Tuesday marked my arrival in St. Louis Cardinals instructional league camp, a visit I make each year between the end of the regular minor league season and the Arizona Fall League. Weather was – what else? – hot and very humid, with temps in the upper 80’s. At least the expected rain stayed away.
Camp has already been underway since the first official arrivals on September 13. Noon games began on the 15th, with the final contests of camp to be played on Wednesday, October 7. (For basic details on camp structure, duration and roster, click here.)
Though this will soon be less of a problem with the opening of the Astros and Marlins complex in nearby West Palm Beach, currently the Mets and Marlins are the only teams in the area. That means the odd teams out often have a camp day in which their hitters face their own pitchers. In fact, about two-thirds of the 23 days of action for the Cardinals this fall are camp days.
Wednesday will be such a camp day with the Marlins on tap on their side of the Jupiter complex on Thursday.
Tuesday’s news follows.
Who’s in charge?
Especially because of the camp days, but also to ease instruction, the position players are split into two groups. Under manager Chris Swauger is the Red team. Manager Roberto Espinoza leads the White squad.
During the regular season, Swauger was the manager at Johnson City while Espinoza was the Gulf Coast League hitting coach. Other coaches assisting include Bryan Eversgerd, Darwin Marrero, Cale Johnson, Paul Davis, George Greer and Oliver Marmol.
Leading camp is minor league field coordinator Mark DeJohn, assisted by hitting coordinator Derrick May, pitching coordinator Tim Leveque and infield coordinator Ron “Pop” Warner.
In addition, special assistant Willie McGee is again in uniform and working with the youngsters on baserunning. It is always great to see the Cardinals Hall of Famer.
Here are the Red and White teams. Note the four Arizona Fall League position players are sprinkled among them.
|Wisdom (A)||Diaz (A)|
AFLers in the house
Speaking of which, I will hold off doing interviews with the Cardinals Arizona Fall League contingent until I arrive in Arizona in about five weeks. The Cardinals players will leave Florida for Arizona in a few days.
Where is Mercado?
Some of you may have done what I did when reviewing the working rosters above – that is look for new names or ones missing. Peoria’s Oscar Mercado is one. The shortstop has moved to the rehab group due to a sore back that began to show itself late in the regular season. This fall, there is certainly no need to push the 2015 stolen base leader for the entire Cardinals system, with 49, three more than Charlie Tilson.
Former slugging outfielder Rowan Wick, now a pitcher, had been out of GCL action from early July through the end of the season with a sore elbow. The right-hander has already thrown in instructional league and is scheduled to take the mound again on Wednesday.
Another pitcher who missed a considerable part of the summer is Johnson City’s Bryan Dobzanski. The 20-year-old was out from July 7 until making one relief appearance during the final week of the Appalachian League schedule. The right-hander had soreness in the front of his shoulder. It was not significant enough for an MRI with rest the prescription. For that reason, Dobzanski is taking it easy during instructs with a plan to hit the ground running in 2016.
The catcher looks much bulkier than I remember him. He says that he put on 40 pounds of muscle during the last off-season and did a better job of keeping the weight on during the long season. O’Keefe batted cleanup on Tuesday.
Scouts on hand
Perhaps because there were two clubs on hand Tuesday, the Cards and the Mets, there seemed to be more scouts present than usual. That is a very unscientific assessment, however.
The lineup and pitching plans
Four pitchers were scheduled with two ready in reserve. The latter pair did not see game action so threw bullpens after the game instead. This morning, I saw Oneiver Diaz throw a side session but just missed the Cardinals’ big 2015 international signee Alvaro Seijas.
Pitches and velocities for the pitchers are included.
|D Perez||3-4||60-65||88-90||C-up 82-83||McElroy||7|
Leobaldo Pina at third
Normally a shortstop at State College, Leobaldo Pina played third base on Tuesday. Though he did not appear at the hot corner in the last two regular seasons, he did see time there in 2012 and 2013. On this day, one chance came at him so fast, he missed an “ole”” move to his left. Pina looks to have enough arm for the position, but I have to wonder if he has enough bat.
Up the middle sluggers
How about a lineup with your two middle infielders batting third and fifth? It is not that much of a stretch at all. Number three man, shortstop Edmundo Sosa, posted the second-highest slugging percentage in the system this season at .485. His Johnson City partner at second, Eliezer Alvarez, slugged .451, fourth-highest in the organization.
While the Cards and Mets played a full nine innings, the game ended in a 0-0 tie.
Pitching on his 21st birthday, Dewin Perez (three innings), then Ian McKinney (three), Sasha Kuebel (two) and Estarlin Arias (one) combined for the shutout. Perez yielded four hits and two walks, but avoided damage, partially by fanning three. McKinney was even better, with one hit and one walk with four strikeouts. Kuebel allowed just one hit, no walks and fanned two. Arias also struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Cards had their best chance to score in the seventh. Leading off, O’Keefe shot a ball into the left field corner that was hit so hard, he only managed a single. The DH (who by then had swapped defensive positions with starting DH, then catcher Jose Godoy) moved up to second on an out and tried to score on a Pina single to center, but was thrown out. On the next play, to make matters worse, Pina was gunned down trying to steal second base.
Though he wasn’t in the lineup, Carson Kelly batted in both of the first two innings as an extra hitter and singled once.
In his first two at-bats, C.J. McElroy singled and stole second base each time, but no one could bring him home. Encouragingly, one of the at-bats came from the left side and the other from the right.
What is Next
Look for future daily articles and an extensive series of player and coach interviews coming to you from Cardinals instructional league camp in Jupiter in the upcoming days.
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