Tag Archive | "St Louis Cardinals"

Although injured, Jason Motte might hold key to St. Louis Cardinals bullpen

The man who closed out the 2011 World Series championship for the St. Louis Cardinals and saved 42 games for them a season later has not pitched in a competitive situation in more than a year, but he might turn out to be one of the most important pitchers on the 2014 team’s staff.

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Jason Motte tore a ligament in his right elbow during spring training in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery to fix it, but that operation requires about a full year of rehab before a pitcher can return to the mound in a Major League Baseball game.

Motte has thrown bullpen sessions and batting practices in spring training camp this year, but he had the surgery May 7, 2013, so the Cardinals will most likely be about one month into their 2014 regular season before Motte is available.

Indications are Motte will become the eighth-inning setup reliever for closer Trevor Rosenthal once he is fully healthy, and that should make the back end of the team’s bullpen extremely dangerous, if not dominant.

However, the Cardinals likely have to get through the first month of the season, which includes 12 games against their top divisional opponents, the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates.

Those first several weeks of the season are certainly important, even though the team survived the Mitchell Boggs disaster in April a year ago, and the Cardinals have potentially better pitchers set to again try to fill an April void left by Motte, but those options carry nearly as many questions.

The pitcher who starts the season as the righthanded setup reliever in the bullpen could easily be the one who loses the battle for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation that has waged between rookie Carlos Martinez and third-year big leaguer Joe Kelly.

Martinez has had an exceptional spring training with a 1.76 earned-run average with nine strikeouts in four starts, while Kelly struggled in his first two starts before he settled down for 5.1 innings Saturday when he allowed one run and struck out three in a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez has made a Shelby Miller-like impression on the spring training mounds this year, but he still might be the better choice to start the season in the bullpen than Kelly.

For one, Martinez shined as the eighth-inning pitcher during the 2013 postseason with 11 strikeouts in 12 appearances, while Kelly started four games, including a 5.1-inning outing in Game 3 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox to lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory and one of their two wins in the series.

Kelly was also not particularly stellar as a bullpen pitcher during the first half of the 2013 season after he lost the race for the No. 5 spot in the rotation to Miller in spring training. Kelly’s ERA was at 6.75 through 16 appearances before he got his first start of the season June 5 and gave up one run in 5.2 innings in what turned out to be a 10-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Much of that debate won’t matter on the bullpen side when Motte comes back because he should be able to fill the eighth-inning role and take some pressure off of Martinez, Kelly or anybody else Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wants to use in the meantime.

The challenge then will likely be to get enough appearances in middle relief for whichever pitcher does not get the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

And if that is the biggest problem the Cardinals have once May begins, they will probably be off to a pretty good start.

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Grading the Performance of St. Louis Cardinals’ Top Prospects at Spring Training

Spring training offers a preview of what the 2014 season holds for the teams around Major League Baseball.  It also gives a glimpse of the future of the organizations as prospects take the field and show off their talents in front of the big league coaching staffs.

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The Cardinals have their share of prospects, and the folks over at Cardinals Farm do a great job of keeping fans up to date on the various players and their production.  Recently, they identified the top prospects in the organization.  Their top five were as follows:

  1. Oscar Taveras
  2. Carlos Martinez
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Stephen Piscotty
  5. Marco Gonzales

With that in mind, it is time to grade each of those prospects on their production to this point in spring training.  As Opening Day draws near, the report cards are starting to be handed out.

Let’s take a look and see who’s making the grade.

Marco Gonzales Receives an Incomplete for His Brief Appearance

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The No. 5 prospect on the list, Marco Gonzales has one major thing on his side: He is young. A 2013 draft pick, Gonzales was likely in camp with the big league club simply to get some experience in the clubhouse with the veterans.

Less than a season after being drafted, it would be unfair to grade Gonzales on his production on the field. He did see action in one game, pitching in less than two innings while walking three batters, surrendering two hits, yielding two runs and ultimately being saddled with the loss. To say his outing was not the best would be an understatement.

But for a young man seeing his first action in a big league environment, Gonzales stood proud. Assigning a grade to such a short stint would be cruel, to say the least. For now, Gonzales is simply acknowledged for being here and given the grade equivalent of a participation trophy.

Gonzales' current grade: Incomplete

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Oscar Taveras Needs to Find Motivation in Minor League Assignment

Oscar Taveras, one of the St. Louis Cardinals’ top prospects, was supposed to be competing for a spot on the 2014 major league roster at this point in the spring.  He was supposed to be earning at-bats, showcasing his talent and pushing manager Mike Matheny to make a very tough decision to send him to the minor leagues.  That decision was not so hard.

