Insight from Cardinals Instructs: 10/1/15

High-velocity pitching and a violent collision in a game in the main stadium at St. Louis Cardinals instructional league Thursday.

Thursday brought a return to clear skies and lower humidity in St. Louis Cardinals instructional league camp in Jupiter, Florida, but with an increased chance of precipitation in the afternoon. Overall, it was a fresher day.

For basic details on camp structure, duration and roster, click here
For the White and Red position player distribution, check Tuesday’s instructs report. (Pitchers are not assigned, but are used wherever needed.)

Drilling together

Instead of just their normal bullpens, those scheduled to throw on Thursday morning did it as part of live batting practice and baserunning drills. That gave everyone an opportunity to work on getting better together. “It was really interesting with baserunners timing me off the mound,” pitcher Ian McKinney said.

Mike or Michael?

Six of one, half dozen to another is how most readers would react to my question posed to 40-man roster catcher Michael Ohlman. Some sites, including ours, use his given name, Michael, while others just call him “Mike”. I want to use what the player prefers.

His answer as to which he goes by: “It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “My dad is Mike, so I was Michael. Everyone here calls me Ohlman, anyway.”

We’re staying with Michael.

Barry’s book

I started by saying hello to former St. Louis trainer Barry Weinberg, who is now a medical consultant for the Cards in Florida. When I asked about his book, the stories started flowing and continued for 30 minutes. I got to read multiple of the 108 vignettes in his upcoming book (one for each of a baseball’s stitches).

Each section is a couple of pages in which he tells a story about athletes, coaches or others of note with whom he has come into contact. They close with a restaurant recommendation in the appropriate city.

He told me stories about such diverse people as Thurman Munson, Bobby Knight and of course, Tony La Russa, with whom Weinberg estimates he has had 1600 dinners over the years. Weinberg said that TLR would never let him pay, but he started offering up a joke $1 bill “for the tip”. La Russa told him he has saved all those dollars, though his plan for them is unclear.

Barry is talking with a major publishing house and hopes his book will be out next spring, but you can sign up for information now at eatingmywaythroughbaseball.com.

BP stars

No saying it will translate to the games, but Brian O’Keefe and Arizona-bound Aledmys Diaz, both right handed hitters, blasted long and loud home runs to left field off batting practice pitcher and coach Darwin Marrero. Diaz loudly proclaimed what sounded like, “Now that’s something.”

With no number on O’Keefe’s back (they don’t wear them in workouts) and his helmet on so I could not see his red hair, I had enough trouble recognizing him that I had to ask a coach who he was. The bulkier O’Keefe is batting cleanup and catching on Thursday.

A Florida State League feel

With the Cardinals scheduled to face the Marlins on their side of the complex, a decision was made to instead hold the game in the main Roger Dean Stadium. Even the start time, 1:00 p.m., gave it a little more of the feel of a regular season contest. Of course, almost all of the spectators in the stands were scouts, players and team staffers.

Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque was all for the change, the first time the main stadium has been used by the Cardinals in instructs this fall. “It is a treat for the kids who have been working so hard to get to play in the stadium today,” he said.

It was also a bit easier for some of us to get out of the hot sun for a while.

The lineups

Thursday 10/1      
Lineup Original   Revised  
         
McElroy 8   Drake  9
Sierra 9   Sierra 8
Sosa 6   Cordoba 6
O'Keefe 2   O'Keefe 2
Alvarez 4   Alvarez 4
Thompson 7   Thompson 7
Bean DH   Bean DH
E Rodriguez 5   E Rodriguez 5
Diekroeger 3   Diekroeger 3

Overall, the original lineup was fairly similar to the one used on Tuesday against the Mets, with changes in the outfield most notable.

With multiple options for center field, the one with the most experience by far in playing in the main stadium, C.J. McElroy was to make the start there with Magneuris Sierra in right. The two were in left and center, respectively, on Tuesday. Nick Thompson is in instead of Blake Drake at the other spot, in left.

The infield defensive diversity continues, at least for Danny Diekroeger. The regular third baseman for Palm Beach, who played second base in Wednesday’s intersquad game, started at first base against the Marlins.

