Springfield Cardinals first baseman Luke Voit has been a steady presence, helping the Cardinals fend off Tulsa Drillers for the first half title in Texas League North Division while providing a steady run-producing bat in the middle of the order.
It is as if Voit never left Missouri State University in his homecoming season to Springfield and Hammons Field as a professional with the Cardinals. In a steady rise through the pro ranks including two stops with High-A Palm Beach since 2013, Voit has shown improved consistency across the offensive board, most recently hitting .273 with a career-high 11 homers and 77 RBI with the Beach Birds last year.
So far in 2016, Voit is on pace to set new career-highs in home runs, batting average, and on-base plus slugging most notably. He has belted ten homers and drove in 35 through his first 71 games (251 at-bats) en route to being named a mid-season all-star for the second consecutive season. The 25-year-old also scored an invitation to represent Springfield in the Texas League Home Run Derby Tuesday night.
While defensive and athleticism questions remain for a player who profiles as a first-base only type, the Cardinals have tested the 6-foot-3, 225 pounder in left field for the first time in his professional career. Voit had played exclusively at first base to start the season until the recent returns of Michael Ohlman and Jonathan Rodriguez from Memphis.
The key for Voit may be to tap into more power as right-handed hitting thump is a valued commodity in the big leagues.
In the following interview, Voit discusses his consistent 2015, during which his OPS was fourth in all of the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, plus all of the above topics and more.
Derek Shore: How do you reflect on 2015, a season in which you showed offensive consistency?
Luke Voit: "I take that and credit our hitting coach 'Smokey' Ortiz. He helped me a lot on the offensive side - sticking with my approach and even at times when you feel like your failing just to stay with it, and you'll have success along as you stay with it. I really focused on making things smaller with my leg kick and making it more simple instead of getting complex with everything. I give a lot of credit to him."
DS: How do you describe your first Double-A season thus far?
LV: "It has been awesome. I've learned a lot. I hope to keep learning a lot more. It's been a lot of fun. I've had a lot of good times with this group of guys. It's kind of mix of younger and older guys, so it's been fun, and I'm glad I get to be a part of it."
DS: You have experience playing in the bigger ballparks of the Florida State League the last two years. What is different hitting in the Texas League this year?
LV: "I don't know. You're right with the Florida State League being bigger. There's still some big ballparks in this league. Hammons Field is nice to hit at. I used to think hitting at bigger fields made a difference, but it doesn't. When you get a ball, you still get a ball, but you just don't get those cheap home runs. I think the fields are a little bit better here in Double-A.
"They pitch you a lot harder here, so it's still hard to hit home runs."
DS: What does it mean to return to Springfield and Hammons Field as a professional with the Cardinals?
LV: "It feels honestly the same except we get a couple more thousand fans every night, but it feels like I'm playing back home again after playing at Missouri State for four years. It's pretty freaking sweet."
DS: You alluded to adding a high leg kick as a pro. What results have you seen since you've added it?
LV: "I really didn't have it in college. I messed around with it in college, but my first spring training, I started messing around with it with our hitting coordinator Derrick May and 'Smokey' Ortiz. It kind of just clicked again, and I forgot that I used it my junior year, one of my best years of college ball, too.
“I was ready to do something different because the other stance wasn't working very well. (The new stance) started feeling better and my timing got really good. It's awesome. I like it a lot. I never thought I'd be like that, but it's really worked out for me."
DS: Approach-wise, how do you consider yourself as a hitter?
LV: "A guy that can hit the ball to all fields. Try to stay up the middle and not get too pull happy. Try to compete and have good at-bats. Then, obviously, try to drive in as many runs as possible."
DS: You have come on particularly of late. What adjustments have you made to see these results?
LV: "Being patient. I can be an aggressive hitter sometimes, but it's more of being a selective guess hitter and know the situation that you're in. Like if you've got guys on base, you know you're going to get a bunch of off-speed and pitchers are going to rely on their secondary pitches.
"Try not to do too much at the plate and hit home runs because the home runs will come and stay gap to gap and let the ball get deeper instead of yanking it and be out front and roll over. Try to stay up the middle and gap-to-gap."
DS: As a catcher turned first baseman in pro ball, how do you feel you've progressed at first base defensively?
LV: "I think I've done really well. I kind of struggled a little bit going back there. I played it in high school before I started catching and a couple of times in college. I think it was more being comfortable there again, where to be in certain situations, feeling comfortable with my infielders, and them having confidence in me.
“Overall, now I feel really comfortable over there and it kind of feels natural for me. It's been a lot better."
DS: As the season goes on, what could you improve on specifically on both sides of your game?
LV: "I think being a disciplined day-by-day hitter, not getting out of my zone, and sticking with my approach as in every at-bat, even though it's still hard to do. I don't want to get away from what I've been doing that makes me so successful. I've been playing a little bit of left field, so get more comfortable out there and always work at my defense at first too.
"Keep driving in as many runs as possible and get better with hitting with runners in scoring position. I need to stay with my approach and not get upset with myself when some stuff doesn't turn out right. Keep grinding it out every day."
DS: Could it have been any more fitting for you to be named a Texas League All-Star with it being played at Hammons Field?
LV: "It was one of my goals. I'm glad I got the opportunity. I'm glad the people who voted me on thought I was deserving of that. It's pretty cool, especially being at Hammons. It couldn't get any better than that."
DS: Do you have any other personal goals set for the rest of this season?
LV: "Drive in as many runs as I can - a lot of doubles and a lot of home runs. Do whatever I can to help the team win. Make the playoffs and win a championship in the Texas League would be awesome. Yeah, get my power numbers up, honestly."
Members of The Cardinal Nation can check out Derek Shore’s many interviews with Springfield newsmakers, such as his recent talk with Cardinals pitching coach Jason Simontacchi on the Double-A staff, as well as his weekly in-depth S-Cards’ team reports, which appear each Thursday morning all season long here at TCN.
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