”
On the subject of his standing as a member of the team: “There had been rumors out there and I know there had been discussion on if I would even be tendered a contract this year,” Bourjos said frankly. “Honestly, I didn’t know. I just tried to get healthy and compete for some playing time and that’s all I can do.”
“Hopefully I’m here and I would like to be here, but I will see where it goes from here.”
Entering the spring, he does not anticipate any restrictions. “I don’t think so. I got cleared to swing the bat and ramp up the baseball activities, so I hope it doesn’t go into spring.”
Regarding where he fits into the team’s plans, he said that while he has not played a corner outfield position in the Major Leagues, he is comfortable doing so and can if needed.
Bourjos was busy this winter, as he got married and is wife is expecting their first child (a son who’s name will be Max) in April. He was married shortly after getting off crutches from his hip surgery.
Next up, new Cardinal reliever Matt Belisle, who had a very clear enthusiasm about being a member of the team:
“I was extremely humbled and honored when (the Cardinals) reached out to me so quickly in the free agent process,” Belisle recalled. “I have always looked across at LaRussa and now Matheny beat up on us, and said ‘That’s how you play the game’. I’m just ready to be Matheny’s soldier and be playing in the season’s last game.”
Regarding his role with the team, he embraces his ability to have a high-volume work rate (he has logged over seven appearances in four of the last five seasons). Also, his presence as a veteran capable of help to mature the younger Cardinal bullpen arms was desirable as well. “Up front the organization asked me to step into the clubhouse and lead there, as well as help out with the bullpen.”
Expanding on that his approach, “I look at any would be challenge as an opportunity. Whether it is a long stretch of working back-to-back or taking the ball once a week, I’m not worried about it. I look at it as an opportunity and I’m not worried about it. We need somebody to do that, so give me the ball, I’ll do it. Let’s go.”
About leaving the notoriously brutal Coors Field behind as his home field: “Playing at Coors Field undoubtedly improved me. I’ve never been a stat guy, but there are challenges there. But I don’t look at it as ‘What a relief to get out of Colorado'; I look at it as I get a chance to win now here.”
“I had be very cognizant of when I came home from the road about altitude changes. That allowed me to become very acute and adept of my pitches and be more creative about how to attack hitters.”
About having the opportunity to play for the Cardinals, he is very enthusiastic in regards to being a part of the Cardinals and all that comes with it. “I’m looking forward to being with these fans, having Yadi behind the plate and Matheny steering the ship. It is a great era to be a Cardinal.”
Minor league reliever and recent mention among Baseball America’s Top 10 Cardinal prospect Sam Tuivailala:
On his biggest take away from his late season call up to St. Louis, it was to be ready for his number to be called. “Just to relax and have fun. I had a whole group of guys that want for me to succeed and have fun competing.”
However, he did expand on the fact that it was a bigger rush than he expected. “I was still in a bit of a ‘wow’ moment, but moving forward I feel like I got over that and can just play ball.
Regarding his participation in the Arizona Fall League, it stated it definitely help regarding his mechanics and secondary pitches. “The Fall League helped me to refine my curveball and change up definitely and really made me feel like I would be ready to take strides forward.”
About where he expects to be in the organization this year, he is predictably ready to fill any capacity he is called on. And while he has not been informed of his role in the organization, he is slated to be the closer in Memphis this year, but has his eyes on more. “Going into spring training I am going to compete at the highest level and my focus is through the roof.”
Next up: outfielder Stephen Piscotty, the organization’s unanimous top positional prospect:
Piscotty spoke at length regarding fine tuning his swing during the offseason, with a focus on creating more power (nine home runs in 556 2014 plate appearances). He worked with both his college batting coach at Stanford at length on the technical portion and Memphis hitting coach Mark Budaska on the philosophical portion.
“I made some adjustments from a hitting standpoint. I felt a need to drive the ball better, and I wanted to do it in a way that would not take away from my game.”
