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Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog – Day 3

I-70 is back for the final day of the 2015 Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up, at the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis. If you have missed the first two entries, the PB will be posting commentary from the player media sessions at the WWU, along with analysis and regular updates throughout the duration of the event.

Bitter cold weather and snow hit St. Louis area

If you missed either of the first two entries from the weekend, head back to Day 1 and Day 2 for comments from Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and more.

Coming out of the gates, lets acknowledge a few things that have happened here in Day 3, a few the fault of your writer and another just a consequence of the day.

#1) Kolten Wong and Carlos Martinez made it to the podium before we made it on site, so they will not be reflected.

#2) We attended Mike Matheny‘s session and got notes from it, but the direct quotes did not record, so his session will not be a verbatim one, as others will.

#3) Sadly, Yadier Molina did not come to the media podium during his time at the WWU, so he will not be included here.

But with that, there were several prominent Cardinals did make their way to both the podium and to our audio recorder, so by extension, to you as well.

 

First up, shortstop Jhonny Peralta:

On the loss of Oscar Taveras, whom he mentored when he came up to the Major Leagues last year, he described when he received the news of his death and what he meant to him: “I was here in St. Louis when it happened and I could not believe it. Hopefully God is with him in heaven.”

“I was really close with him. When I see a younger guy, I try to reach out and help them with everything. And with him being from the Dominican like me, and I tried to help him with everything that he needed.”

Peralta described his first year with the Cardinals and in the National League as a success, but also a constant learning process. And one that he anticipates to have benefits in 2015:

“Last year was a good year for me. To be in the National League for the first time last year, it was unbelievable to see some of the things that happened for me. I will be more comfortable, so we will see what happens this year. It is more comfortable when you play guys that you know already, as well as the field.”

Continuing on, he stressed that studying and comparing notes with his more experienced teammates made the transition easier: “I watched a lot of video last year, but more than anything I tried asking the guys on the team. Molina helped a lot and Matt Holliday, so they helped out a lot.”

Regarding the addition of his former teammate Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals, as well as what it means to the National League: “He’s good for the Nationals for sure. He is an unbelievable pitcher. We have a lot of competition this year within our division too, so I think it will be good.”

About where he feels he fits in the lineup best, it is the run producing spots in the middle that best fit his offering: “I feel comfortable anywhere I hit in the lineup, but I feel when I hit cleanup I get to be a big power guy,” Peralta said with a laugh. “But hitting fourth or fifth feels really good for me.”

On what to work on, he hopes to drive in more runs as well as see an upswing in his overall batting average. In regards to his low average with runners in scoring position, he returned back to the issue of learning new pitchers: “Sometimes it was an issue of not knowing the pitchers that much. The more and more I played them last year, the better I felt there.”

Rosenthal

Closer Trevor Rosenthal made his way to the mic next…

Regarding his offseason, he said he removed himself from baseball mostly to spend time with family, but remained in the St. Louis area. He also worked with former Cardinal closer Jason Isringhausen, who he keeps in contact with regularly and will be inheriting his former number 44 this year.

On evaluation as a closer, he says health and availability is his how he measures his success throughout the year: “I couldn’t tell you how many games I blew or lost last year. I don’t know if that’s my personality or what, but I remember a lot of great games last year, but I also remember the times that I lost a game for pitcher too. And that is not so much hard on me, but I feel bad for the guy I let down.”

“The goal is to always take care of myself everyday so I can give it my best effort when I’m out there. So as long as I can do the little things to make sure I’m available to pitching, I’m okay.”

“Saves are obviously a part of the game, but I really think of them as an accolade and a team effort. I’m just the last guy out.”

Regarding his mental preparation entering his second year as a closer: “I learned that every year is different, as well as to make adjustments and learn from the past. Just continuing to learn is going to be a big part of this spring training this year, and not coming in with a big head and thinking I have nothing to learn too.”

“A big focus for 2015 is attacking hitters early, trying to be more efficient, not be too fine and trying to get my pitch count down. But at times not trying to give up the big hit too early or not being completely confident or convicted. Getting ahead in the count early is important, but at the same time not saying that like it is an easy thing to do.”

Regarding the changes to the structure of the bullpen, specially the addition of setup man Jordan Walden: “I think him and (Matt) Belisle are going to be great. Being with Motte, Neshek and Mujica that these guys have tons of information and things they have learned from different teammates. I think that is the coolest part of any job; being around your peers and learning from their success and failures.”

 

A newly minted Lance Lynn now enters:

Regarding his new contract, he explained that it was a good middle ground between team and personal interests: “It is exciting. You know that it is going to take care of itself with the arbitration process, but it is nice to get the whole three years situated. Both of us feel like we got what we wanted.”

He characterized the process of landing the deal as beginning around the Winter Meetings, then taking some time to hammer out the language and terms of it.

In regards to maintaining his free agent years after it, he said it was an important part of the structure of the deal. “It was one of the things that if I gave up free agent years, we wanted to be sure it was worth the while. We wanted for it to be more than just one or two years, but it was not something that we could get situated, but if everything goes well and I pitch well, I’m sure it will be revisited down the line.”

 

 

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, Minors, MLBComments (7)

2015 Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog – Day 2

Day 2 of the Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up, the unofficial kick-off event to Cardinal baseball season, will get underway shortly at the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis. The fan fest is the largest fundraiser of the year for the team’s community outreach program, which has contributed $11 million in grants to over 800 non-profit youth organizations in the area.

Bitter cold weather and snow hit St. Louis area

On the baseball side, it is also the return of the players and team personnel to their baseball battlegrounds as well, and throughout the day they stop in the media area to discuss their off seasons, goals for the year and other various items as well.

Once again, we will be reporting those sessions as they happen, with the second day of the Winter Warm-Up Progressive Blog. During Saturday’s first entry in this year’s PB, Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos, Stephen Piscotty, Mark Reynolds, Randal Grichuk and more spoke, and today will feature even more of the team as they make their through the WWU.

So follow here for up to the moment information and both @i70baseball and @CheapSeatFan on Twitter for photos, comments and more.

 

Adam Wainwright made his way to the podium first today, to talk over a plethora of issues about the end of his 2014 and the surgery that followed this winter….

After having forearm surgery in October, Wainwright stated he began playing catch at the same point that he did last year despite his surgery and that there have been no alterations to his off-season preparation.

The injury that eventually necessitated the surgery rooted from when he hyper-extended his knee in a game against the Mets. Then he altered his approach some which resulted in a muscle injury in his forearm.

Wainwright explained the onset of the injury  also stated that it tremendously his ability to grip a baseball during the late portion of the year. In addition to that restriction, his ability to extend his arm was effected as well. “Extension was the problem. You saw me throwing a lot of cutters and curveballs because I could get my to a certain point fine, but not to pronate all the way through.”

