My second day at St. Louis Cardinals instructional league camp was lined up to be far more eventful than the first - and it did not disappoint.
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s report, the Cards were traveling to Port St. Lucie to take on the Mets. Initially, I did not realize it coincides with former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow’s first game against external competition as a Mets outfield prospect. That completely altered the complexion of the entire day.
Yesterday, I noted that 10 scouts seemed to be an unusually high number of attendees for an instructional league game. Tradition Field put that to shame on Wednesday for the Tebow show with my estimate of 18-20 present and double that amount in media members between writers and photographers.
Since Tebow was playing left field, many of the photogs hung down the baseline, with their big lenses capturing his every move. One national writer had to shake fire ants off his legs, having inadvertently stepped in the wrong spot.
Mets assistant media relations director Ethan Wilson was present, having come in from New York to direct traffic and giving the scene more of a spring training feel.
One of the media covering Tebow is none other than The Cardinal Nation’s Gulf Coast League Cardinals reporter Paul Ivice. Florida resident Ivice is doing this stint as a freelancer for New York Newsday. It was great to catch up with an old friend amid all the bustle of activity. (Also, check out Paul’s choice as GCL Cards Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2016, to be posted here at The Cardinal Nation on Thursday morning.)
The quantity of scouts and media members were dwarfed by the count of fans at the game. My estimate is several hundred. That is far more than the few family members at best who might be at a complex game.
It is pleasant coincidence that the Mets blue and orange colors align perfectly with the University of Florida ones – the same that Tebow wore as the Heisman Trophy winner. I even saw an old-school number 15, a Carlos Beltran jersey. (It was probably a good thing the lady in foreground with the Miami Hurricanes shirt was on her way out.)
As soon as I pulled into the Tradition Field parking lot, I encountered a souvenir stand, selling what else? (Remember, this is the instructional league!) My guess is the man on the right was perplexed by the prices.
On the positive side, there was a very nice woman there who had a free supply of Mets instructional league rosters. An appreciated touch.
I have been to literally hundreds of minor league complex games in my career and am 100 percent confident that I never seen fans with banners – until now, that is.
Plan B was the day’s plan
The Cardinals had their Roll Call, Daily Plan and Yellow Pad (a George Kissell staple) at 8:45 a.m. That may have been the only item on the calendar that went off as scheduled.
The Red team and players making the trip were to take batting practice on Field 2 at 9:35, after stretching. The pitchers going to Port St. Lucie were to work on baserunning and bunting for an hour starting at 9:15. Those not part of the travel squad had their own morning work scheduled before taking the afternoon off.
The bus was scheduled to depart Jupiter at 10:50 for the 45 minute ride. Players were to eat lunch after arrival in Port St. Lucie, with the game at 1:00 p.m.
At least that was the original plan. With the threat of late afternoon rain, the Mets moved up the game to noon. That eliminated the morning drills for the travel squad.
It turned out to be a good decision, as I encountered mid-afternoon rain during the return drive to Jupiter with thunder and lightning by 6:00 p.m.
More news from Wednesday follows.
AFL players trickling in
Peoria pitching coach Dernier Orozco is in camp, preparing to lead the seven Cardinals prospects selected to play in the Arizona Fall League. The players are scheduled to arrive today (Wednesday). After working out in Florida for about a week, the Cardinals will leave for Arizona.
Speaking of which, I will hold off doing interviews with the AFL contingent until I arrive in Arizona in about five weeks.
Only six will be in Florida, however. Kelly was a September addition to the major league club, likely to remain there through the end of the regular season. He will be the Cardinals’ priority player in the AFL, receiving four starts per week.
Sherriff is expected to be ready to go after finishing his stint with the winning Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier held in Brooklyn, NY last week.
Though I saw it yesterday, I wanted to wait until I spoke with the player to get the scoop. Bryce Denton is now officially a former third baseman, having been moved to the outfield starting in instructs.
Here, Denton is chasing a fly ball that went too far into foul territory.
Denton told me that he had played the outfield during showcases, so it is not new to him and he welcomes the change. He will continue to work on his hitting, which improved late in the season with Johnson City.