On his desired outcome, Piscotty stressed that increasing his home run total is the overall goal, but not at the expense of what has made his successful in the past. “Ideally they will increase home runs. Mechanically it was about finding a better slot for my bat path, something that allows my bat to stay on the pitch longer so I can get more extension.”
“I’m trying to use my longer arms as an advantage, instead of a disadvantage. There were times where I felt my arms were too long and I couldn’t get extended but couldn’t stay short either. I was really trying to attack that.”
“I’m looking to get a little bit more lift. I will hit some balls that have a little bit more carry, but still have the nice line drives I like to hit.”
On his season at Memphis last year (where he hit .288 with 32 doubles), he described it as a learning experience in both caliber of pitching and personal expectation measuring. Regarding the promotion to the Major Leagues that many clamored for, he lauds the other players within the organization that were brought up and stated they were more deserving of the call than him at the time.
“Triple A was a fun challenge. Started off pretty well, but then I hit a bump in the road. July was a pretty brutal month, but by August I was able to hit it well again and finished strong so I felt good about my season.”
Regarding where he fits in best within the organization, as he has been discussed as potential utility option in order to work his way into the Major League lineup sooner, it is clear that he regards the outfield as his home. “I am open to any outfield spot. I played a lot of right last year, but I played a lot of left in college so I am comfortable there too,” said the 24-year-old. “I think right field suits me best, but that’s not up to me to decide.”
He stated that he has not been contacted by anyone in the organization about working out at any other position in the spring, despite the fact that he had prior experience at first and third base in college.
Outside of baseball, he finalized his degree from Stanford in the fall in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, which he stated he was able to have time to complete due to not being called up to the Majors in September.
Next in was infielder Ty Kelly, whom was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in November…
The 26-year-old has experience at five different positions during his minor league career, and sees it as being the key to finding a role in his new organization.
He is not sure of where he will fit into the picture exactly regarding whether he will start with the Cardinals or at the Triple A level, but he is familiar with competition for a place throughout the minors with the Mariners and Orioles previously.
“It is not necessarily about one spot opening up for me, but it is about moving around and working my way into the lineup more often.”
He plans on competing across the entire infield and has some outfield experience as well, but he does not see himself as having a home position. “I am not sure that I want to have a place where this is his spot, but he can play other places. Rather I would be able to play everywhere and play everywhere well.”
Next, all eyes were on the newest high profile Cardinal, outfielder Jason Heyward…
In regards to making the leap to playing for the Cardinals, he was affable in his anticipation for joining the team. “As an opposing player and as someone on the good side now, it is definitely a good atmosphere and a lot of excitement around the game of baseball here and I appreciate it. This is a new feel. This is a city that is all about baseball and it is an exciting experience.”
On how he fits into his new lineup, Heyward leaned on being open to whatever was needed….but also seemed to have a preference as well. Due to team needs in Atlanta, he was shifted up the lineup into the lead off spot in years past, but a return to his more familiar role down in the lineup was a focus of his as well.
“I don’t know yet because I haven’t been in the lineup, but I was developed as a guy in the middle of the lineup. I made it to the Major Leagues with some success in the area as well, but I have been asked to do some different things at certain times, but I am a team player so I will fit right in where I am asked to be.”
Regarding his approach in different places in the lineup and changing it accordingly, he says “You are forced to in the leadoff spot. The game is sort of dicatated for you; your mindset is ‘Let me get on base, let me get on base’, so that is a lot different from hitting anywhere else where the mindset is getting a pitch to drive. You can’t do that much from the leadoff spot.”
“The most difficult part for me was not being developed as a leadoff guy. If I had spent more time doing so, it would have been an easier transition, but I gave it my best shot and it was a fun challenge.”
An obvious focal point was his future with the team beyond 2015. Although having not donned a Cardinal uniform yet, the fact already looms that he only has one season left on his contract, and the topic of him remaining a member of the team is a popular issue.
He stated that he does not intend on putting timetables or limitations on extension negotiations, but at the same time he is not focused on sorting that out currently.