Expanded from there, he talked about the impact of that lack of extension on his ability to use his complete arsenal of pitches. “This was okay because I’m not really a power pitcher, so I was okay to get through with that for the time being. But you saw the difference in the first part of the year when I was a complete pitcher and I was able to do all of the things I wanted to do, and then in the second half when I couldn’t.”

“The thing I do really well is be able to pitch inside to righties and lefties. I can sink the ball inside, which opens up the outside corner. I totally lost the ability to do that.”

“So when I hit Yasiel Puig in the playoffs, I knew it was the right pitch but I just couldn’t execute it. So Adrian Gonzalez was right when he said I don’t normally hit people like that, but I’m not normally hurt either.”

Outside of the baseball related ramifications, he expressed experiencing everyday difficulties due to the injury and rehab even to levels that affected simply household tasks. He said that he could not twist the lids off of jars due to the injury and the surgery afterwards. “My masculinity took a hit at the end of last year,” he joked regarding the need for the simple assistance from his wife.

Going forward, Wainwright does not anticipate any change in how he either prepares for the season or how he is used. “I have four more years (on his contract), and this team doesn’t need me at half speed. There are guys better than me if I’m half speed, but if I am going full out I don’t think there are many better. So I’m going all out until they tell me to stop.”

On a decreased amount of starts throughout the year in order to stay fresh for the postseason, he was enthusiastic in refusal about the concept:

“I don’t think my October track record speaks to me getting real tired. I was injured last year, but in 2013 I pitched great in October. I had one bad start in game one of the World Series, but other than that I have pitched against some really good pitchers that don’t give up many runs.”

 

Matt Holliday followed Wainwright in….

On Jason Heyward’s Addition

Regarding the addition of Jason Heyward, Holliday sees a number of ways that he can help the team. “He will add a lot offensively and defensively, as well as on the bases. It depends on where Mike (Matheny) hits him to get the best out of out of him,” he said.

However he does see a clear way that Heyward can amplify the lineup in an area it struggled in a year ago. “He is a potential 25 home run guy and I think that is more of what we need than someone batting leadoff and trying to get on base.”

On the subject of the offensive power outage that plagued the team for the duration of last year, Holliday was as miffed as anybody else on pinpointing the reasoning. “There has to be some kind of reason, but maybe it was just one of those years. But nobody was really able to consistently get the home run swing going and the more you try to hit them, the less it seems to happen. So hopefully we come in with a good approach and home runs really happen by getting those good swings.”

Looking ahead, he sees it as more of an exception than a new rule that will continue into this season. “I think our lineup will score a lot more runs this year. It would be crazy not to think that most of our guys will not be back closer to what they average in their career.”

On the subject of nagging injuries as he gets older, he played down the impact that could have on his production and availability. “I feel really healthy. I played 150 plus games a year ago, so I feel like I have done a great job of working that out and making sure it doesn’t flare up.”

He also expressed feeling a returned excitement on the Winter Warm-Up experience along with the fanbase. “This is something we look forward to. We as players enjoy this because we get to see teammates we haven’t seen in a while and get to interact with the fans for a good cause.”


2013 organization Minor League Pitcher of the Year Tim Cooney steps in next…

Regarding the experience and learning curve of a full year at the Triple A level, Cooney said “I think I learned a lot about what kind of pitcher I am, especially the importance of command when facing more experienced hitters. Hopefully I come into the spring even better than I did last year.”

The benefits of starting the year competing at the Major League spring training level was something he was enthusiastic about as well. “It was a good experience facing some experienced hitters, and mentally that helps when facing minor leaguers because you think ‘Okay, I can get the big league guys out too’, so it definitely helped.”

Headed into the year, his focus is on refining his touch, but also expanding his offering as well. “I want to throw harder, but not at the expense of my control. A big focus is my change-up. Most dominant lefties have a good change up because they are facing so many right-handed hitters. It is coming along pretty good too.”

Lefty Sam Freeman followed Cooney up….

In regards to looking back at his 2014, Freeman was honest in his assessment: “The year went pretty well. There were parts of the season where the consistency was not the same, but other than that it was pretty okay. There were parts of the season where my command was where I wanted it to be and parts where it vanished a little bit. But I am more aware of what I need to do to keep it consistent.”

On facing repeated left-handed hitters, he does not see a pronounced difference in facing them. “Lefties have done better off of me, so I wouldn’t say I have a better rapport against them. Last year I gave up more extra base hits against lefties than right-handed hitters. I don’t think that they are crushing me, but I am not doing a good enough job of eliminating them when I have the opportunity. I need to do a better job of finishing them off.”

Southpaw Sunday continued with Tyler Lyons

Regarding in what capacity he could see action in, Lyons was open for all business: “For me it is about getting ready for the season, whatever role that may be. I don’t have much say or control over that, so I’ll just be ready to go.”

“Over the past couple of years I have had a little bit of experience out of the bullpen, but it is not anything really different for me. Mentally once you get out there to pitch its all the same, but it’s kind of about how you prepare day in and out.”

The biggest differences in the role in his opinion come from a preparation standpoint, but it is not something that he sees as being a difficult transition for him: “I’ve never had a problem getting ready quickly. Even as a starter I feel like I get ready too quickly and have slow myself down, so I have never had a problem getting ready quickly.”

“The biggest difference is as a starter you pitch on a particular day and then have a certain amount of days in-between. As a reliever you have to find a way to get ready every night, and then you may pitch or may not pitch. So you just have to figure out how to be ready every day.”

When asked about if he feels he is overlooked in regards to placement among the pitching staff, he is quick to diffuse the scenario: “I’ve had opportunities, so I try not to concern myself with that too much. You’re kind of in a weird situation here because you have so many guys and there are a lot of young guys and a lot of competition.”

Wacha

Michael Wacha stepped in next to discuss the end of the National League Championship Series, his return from injury and optimism on the year:

Looking back at the infamous relief appearance in Game 5 of the NLCS in San Francisco, Wacha said he said he felt fine physically despite the layoff from actual game action at the time and had been working in the bullpen, despite having not had in-game action in some time.

“I wanted to be out there in that situation. As a competitor, that’s where you want to be and Mike put me out there because he trusted me. And I told I appreciated it and wanted to be out there in that situation, and it just didn’t work out like we wanted to in the end. I just made a bad pitch.”

Regarding moving on past the series-ending home run: “It took a little while, but baseball is a game where you have to be able to forget. Usually you have a game the next day to move on to, but it just gives you a little bit more motivation in the offseason.”

On the health of his shoulder, Wacha said he does not anticipate having to adjust his mechanics at all due to avoiding a repeat of the injury and that all scans of the shoulder and muscle group are showing good returns. “With my workouts and weight training, everything has been feeling good. It’s an exciting time and I’m feeling good and strong.”