Former catcher Elier Rodriguez, who has been exclusively a first baseman since moving out from behind the plate last season, is starting at Diekroeger’s normal third base spot. Elier was with State College this summer.

Update: As I was heading over to the field at 12:45, I saw the day’s starting shortstop, Edmundo Sosa, in street clothes, walking to the parking lot with a Cardinals staffer. He did not look injured, so I assume it was illness. Several other players are dealing with colds.

The resulting lineup addition was Allen Cordoba at short. As you will read later, Cordoba was unable to finish the game, either, with Leobaldo Pina the third and final shortstop of the day.

In addition, McElroy was pulled from the original lineup and replaced by Drake, reason unknown. As a result, Sierra was moved to center with Drake taking right field.

Both lineup versions are listed above.

Again not listed was Carson Kelly, who isn’t playing in the field much at all this fall. His mission is to work on his hitting, which he did by taking at-bats in each of the first four innings.

The pitching plans

It had the promise of being a very interesting day with Austin Gomber, Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez scheduled to throw and they did not disappoint. The final hurler, Ramon Santos, held up his end as well.

Selected pitches and velocities for the pitchers are included.

Thursday 10/1    
Pitching  Plans Velos  
at MIA Innings FB Other
Gomber 2 88-89 CB 76-77
Alcantara 3 96-99 CB 81-84
      C-up 91
J Fernandez 3-4 96-98 T100 Sldr 82-84
      C-up 91-92
Santos 1 92-93 CB 74
E Perez Back-up    
Arias Back-up    

I was warned by a scout that the highest velocities won’t be seen at instructs since pitchers had time off between the end of the regular season and camp and are more fatigued. You wouldn’t know it by the numbers above.

As you can see, it was Fernandez who hit the century mark on at least one scout’s gun. Then again, perhaps Alcantara did too, though I did not see it. 99 isn’t exactly chopped liver and overall, Alcantara was more impressive on this day.

More commentary follows in the game discussion.

The game – Cardinals 3 at Marlins 1

First inning

The Cardinals struck quickly in the first. Drake walked, Kelly was hit by a pitch and Sierra singled to load the bases. After Cordoba struck out, O’Keefe walked to force in a run. After Eliezer Alvarez’ sac fly put the Cards up 2-0, the Marlins manager rolled the inning, meaning he wanted the bleeding to stop right then.

In the bottom of the first, Gomber started slowly, walking the leadoff man, who then stole second base as O’Keefe’s throw was high. The lefty buckled down with three straight outs, including two strikeouts to end the frame.

Second inning

Leading off the Cardinals’ second, Thompson singled on the first pitch. Steve Bean singled with one out and Rodriguez walked to load the bases, but Diekroeger grounded out to end the threat.

In his second inning of work, Gomber sailed a couple of pitches over the heads of Marlins’ right-handed batters, likely increasing their discomfort level. The 1-2-3 inning (and Gomber’s day) ended with his third strikeout in two hitless innings.

Third inning

Drake led off the Cardinals’ third with an infield single to the left side. He took second on a wild pickoff throw, but was erased trying to steal third.

Hard-throwing and slender Sandy Alcantara took over in the bottom of the third and had an efficient 1-2-3 inning that included two grounders on the infield and a strikeout.

Fourth inning

In the Cards’ fourth, Kelly singled but was thrown out trying to steal second base. O’Keefe singled, but was stranded.

Alvarez committed a fielding error behind Alcantara to open the fourth, but the Miami baserunner was erased on a nifty 3-6 double play started by first baseman Diekroeger.

Fifth inning

Diekroeger walked with two outs in the top of the fifth but was out in his attempt to swipe second.

The home fifth was Alcantara’s third and final inning. It was a 1-2-3 inning, ending with a 98 mph fastball for strike three. I believe only one ball got out of the infield against him, a fly ball to right to open the third frame. Even more impressive was his pitch counts by inning: 9-9-7. Three innings of heat in 25 pitches.

Sixth inning

Drake, who was at the plate when Diekroeger was thrown out to end the fifth, walked to open the sixth. Sierra took his place on a fielder's choice force out and swiped second base. On a perfectly-executed hit and run, Cordoba blooped a double into short right near the line as Sierra scampered home. That made the score 3-0 Cardinals. Cordoba was thrown out trying to steal third to end the inning – not usually a great play - but it seemed clear the team was emphasizing the stolen base.

