Tag Archive | "St Louis Cardinals"

Maybe St. Louis Cardinals discount rate suggests Aledmys Diaz isn’t worth the hype

St. Louis Cardinals officials said they wanted to make a “big splash” in the market for Cuban baseball players when they signed infielder Aledmys Diaz on Sunday, but their first signing might turn out to simply be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

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The Cardinals signed Diaz, 23, to a four-year, $8-million contract and will likely send him to the Double-A Springfield Cardinals to begin his American baseball career.

However, the excitement Diaz generated when the Cardinals brought him to their spring training headquarters in Jupiter, Fla., nearly three weeks ago suggested they were about to sign a player more similar to Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder sensation Yasiel Puig rather than someone who would have to labor to take a spot away from utility players such as Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso.

The organization’s interest and subsequent offer are not unfounded, to be sure. The $8 million it will pay Diaz in the next four years is substantially less than the $15-20 million many people thought it would take to sign Diaz with teams in play such as the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, San Franscisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays.

Those teams ultimately steered clear of Diaz and the Cardinals might have gotten him at a discount, which could be important if he never develops beyond the Kozma-Descalso level and yet another incredible Cardinals bargain if he becomes a starter in Major League Baseball.

But he has plenty of work to do to get there. Although he hit .315 and had 12 homeruns in 2012 in the Cuban professional league, he has not played since because he falsified his age when he defected after that season and Major League Baseball suspended him for a year before he could sign with an American team.

So the projected start in the minor leagues is well-founded, and the Cardinals have little reason to rush Diaz up to St. Louis after they signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53-million contract in November to be the starting shortstop.

Yet the fact Diaz is now in spring training camp with the Cardinals does not mean fans should expect him, rookie second baseman Kolten Wong and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras to be the next Albert Pujols-Jim Edmonds-Scott Rolen trio that will carry the team to World Series championships.

That’s a possibility, but it’s a small one at this point.

While some reports say Diaz will be an impact righthanded hitter at the major-league level, others suggest he will be merely a utility infielder.

Of course, projections about former Cuban players are always difficult because the information on them is so scarce.

The Oakland Athletics lucked out in 2012 when they signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million contract. He has hit more than 20 homers and had 80 or more runs batted in, in each of his first two years although many people around baseball thought the A’s made a misguided move to sign an unknown player to such a large contract.

Other Cuban players such as Puig and Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman have also made big splashes in the big leagues within the past three years, but those three players signed contracts worth a combined $105.25 million.

Maybe the Cardinals have gotten away with one of the greatest steals in the history of the Cuban-American baseball, but any further hype about Diaz should probably wait until he at least gets to the top level of the minor leagues, much less the majors.

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Despite record, St. Louis Cardinals have excellent start to spring training

The St. Louis Cardinals won just twice in the opening week of their 2014 spring training exhibition schedule, but wins and losses matter little in spring training, and the Cardinals, with a 2-4-2 record, have excelled in the aspects of camp that truly matter.

Trevor Rosenthal - photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Trevor Rosenthal – photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Through seven games, the Cardinals players who know they’ll be with the big club on Opening Day have played well, with few exceptions, and those who drew mild concerns have already had a couple of positive moments to potentially give them a comfort level through the balance of March.

As with the regular season, the first week of the spring training schedule typically draws much more scrutiny than any other because people pay more attention since they are excited to have baseball back before the monotony of the season begins and games start to blend together in memory.

The Cardinals have survived with extremely few problems. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia’s shoulder injury flared up again in the opening week of camp in February, but otherwise the Cardinals have been injury-free with the exception of closer Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched his first inning Saturday and held the Washington Nationals scoreless after he suffered a minor groin injury early in camp.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals have only players who are at or near the end of their rehab from more serious injuries.

Relief pitcher Jason Motte continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery to repair his injured right elbow in 2013, and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras made his much-anticipated first start of the spring Friday against the New York Mets in his return from right ankle surgery, and he promptly doubled on a ball to deep right-centerfield.

Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong also alleviated some fears about his offensive potential with a 3-for-4 day Friday in a 5-5 tie with the Mets.

The Cardinals vaunted young pitching staff has also made it through the first week with only minor road bumps.

Possible No. 5 starter Joe Kelly walked two Detroit Tigers hitters and allowed two runs in 1.2 innings Tuesday, but he also had two strikeouts and figures to be a stable pitcher for the Cardinals in 2014 no matter how they use him, whether as a starter or out of the bullpen.

Probable No. 4 starter Lance Lynn allowed five runs in 1.1 innings Friday in a split-squad game against the Miami Marlins, but any other Cardinals pitchers who allowed more than two runs total through the first week have been minor leaguers or non-roster invitees.

At this point, there is not much drama in Cardinals camp at all. All of the core players have performed well, especially Matt Holliday with his eight hits in nine at-bats, and newly signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who hit two homeruns Tuesday against the Tigers.

Those types of performances gives Cardinals management to focus more on the players on the fringe of a spot on the 25-man roster and those who it expects to remain in the minor leagues for at least the 2014 season, if not more.