He has not thrown off of a mound yet. His throwing program started later due to the season itself beginning later, but nothing drastic due to the injury. He anticipates starting to throw off a mound in the upcoming weeks. States that staying on top of his conditioning is the top priority and that he does not anticipate any further MRI’s going ahead. He joked that he thinks he will “start glowing” if he goes through many more scans.

Wacha stated he does not have an innings goal for the season, nor is he aware of any potential limits the organization may put on him. The expectation personally is to make every start currently. “I don’t want to be that guy that has to get shutdown at a certain point,” he stated. “I want to be the guy that they lean on every fifth day for a win.”

Reflecting back on the trade of friend (and neighbor) Shelby Miller, Wacha said the entire scenario set upon him rather quickly. He stated he was with Shelby working out near their homes in Houston (they live about a half block apart from each other) when the news broke that he was traded.

“It is definitely pretty different. He is a good friend of mine and we work out together and we hang out together quite a bit, it will be different not having him around. I think he is excited about a new start, but we are just as excited about having Heyward and Walden with us as well.”

He is enthusiastic about the chance of matching up against Miller at some point down the road as well.

“Yeah, that’d be fun. I always give him some crap about being ready for some chin music if he gets up there and digging in on me. But it would be pretty fun to get to face him.”

Lefty Marco Gonzales was next up….

Reflecting on his 2014, he said he could imagine a better outcome: “I look back at all the experiences and there’s nothing like being thrown in the fire. I couldn’t have had better people to learn from as well, so it was a good time.”

Looking at what at the ways that he could make an impact in St. Louis this season, he is open for any and all business:

 

Marco Gonzales

Reflecting on his 2014, he said he could imagine a better outcome: “I look back at all the experiences and there’s nothing like being thrown in the fire. I couldn’t have had better people to learn from as well, so it was a good time. “I’m optimistic about an opportunity. Frankly, opportunity I get I will excited for it, whether it’s in the Major League rotation, in Memphis or in the bullpen, I’m okay with any of those options,” he said. Jokingly, he continued “Even if it’s at shortstop, I don’t care. Being able to play baseball every day is a blast and I’m blessed to do it.”

Regarding the possibility of filling all of those roles, he reiterates that he fine with any capacity: “That just comes with the preparation of being ready for everything. Just keeping the mentality of fine tuning my pitches, working on my command, strengthening my body and doing what I can to be ready for anything.”

About whether he will be more prepared for the possibility of pitching out of the bullpen, due to spending some time there last year, he gives credit to the end of 2014: “Nothing prepares you better than doing it, especially pitching in the postseason. The big stage and bright lights, I took so much away from it and it will help me down the road for sure.”

He said he was at full strength in the postseason due to the adrenaline of the situation, and he didn’t feel fatigue from the repeated work.

Up next: reliever Seth Maness

On his early season struggles, he still cannot pinpoint the exact reason why he got off to such a rocky start a year ago: “I don’t think I have really put my finger on it. Mentally preparing and not getting down on yourself is important. That’s the biggest thing, not getting down on yourself, fighting yourself and hurting your performance.”

“Last year was the most adversity that I have experienced in the game. It was a true challenge. I believe the more you starting thinking about it and listening to other people, it turns into a whirlwind.”

While acknowledging the shift of the bullpen personality dynamics with Jason Motte and Pat Neshek both departing, Maness gives credit to Randy Choate for being the veteran that many younger components of the bullpen go to for guidance.

“I’m still learning as a reliever. That’s why it’s important that I can go to Choate and ask him. Relieving every day you have to be ready in regards to keeping your arm in shape and being ready to go every day. It is a big adjustment, going out having a rough outing and having a few in a row, so I am still learning.”

He states that he would be open to looking to return to the starting rotation one day if needed, but it is not on his radar right now.

 

Rehabbing lefty Kevin Siegrist….

Regarding his health and rehab progress from the forearm muscle strains that curbed his season, he was on a regime of rest being the most important element. He explained he was not sure about the source of the injury and that he was actually relieved when there was an injury diagnosis.

“It was a very frustrating season for sure. I didn’t have the explosion at the end of my pitches. I could just tell I wasn’t throwing the ball the same way.”

When attempting to pinpoint sources for the injury, he returned back to the 2013 World Series. “I think part of it was the World Series before. I had such a short break that I didn’t know how to prepare myself going into the season,” Siegrist explained.

On things he is focused on working on, continuing to develop a secondary pitch is his focus. “Last year before I got hurt, I was really working on my slider and getting its velocity up so it appears like a cutter. I thought I was showing improvement with that, and I definitely have a better feel for it going into this season than last.”

Carpenter

All-Star third baseman Matt Carpenter took to the podium next…

About being entrenched at third base for the year and knowing his role ahead of time, he says it is “a good feeling knowing you have a position,” and he does not anticipate preparing for any other spot. He feels third base is a natural fit for him.

About finding a more consistent groove this season at the plate, Carpenter doesn’t anticipate doing anything any differently in his preparation for the year. Rather it would be some changes in his approach that he would embrace instead by becoming more aggressive at the plate.

“This last year was kind of a grind for me mentally and I never really felt like I got on a real hot streak that I could prolong like the year before. I think last year was a good learning experience overall.”

He continued on that he did find a different zone in the postseason: “I did finally come and it was in the postseason and I will take that ten times out of ten.”

“I took more of an aggressive approach in the postseason. Part of that was from the experience I had gathered from the year before. It sort of opened my eyes that it was something that over the course of a season could have some benefits as well. That was a good learning experience for me.”

Carpenter was enthusiastic about the possibilities that Heyward brings to the Cardinal offensive approach. “I’m excited. Certainly we know what kind of player he is and the ability he has to get on base. I don’t know what our lineup is going to look like or how it is going to unfold, but I sure am excited to know he’ll be in there somewhere.”

About his role in the lineup potentially changing, Carpenter says that while he will hit anywhere in the lineup Matheny places him, however he is open to moving wherever fits best.

When accessing the potential of being paired with Heyward at the top of the lineup, Carpenter sees it as a chance for the team’s offensive approach to get far more diverse. “I think this group can be really dangerous. You would think that between me and Jason, we would be at the top of the lineup. While I don’t want to speak for him, would say that (Heyward) hasn’t really tapped into his potential as a power hitter, and I would like to put myself in that category as well. So you have two guys at the brink of finding out their power threshold and meanwhile doing a really good job of getting on base as well.”

Regarding the increasing competition level in the NL Central, Carpenter sees it as an across the board challenge. “This is going to be as tough of a division as it has been since I have been around, and that’s pretty hard to imagine because this has been a really tough division already,” he evaluated. “With the emergence of the Pirates , how good the Cubs look on paper and the Brewers are always there, its going to be a tough go.”

