In Part 1 of this two-part exclusive interview, Memphis Redbirds manager Mike Shildt covered a wide variety of topics that included the Triple-A club’s position at season's end, the impact of player movement on the everyday clubhouse, prepping players in at multiple positions, and more.
Here in Part 2, Shildt talks about a number of the Cardinals prospects he has coached.
Mike Shildt: "Very, very gratifying to be able to see and witness. It's truthful, but I don't know how to put it in order. First, good to see them contributing to the success of the big-league team which is ultimately why we do what we do.
"To see them produce and have results with the St. Louis Cardinals is very exciting, gratifying, and beyond that specific to them is getting the privilege to work with such talented, high-character and highly committed guys in Stephen and Tommy.
"A lot of people don't get the opportunity to see the dedication and level of commitment they have put into their careers to compete and get to St. Louis. There are sincere expectations to contribute to that team, so when you see them put forth that kind of energy, effort, commitment, and get the opportunity and take advantage of it, it's very satisfying on their behalf."
DS: Moving on to players, first pitchers. Could you give me an impression on Tim Cooney (who really pitched well with each outing at ML level), Sam Tuivailala (you've had him two straight years, can his cutter be a weapon?), Marco Gonzales (unfortunately his shoulder kept him out of action, but he's still young and left-handed), Dean Kiekhefer (currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League), Zach Petrick (had outstanding control and was perhaps your bulldog) and Arturo Reyes (who made just five starts, but excelled in Double-A)?
MS on Cooney: "Really pleased for Tim. He was able to get an opportunity this year to break into the big leagues. Obviously a talented guy and was able to take the experience that he learned from every outing. The league will correct you, tell you where you stand, what you need to work on, and the players will pay attention to that.
"He's a guy that bedazzled this league (Pacific Coast League) in being to able to stay and compete. As Gary LaRocque (Director of Player Development) would say, "he can play above or below the level." In Tim's case he was able to take advantage of the opportunity given to him.
"As you mentioned, he continued to improve and get better. He was able to recognize what he needed to continue to work on in being able to execute more consistently. Even when he came back down into Memphis, he was focused on working on things, but it was unfortunate the appendectomy took place the end of the year that suddenly ended his season. I felt really good about what he was able to do and how he was able to do it."
On Tuivailala (asked if his nascent cutter can be a big-league weapon): "Absolutely, I think he has already demonstrated that it can be. Sam came in 2014 with Springfield and ended the full year with the exception of St. Louis, in Memphis.
“That cutter is a pitch that is going to be needed for him. It's a very effective pitch for him and he is still in the process of repeating the best versions of that pitch more consistently, but it has been a real weapon and he has been able to demonstrate that in St. Louis. I'm hopeful he can continue to move forward and be successful."
On Gonzales: "Unfortunately he had a hard time staying healthy, but the good news is with his shoulder, it is nothing that will require surgery. It did interrupt his ability to have continuity to consistently get out there and showcase his ability to work on his craft. I'm excited about the future for Marco in 2016."
On Kiekhefer: "Had a nice year for us. He is left-handed and has the ability to get lefties out. He is working on a changeup to be effective against right-handers too. He is a strike-thrower, probably one of our better strike-throwers in the entire organization, and he is durable.
"A lot of positives for Dean - he takes the ball and you know he's going to throw strikes, keep the ball down, and keep the ball in the ballpark. He is a good competitor, does the little things well, holds runners, fields his position, and pays attention to how to game plan guys. Had a nice year and it's a good opportunity for him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. This is his second time he's been and is a great opportunity for him."
On Petrick: "Zach is real professional. He took the ball from bell to bell and made every start all year. Very durable. That is a great trait to have as a pitcher - to be counted on every fifth day to take the ball and he always put you in a position to compete to give his team a chance to win. That's the definition of a starting pitcher.
"He is still working on his repertoire. He throws strikes, continues to throw more consistent quality strikes, got a good repertoire. He is just tightening up his pitches a bit. He is a good competitor, he's got a strong work ethic and had a nice year."
On Reyes: "Good story. Arturo is a 40th round pick. He has moved quickly and he has earned it. He has got a nice arm, was able to start in Palm Beach, pitched well in Springfield and made the Texas League All-Star Team, and earned the opportunity to come to Memphis.
"It's a learning curve as I alluded to earlier about getting to a league and adjusting to it. He was in that process of doing it and to his credit he was able to take a little bit of every outing into the next outing, throw upon it, and grow from it. Like a lot of guys, you go through a learning curve when you first get to a league and he was going through that and had a positive opportunity and I'm glad he was able to gain that opportunity and experience.