But that situation also gives those minor leaguers an opportunity to play earlier in games and they therefore get more innings against opposing players who are already established in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals have built an incredibly strong foundation that is now able to help the group of future Cardinals develop more quickly and maintain the level of excellence the organization has now sustained for four years.

It’s a cycle that builds upon itself, and the Cardinals currently have it as finely tuned as any team in the game.

They can’t get comfortable with what they’ve built, of course, but right now the only storms in Jupiter, Fla., come when the traditional mid-afternoon rain clouds pass over.

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Cardinals Combined Top 10 2014 Prospects

Hopes spring eternal in the weeks leading into the Spring Training, especially in regards to the futures of the organization’s top prospects. The spring is when the ‘Top 100’ rankings are unveiled and the newest crop of candidates for ‘Next Big Thing’ either takes, or resumes, their places for the race to the Majors.

For the Cardinals in recent years, the spring has become a time of unbridled excitement about placing eyes on much deliberated names for the first time, and seeing if they have the stuff that matches the buzz. Overwhelmingly, the hype has matched the call in recent years, and 2012 was the coming of age for a top-ranked minor league system in a major way.

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Over 20 former prospects reached St. Louis last summer, pouring out a major stockpile of the emergent talent that the organization had hoarded in recent drafts. However, there is still more to come and headed into the spring, it is the right time to get familiar with the next wave of homegrown help. To achieve this, I have pulled together an attempt at an aggregate ranking of the system’s top prospects, from a national source in ESPN’s Keith Law, Stl Today beat writer and Baseball America contributor Derrick Goold, as well as my own assessment on behalf of I-70.

The rankings below are the average of the players listed throughout each Top 10 list, with the exception of Carlos Martinez, who holds rookie eligibility still and I am granting an exemption for prospect status, although he was not ranked by Law. Before we get into the breakdowns of the top 10, here are the rankings of the Cardinals’ top 10 prospects, through the eyes of each evaluator:

ESPN (Keith Law)

  1. Oscar Taveras
  2. Stephen Piscotty
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Rob Kaminsky
  5. Tim Cooney
  6. Marco Gonzales
  7. Carson Kelly
  8. Alex Reyes
  9. James Ramsey
  10. Chris Rivera

Baseball America/Birdland (Derrick Goold)

  1. Oscar Taveras
  2. Carlos Martinez
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Stephen Piscotty
  5. Marco Gonzalez
  6. Tim Cooney
  7. Alex Reyes
  8. James Ramsey
  9. Rob Kaminsky
  10. Carson Kelly

Matt Whitener Ranks

  1. Oscar Taveras
  2. Carlos Martinez
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Stephen Piscotty
  5. Marco Gonzalez
  6. Tim Cooney
  7. Carson Kelly
  8. James Ramsey
  9. Charlie Tilson
  10. Rob Kaminsky

 

And with no further delay, here are the averaged results of the Top 10 2014 Cardinal prospects, entering the season….

10. Carson Kelly-Catcher/Third Baseman-19 years old

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10. Carson Kelly-Catcher/Third Baseman-19 years old

2013 Stats (Peoria/State College): .257 average, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 107 hits, 22 doubles

Per Goold, Kelly has a “steady, calm approach at the plate and both the swing and the frame of a youngster that will grow into power. He has a good eye for a high OBP. His best skill at third base was his arm and the Cardinals wanted to see how (that) translated to catcher.”

That’s a lot of high upside that is topped off by him potentially fitting into a role that the team has been in desperate need of a developmental talent at, behind the plate. He has the raw skills at the plate and an approach that is beyond his years, which was already profiling as a major developmental asset. But if he can continue to come along with the bat at the same rate has while becoming serviceable behind the plate, he could be one of the most valuable assets in the organization over the next year.

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Connecting With The Cardinals: Brian Jordan Interview

In the 1990’s, few players surpassed Brian Jordan in a Cardinal uniform. As a right fielder from 1992-1998, he combined an elite level of athleticism and training with some of the game’s great minds to become one of the best outfielders in the National League.

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After being drafted by the Cardinals in the 1988 MLB Draft, his main job of the time was football, where he played three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons as a safety, where he played to such a high level that he made the 1991 Pro Bowl after leading the team in tackles.

After the Cardinals paid him to a new deal that included a sizeable signing bonus to became exclusively a baseball player, he made it to St. Louis in 1992 and began a career that would carry over 15 years and see him become an All-Star in his second professional league as well. He was a central part of the Cardinal rebuilding effort in the mid and late 90’s, with his peak seasons coming in 1996, when he drove in 104 runs for the surprising resurgent Cardinals, who finished a game short of a World Series. In his final year in St. Louis, he hit a career-high 25 home runs and was protection behind Mark McGwire during his record-setting summer.

Despite leaving St. Louis in 1999 for the Atlanta Braves and later the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers, the impression he left on St. Louis baseball has far from dissipated. He was an essential part the rebuilding effort for the organization that has carried over to the product that takes the field to this day.