“But the good news is that they are sitting on the other side thinking the same thing about us, and I feel good about the group we’ve put together.”

And finally, Matt Adams steps in to round out a busy day at the Winter Warm-Up.

About the high spot home runs he had in the postseason against two of the game’s best left-handed pitchers, Adams relays that “It was a huge confidence builder for me, especially doing it against Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.”

His focus on his swing has been in continuing to work with hitting coaches throughout the offseason and taking swings against sliders in the batting cage. Soon he anticipates introducing curveballs and change-ups as well.

 

 

That’s it for day 2 of I-70’s coverage from the Cardinal Care Winter Warm-Up. Come back tomorrow for final day coverage, as well as some exclusive content from the first two days as well.

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, Minors, MLBComments (1)

2015 Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up Progressive Blog – Day 1

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.

WWU2015

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.

Belisle

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.”

 

Coming up in the next update: Jason Heyward, Stephen Piscotty, Ty Kelly

 

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.”

Heyward

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.

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Proactive Cardinals Lock Up Invaluable Asset In Lynn

The Cardinals proved themselves to be proactive once again in keeping their own in tow by forgoing the arbitration process with pitcher Lance Lynn. As opposed to letting a negotiator set the tone for their future with the 27-year-old right-hander, the club bought out his full stretch of arbitration eligible seasons to the tone of a three year deal that could reach a maximum amount of $23.5 million. And in doing so the club not only protected itself from issuing a potentially record-setting deal, it also shored up its most consistent—and suddenly invaluable—components.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals
Lynn had long been plagued by the perception of being an inconsistent contributor, an image that was simultaneously both right and wrong. Over the course of his first three seasons, few pitchers had been as victorious as often as Lynn has been. An All-Star in 2012 when he went on to win a career-best 18 games, Lynn is one three pitchers to notch 15 or more victories over the past three seasons and third winningest pitcher in the National League, behind only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. He has been very durable as well; making at least 33 starts each of the past three years and topping 200 innings in each of the previous two campaigns.

Yet despite these high marks, he has been plagued by awful bouts of inconsistency in the past as well, in addition to an image of his success being more a device of run support instead of stellar work done on his own. During his 18-win 2012 season, he struggled so badly down the stretch that he was pulled from the rotation late in the season. In 25 August innings, he posted a 6.66 in seven games and from August 26th through September 9th, he worked from the bullpen until regaining his form to close out the year with four solid starts and an encouraging postseason showing.

2013 saw more of the same however, as he opened up the year with a 7-1 record from April through May into a three month run of an ERA over 5.00 and 6-8 record from June through August. Despite once again rebounding with a strong September and October, Lynn had established a track record of extreme inconsistency as the season wore on.

However, he broke the mold that was quickly being set for him last summer. After entering the season amid questions about where he would factor into the Cardinal starting rotation—if at all—he set out and had his finest season of his career. He never posted an ERA over 4.00 in any month and instead of wilting as the summer grew hotter, he matched its heat in his performance. He carried the Cardinal rotation through nearly unanimous bouts with injuries through the second half, posting a 2.22 ERA after the All-Star Break and limiting opponents to .228 average against.

In short, he conquered his greatest demon and made another step up the mountain towards becoming an unquestioned frontline starter. And whether it is ready to be accepted or not, that is exactly what Lynn has become as he enters his fourth year in the Cardinal rotation—and not a moment too soon.

The Cardinal rotation enters 2015 with its ace in Wainwright returning from offseason elbow surgery and Michael Wacha’s status to be determined as he works his way back into starting shape after a shoulder injury that shortened his season as well. Lynn’s accession to carrying the weight of the rotation will carry over to his responsibility shifting from quality innings eater, to bonafide source of wins, not just beneficiary of his team’s production.

There are wins for both parties involved. Lynn has quietly become one of the game’s steadiest contributors. And in a time where the cost of obtaining quality pitching can have a franchise changing financial ramifications, getting one of the game’s most dependable options for an annual value of just north of $7 million per season instantly becomes one of the shrewdest deals that John Mozeliak has maneuvered to date.

While Mozeliak acknowledged that a  longer pact that stretched past just his currently team controlled years was discussed, but ultimately not able to be worked out at the time, both parties come away from the negotiations in a better place than they enter them from.  Lynn gets a handsome increase from the $535, 000 he earned in 2014 and also see the reward that befits his accomplishments in affirming his value to team a year ago.

Yet another victory for a guy that has made such an outcome his specialty.

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Cardinals Face Variety Of Options For Rotational Depth

As the calendar has officially turned over to January and with spring training much closer than it may seem, the Cardinals are in what appears to be mostly ready for camp condition. The club has been able to address issues of upgrading its everyday lineup, as well as adding both bullpen and bench depth. Yet is the offseason quickly winding down, there are still a few edges that could afford to be smoothed off regarding the team’s depth, and general manager John Mozeliak has plenty of options to consider in addressing his most prominent area of need: starting pitching depth.

 Gonzales

Adding another veteran pitching presence to the fifth starter picture is an admitted area of intent for Mozeliak. While Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and John Lackey have their roles set in stone, the team has thus far been content to allow Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales compete for the final rotational spot. With the team’s devotion to growing from within from both a financial and talent base perspective, this is not a surprising situation, nor is it a non-desirable one. Martinez represents the most electric arm in perhaps the entire organization, while Gonzales was the club’s 2014 minor league pitcher of the year, while climbing from through four levels of the organization during his first full professional year.

Both are obviously enticing options that stand to represent a significant part of the team’s pitching future and are enviable options to have available to pick between in the present. However, as is the case with many younger hurlers, there is always the chance for growing pains. Martinez, 23, and Gonzalez, 22, are both at the point in their respective careers where they are acclimating to the chance of being full-time Major League starters, and meeting the grind that such a role carries. As well, there is the already admitted factor that there will be protective innings limits in place for either of the duo in play. Add that into the ever-present chance that injuries besiege any part of the staff as well and change the dynamic of the rotation instantaneously, and the need for there to be more depth available capable of starting games.

That is where the existing free agent market comes into play. While the easy-to-align locational value of Max Scherzer remains, it is a possibility that remains a solar system’s length away from being a realistic add for the team. The same goes for James Shields, who’s been involved in more recent speculation as well. In all actuality, the type of low profile addition that Mozeliak has discussed would be able to swing between adding a third dimension to the starting pitching competition, as well as become a viable option has a long reliever as well.

This type of option would be an arm looking to rebound its stock from a down year, returning from injury or simply is sliding through the cracks some as the winter progresses. A low cost option that has high value return on investment in the type of way that Pat Neshek did a year ago. Looking at the available options remaining on the market, there are a number of suspects that fit this description.