Chinea and Alvarez use similar helmet
Two Peoria teammates, catcher/first baseman Chris Chinea and second baseman Eliezer Alvarez, are wearing helmets with wrap-around face masks on the side facing the pitcher. I asked Chinea about it. He told me that he was hit in the face as a collegian and has used the protection ever since. Makes painful sense.
On another Chinea note, I was really impressed with his glovework at first base. I saw him expertly handle a number of low throws from his infield partners.
Old Mets friends
Both Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque and minor league hitting coordinator George Greer worked for the Mets many years in varying capacities. Even though LaRocque has been with the Cards almost nine years, a number of his former colleagues came by to say hello. Same with Greer, who left the Mets two years ago.
For basic details on camp structure, duration and roster, click here.
For the White and Red team player distribution, check Tuesday’s instructs report.
Bullpens and available pitchers
I was initially happy to see four pitchers scheduled to throw bullpens Thursday morning. Two are exciting Latin players in Johan Oviedo, just named our DSL Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year, and Alvaro Seijas. The others had successful 2016 seasons at higher levels in Ryan Helsley (Peoria) and Jordan Hicks (Johnson City and State College).
However, the Mets changed those plans. Seijas’ pen was moved to Port St. Lucie as he was on the travel squad, with the other three staying behind to throw at 10:15 a.m. As the tight schedule worked out, I was only able to see Seijas get his work in. Though there was no radar gun present, catcher Ryan McCarvel’s glove was popping.
Hicks and Helsley are scheduled to pitch in game action on Friday with the other two in the plan to throw on Saturday.
Six pitchers were scheduled to throw against the Mets Wednesday, including two members of the season-ending Peoria rotation in John Kilichowski (2016 11th rounder) and Jorge Rodriguez, moved into a starting role late in the year. Rodriguez is our Peoria Reliever of the Year for 2016. Estarlin Arias picked up the same honors for Johnson City.
Another notable is lefty Chandler Hawkins, who quietly progressed all the way from the Johnson City bullpen in 2015 to ending 2016 at Springfield. Hawkins is the only player in camp to have reached Double-A.
Lineup and pitching plans
The lineup for the game is listed along with a number of changes made in the middle of the fifth inning.
Pitches and velocities for the pitchers are included.
|Rodriguez||2/40||91-92 T94||C/up 85|
|De La Cruz||1-2/35||93-94||SL 83-84|
|Lineup at Mets||5th inn changes|
The simple, get to the bottom line version has the score ending in a 6-6 tie. Here is how they got there – in considerable depth.
T1st. Magneuris Sierra led off with a single to left. Allen Cordoba should have been out 5-3, but the throw was wide, putting runners on the corners. Eliezer Alvarez grounded into a 6-3 double-play as Sierra scampered home. Chris Chinea was retired 4-3 and the final out was greeted by applause from the Mets crowd. A crowd at an instructional league game! Cardinals up 1-0.
B1st. John Kilichowski pitching for the Cardinals. As most of the part of the world that might care already knows, lead-off man Tebow parked the first pitch he saw over the left-center outfield fence. I can honestly say I have also never seen an on-field celebration in the first inning of any baseball game in my entire life.
Kilichowski accepted his 15 minutes of fame with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
The Mets' plan was for Tebow to play the field and hit in each of the first five innings. The latter part of the assignment ended up being six.
After Tebow’s homer, the Mets put two on with a single to center and an E5 when Balbuena gloved a liner, but the ball fell out. After a strikeout on an 81 mph changeup, the next batter shot an RBI single to left. That brought out pitching coach Darwin Marrero for a talk as Ramon Santos hurriedly got loose in the bullpen.
Another RBI single to left for the third Mets run brought out manager Roberto Espinoza and the end of Kilichowski’s day at 1/3 of an inning and in the 25-30 pitch range.
To their credit, the Cardinals did not call for the inning to be rolled, instead wanting to see if Santos could escape. As it quickly turned out, the answer was “no”.
Santos served up a double that hit off the left field fence. That scored the last two of Kilichowski’s runners, increasing the Mets’ lead to 5-1.