"That will serve him well. You could tell he was starting to adjust nicely. He's got a good, quick arm, a live ball, and it's just a matter of being more consistent with what you do."
DS: What was your impression of Jacob Wilson (who arrived and immediately had punch), Rafael Ortega (had strong numbers and plays CF), Jeremy Hazelbaker (a surprise story in the Cardinals system), Cody Stanley (came off a breakout 2014, but suspended in September again due to his second positive PED test), Anthony Garcia (put something together in Springfield and played a couple weeks in Memphis before the end of the season) and Aledmys Diaz (who earned a late-season call-up and produced at Memphis)?
MS: On Wilson: "It was great having Jacob up there, he showed and didn't really miss a beat. He started swinging the bat well almost immediately. He was productive all year, productive with Springfield, productive for Memphis, and went to the Pan-Am Games for a little over three weeks and was on the USA Club that ended up losing in the Gold Medal game in a heartbreaker, evidently.
"He was really productive for that club, hitting the middle of the lineup, top middle of the lineup there. Nice year, put together some good at-bats, his batting average was a little lower than his career, but his run production was as good as anybody's probably across the board in the organization.
"Played a good third base for us, occasionally some second base did a nice job there, turns a good double-play. Good player, nice for him to perform in front of his home crowd in Memphis."
On Ortega: "Rafael's skill-set is one that we value in the organization. Tremendous pickup, we claimed and put him on our 40-man roster a couple of years ago. He's a talented guy, comes to play every day, a terrific competitor, quiet but goes about his business and plays a tremendous center field.
"He led the league last year in defensive assists, I believe he tied for first in the PCL for first this year. Then what alerts your attention is the increase in offensive production and I give a lot of credit to our hitting coach Erik Pappas through that process last year in Springfield. Derrick May (hitting coordinator) has always been a consistent presence in the development of ‘Raffy’.
"Then, Mark Budaska (Triple-A hitting coach) did a nice job helping him understand his skill-set and the adjustments that needed to be made. But Raffy needs the credit. He put the work in and made the adjustments to change his swing a little to be more consistent and also his approach in how he was thinking situationally, how he was approaching pitchers in different situations.
"He put together a really nice year, started out as an extra outfielder and earned his way into an everyday job. Started in the back-end of the lineup and worked his way into the lead-off spot. We were a better team moving forward, a good player and good competitor. Really happy for Raffy, a quality young man."
On Hazelbaker: "Good player. Really have to tip your hat to the front office. This was a released player two weeks into the season, we picked him up, put him in the Double-A club, and Jeremy just flourished and based on need he got the opportunity to move. Sometimes, you earn an opportunity to move but there's not any room for you.
"He was able to earn a promotion to Memphis. There was a spot open for him, and he took full advantage of it. Very toolsy player, very dedicated player, hard-nosed player, and very similar to Raffy. He goes to compete on a nightly basis in the right fashion, plays a great outfield - mostly corner outfield, but can play centerfield, throws well, and gets good jumps.
"Offensively, the ball really jumps off his bat. He's got good carry to his ball, drives the ball to all fields, an aggressive player, runs well, plays the game right, and looks to take the extra-base. Had a really nice year and hopefully you will see him back with the organization."
On Stanley: "I have a ton of respect for Cody. It's not my place to put anything on whatever happened with the suspension. Cody had a nice year on the field, goes about it in a manner every guy should go about it; he's a real professional. Continues to improve in all areas of his game and earned the promotion to St. Louis.
"Has really done a nice job of becoming a solid defensive catcher in all aspects. Not only receiving, blocking, but his leadership skills have really improved his game-management skills, his pitch selection and his game-planning. He has been impressive and to the caliber we expect as an organization.
"Offensively, he got in a little bit of trouble trying to pull the ball too much, trying to do too much in a new league, and potentially trying to prove he deserved a call-up. That's very normal, but when he's right and within his approach, he can really do some damage and he got called up towards the end of the year and really played well. He got some big hits for the big-league club. Really happy with Cody's development."
On Garcia: "He put together a good year. It's a great job for the organization. Came up right at the end of the year, put together some good at-bats for us, and wasn't there long. He's a guy with real power, it's a matter of what we alluded to with a lot of the guys; he just needs to be consistent and use his skill-set."
On Diaz (asked if the middle infielder could move around and play multiple positions this coming season): "That will be determined by our big-league staff in big-league camp, Gary LaRocque, and John Mozeliak. I don't know. I would expect him to get the opportunity to move around and play different infield spots, but that will be determined in big-league camp as we move into next year in spring training."
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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