Fernandez took over in the home sixth with a 1-2-3 inning that closed with two strikeouts.

Seventh inning

Thompson singled again, this time past third base, leading off the top of the seventh, but was stranded.

Fernandez got into a bit of a jam in the seventh, walking the leadoff man. A single to center and a fly out to left put runners at the corners. A sac fly put Miami on the board, 3-1. Fernandez closed the frame with a 97 mph fastball for strike three.

Eighth inning

Leading off again, this time in the eighth, Drake singled and swiped second. He was stranded.

The bottom of the eighth was Fernandez’ third and final inning. He hit the leadoff man with a pitch before getting two outs as the runner advanced to second. The Marlin moved up to third on a 96 mph wild pitch before Fernandez got strike three on an 84 mph slider. Not fair.

I did not get Fernandez' exact pitch count, though I estimate it in the low 40s for his three innings of work.

Ninth inning

Alvarez singled to right center to start the Cards ninth and moved all the way to third on a wild pickoff attempt. Thompson walked, reaching base for a third time, but Bean fanned and Rodriguez lined into an unassisted double play at first.

Instead of a smooth finish, Santos’ lone inning on the mound was long and very scary, but not due to his pitching. What ensued was a violent collision not unlike the one between Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos with St. Louis earlier in the week.

The Marlins’ first batter popped a ball to short left field. Shortstop Cordoba went out as left fielder Thompson came in. The two both loudly called for the ball and neither backed off. The two ran into each other at full tilt as the ball glanced off Cordoba’s glove, I believe. The three of them, both players and the baseball – hit the turf.

The two Cardinals remained motionless on the ground while trainers sprinted out and huddled over them. Cordoba was face down while Thompson landed awkwardly, twisted on his right side. After several minutes, Thompson was assisted to his feet. Cordoba stayed down longer, but eventually was helped up with what appeared to be a facial/head injury. He was rubbing his face and nose area as he slowly walked off the field and to the clubhouse with a trainer.

Thompson remained in the game with Cordoba replaced by Pina. The runner waited at second. Once play resumed, the next batter singled to put the potential tying runs on base, at the corners, with no outs.

They remained right there as Santos finished strongly, fanning the next hitter, and the 3-1 Cardinals’ win concluded on a pair of infield outs.

Upcoming pitchers

For the three-day weekend, the Cardinals will have a trio of camp days. Here are the scheduled pitchers.

Friday 10/2   Saturday 10/3   Sunday 10/4
Pitching  Plans   Pitching  Plans   Pitching  Plans
Camp IP   Camp IP   Camp IP
Seijas 3   Williams 4   D Perez 4
O Diaz 3   Wirsu 4   McKinney 3
DeLaCruz 1   Then 1   Santos 2
Kuebel 1   Wick 1   E Perez 1
Arias 2            
E Perez 1            

Seijas footnote

Seijas

I am really sorry I will not get to see Alvaro Seijas (SAY-hahs) pitch on Friday. At 16 years of age, the right-hander is said to already throw 90-92, touching 95. Scouts were very complimentary of his breaking ball as well.

The Venezuelan was MLB.com’s second-ranked pitcher in this international class, and signed for $762,500, roughly one-third of the Cardinals’ full-year international allocation.

Seijas’ very participation in instructs now - with no professional game experience - suggests to me that he has a chance of reaching the Gulf Coast League next spring. Perhaps it will be like with David Oca, who came over after four starts in the Dominican Summer League, which begins play a month earlier than the GCL. Of course, Seijas would have to earn it, but the potential is there.

I believe Alex Reyes is the last Cardinals international assignee to begin his professional career in the US, pitching in Johnson City at 18 years of age in 2013. Carlos Martinez put in one season in the DSL, also at the age of 18, in 2010. Seijas will be 17 next summer.

What is next

Look for an extensive series of player and coach interviews coming to you from Cardinals instructional league camp in Jupiter in the upcoming days. I will also be working on formatting and loading video.




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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