On a more individual level, Jordan was a part of a picture that represented much more. As a local teenage fan of the game of the sport of the African-American race, he was a part of a particularly inspiring vision of the Cardinals for me—and I was far from alone. Joining Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey and more on a team that had an identity that inspired many young African-Americans to get behind the Cardinals, and by association, get into and follow the sport as well. While the team has continued to be as successful as ever since that era, that is an element that has all but evaporated from the organization’s image since.

Since his playing days came to an end in 2006, he has gone on to become a part of the Braves broadcasting team, and penned a children’s book on baseball, entitled I Told You I Can Play. However, he still makes the occasional return to St. Louis to remain a part of the Cardinal experience as well.

It was during one such visit during visit during the Cardinals Care Winter Up that Jordan made such a return. Originally I requested just two or three minutes of his time for a few questions on his days with the organization, but quickly the conversation expanded, and it changed from a stop at an elevator to us having a seat to cover a wide range of relevant topics to his experience both on and off the field—and the culture of the sport as a whole.

 

I-70: You were with the Cardinals during a time that the organization was undergoing a lot of changes. Do you have any memories from your time here that jump out in front of others?

Jordan: I always brag about the fans here. Any chance I get to come back to St. Louis is really an honor. I loved playing here and I wish I could have played my whole career here, but unfortunately business is business and I had to move on. But St. Louis is a great city and the environment within the organization is even better. There’s a family environment within the organization; they stick with their guys that come in and play hard and it is a great tradition to have.

 

I-70: What moment or stretch stands out the most to you as a Cardinal?

Jordan: ’96 was definitely a rewarding season, with the winning tradition returning to St. Louis. Being here when Mark McGwire broke all of the records and being a part of all of that was unbelievable too.

 

I-70: You speak about the winning tradition, how was it coming through the Cardinal organization and the all of the figures that you come across being a part of it?

Jordan: Being mentored by Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, those are the type of memories that are treasured away for life. They pretty much taught me the game, so to see an Ozzie sticking with the organization and Willie coming back the way he did was tremendous.

 

I-70: It’s good that you bring them up, because at the time you were coming around, there were a plethora of great black ballplayers in the fold, between Ozzie, Willie, Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton and all the way down to you. How do you feel about the state of having diversity in the game, specifically within the African-American community?

Jordan: Disappointed honestly. I’m doing what I can do to help change that, because that was a part of that too. Even after St. Louis, I played with a lot of great African-American ballplayers, but you’re right, its dwindling down. It’s about the expense of the game and the lack of opportunities for inner city kids, that where the parents don’t have the money to put them with the traveling league ball clubs that are going to showcase them to get them to that next level.

It’s a shame, and unless something is done with former athletes and Major League Baseball stepping in, we’ll continue to see it. Because if you look up, Major League Baseball is becoming global and not only are athletes coming from here, you’ve got the Latin and Japanese players too, and everybody is coming into the fold and opportunities are becoming slimmer and slimmer.

 

I-70: The African-American presence is also a part of the cultural history as well, and that presence can also be a gateway to the past as well, do you agree?

Jordan: Oh definitely. Being in Atlanta now, I always get a chance to talk with Hank Aaron, who fought for our rights to play the game about this. And it’s a shame because number 42 is probably rolling over in his grave right now. Jackie Robinson all that he fought for and withstood for us to see that we aren’t playing anymore. And also, the history is not being taught in schools anymore, so a lot of young kids don’t get to be see it anymore.

 

I-70: Going back into your career a bit further and the ’96 season, Tony (La Russa) said that season stood out the most to him when thinking about his tenure in St. Louis. What was it like after the years of struggle coming through the organization and nearly reaching the World Series?

Jordan: It was a huge turnaround, because you know coming up with Joe Torre, there were a lot of young players and not many veterans to you learn how to win ballgames. Also, there wasn’t the pitching staff in place to win a lot either.

When Tony got here, he changed the whole atmosphere and discipline of the team. Everybody knows that he is really disciplined and he’s in-tune, controls the game and is very strategic in what he does. He brought that to the whole organization and put players in positions to succeed. I think that was the difference and being a part of that for the fans here in St. Louis as well was a major thing.

 

I-70: Was it about buying into his philosophies and having a restart with the ownership turnover and Walt Jocketty joining up as well?

Jordan: A lot of winning attitudes all came in at once. The DeWitts saw it all through and were focused on restoring the tradition of St. Louis baseball and it made all of the difference.

I-70: I believe you are the only player that played for all of the managers that are being inducted into the Hall of Fame at one point or another in their career, as well as played with most of the inductees as well.

Jordan: This may be the first Hall of Fame ceremony that I actually attend too because of that. You’ve got the three managers, but you’ve also got Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine who I played behind, as well as Frank Thomas who I played against in college and into the majors. It’s a tremendous opportunity to see some greatness and all of those guys deserve it.

 

I-70: What was it like to play behind a staff like you had in Atlanta?

Jordan: Outside of playing in St. Louis, as I wanted to do my whole career, playing with the Braves and the best threesome in baseball in Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux….man, what an honor.