Among the stock bounce back group, veterans Scott Baker, Franklin Morales, Kyle Kendrick and Alexi Ogando stand out. Baker, who battled arm injuries for the better part of 2012-13, rallied to make 25 total appearances for the Texas Rangers a year ago, eight of which were starts. Overall, he posted a 3-4 record with a 5.47 ERA in 2014. In his heyday as with the Minnesota Twins, he won over 10 games three times and the 33-year-old has won 66 career games.

Ogando’s effectiveness took a severe downtown in 2014, as he turned in an dreadful 6.84 ERA as he battled a mixture of shoulder and elbow injuries that sent him to the disabled list three times in 2013 and limited him to 25 innings last year. But the 31-year-old former All-Star has diverse resume of being able to spot start and contribute in multiple capacities out of the bullpen. As far as reclamation projects go in regards to filling needs for the Cardinal staff, his versatility makes him a very intriguing—and likely low cost—alternative.

Morales, soon to be 29, is a recovering member of the Colorado Rockies staff. In his first season as a majority starter, he posted a 5.37 ERA over 142 innings to contribute to a 6-9 record a year ago. For the majority of his career he was a reliever that carried a 4.51 ERA out of the pen in Coors, and has the always welcomed benefit of being a left-hander that misses bats (7.3 k’s/9) is successful versus left-handed hitters (.213 career average vs LHB).

Kendrick has seen his stock slide substantially over the past two years. He has gone from being a promising component of the Philllies’ rotation, posting back-to-back campaigns of sub-4.00 ERA while making 15+ starts, to struggling to two losing seasons and ERA’s north of 4.60 in each of the last two years. However, he has decent control and is in need of the type of season where he can prove his mettle and does have some experience in the bullpen (despite most of it being due to relegation).

There are also those that have to re-establish their stock and at the head of that class sits Brandon Beachy and Chad Billingsley. Both have considerable risk, has Beachy has twice undergone Tommy John surgery since 2012 and Billingsley has been sidelined since September of 2012 with a mixture of tendon injuries, but was one of the NL’s most electric pitchers when healthy. Both bring considerable risk, but if the goal is to simply obtain potential upside for a battle in camp and have a high upside presence, they fit the bill.

Other currently available options in these veins include lefties Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders and Brad Mills, as well as right-handers Carlos Villanueva, Chris Young and former Cardinal killer Ryan Vogelsong.

However, the option could remain simply to sit pat and let the homegrown guys sort it out. From a depth perspective there are plenty of internal options besides Martinez and Gonzales that have either moonlighted before or are coming on strong for a chance to prove themselves as well. Tyler Lyons has spent parts of the last two years with the club. Tim Cooney and Zach Petrick will be knocking at the door this year from Memphis, as could top prospect Alex Reyes, who is slotted to begin at Double-A Springfield.

There is also the presence (however ominous it may be) of Jaime Garcia to account for, who will be entering his likely final season with the club and will be pushing to get healthy to advertise himself of the open market next winter.

In addition, there could be the potential for another rapid rising prospect in 2014 first round pick Luke Weaver. With the club’s recent history of fast tracking polished collegiate arms, he should not be ruled out for a second-half appearance either if his development mirrors that of his first round processors in Wacha and Gonzales.

The possibilities are numerous and the actual outcome is yet to reveal itself. But as the team looks towards making finishing touches over the next month the direction that starting pitching offering will go, there are no shortage of routes that can still be explored.

 

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Keeping Perspective With Mark Reynolds Deal

The Cardinals pulled their first fish out of this year’s free agent waters on Thursday, by inking first baseman Mark Reynolds. Reynolds, most recently of the Milwaukee Brewers, was a specific target for the Cardinals this winter and his acquisition came to fruition finally today. He agreed to a one-year deal with financial terms yet to be disclosed.

 Reynolds_BlastAtFenway_BobDeChiara

The club entered the off season with a specific need to get a more varied offering from the first base position, after Matt Adams struggled against left-handed pitching again in 2014. As well, there was a pronounced focus on adding more right-handed power to a bench that struggled to find a consistent source of productive depth over the last few years behind its front eight.

The 31-year-old Reynolds is coming off a year where he hit 22 home runs and drove in 45 runs for Milwaukee, while carrying a .196 average. In his career he is an owner of seven consecutive 20 home run campaigns, highlighted by a 44 homer breakout in 2009. Easily capable of significant outburst of power and run production, Reynolds represents a potential find in both of these areas  for a team that finished towards the bottom of the NL in both areas. However, he also comes with obviously easy points to detract from as well, as his alarmingly low batting average showcases. So why don’t we go head and extol those areas first and get it out of the way, okay?

Mainly, he strikes out, a lot. It is truly done at an epic rate. He strikes out at such a frequent pace that it has become virtually impossible for him to play every day. He has never had a season where he made 500 plate appearances that he did not notch at least 150 strikeouts, highlighted by the four year run where he led his league in k’s, checking in at 204, 223, 211 and 196 from 2008-11. In his 4,380 plate appearances, 1,398 of them have ended with a strikeout, a 31% overall clip.

That is a prodigious number that is undeniably a red flag. And it is also clipped by the fact that he carries a .229 career average and .324 on-base percentage. Now, the OBP is not particularly horrifying, as he is somewhat adept at drawing walks as well. However he will be the classic example of an edge of the seat option; if he makes an impact, it is either all or nothing.

Now the benefits of it all. All in all, he is a minor disciple of the Adam Dunn School of True Outcomes: homer, walk or strikeout. But in regards to the role he will be asked to man in St. Louis, that is okay. Barring substantial injury to Adams, he is not going to be asked to be an everyday presence, and in the event that he was, he could fit comfortably into the bottom half of the lineup with some regularly and not cause a catastrophic change to the team’s potential.

The one trick pony at the plate brings a quietly diverse element to the overall picture when his potential with the glove is brought into consideration too. While Reynolds considered to be an above-average first baseman, he is versatile enough to shift across the diamond as well if needed. With the non-tender of Daniel Descalso earlier this month, there was a void in who could back up Matt Carpenter if needed as well.

The Cardinals are devoid of many free swingers, which also can play into why they are devoid of very many home runs as well. In 2014, the Cardinals finished with both the fewest strikeouts in the NL (1,133), as well as the fewest home runs (105). Additional of Reynolds is sure to create an upswing in both categories, which creates an increase in a need category, as well as an increase in a manageable negative area. It is the definition of giving some to get some.

All in all, the move to grab one of the few clear cut options on the open market that can increase the team’s potential is a solid, if not spectacular one. But the Cardinals are not in need of spectacular moves, they are in need of finding finishing touches. When tasked with rounding out a roster, there are some edges that have to be covered with not the smoothest all-around options. If Reynolds stays par the course of his usual tendencies (whilst keeping the extremes in check), he offers a definitely needed solution in an area that had few answers last summer.