T2nd. Andrew Knizner singled to left. Tebow made the routine play in a routine manner. More cheers ensued. Knizner never moved up as Denton flied out to center and Carlson (swinging) and Balbuena (looking) fanned to end the inning.
B2nd. Santos remained. The leadoff man reached on an infield single to third base, but second batter Tebow grounded into a 6-3 double play. More applause. A 5-3 concluded the frame.
T3rd. Jackson flied out to right and Sierra was erased in a 4-3 play. Cordoba shot a ball that dropped just in front of the center fielder and turned the play into a hustle double, sliding into second just ahead of the throw. After Alvarez lost the grip on his bat, throwing it over the bench and into the bullpen area, he flied out to left. By my count, Chinea’s 6-3 putout was the fourth Cardinals out of the inning, but who is counting, right?
B3rd. Santos continued and logged the first 1-2-3 inning of the day for the Cards, including retiring Tebow on a 4-3.
T4th. The Mets' shaky defense let the Cardinals back into the game. Knizner singled again, this time to center. Denton followed with the same result. Carlson grounded into what looked like a sure 3-6-3 double play. However, the second baseman did not touch the bag and his return throw was late, loading the bases with no outs.
The Cards pulled to within 5-2 as Balbuena singled to left, keeping the bases full. With Jackson up, a low throw on a 5-3 play eluded the first baseman and bounced down the right field line, emptying the bases and putting the batter on second.
After Sierra was out 3-1 and Cordoba flied out to center, the Mets rolled the inning. Tie game at 5-5.
B4th. The leadoff man singled and a low offering enabled the runner to move into scoring position. Santos fanned the second batter looking before Tebow launched a fly ball to deep center that was caught by Jackson. The crowd thought it was another home run. A 5-3 ended Santos outing at 15 pitches in the fourth and 41 overall.
T5th. The Cardinals went down in order as Alvarez was out 4-3, Chinea popped out to second and Jeremy Martinez flied out to right.
B5th. Jorge Rodriguez took over on the mound for the Cardinals and made quick work of the Mets, with a pair of strikeouts and a 5-3 out to erase Tebow to end the inning.
T6th. The first batter after Tebow was removed on defense, Denton, doubled deep into the left field corner. It would have been interesting to see the former quarterback on that play. Before Carlson walked, a wild pitch moved Denton to third. After Balbuena popped up to short, Arozarena took a nice at-bat to draw a walk, loading the bases. However, Sierra grounded into a 4-3 double play to end the threat.
B6th. Rodriguez returned for his second inning. Turns out Tebow was just out of the game in the field as he made the final out of the 1-2-3 inning on a lineout to left-center.
To close out Tebow’s day, he did homer and hit two other balls hard, but went 1-for-6, including grounding into a double play.
T7th. Cardinals hitters showed great patience as four consecutive free passes put the Cards ahead, 6-5. Walkers were Jose Martinez, J.D. Murders, Ryan McCarvel and Jeremy Martinez. With the Mets pitcher clearly on the ropes, the home club conveniently rolled the inning with no outs and the bases loaded. Cards 6-5.
B7th. Chandler Hawkins came in to pitch in a good news-bad news inning. On the positive side, despite an 88 mph fastball, the lefty relied on his slider to generate all three outs on swings and misses. On the down side, he yielded three singles, then hit a batter on the ankle to force in the tying run. Tie 6-6.
T8th. Denton was out 5-3 and Carlson was retired before Balbuena walked. Arozarena flied out to deep left for the third out.
B8th. Steven De La Cruz took the mound. Though the opening batter reached, he was retired on a 4-6-3 twin killing. After a De La Cruz offering hit the next batter on the shoulder, a single to right put runners on the corners. After Marrero came out to visit, the next batter took a borderline pitch for strike three looking.
T9th. The Cards were retired in order – Sierra struck out looking, Jose Martinez flied out to center and Murders grounded out to the first baseman unassisted.
B9th. De La Cruz stayed in to protect the tie and did as he finished the game with a 4-3 putout and fly balls to center and left for the final three outs.
Earlier related article
What is next
Look for future daily articles and an exclusive series of interviews coming to you, exclusively as a member of The Cardinal Nation, from Cardinals instructional league camp in Jupiter in the upcoming days.
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