Maddux was the one of the greatest pitchers ever to play behind. Didn’t overpower you, but did his homework and his preparation was tremendous. I threw out my first runner at first base from the outfield because Maddux told me I was going to do it before the game (laughing). He picked the game before the game and told me when I was going to do it. Unbelievable, but that’s just how good Greg Maddux was.

 

I-70: Was it just his brain for the game and how he saw it? Being a step ahead of everybody else?

Jordan: He was a step ahead of it, and when you can have control of the ball and put it where you want it constantly, that made him a Hall of Famer.

 

I-70: And with Glavine, I would think the way he delivered the ball on the outside corner that he made sure you had plenty of work as well.

Jordan: He was relentless, because you knew what he was going to throw, but you still couldn’t do anything about it. He never gave in to hitters and he never changed. He stayed the same until the end when he had to change because he wasn’t getting that outside corner like five inches off the plate anymore, but he was incredible.

But he was a professional, that’s the thing to say about my man Glavine. And he went about his business the right way all the time.

 

I-70: It was recently the year anniversary of Stan Musial passing. Do you have special memories that you can recall with him?

Jordan: Another great thing about the Cardinals is that they keep close to the tradition. All the legends and all the great players always come back and share stories with the young kids coming up. For me, he used to come in the locker room and play his harmonica all the time and share his stories in the game of baseball. And those are things that you never forget, and not many people do that. Not many legends come back and share like that, and St. Louis has a rich history of doing that.

 

I-70: I imagine coming through the system you worked with George Kissell a lot as well.

Jordan: Oh man! Another guy that if you talk about greatness? George Kissell was relentless. He stayed on every young player and made us better. And I was raw; a young football player trying to learn this game, but he took me under his wing. I had great respect for him and the knowledge that he had for the game.

 

I-70: Obviously with your football background having the physical tools for the game was never a problem. But you said recently on the MLB Network that it wasn’t until your 13th season you felt like you understood the game. Do you think that foundation in this system cut that learning curve so you had the longevity that you did?

Jordan: Absolutely. I didn’t play a lot of minor league games and they were the reason why, because they corrected those weaknesses and fixed them early and I was able to work them and make adjustments.

When I have guys like George Kissell, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee mentoring me along the way, that eventually I would get it. And as the years went on I continued to learn and I turned my raw ability into learning the game. And I wish it all could have clicked 13 years ago (laughing), and there’s no telling what kind of career I could have had.

 

I-70: Well, it was a pretty impressive one all the same. Wrapping up, is there anything that you’d express to the Cardinal community that you started out with now, after all of these years from that start?

Jordan: St. Louis is the best. I’ve always been a Cardinal and that hasn’t changed and I’d really like to thank the fans for that.

 

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Are Descalso’s Days Numbered?

Daniel Descalso will enter the spring simultaneously in an unfamiliar, yet accustomed, position. In one regard, he is at odds with the team over his contract, and as a first-time eligible arbitration candidate, he gets to stake a claim for himself. GM John Mozeliak has stated that both sides have some “significant differences” between their stances on the subject, and is even willing to take it past arbitration and to a trial potentially.

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However, at some point, the matter will be settled, and in the case of Descalso, that is when things could become oddly clear—in one direction or another. In one regard, he’ll be back in a position that he has found himself in the past, which is showing up to compete for a role. However, for a change, there is no clear role that works in his favor alone.

“We’ll see where I fit,” was Descalso’s own take on what capacity he could serve in for the 2014 Cardinals, which is a very reasonably uncertain take on the upcoming month.

The Cardinals underwent an infield facelift since last October, trading away David Freese, while moving Matt Carpenter back to third base. Additions were made in the forms of free agents Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis, while the organization’s Player of the Year in Kolten Wong has been promoted to assume a daily role in the majors as well. All things considered, it is a tight spot for Descalso, who just a year ago, was in a competition (albeit a brief one) for the starting second base job last spring.

But things have not gone in his direction much over the past year. His average stayed south of .240 for the second consecutive season a year ago, in fewer at-bats than the year before. Descalso’s claim for place value is as a part-time player, but his performance last season torpedoes that idea as well. As CBS 920’s Corey Rudd points out, in career off the bench, he carries a .432 OPS mark, which drags him south of even Pete Kozma’s offensive value, which has been much more maligned than even that of Double D.

Yet the most eminent threat to his place could be even beyond contractual issues or continued offensive shortcomings, rather it is that his niche is being closed in on as well. Being able to take to the field as late inning defensive upgrade has been his benefit, but it is also being closed in on by the Cardinal additions, and can be pressured by the continued emergence of Greg Garcia as well.

While seeing time in Memphis at both second base and shortstop (sound familiar?), the left-handed hitting (once again, ahem) Garcia hit .271, yet saw a clear uptick in his late season production after getting over a nagging hamstring issue in the first half of the season. Garcia had an encouraging effort in his first spring training, and could be a viable option for the club if he as a repeat effort.

Adding to the equation that Ellis has expressed an openness to play multiple positions if needed and the continued presence of Kozma may be required due to the limitations of Peralta in the field, and Descalso’s margin for error is getting tighter and tighter.

