Coming in, it seemed unlikely that my third and final day at St. Louis Cardinals instructional league camp this fall could top the excitement and strangeness of Wednesday’s Tebow-mania.
Though there was a bit of carry over on Thursday, as Cardinals lefty John Kilichowski enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame with national attention, including mention in USA TODAY and a spot on Dan Patrick’s national sports show on Thursday morning.
In the unlikely chance that you missed it, St. Louis’ 11th-round pick this June from Vanderbilt served up a high 91 mph first-pitch fastball to Tim Tebow, who hit it out of the park. It was the former Denver quarterback’s first plate appearance in a baseball game against external competition.
Thursday, officially camp day #11, is set to a bit shorter than some. It began with the normal morning schedule of drills, including running, throwing, sliding, bunting and batting practice. That all occurred between the 9:00 a.m. Roll Call/Daily Plan/Yellow Pad conducted by camp coordinator Mark DeJohn and 11:30.
In the main photo above, Jose Oquendo is working with the infielders, with Delvin Perez immediately to his right.
The next hour was allocated for lunch and to prepare for the full squad game between the Red team and White team. The two-and-a-half inning contest, with the length determined by the available pitching, began at 12:30 p.m.
It was a good thing the work was done early, as by 3:30 p.m., the afternoon rains came.
John Hartwig, who leads a program called Cardinals Core, met with the English-speaking players at the team hotel Wednesday evening. He has a similar session with the Spanish-speaking players Thursday night. Second meetings with each of the two groups will be held Friday evening. In between, Hartwig spent Thursday morning on the back fields during workouts.
Hartwig, a friend and former business partner of Mike Matheny, runs a company called Pro/Spur. His goal is to help players develop character as individuals, through one-on-one and group sessions. The formal Cardinals Core program is now in its fourth year, Hartwig explained.
With all of the instructional league players housed in the Major League clubhouse, there is still room for a group of players who were in Jupiter before instructs began – and will remain afterward.
Closest to the entrance to the clubhouse are a row of stalls with the following names listed above them: Jimmy Reed, Mitch Harris, Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, Chris Thomas, Sam Tewes (8th-round RHP from Wichita State), Ronald Medrano and Dylan Melendez. All are pitchers with the exception of catcher Melendez.
Their playing experience levels vary from MLB (Harris, Gonzales and Cooney) to the Dominican Summer League (Melendez) to not yet making his professional debut (Tewes), though their goal is the same – to get back onto the field of play healthy.
The individuals leading the efforts are Minor League Rehab Coordinator Dave Meyer and his assistant, Frank Daversa. Long-time Cardinal and Senior Medical Advisor Barry Weinberg is also present on a regular basis.
In the following photo, rehabber Harris is watching AFL-bound Rowan Wick throw a side session. What immediately struck me is Harris’ increased size. It is clear he has spent time in the weight room building strength.
The right-hander told me that he is anxious to be cleared to start throwing next week and believes he will be even better once he gets past the inevitable scar tissue build-up.
In June, Harris underwent "Tommy John-like” surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow and repair the UCL in his forearm, which had come off a bone. He has been out of action since spring training and spent the entire season on St. Louis' 60-day disabled list, originally saying he expected to be back in January.
In addition to soon-to-be Arizona-bound Wick, pitcher Austin Gomber is in this photo with coaches Dernier Orozco and Davis.
Arizona Fall League position players Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong are also in house. In the first photo, the two are chatting with coach Ron “Pop” Warner. Then, as Bader worked out with the outfielders, DeJong took grounders at third from Warner.
Scout Meinhold in house
One of the first class of Cardinals’ fourth coaches, the training position added in 2014 to prepare future minor league coaches and scouts, was on the back fields on Thursday.
Ricky Meinhold is now a professional scout for St. Louis, based in Florida and covering 23 teams, from the majors down to the Gulf Coast League. The 30-year-old had taken an assignment from the organization to scout instructs and clearly loves his work.
Right field defense
I mentioned in Wednesday’s article about third baseman Bryce Denton moving to the outfield. For all of Thursday’s game, coach Willie McGee positioned himself down the right field line just outside of fair territory, where he could offer Denton (and White outfielder Brian Sanchez) pitch-by-pitch positioning advice.
Denton is new to the position as a professional and I was told that Sanchez’ defense was one reason the Dominican Summer League’s Most Valuable Player had not been promoted to the US sooner. The two youngsters are clearly working with the right man.