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Remembering Burwell For The Man He Was….And Is

Bryan Burwell

I would not profess to say I knew Bryan Burwell for a long period of time at all. In reality, it has now become fact that I only knew him in a short window towards the end of his life, which sadly came to be on early on Thursday morning. I met him just a few years ago at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up early in the morning in a media breakout room. Bryan would record interviews with many of the members of the team and other attached figures in our room, so essentially I had a front row seat to watch him do what he did remarkably better than anyone else I have ever seen do firsthand: effortlessly produce a comfortable, yet productive conversation out of anyone. It did not matter whether he was discussing a first trip to spring training with a promising minor leaguer, or talking through the real-life impact of reaching the Hall of Fame with Tony LaRussa. The man simply had a common touch that was unmatched in my eyes.

This could probably be attributed to the way that I truly became acquainted with him myself back in early 2013. While we were in the media breakout room he had come in and he made his presence felt in an immediate sense, simply by speaking to one person he may have identified in the hallway before even stepping into his destination at the table in the media room. I knew it from hearing it for years on ESPN’s ‘The Sports Reporters‘, as well as narrating local televised stories in my native St.Louis, where he worked for 12 years as a member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yet, in a room full of noteworthy voices, it was that distinctively deep voice that was instantly recognizable even if you even turned to identify who it was.

It would be inaccurate to say that he worked the room, because he never went out of his way to announce his presence. Mainly, because he did not have to. Most every conversation that he had was one you could tell was a continuation of one previously. This was a man that genuinely knew everyone, and that gravity like pull to him was returned from the recipient as well. Myself being easily the youngest and most unaccomplished writer at the time in the room, I stayed to my work in the corner that I enjoyed working from, being slightly seen but definitely not heard whilst earning my stripes I was not even quite sure if I deserved yet.

The next time I looked around I saw that the sudden Master of Ceremonies of the room, Bryan, had set up shop at an adjacent table just behind me, while setting in on working with his cameraman about what interviews he would be going after that day. In a day where my job was to speak with and connect with some of the most famous figures in the city and in sports, I was more stunned by the fact that I would be working in the same proximity with one of the most noteworthy writers of my time.

When the member of the Cardinal media staff that comes in the room to let us know that another player would be taking the podium to field questions soon came into our room, we moved over to take our spots in the adjacent room where the media sessions take the place. On the way out of the room, Bryan looked over at me and I nodded back in initial direct recognition, but then he made his way by and put his hand on my shoulder, which of course set my nerves into overdrive. I had hoped that I had not broken some unspoken rule of the room that I had no knowledge of, but was about to be baptized in the parameters of.

But as quickly as those nerves flared up, he dosed them with a quick recognition that changed the course of my day immediately. He looked down at my laptop bag and had noted KappaAlphaSithat it shared the coat of arms of my collegiate fraternity, which unknowingly to me Burwell was affiliated with. Instantly the entire course of my experience that day—and many times after—changed.

We immediately began a discussion on a number of topics that ranged from my work and background, to his as well. He had questions ranging from what my goals were with writing and opinions on the Cardinals, all the way down to sharing fraternity stories and just general conversation. All in all during this first conversation, we ended up talking for close to a half hour, while a number of people who knew him came to speak to him and therefore met me as well.

Afterwards I would often stand next to him in the media sessions, where he would sometimes turn to me with an off the cuff comment or to offer some context that always helped to get a grasp on either what question to ask or even down the road inspire a story. It was one of the most unexpected, yet meaningful professional relationships I had ever cultivated.

It was the beginning of one of the most useful and beneficial relationships of my life. After this initial meeting, we remained in contact occasionally. While I never asked him for anything directly regarding jobs or information, if something came along that he thought was a good opportunity, he would reach out to me with it, usually via Twitter or a quick text. Anytime we would run into each other at either a Cardinals or Rams event or practice, we would have that same conversation where he would check in on what I was doing, and then in his own generous way, let me know the best way to go about making the most of it.

I can recall the last time I worked with Bryan having lunch with himself and Joe Strauss at a restaurant in downtown St. Louis. As the three of us sat in the mostly empty establishment, there was a Mizzou basketball game on the corner. And while the lunch only lasted about 45 minutes, I learned more in the exchange of bantered between the two seasoned writers than I probably could have in the rest of the year combined. Those two were longtime coworkers, and did not have to welcome me to that privy of a conversation. But with his always welcoming style, Bryan gave stock to my opinion on both the game and other random topics just easily as he did the much more seasoned Strauss. That is just the type of guy he was, a true man of the people.

As an African-American writer, many times in this industry you do not see many people that resemble yourself or that you can relate to on that level. While Burwell was a nationally famous figure for both his written efforts as well as his televised work, he was not far from Earth in this culturally shared feature for us either. He related to me as well on that very basic and shared perspective. I came to find it was bigger than just a relationship built from a happenstance meeting over a laptop bag, that it was the gateway that showed the often-immediate bond that occurs between African-American journalists who are charged with the responsibility of shedding light in ways it may not have the opportunity to be shed through any other medium.

Bryan let me know that there is no reason to get away from who I truly am to write a sport that does not reflect me as often as it could. A purpose that I understood before meeting him, but was sharpened even greater by being able to watch and associate with him.

I am saddened to see my part-time mentor/fraternity brother/stylistic mentor pass on for the standard reasons that one is impacted to see anyone pass. There is a family with a void in it and friends that have lost a genuine one in return. I am also saddened because the city and country has lost the type perspective provider that never goes out of style. One unafraid to face up to tough issues and tackle them with his head up and head on.

Bill Ivie, the founder of this website, shared his thoughts on Burwell’s passing:

Burwell was a guy that I very seldom agreed with. His opinions often differed from mine pretty greatly. But I always appreciated the way he went about his business, the way he presented his information and the respect he had for the industry. He took time to work with our reporters from i70 anytime we were on the same assignment. Never once did he look down on anyone from this site for not being “traditional” media. The man had my respect and the industry lost a great voice, a talented writer and a mentor. He and his family will remain in our prayers during what is now a hard holiday season for them all.

But in his passing, he has also instructed another indirect lesson that can reverberate as long as the ones that he voiced to me as well: that your work and the ethic to create it can be your legacy, but to carry a common touch and strong dignity through what you produce can truly make you immortal, just has Bryan has become.

Thank you for what you represented, and later became, for me. From a representative work to read, and then an actual personality to model myself after.

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Prioritizing The Cardinals’ Holiday Shopping List

Black Friday is quickly approaching, which sits as the unofficial start to the Christmas buying season, but for the Cardinals, the seasonal shopping is well underway. With the addition of Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden, the St. Louis Cardinals have addressed two of their biggest outstanding needs in the young offseason already: an all-around upgrade in the everyday lineup and a back of the bullpen arm (that is a ‘break in case of emergency’ closing option as well). However, their work is not complete yet. In an offseason that is sending out vibes from the front office of being a very active one, where else could the team look to improve? And more so, what are the best possible routes to do so through?