Creating a clear purpose is of the utmost importance for the reserve candidates for any roster, and for a team with as much brimming talent as the current Cardinals feature, having clear mark is an absolute. Descalso’s most distinguishable feature is quickly becoming not much more than being a familiar name, which can become easy to forget in the rat race of March baseball.

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Peter Bourjos Q & A: Learning A New Home & ‘The Catch’

One of the consistent questions around the Cardinals in recent years has been if they will upgrade in center field. Often, the idea is around finding a new bat for the position, however when the opportunity presented itself to make such a move, John Mozeliak went in the opposite direction by acquiring one of the most renown outfield gloves in the game, which is the one that Peter Bourjos brings with him.

Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

While his reputation was already set coming into last June, but he affirmed it with one of the most athletic catches in recent memory on a long shot by Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. And while explaining it could be the way to go, reliving it is a much livelier experience:

The 26-year-old has frequented highlight reels since debuting with the Angels in 2010, and has was good enough with the glove for manager Mike Scioscia to keep Mike Trout relegated to left field when Bourjos made it to the lineup. His combination of speed and fearless tracking on anything hit into the outfield is a big addition to a Cardinal team that has struggled in both outfield range and speed of any sort for a number of years.

I-70 got a chance to speak one-on-one with the newest addition to the Cardinal outfield mix on Monday. He discussed ‘the play’ that put him on the map, his approach to doing what seems improbable in the field and how he is preparing to make a regular impact in the Busch Stadium terrain.

 

I-70: A play that is really noted with you is the catch against the Orioles last year, where you went back to the fence and seemingly defied gravity to bring back an easy home run. What comes to your mind in a moment like that?

Bourjos: You kind of space out and forget about the ball, and that’s the key. You can be afraid of hitting the wall, and on that particular play I timed the jump and it was just me and the ball. I really had no thoughts in my head at all.

I-70: When you look at a park like Busch Stadium that you’ve never played in before, how do you go out and get a feel for how to approach what you need to do for positioning yourself and getting familiar with it?

Bourjos: I think you have to work on that in batting practice. Feel the dimensions out, where the warning track is and how padded the wall is. All of those things go into account with getting your work in and learning from the other guys as well.

I-70: Have you been to the Stadium yet?

Bourjos: I went over a few weeks ago, but it was covered in snow so I didn’t get to see it much, but it is a beautiful stadium.

I-70: When you get to camp, are you looking forward to getting with Matt and Allen and the other outfielders to get a feel for how they approach the field and what their range is to gauge what will be needed of you.

Bourjos: Yeah, there’s a comfort level with your other outfielders, and even the middle infielders, about what they can get to, and having that relationship about what they can get to on certain balls.

I-70: A lot of how busy you are has to do with the type of game that is being pitched as well. How excited are you to play behind a pitching staff like the Cardinals features?

Bourjos: Oh, I can’t wait. Obviously, there’s not going to be as many balls to run down because the staff is so good. Occasionally there’s going to be lazy fly balls more than likely. We had a pretty good staff earlier on in my career in Anaheim, and there wasn’t a lot to do out there, and boring is good because that means that the pitchers are doing their job.

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Shelby Miller Is Dazed, But Not Confused

On the outside looking in, it would seem that Shelby Miller would enter this spring with plenty of questions, and perhaps even a chip on his shoulder as well. That after his inexplicable absence from the Cardinal postseason run, even the most accomplished arm in the Cardinal offering enters his sophomore season on some questionable terms. Yet he has found peace of mind in a sole focus forward, and not on work left not started.

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As could be expected, he does not have the answers about why he was left out of the mix save for one inning in the second game of the Division Series against the Pirates. However, he shared in the general expectation that, at some point, he would make an impact in the postseason. However, it was not to be, and that is a mystery that he still cannot get a grasp on.

“It’s kind of a toss-up to be honest. The best answer I can give you is that we had such a good thing going,” Miller speculated. “I could see myself pitching outside of Pittsburgh. I knew I could get held back against them with the struggles I had with them late in the season.”

Yet, after that initial appearance, there was nothing else to be heard from Miller in 2013. Many have speculated that he was injured or had hit a predetermined innings limit on the year, which has become common place for under-25 year old pitchers in today’s game.

However, Miller is quick to dispel that notion—as far as he knows.  There was no injury concern expressed to him from the club, and he had no setbacks himself. “Physically, I felt amazing. I didn’t feel any better or worse no than I did at any point in the season.”

Despite Game Six of the World Series being nearly three months removed, you can’t help but to still sense some frustration from Miller regarding how his rookie season ended. While he understands that the usually prevailing “hot hand” concept, combined with the depth of options, prevailed regarding the selections made for the October mound, it is also understandable why he would have a deserved sense of frustration as well. Coming off an excellent rookie debut, where he justified the long-standing hype around his arrival, and feeling strong enough to continue throwing at a high level in September (3-0, 2.76 ERA in 29.1 September innings), even a reduced role in a relief capacity would be expected—yet never materialized.

