Miscellaneous Muckdogs minutes

Brian Walton's notes from three days with the Cardinals short-season Class-A club.

I was with the St. Louis Cardinals short-season Class-A club, the Batavia Muckdogs, for their recent three-game series at Hudson Valley (Tampa Bay). During that time, I took note of a number of miscellaneous items that I am going to share here.

For the real scoop on what is happening with the Muckdogs, make sure you read Sloane Martin's weekly Batavia Notebook, posted right here each Saturday. In addition, Sloane is writing regular player features for the site that appear periodically.

Brass in the house

Among those attending the series were Cardinals special assistant to the general manager Gary LaRocque and area scout Charlie Gonzalez. As has been noted before, the Cardinals spend considerable time and energy scouting their own players as well as the competition.

Where's Mejia?

For game one of the series, I had been seeking out the Cardinals' recently-signed fourth-round draft pick, shortstop Alex Mejia of the University of Arizona. I looked high and low for number 3, but could not locate him anywhere. Due to an equipment snafu, Mejia had to wear the road #56 uniform on Wednesday night. He was back to his #3 for the final two games.

Mejia and Rickard
Mejia was involved in a very unique set of plays with a man who was his Arizona teammate until a few weeks ago. Hudson Valley's centerfielder Joey Rickard was the Rays' ninth-round pick. In Wedneday's eighth-inning, Rickard hit a screamer off Brandon Creath which Mejia flagged down on one hop in an impressive move to his left. The throw to first was a split second late as Rickard beat out a base hit.

On the next pitch, Rickard almost immediately off for second. Again the former teammates crossed paths as Mejia took the throw from catcher Jesus Montero. The runner appeared to be out by an eyelash, but was called safe. While Muckdogs skipper Dann Bilardello argued, to no avail, of course, the two recent Wildcats caught up on news (see photo).

Valera impressing

Mejia's keystone partner, second baseman Breyvic Valera is still a teenager, with just a handful of career games above the Gulf Coast League. One scout raved about the Venezuelan's defense, saying "He is always in control. You never see him out of balance."

During batting practice, hitting coach Roger LaFrancois called out to the switch-hitting Valera to bat from the left side. When I asked why, the coach explained that Valera is "pretty good from both sides," with his BP dictated both by the pitchers throwing as well as the predominant hurlers in game action (right-handers).

Homecoming ahead

With the team moving on to Aberdeen, MD starting Saturday, recent free agent outfield signing Jordan Walton was among those excited about playing near home. The 22-year-old hails from Mechanicsville, PA.

Cooney clan in force

As I moved down from the press box to behind the home dugout to take photos during Thursday's game, I was joined by a man with a Cardinals cap and a substantially nicer camera than mine. Curious, I introduced myself. It was Chris Cooney, pitcher Tim's dad. The family lives near Philadelphia, with the Hudson Valley stop one of the most convenient for them.


Wittels sidelined

Another player looking forward to the next series is Garrett Wittels. One of only four players back for a second season with the Muckdogs, the infielder has been sitting out for the last two weeks after twisting his back on a dive play. Though the 22-year-old checked out ok, he last played on June 30.

Wittels did cage work and took ground balls on Friday and hoped to take live batting practice on Saturday as a precursor to getting back in the lineup.

A familiar leader

During BP, I noticed a couple of players among those quietly taking leadership roles. One is a unique third-year player on the team, pitcher Yunier Castillo. The former shortstop hit fungoes to the left side of the infield each day during BP instead of just lazily shagging flies with the other pitchers. Castillo had a constant smile on his face. As Sloane reported this week, Castillo seems to be figuring out pitching as he reaches his one-year anniversary in the role.


Looking at players up close, it is only natural to note uniqueness. First baseman David Washington seems to be the tallest position player. David Bergin is shorter, but is really muscled. Outfielder Steven Ramos is very slight of build, but has a bit of pop. Same for Valera.

Of the pitchers, Ben O'Shea looks every bit the 6-foot-5, 255 pounds at which he is listed. Physically, I thought of a left-handed Brad Penny. Stuff-wise, we shall see.

Outfielder Matthew Young has a very wide stance. So wide in fact, his left foot is in front of home plate, while his back foot is behind the line, barely touching it. When I asked about outside pitch vulnerability, a coach noted Young is getting good coverage, but acknowledged he may need to tighten up his stance over time. It is a good example of the organization not messing with recently-drafted players from day one.

Looking eye-to-eye with Mejia, I was a bit surprised by his size. The shortstop is listed at 6-foot, 200, but he looks more like 6-foot-2, 220 to me. He seemed very fluid in the field, where he played two of the three games, taking designated hitter duties in the other. Hitting, the right-handed batter has a high timing kick with his front, left leg, before rocking backward as the pitch arrives.

Gun readings

I wasn't with the scouts a lot of the time during the game action as I was working and getting photos. However, I did snag a few readings on Friday night.

Ben Freeman: Fastball 90-91, off-speed 74-75
Jose Almarante: Fastball 91-92

What's next?

Coming ahead are four Muckdogs player interviews. I spoke with Mejia, Cooney, Valera and catcher Jesus Montero. For the latter two, pitching coach Dernier Orozco handled translation duties. Look for the interviews in the upcoming days. I have also taken hundreds of photos, which will be unveiled over time.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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