St. Louis Cardinals wrap up season press conference

Here’s a look at the team’s current build and where it could be headed to address its most pertinent needs.

Issue #1: Reinforcing the infield

Situation: There is bound to be some turnover in the infield in at least two locations: finding a right-handed bat that is capable of playing the corner infield positions and upgrading up the middle. John Mozeliak has hinted at the team wanting to upgrade on the role that Descalso plays, and has even gone as far to name him directly as a candidate not to return. Meanwhile, Adams’ struggles to progress against left-handed pitching (.197 career mark in 203 plate appearances) has reached a point where he is almost a platoon candidate.

Solution: With Ellis out the door and Descalso potentially following him, it is a good situation for Kozma, who is more than capable when cast as a defensive reinforcement at second base and (more invaluably) at shortstop. That leaves open one more position that could be addressed through free agency, although the middle infield crop is not as impressive.Kelly Johnson and Alberto Callapso are versatile options on the open market, while Clint Barmes is a more limited possibility positionally, although he is close to Kozma in usage.

The best answer is likely Greg Garcia, who has been solid in his cups of coffee visits to the big league club. With the ability to play either spot up the middle, he can be a versatile option that could be a low-cost upgrade directly in Descalso’s lane.

The other infield issue is not as easily solved, as there is not an absolute successor in the system to step up and assume as large of a role as a potential first base platoon option could be. Add in the idea that such a player should also be able to play some third, and it becomes completely apparent that some shopping must be done to fill this role.

Once again, the open market is not very accommodating for this need this year. Mark Reynolds could be a player in this scenario, although he has not played third base since his Arizona days. Otherwise, there is not an easy fix here, so either a trade may have to be maneuvered or a pure first baseman will need to be acquired such as Reynolds, Corey Hart or potentially Mike Morse—if the team is really dedicated to spending and creating a true time share—at the spot. Otherwise, the team may have to continue to bear Adams’ struggles and perhaps give Xavier Scruggs a further look in the spring as well.

Prediction: Kozma sticks, Garcia is promoted and a first baseman is signed. Third base backup remains a slight issue entering camp.

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Issue #2: Left-handed bullpen help

Situation: With the injury-filled (and slightly regressed) year of Kevin Siegrist, the clubs left-handed bullpen options where limited. With Randy Choate being a pure specialist, the reliance fell on the shoulders of Sam Freeman to do much of the heavy lifting, which he was able to do in stretches last year. However, a more resolute option is desired, that can be more versatile than Choate, while still being able to overpower opponents like Siegrist. Mozeliak has said he will look to deal Choate in the name of freeing up a spot for such a left-handed option.

Solution: This is an issue that can be handled on the open market as well, it just depends to what extent the club wants to invest in it. Andrew Miller is the top lefty available, but also one of the most sought after properties overall, so his price is likely to be at a premium. After fellow southpaw reliever Zack Duke received three years and $15 million from the White Sox this week, it is fair to say that Miller should easily receive twice that value on at least as many years. That may be too rich for the Cardinals blood, but there are other routes as well.

Craig Breslow and Sean Burnett are two further options that could interest the team. The 34-year-old Breslow is coming off a career-worst campaign in Boston, where his ERA spiked up to 5.96 over 60 appearances. But in the six years previous to 2014, his career ERA was 2.82 over an average of 65 games per year.

Burnett has been injured for much of the past two years, but represents a reclamation project of sorts. He was the other left-hander on the market when the team picked up Choate two years ago, but has never got going full-speed since.

Other left-handed options on the open market include Tom Gorzelanny, Phil Coke, Scott Downs, Joe Thatcher andJoe Beimel. Internal options include Marco Gonzales, Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons.

Prediction: Mozeliak sounds determined to make the team better there after the role collapsed on the team in October. There is a chance that they could decide to make the large commitment to woo Miller, whose recent success is breeding a larger payout than his long-term numbers say he should, but there is the path of less resistance as well.

On that road, they go out on faith that Siegrist is healthy and ready to resume his former stopper role, while exploring the trade market for the type of versatile, power arm they desire. If all else fails, go to the non-roster invite well late in the winter and continue to depend on Freeman and bounce back candidate like Breslow, who is capable of pitching in a variety of situations. It would seem the latter is more feasible than the former.

Issue #3: A Major Boost To The Rotation?

Situation: After dealing Shelby Miller, an opening was made in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales were brought forward as the options to battle for the newly open spot, which is a very feasible and even envious position to be in. However, it appears the team may want to do more, as they are in the rumor mill for the services of Jon Lester as well.

Solution: Signing Lester would obviously be a huge game changer to the expectation for the club, which is already to be back atop the NL Central and on the World Series shortlist. Putting Lester in a rotation with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Lance Lynn gives the Cardinals the best rotation in perhaps all of baseball, which is an obviously intriguing carrot to chase.

Club President Bill DeWitt has said the team is willing to add payroll this year, so getting competitive for Lester may not be as daunting of a proposition as imagined. He is likely in line for a payout of around $18 to $20 million annually, which would make him the highest paid player on the team, but there is a clear opening if wanted to fill it in such a way.

Prediction: Behind former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Lester is the most sought after premiere option on the market this year, and potentially is the best value of all as well. If the Cardinals’ interest is indeed sincere, they could get well into the mix for bidding for him, but there is a huge chance that another more desperate team offers up an insane amount of money (think C.J. Wilson in 2011), along with an extra year or so to land him in their city. It seems the Cardinals may pursue slightly, but not chase intently, and Lester ends up elsewhere while the Cardinals go to camp with their two young guns vying for the fifth rotation spot.

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Heyward Stands To Revitalize Link Among African-American Cardinal Fans

It is far from a secret that the glory days of there being a deep African-American population on Major League Baseball rosters have passed. Whether a renaissance is possible in a game that hit its lowest percentage of African-American players since the integration of the game in the late ’40s last year is tied to a number of factors, but as the decline has regularly continued in recent years, the signs are not particularly encouraging right now.

Heyward

However, the minority presence is far from devoid in the game. If anything, it is more diverse than ever, with Americans of all shades, a heavy Latin influence from all over the world and a growing Japanese presence as well. But while the MLB’s original diversity point is struggling, it is far from dead. Turning on the World Series, there were the presences of Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson. The All-Star Game was littered with high-caliber talent of color, such as Derek Jeter, David Price, Adam Jones, Josh Harrison and the 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. There are emergent stars like Michael Brantley, Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton as well. At times the Philadelphia Phillies started as many as five black players at once, while the Atlanta Braves featured an all-black outfield.