“Yeah, it was kind of weird. I was just down in the bullpen the whole time. The first time I got up was game six of the World Series. After getting in against Pittsburgh, I was just kind of a cheerleader and having great seats for the game.”

Regarding those not received answers, and if he wanted them now, “No, not really. The season just kind of ended and I put it in the past,” Miller offers up. “Obviously I was little upset that I didn’t pitch, but I just put it away. I just wanted to be ready for a big offseason and getting ready for the spring. I didn’t want to dwell on the past and not pitching in October. I’m not going to go up to anybody and even ask; I’m not worried about it anymore.”

“I’m just going to let it be a mystery, a mystery unsolved.”

Yet it is a mystery he is content to leave as is going ahead. He enters the spring in a newly place of personal affirmation and professional validation. He was married shortly after the season, and has the satisfaction of the body of work he was being able to issue being recognized with a third place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

It is the competition ahead that Miller has his sights on now, not that that he missed out on. About if he feels he’s lost his role as a starter, he says no, but “I know were going into camp battling with even more guys, but it’s about being prepared for the spring.”

Reaching 200 innings in 2014 is his personal goal, but getting to a point of irreplaceably for the Octobers to come is as well. As he returns to the field, his immediate past is something that he’s content with just leaving as is—for his personal progress.

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Cardinals Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog, Day 3

The third and final day of the Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up is about to begin shortly, and in suit is the I-70 Progressive Blog, chronicling the media sessions for players, management and event announcements at the WWU.

Matheny_WWU

As has been the previous two days, content will be available on four platorms: via Twitter (@I70Baseball & @CheapSeatFan), Instagram (CheapSeatFan), Facebook at I70 Baseball and of course here on the site.

New updates will be provided periodically between player appearances. Scheduled to appear today are Matt Holliday, Michael Wacha, Mike Matheny, Peter Bourjos, Zach Petrick, Sam Freeman and John Mabry

 

Matt Holliday—10:06

Regarding his offseason workout, he spent the winter with Trevor Rosenthal working on strength training, which consisted of sled pushing, tire flipping and even fireman carries, which even saw the Trevor pick him up over his shoulder for a 20 meter carry. Regarding Rosenthal’s preparation, “It’s been fun to watch his discipline and effort. He wants to be the best, and I admire that.”

As a noted opponent of performance enhancing drugs, the acquisition of Jhonny Peralta, brought up a flurry of interest. In regards to whether he had insight on the club’s interest before he was signed, he acknowledged he knew about it beforehand. While he declined to specify on the details of the convo, he is looking forward to seeing what he can do firsthand.  “Mo just called and said this is what we are going to do, it’s not like he asked me for permission or anything.”

Continuing on, Holliday clarifies “I am against PEDs and always will be. But I am also a forgiving person and he served his suspension. That’s the rules of the game and I’m happy to have him as a teammate.” He does not believe he needs to justify anything to Cardinal clubhouse about the suspension. “He had his suspension, served it and his teammates in Detroit welcomed him back. If does and he wants to address it, that’s his prerogative. But it’s nothing we expect.”

Despite the exit of Carlos Beltran, he feels no new pressure of leadership this season, citing the depth of veterans with the club. “Leadership has been part of my role since I got here. Obviously, Carlos was a big part of our leadership and David (Freese) as well, but we’ve got Yadi, Adam and myself and lot of guys that have been around the organization and team for a while.

On the addition of Peter Bourjos and his impact on the dynamic of the club’s offense, he feels it is yet to be determined how his elements fit into the lineup. Yet he cautions that discounting Jon Jay would be an error. “I think Jon Jay’s ability to be a really good player in this league is being a big overlooked. I think Peter and Jon will compete for at-bats.”

About working with the younger Cardinals, he is especially excited to work with the young outfielders within the system. “I’m excited to work with (Grichuk), Peter and Oscar Taveras. So it will be good to see those guys and watch to see how they handle things.”

Sam Freeman—11:33

On the adjustment between his 2012 and 2013 stints with the team: “Just mentally. When I came up I knew what I needed to do, and I just needed to continue to execute. The same thing that gets outs in Memphis it ultimately works up here too.

Michael Wacha—11:38

He was reserved on his personal goals for the season, but did reveal he began throwing around the top of the year and while he doesn’t anticipate any additions to his repertoire, focusing on location consistency. “I feel if I can do that, spot everything up and changing speeds everything will be pretty good.”

On managing the expectations that he set late last season, he is measured in his approach and attempting to leave it within himself. “There’s going to be some high expectations that are put on me, but you can’t really pay much attention to that. I have some high expectations for myself as well that I try to live up to, and if I can do those things it will be pretty good. Even going back to the postseason, the job is to try not to do too much.”

About his role on the pitching staff and the competition to make the starting rotation, he does not assume anything, regardless of how last year finished. “My mindset is to go into Spring Training to try and win a job. It’s going to be a competition, but it’s also going to be a fun competition because they are my teammates.”

Mike Matheny—11:56

(More on Matheny’s vision for the organization in a piece to come)

On the ending to the previous year, he expressed that it was more difficult to move on from than he could have anticipated. “I was surprised how long it took me to move past the World Series and reflect on the rest of the year.”