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Due to an ankle injury that required surgery near the end of last season, Taveras was very reluctant to step onto the field this spring.  Though team doctors had cleared him to play, he continued to favor the ankle, fearing that he may aggravate the injury and take another step back in his progression.

While hesitant to trust his ankle, Taveras ended up straining his hamstring.  Speculation has surfaced that the hamstring injury my be related to the unwillingness to test the ankle, as Derrick Goold of theSt. Louis Post-Dispatch points out when he writes, “With Taveras unable to take the field and do many of the workouts, his conditioning started to wane, and favoring his right ankle may have contributed to the right hamstring injury.”

Taveras, slowed by the injuries early on, has been reassigned to minor league camp.  He has made his debut on that side of the complex already and has begun the journey to try to reach the major leagues this season.  That journey is something that Matheny wants him to think very hard about.

Mathney is a strong believer in hard work and earning your spot.  The reassignment to minor league camp should be a motivational factor for his young star.  Matheny’s personal blog reflects that sentiment very well:

With almost 60 guys left in camp right now, I realize that I will have almost 35 of those tough conversations with guys who will not be able to make our club. I hope to remember the feeling of not making that team, many years ago, and the disappointment of a dream being delayed. I realize that I will most likely be part of their motivation to get better and make it to the next level, and I hope that I am around to celebrate with them when they beat the odds, and use their disappointments to help them reach their dream of getting to the Big Leagues. I will tell them, just like I told my son, ‘get to work and prove ‘em wrong.’

Over the next few months, Taveras can let his production speak for itself.  He can show a strong work ethic and prove that he wants to be in St. Louis.  He has the opportunity to do exactly what his future manager expects him to do.

Indeed, Taveras has every chance to “get to work and prove ‘em wrong.”

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Carlos Martinez could follow Shelby Miller path to starting rotation

St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.

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Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.

Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.

Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.

Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.

Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.

Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.

They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.

Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.

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Who Stands To Gain From The Loss Of Taveras?

For the second year in a row it became the spring that never was for Oscar Taveras. The Cardinals’ top prospect was sent to minor league camp on Thursday after only two appearances that consisted of six at-bats and one hit. It was a pump fake of a start to the season for Taveras, who entered camp with as much hype internally with the organization as he did with the fan base. Yet in the end (at the beginning), this spring failed to see the extreme potential of the 22 year old even pick up a glove. But the spring is all about seizing the opportunities that are presented, so who does his removal from the Opening Day picture benefit the most?

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It was understood that it would be a slow start to the spring for Taveras, who spent the winter on the mend from a series of ankle injuries that ended his 2013 season after 46 on and off games. Yet it was the combination of a second injury to his hamstring that ultimately sidelined him again this spring, and made it pointless to keep him in the wait with the Major League team once Minors camp got up and going. Combined with the notion that he was not pushing himself as hard as the club may like to get out on the field despite his hindrances, and it is no surprise he is out of the picture for the time being.

However, the club is featuring a series of strong showings from its outfield candidates, especially from the minor leaguers that remain with the club. While Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Peter Bourjos and John Jay are assured spots on the 25-man roster, there is the push for a final bench spot that could be up for an unexpected competition now.

The incumbent that would be assumed of the spot would be Shane Robinson, who is accustomed to the battles that come with being a fifth outfielder. He put up the best showing of any Cardinal last spring, and is having another strong campaign this year, hitting .316 over 10 games thus far. His versatility, defensive prowess and familiarity with the team work in his favor, and even with a healthy and producing Taveras, it seemed to be a bit of a stretch that he would take a part-time role from a player that is perfectly groomed for such a capacity as Robinson.

Randal Grichuk has showcased why he was an important part of the deal that sent David Freese to Anaheim, and has also had an encouraging spring, albeit one that will do more to find his place in his new system over place him in the big league picture for now. The same could be said for Xavier Scruggs, who has shown he is ready to be an everyday contributor in Memphis immediately as well.

However, of the young Cardinal prospects whom have made the biggest impact, Stephen Piscotty has stood out among all. The converted college infielder’s bat is what fuels his rise, and while he is learning on the run in right field, he is making the same type of impression at the plate that Matt Adams did a year ago—the type of impact that changed plans for the Opening Day roster and earned him a permanent stay.

On the spring, Piscotty has hit for a .333 average over a team-best 12 games, on seven hits, including two doubles, a triple and a home run, good  for six RBI and five runs scored himself. He is having the type of effort that opens eyes creates a permanent mark on the radar, and one that could see him force his issue onto the team much sooner that previously considered.

Numbers in the spring mean little in the big picture, and are erased nearly as quickly as they are recorded when the teams head north. But the impact that is made as they are created lasts permanently. And this spring’s indicators are showing that the script as written throughout the window should already be considered outdated.

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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.

Descalso_14

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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