Yet in St. Louis, there has been a void of regularly seen, impact African-American players for over a decade. Historically, the Cardinals have featured a strong lineage of African-American players. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith line the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame with Cardinal caps attached to their images. Each carried the torch in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s as the faces of the franchise and continues to be synonymous with the team to this day.

Outside of the 1% of greatness in Cardinal history, there are many other past players who stood as greats of their eras. Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Curt Flood, Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan and Lee Smith all were as standouts of their time and vital contributors to Cardinal history. But gradually that presence has dissipated to the point where over the past three years, only five African-American players (Adron Chambers, Sam Freeman, Xavier Scruggs, Jermaine Curtis and Tommy Pham) have made it to the Majors in St. Louis, and all had a bit part in the big picture at best.

While the Cardinals as a team have thrived over the past decade, there has been an undercurrent of disenchantment from a large portion of the Cardinal faithful: its African-American fanbase. While approving of the success of the team, in spite of it all, there has been a genuine desire to see more African-American faces on the field as a part of it, as there has been in generations past.

The deficiency has even sparked notions of there being intentionally exclusionary politics within the organization, which while unsubstantiated have picked up steam in the African-American community. And while most have not abandoned the team, there are some whose rooting interest is pointed in the direction of individual players such as McCutchen, Jeter, CC Sabathia, Matt Kemp or St. Louisan Ryan Howard, all of whom are high-impact African-American presences of the same ilk of players that they grew up rooting for in St. Louis.

Yet on Monday, there were two different types of excitement when the team’s trade to acquire outfielder Jason Heyward was announced. There were the baseball fans who had the natural excitement of adding a new wrinkle to the team’s everyday offering. But there was also the relieved enthusiasm of the slightly disenfranchised black following that breathed out a resounding “finally” in what the trade added to their home team: a long ,lost African-American presence to get behind every day.

Sure, his production potential was obviously an exciting element, but having “one of our own” to get behind is an unparalleled excitement that has been lost for so long. It brings on elements of an exciting nostalgia to the contemporary delight of such a historically good run for the city’s most beloved franchise. There is no caveat to the Cardinals now, because they are now for the any and every man once again.

Heyward is a young, talented and needed property on the field, which is an undeniable boost in the potential of the Cardinal baseball result. But perhaps of equal importance, he becomes a representative presence for a portion of the fan base that simply wanted to have a seat at the table—and feel that they belonged at it.

Those days are over for the time being, and something tells me there will be a wildly popular Cardinal in right field come Opening Day, for many a reason.

 

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Heyward Deal Shows Winds Of Change Are Full Speed Ahead

It was clear that something had to be done to change the identity of the Cardinals this winter. Beginning with sparking an offense that yielded over 160 fewer runs last season from the year before, to finding a new direction in the wake of the premature loss of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinal offseason has taken on a more urgent tone that could have been predicted just not too long ago.

JasonHeyward

The challenge of finding such a vital fit in a short period of time is clearly a challenge that was not being taken lightly, as the club shook things up in a major way by acquiring outfielder Jason Heyward along with pitcher Jordan Walden for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. It is a blockbuster trade in both the parts and the significance of it, and continues the theme that very few are safe in the Cardinal core these days.

The deal was a deal that was born of both necessity and uncertainty as the Cardinals faced a very uncertain situation about how to proceed in right field. On side of the coin there was the prospect of going forward with Randal Grichuk, who started the majority of the postseason and flashed promise at both the plate and in the field, albeit sporadically. There was also the option of putting top prospect Stephen Piscotty into the mix as well, who hit .288 and drove in 69 runs for the Memphis Redbirds last summer.

Yet the prospect of leaving a spot in the everyday lineup that will need to be heavily leaned on to two developing potentials had its obvious pitfalls, so the call to action seemed more prevalent to solve outside of the organization. Yet the complication in play was to not overcommit to any one free agent property in the name of blocking any of the internal options that have shown obvious promise. In a year where none of the free agent options were overly enthusing for the Cardinals situation, it became clear that if a trade could be wrangled, it would fit the bill best.

And on Monday afternoon that is exactly the route that John Mozeliak took, in trading away one of the team’s best young arms in Miller and a promising, although oft-injured prospect in Jenkins to land Heyward and Walden.

On the incoming portion, two immediate needs are filled. Heyward becomes the obvious choice in right and also offers the potential of being a variably used tool in the everyday lineup as well. He has had success as both a leadoff and second batter, which offers options for the placement of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong to be more variably used as well. In the field, he is perhaps the premiere right fielder in the game, winner of two Gold Gloves, including the 2014 nod in right.

Walden offers a late inning option that can work in a setup role, where he has thrived in his career thus far. He dials up his fastball regularly in the high 90’s and has experience as both a setup man and closer. He has 38 career saves, although over the past few years his impact has been in the bridge to the ninth inning, where he has notched 34 holds for the Braves since 2013. His acquisition fills the need for a versatile late inning reliever that was opened up when Pat Neshek reached the open market following the year.

On the other side of the deal are the departing properties, mainly Miller. Long held in the esteem of being a major part of the Cardinal rotation’s future, there is no doubt that despite his up and down performances, he was a tough chip to part with. Since joining the Cardinal rotation in 2013, the 24-year-old righty had a record of 25-18 with an ERA of 3.40. Opposing batters managed only a .236 average against him in 2014, the 11th best mark in the National League. However, he often struggled with his control and commanding a second pitch off of his fastball was an area of his development that has continued to lag as well.

Yet regardless of this, it still had to be a deal of the utmost essential nature for Miller to be moved in the name of completing it. The Cardinals have long been possessive of their home grown talent, and more than anything else, the service years of contract control they bring. But in order to acquire Heyward, they dealt a combined 10 years of control years to get a definite one from Heyward and one from Walden as well. Add in the inherent value that the team places on its young arms, and the urgency that the club felt in completing this swap is clear. This was a move the team felt was of the utmost importance to complete, and they went outside of their usual box in order to secure it.

But in reality, perhaps the dynamic of the Cardinal approach to talent acquisition is just in the middle of a continuing shift from where its norm was previously. Over the last calendar year, they have issued a large free agent contract to Jhonny Peralta which was off the beaten path of the times, traded from its established core in David Freese, Allen Craig, Joe Kelly and now Miller, and are now continuing to bring in more foreign properties to help push a team that was nearly completely dedicated to growing from within over the top.

In many ways, Miller and Heyward represented the same idea for each of their now former clubs: former top prospects that had stagnated in regards to their original purpose, and now were of best off as chips to bring in newly need quantities from outside. For the Cardinals, it is a continued walk down a new, but necessary path and as resounding of a statement possible that the status quo is reshaping itself in real-time. Stay tuned.

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