Regarding the impact of instant replay on this year’s season, he approves on the level that has been settled upon and sees it has taking the game in a fresh direction. “I think that everybody understands that with the level of technology we have right now that we need to do something moving forward. Is there a perfect system? No. But is this a step in the right direction, yes.”

Continuing on, he sees the impact of replay as a common sense portion of quality control on the game. “To not use the technology that everybody else in the stadium can use is a mistake. So now trying to put a system into place is for the best of the game and the integrity of it.”

He characterizes the competition for the starting rotation as “fierce” and wants for everyone to show up with the mindset that they have to show up to earn their jobs. “That is something that we have been very blessed to have around here, is that even our best players show up with the mentality that they have to earn their jobs.”

Matheny characterizes that he likes for pitchers to prepare as starters, so that they can develop their entire repertoire, because backing a pitcher off is much easier than ramping them up from reliever to starter. “The whole concept that ‘I’m going to compete, but it’s about the team’ is important, and if we are going to be consistent and win, we have to buy into that.”

While Trevor Rosenthal will absolutely be in the ninth inning role this year, a possibility of him returning to the rotation later is not ruled out. “Trevor is very important right now, and solidifying the back end of the bullpen is crucial.”

While the rotation candidates get much of the shine, Matheny lauded the ability of the bullpen and its success at the end of last year as well. “I think that at the end of the season, not too many people wanted to see the back of our bullpen.” He cautions that the health of Jason Motte and whichever pitchers fall outside of the starting rotation will impact the ability to duplicate that success again.

He expects for Jaime Garcia to arrive and be on the same pace as the rest of the starters.

Despite Carlos Beltran being gone and Peter Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong being in the fold and introducing a new tool set to the lineup; he cannot predict yet what the lineup would be and how exactly he plans to utilize the skills in the everyday mix.

He sees the secret strength of the organization as the ability for the team to integrate all levels of its operation seamlessly, via a shared trust for each. “We work very well together, seeing what the ideal situation would be and then looking at the market to see what’s available. While keeping with the long-term vision of the organization to be able to grow within and be able to promote guys from inside the organization, which is extremely rare but I think you see an organization now where each group trusts each other.”

Regarding his involvement in the push to reform rules around home plate collisions, he is encouraged by the steps that the MLB is taking. “I think there has been so much information we have gained from the other sports about the long-term damage to athletes, and I think we would be crazy to not take that information and move it forward.”

He feels that baseball is taking a proactive, instead of reactive, stance on the collateral damages of player collisions. “The way the system is set up, it is asking for major trouble,” he expressed, yet says the culture of the players approach has to shift also. “I guarantee that football and hockey would do anything to reverse these traumatic brain injuries to players, and I think baseball took a bold look forward for the health of the game and the health of the players.”

Peter Bourjos—12:25

He expressed that Albert Pujols reached out to him and gave a major endorsement to him regarding St. Louis when he was traded. “He called me the day that I got traded and was really happy for me. He couldn’t say enough things about playing in St. Louis in front of the fans.” Continuing on, he said that he was excited to be traded here, citing the team’s recent success as the major reason why.

He did not feel that he would be back in Anaheim entering the offseason, and that he anticipated a trade of some sort.

About his full-speed approach in the outfield, he doesn’t see him recent injuries as a result of that. “I pulled my hamstring in the 14th inning on a cold night in Oakland, then returned and got hit on the wrist by a baseball.” He sees last year as a ‘fluke’, and that it doesn’t tell an accurate story of his durability.

About a potential timeshare in centerfield, he is open to it and doesn’t have an expectation but to contribute.

Regarding the National League and the playing time options it provides, he sees it as a way to make a more regular impact in the game, even if he isn’t starting that day. “It’s a different game and is managed differently. “You may pinch hit or pinch run in the ninth, where you could be in the game by the fifth inning in the National League if you don’t start.”

He anticipates having to change his approach at the plate, even if he is at the bottom of the lineup due to taking walks in front of the pitcher spot and getting more balls to hit there.

He sees his goal level of stolen bases as in the 30-40 stolen base level, considering he gets the at-bats to do so.

 

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A Quick Second With Stephen Piscotty

Since being chosen by the Cardinals with the 36th pick in the 2012 Draft, Stephen Piscotty has blazed a path through the Cardinals organization and become perhaps the most heralded bat in the system not named Oscar Taveras.

Stephen_PiscottyWWU

After a season where he hit .295 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and drove in 59 runs in 112 games between Palm Beach and Springfield, he truly took a step onto the higher stage in the Arizona Fall League. To round out 2013, he hit .371 in the premier postseason league, and now is primed to get his first crack in the spring with the big league team.

At the Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up, I got a chance to have a few words with the rising Cardinal right fielder to touch on a few topics. From getting comfortable in the outfield, adjustments at the plate and his current teammates that we should know about, Piscotty describes what his coming of age has been during his first two professional years.