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
Two of the organization’s brightest young pitching stars, Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez, are being kept on the same schedule. The two threw side sessions on Thursday after pitching in game action on Tuesday. They are scheduled to go again in Saturday’s contest.
The pair, who finished the season in Palm Beach’s rotation, are pictured in this photo, with Fernandez on the left.
Estarlin Arias, who had been listed as the final pitcher available to throw against the Mets in Port St. Lucie on Wednesday, did not get into that game. Instead, he participated in what was labeled as “mound catch” on Thursday. That is obviously less stressful than a full bullpen. Arias is on the earlier Friday schedule to pitch in game action then.
The earlier version of the pitching schedule had Derian Gonzalez lined up to throw three innings along with Steven Farinaro. Jacob Schlesener was to follow with an inning or two.
I do not know why Gonzalez did not pitch, but he told me after the game that he will be throwing on Friday, instead. Likely, coaches are just being careful.
A result of just two pitchers being available meant Thursday’s game was scheduled for just 2 1/2 innings. Schlesener’s outing was two frames.
Farinaro, who had a breakout summer with State College, received praise from coaches, with comments like, “his breaking ball is better”, “he looks more confident” and his fastball “looks better than 90 (mph)”.
Pitches and velocities for Farinaro and Schlesener are included.
|Farinaro||3/45||3||88-90 T92||C/up 82-83|
|Schlesener||1-2||2||85-89 T90||CB 72-73|
Here are the Thursday lineups for the Red and White offenses.
It wasn’t really a game as much as it was what football might call a controlled scrimmage. The pitchers were doing their thing, but often asked to do so with a runner on base and with a batter bunting. Innings were rolled before three outs, with pitch counts the apparent trigger.
The same two hurlers who threw side sessions earlier – Alcantara and Fernandez - were asked to practice sacrifice bunting with a runner on first in the game situation in each of the three innings.
Warner served as the balls and strikes umpire, standing between the pitchers’ mound and third base.
T1st: Farinaro pitched against the White offense, starting with a runner on first. Leadoff man Randy Arozarena grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. With another runner placed on first base, Alcantara struck out trying to bunt. Fernandez got his sacrifice bunt down, moving the runner up, though he was out 3-4. Sanchez was retired on a 6-3 to end the inning.
B1st: Schlesener took the ball against the Red hitters. Leadoff man Magneuris Sierra would have been out on a 4-3, but his speed seemed to force a low throw, enabling him to move up to second. Sierra took third on a ball thrown to the screen. Edmundo Sosa walked to put runners on the corners.
Oscar Mercado, who was not in the original lineup, was inserted between Sosa and Brady Whalen. The outfielder struck out swinging. Whalen then hit a comebacker to Schlesener, who overthrew the first baseman as the runner on third scored. The inning was rolled at that point. Red up 1-0.
T2nd: After coaching guidance following his strikeout in the bottom of the first, Mercado was sent back up to lead off the top of the second against Farinaro. With the bases empty, Mercado shot a single to right center that Denton tried to dive and catch, but missed.
Alcantara got his sacrifice bunt down, but was retired 3-4. Fernandez struck out in his bunt try. McCarvel followed with a screaming liner that shortstop Sosa reached by diving to his right in full extension. It was clearly the defensive play of the day.
Balbuena tattooed the first pitch he saw deep to right and stood up going into third base with a triple. The inning was rolled there.
B2nd: Schlesener retired Chris Chinea 6-3, before Dennis Ortega drew a walk. The catcher took second on a wild pitch. Denton watched strike three before Carlson’s walk led to the inning being rolled.
T3rd: Farinaro started clean again – no baserunners. Walker Robbins was waiting for an off-speed offering and shot it the other way down the third base line. He was held at first for Alcantara, who tried again to sacrifice, but struck out. Fernandez executed his attempt, as his hard-hit bunt was fielded by Farinaro, who tossed to the second baseman covering the first base bag.
With Robbins at second, J.D. Murders drew a free pass. That ended the game.
After the contest, DeJohn tutored the pitching prospects on their bunting.
Earlier related articles
What is next
The players will have a treat on Friday, as their game against Miami will be held on the main Roger Dean Stadium field. That is same one where the Cardinals and Marlins play in the spring and the two organizations’ high-A clubs hold their home Florida State League games.
Also included in the tentative plans listed below are Saturday’s pitchers against the Mets in Jupiter. I really wish I could see those arms pitch back-to-back-to-back-to-back!
|Arias||1-2||De La Cruz||1-2|
What is beyond
Look for an exclusive series of interviews and news 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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