Since being drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, Adrian Cardenas has been progressing non-stop up the minor league ladder. For the first time in his career, Cardenas had to take a step back in April when he injured his thumb and had to spend the first month of the season at extended spring training.
After batting .381 during big league spring training, Cardenas was playing in his second game in minor league camp when he slid into second base and was kneed in the thumb, bending it back, which caused a slight tear to his medial collateral ligament. The injury cost him the first month of the regular season, as he rehabbed the injury in Phoenix at extended spring training.
Although he was unable to swing a bat or complete normal fielding drills for several weeks, Cardenas feels that his time rehabbing was time well-spent.
"I hate to use clichés like this, but it was definitely a blessing in disguise for me. I feel like I got to work a lot on my defense, especially my footwork," Cardenas said.
"For a week and a half, two weeks, I was in a removable splint and the only thing I was able to do was stretch and really focus on my defense which I feel like is really paying off."
For a player who has done nothing but progress through the minor leagues during his professional career, Cardenas learned a lot from having to participate in a developmental league.
"It's humbling [to be at extended spring training]. The saying over there is that everyone should experience extended once," Cardenas said.
"It's tough. Extended, the days are long. You have 7:30 stretches. You don't want to be there. You see your team either doing well or doing bad and regardless of how they are playing, you want to be a part of it. You want to go down with them or ride into the sunset with them. It definitely made me appreciate where I am at a young age."
Despite only turning 22 in October, Cardenas is already a veteran of major league spring training, having participated in the A's major league camp the past two seasons. Over the past two springs, Cardenas has had the benefit of working closely with veteran A's infielders Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez. Cardenas has been like a sponge, absorbing as much information as he can about how he can become an elite major league infielder.
"Whenever I want to talk to them, with open arms they will receive me, but they won't go and tell me anything unless I ask. But if I ask, they are great," Cardenas said.
"Just being around the guys. I got to meet Ellis and Chavy the year prior to that and they were great and helped me improve the year after. Two years ago, Ellis helped me out with my routine. At my first big league camp, I asked him ‘what do you do?' because he is the best at second and he told me what he did and I instilled that into my routine throughout the season and I feel like it paid dividends."
Cardenas left major league camp feeling like he was a step closer to realizing his dream of being a starter in the major leagues.
"It was great and I felt like I belonged a little more just because I got into every single game. I was coming in in the sixth and the seventh and I was able to perform and hit like I am capable of hitting at that level, so it definitely did a lot for my confidence," Cardenas said.
Cardenas' hot spring swing has yet to translate into the regular season for Triple-A Sacramento. Through 13 games, he is batting only .229 with a 559 OPS. Cardenas insists that he feels good at the plate, but River Cats' manager Tony DeFrancesco thinks that Cardenas is still working off the rust he accumulated from his time rehabbing.
"He's got to get his at-bats. He has been swinging early in the count. That's not his style of hitting. He is usually a selective hitter," DeFrancesco said.
Cardenas is also having to adjust to a new position on defense. A shortstop in high school and primarily a second baseman during his minor league career, Cardenas has been seeing a lot of time at third base this season. It has been a struggle at times for Cardenas, who said that until he played third base in a handful of games last season, he had never played the position, even in high school.
"He's playing third base right now and it's kind of new to him. The ball is coming at him a little quicker, so he is going to have to be ready for anything at third base," DeFrancesco said.
Despite struggling at the hot corner at times, Cardenas relishes the opportunity to learn a new position.
"I enjoy the challenge. The bottom line is whatever gets me there [to the big leagues]. The goal is when I get there that hopefully I will have had enough games under my belt at third and second and short, or wherever they want to put me, and I stick," Cardenas said.