 

I-70: With the type of versatility that you have, having played third base and moving to the outfield now, do you see yourself approaching, say, a Matt Carpenter to prepare to play multiple positions to find your way onto the field?

Piscotty: Yes, absolutely. You try to keep your options open and there are a lot of guys out there that do a lot of different positions. I was on the (Cardinals) Caravan with Jermaine Curtis and he was telling me that he was playing in the Dominican this winter playing literally every position except catcher, so there are a lot of guys around to help prepare for that.

I-70: On all of the different levels you have played at so quickly in the organization and now going out to the Fall League, what has been the biggest difference in the pitching that you’ve seen so far between the levels?

Piscotty: The toughest jump was from High-A to Double-A definitely. The guys in High A had a lot of good “stuff”; a lot of good fastballs and sliders. But in Double A, the command was there, the stuff was there and it was more of a mental game. You really have to fine tune your approach there because pitchers know how to get you out. That was definitely the biggest challenge.

I-70: Has there been a pitcher that you have played behind in the organization that you would say is going to be a factor in St. Louis soon?

Piscotty: Tim Cooney was absolutely lights out for us. He was one that can really hit spots well. He has a good tempo and great command, and was really fun to play behind.

I-70: Has it helped you to play behind a pitcher with a good pace while learning the outfield?

Yeah. I had that going to the outfield you have a lot of time to think about your previous at-bat, and if you strike out you have a lot of time to go through it, and that’s not always good. But if you have a guy on the mound that’s got a great pace, that stuff just sinks to the back of your mind and you’re just locked in and ready to perform.

 

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The Ever-Present Enigma Of Oscar Taveras

Yesterday when I was leaving the Hyatt, I walked past a rather athletic looking young guy walking with a fairly attractive girl. Neither of the two spoke much English in what seemed to be a back-and-forth exchange of some sort, and they stood out among the remaining packs of Cardinal garbed fans. It took a few seconds to realize that I’d just walked past the most discussed Cardinal prospect since Rick Ankiel, and in just that quick few seconds, as I turned to look back to confirm what I had just realized, Oscar Taveras and mate were gone already.

Oscar_Tav

Thus is the nature of the coming of the ‘Next Big Thing’ to St. Louis. And while this weekend is about getting a chance for fans to be able to put eyes on a property that has truly been more myth than man, the questions and rumblings about when will his prodigious talent make a way into a Cardinal uniform still is a very hazy proposition.

One thing that is for certain is that it is not, and never has been, a question of talent. Although an ankle injury basically cut his season in half and kept him out of winter ball for the first time in his brief career, the body of work that was there is proof positive enough that the hype is based in reality. He hit .310 in 47 games last summer in Memphis, with 17 extra base hits, all while playing through a persistent pain. This came on the heels of a spring where he predictably proved his bat could play with the big league club as well, even if his glove left some things to the imagination.

“He’s just an amazing talent”, expounds Mozeliak when approaching Taveras’ impact. “Clearly he lost a lot of at-bats last year, so when you think of things in an aggregate sense of experience and exposure, yes he missed time but there is no way to replicate that.”

Injuries are a part of the game, and the delay created by them alters even the best laid plans. And due to that element, the plans and discussion around Taveras at this point in the year are largely the same as a year ago at this point. The path through the spring is clear; he will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent and will likely be a regular part of the Cardinal lineup throughout the duration of Spring Training. There is still the matter of finding out what his positional potential is in the outfield (whether centerfield is a possibility or not is still a matter that Mozeliak is not completely clear on), as well as rounding off the rough edges at the plate. Basically, the same questions that the fanbase wonders, the inner workings of the club share along with them.

This adds to the intrigue of Taveras, and just exactly what his fit is in the near future. Much like last season, there is no clear and immediate need for him on the Cardinals stack deck of outfield options. And at the same time, he is clearly a talent that is unmatched in ceiling and has risen consistently to the challenge of every level he has competed thus far. He is ready, but the club is willing to see how it all plays out, which adds the enigmatic nature of his image to the masses.

Patience is tough when it comes to such an exciting property, but it is the course that Mozeliak is preaching in regards to the club’s 2011 Organizational Player of the Year. The depth of the team plays as much of a factor in the handling of his progress as it ever did, and the team is content to go the cautious route with its prized quantity. The 2014 Cardinal roster may be the deepest offering it has put forth in year, which makes it a time crunch for nearly the entire roster. It is crowded at the top, and the positive development of earlier prospects will, understandably, impact those to come.

“The fact that we have a Matt Adams or an Allen Craig gives us flexibility, and that’s a good thing,” Mozeliak comments on viewpoint of the 25-man roster.  “Looking at the DNA of the club and how it is composed, and can we use him in a functional manner. And it is tough to answer that in January.”

The time is nigh for the mystery to come clear, but patience should breed measured expectations. He is the type of dynamic talent, which can force the issue for a roster spot by the end of March, in the fashion that Adams did a year ago. However, the timing will be right whenever the move is made. “It has to be about what’s best for him”, Mozeliak waxes on the expectations of Taveras in an immediate sense. “At his age and where he is at, development is critical.”

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