“I can’t say how it is going play out right now, I am just looking forward to getting settled in with my teammates and fitting in. I think the goal for me and everybody involved is to be playing in October and going for a World Series, so if all of that takes care of itself a lot of good things will come from it and no negatives.”
“I hope I love it so much I don’t want to leave,” Heyward said. “I feel like if I love it that much it is a good fit.”
Randal Grichuk took to the podium next to discuss an up and down off season for himself, as well as his upcoming prospects for 2015…..
On the team’s acquisition of Jason Heyward, he was frank in its effect on his role with the team:
“Thoughts off the bat? Not good for me. But obviously we are here to win a championship, and bringing a guy in like that is a huge piece to the puzzle and he’s going to help us get to the next level. Regardless of who is here, you have to go into spring training the same way I went in last year: trying to win a job and open some eyes to get playing time. So nothing really changes.”
Facing a certain decrease in defined playing time, Grichuk is aware that his preparation must change as well. “It’s about getting reps in at every position and being ready to play whenever you are called,” he stated.
Yet his role last season also prepared him for what awaits this season. “Last year kind of got me into that mindset. Being up a few times, not being an everyday guy kind of gave me a taste of it. Coming into this year I know a little bit more about how to prepare for those games.”
Xavier Scruggs took to the podium next to discuss the new endeavors—and farewells—of his off season:
He spent the winter playing in the Dominican Republic, where he played more outfield than anywhere else. He wrote a blog over his experiences in the league as well. Scruggs was very complimentary of the experience in the foreign nation as well.
“It was good to go out there and see how they lived, because they lived every day to the fullest. It is great to see how passionate they are about baseball there. You see how hard they work and you fall in place with it.”
On the field, he discussed his switch to the outfield, in order to add more versatility to his offering for the season, as well as getting plenty of at-bats versus right-handed pitching as well.
He also weighed in on being in the home nation of Oscar Taveras during the time of his death, as well as his personal relationship with him:
“Everybody out there knew me and Oscar were close and came up playing together, so everybody was really good to me. It was crazy the fact that it had an effect over the whole country, moments of silence in every game we played after that. It was cool to see how much they cared about Oscar as a person and as a player.”
Rounding out the day for the players was new first baseman Mark Reynolds. He discussed his approach to hitting, as well as what sold him on St. Louis:
Reynolds said he was surprised at how early the signing happened, as he anticipated being on the market for a longer time period. He expressed weighing several offers, but being on a contender meant more than anything. “Mike (Matheny) called me and told me that he wanted for me to be a part of (the Cardinals), and I was ready.”
“Another huge thing was that I have played in stadiums where there was no one there and it was hard to get up for a game,” Reynolds explained. As a visitor for the past eight or so years, it has always been packed here and the fans have knowledge and a passion for the game, and they are the best fans to play in front of.”
About the changes in his accustomed role throughout his career that he will face with his new team, Reynolds was competitively realistic and made the opportunity to play for a winner the prime focus.
“It is going to be tough this first year sort of accepting a part-time role, so I will have to find certain routines to be ready to play. But as far as accepting a lesser role to be on a winning team, it is really not something I had to think about for long.”
“I am definitely not here to ride the pine all year. I want to play as much as possible, and I want to make it tough on Mike to keep me on the bench.”
When speaking about his much-debated plate approach, which frequently has seen him either striking out or hitting home runs, he was to the point in what his role is:
“I used to worry about my contact, but not too many guys have had seven straight years of 20 home runs, but I feel like I compromise a few things to change my approach and make weak outs.”
He also expressed a willingness to play some third base if called upon as well, which was his original position when he broke in with the Arizona Diamondbacks:
“It is definitely something I am open to doing and would be ready for, but it would only be a capacity that if (Matt Carpenter) needed to be spelled.”
This rounds out day one of I-70’s Cardinal Care Winter Warm-Up Progressive Blog. Tune back in tomorrow for the second edition, as well as a special breakout of John Mozeliak’s media session.