Cards Winter Warm-Up: In Their Words, 1/15/17

Press interviews from the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up on Sunday, January 15.

As everyone reading this already knows, Saturday’s Day 1 of the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch was canceled due to the ice storm in the area.

As a result, what would normally be Day 2 of the annual event is the first day this year. None of the Saturday sessions were rescheduled. As a result, key presentations such as farm director Gary LaRocque’s breakout session were lost.

Further, the following players’ autograph sessions, scheduled on Saturday, did not occur. As a result, they did not meet with the media, either. Here are those players: Jedd Gyorko, Trevor Rosenthal, Jose Martinez, Miguel Socolovich, Brett Cecil, Matt Bowman, Dexter Fowler, John Gant, Alex Reyes (previously canceled), Zach Duke, Ryan Sherriff, Rowan Wick, Tyler Lyons, Patrick Wisdom and Matt Adams.

OK, now that we’ve covered what we don’t have, let’s get into all that we do!

Following are selected interviews held during the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up on Sunday, January 15, 2017.

Paul DeJong (4:16)

In the first interview of the morning on Sunday, DeJong was questioned about the difference between this offseason versus the past years with the reply of, “just a little bit shorter. Still got to be productive and do what I got to do for the spring.” The newly-converted shortstop also feels he’s improved a lot from the experience in the Arizona Fall League.

Preparation-wise, DeJong doesn’t want to bulk up too much and gain too much weight, so he can play shortstop while continuing to take reps at both third with second base being a fallback from his time at Illinois State. He feels his time at shortstop allows him to have another edge to his game and thought his feet played better there than at third, saying Cardinals Minor League Fielding Coordinator Mark DeJohn agreed.

DeJong felt confident about his results despite the limited amount of at-bats and saw the AFL was a different environment from Double-A. In the offseason, the former fourth rounder is focused on taking reps at multiple positions, but is expected to open 2017 as Triple-A Memphis’s shortstop and confirmed he will be in big-league camp as a non-roster invitee.

DeJong concluded by discussing his non-baseball activities during the offseason.

Austin Gomber (4:22)

To start, Gomber said he doesn’t want to treat St. Louis like a tourist attraction, but wishes to make it a place of employment in 2017. The big left-hander called his late-season finger ailment, “a blessing in disguise” that allowed him to participate and excel in the AFL.

Stuff-wise, Gomber didn’t change any of pitches, attributing his stellar performance to “being able to just click.” On if the departure of Jaime Garcia opening up an opportunity in the rotation, he said after Double-A and the fall league, “You can smell it. You create the opportunities for yourself.” Gomber said he wasn’t working on a specific pitch in the AFL, while admitting his pitches aren’t yet where he wants them to be and reminding the media, “I’m still in the minor leagues.”

His main goal is to get to St. Louis. Gomber enjoyed working with minor league pitching coaches Jason Simontacchi and Randy Niemann, calling the latter a big-league pitching coach.

Greg Garcia (5:22)

The first big-leaguer to address the media on Sunday morning, Garcia said he had a good offseason and is excited for spring training. The middle infielder wasn’t hesitant to set his early-season goals, looking to compete for a starting role despite being labeled as a utility player.

When asked what he has to do to be a starter, Garcia said, “That’s not up for me to decide. All I can do is go into spring training and compete.” As the press conference progressed, he continued to reiterate the fact his main goal was to fight for a regular job and looks to build on 2016. Garcia also wasn’t bothered by the minor knee/ankle issue he suffered last season.

The former Hawaii product tries to push himself to be the best major-leaguer he can be and feels he works too hard not to set goals of being an everyday player. This was the first offseason Garcia didn’t work with his brother, Drew, who retired. Instead, he worked with high school coach Mark Noble and a group of minor leaguers to train and do baseball activity. Garcia thinks the combination of power and on-base percentage will skyrocket the offense’s RBI totals with the addition of Dexter Fowler.

Away from baseball, the El Cajon, CA native is no longer a San Diego Chargers fan and will root for another NFL team with the possibility of converting to a Kansas City Chiefs fan because of his wife’s connection to the city.

Mitch Harris (8:19)

In his rehab, Harris just threw three “touch and feel” bullpens and expects in the next week will be 100% healthy following elbow surgery on his torn UCL in June. The right-hander is excited about where he is and guessed he is at about 75%, pushing 80%. It will be about getting more high-intensity bullpens and admitted that in every step there will be soreness, but is very confident with his recovery.

On a potential name of the nascent elbow surgery, Harris said there is no “running name yet”, but both he and Seth Maness are trying to get back to the big-leagues as quickly as possible, “So maybe instead, one day we’ll have a Seth Maness or Mitch Harris surgery,” he added.

The 6-foot-4, 240 pounder told the media he had nothing to lose with the elbow surgery, going into it thinking he would get Tommy John, but everything in his elbow was healthy and he had the newer procedure because the ligament had just pulled off the bone.

Harris hopes to be 100% and ready to go for spring training and help however he can. Despite being removed from the 40-man, the Ex-Navy lieutenant is happy and fortunate to remain with the Cardinals.

Carson Kelly (3:22)

With a full slate this offseason, Kelly described the winter as, “go, go, go.” The heir apparent to Yadier Molina feels he benefited from the experiences in the MLB Rookie Career Development program as well as the Fall League. During the MLB program, he enjoyed talking to the Hall of Famers, specifically Dave Winfield, and reconnecting with some of his opponents, calling it an opportunity to finally reflect on the fall and summer.

When asked about Paul DeJong’s growth as a hitter, Kelly said his teammate is always looking to get better every day and always looking for something to learn which will help him in the long-run and as he transitions to shortstop. On working with DeJong, Harrison Bader, and Luke Voit, Kelly has a group message and collaborates ideas from the trio.

The catcher keeps in contact with Yadier Molina over the offseason, but only “a little bit and not much” as the starter resides in Florida and he lives in Oregon. However, they both work together in spring training.

Ultimately, Kelly felt learning from the fall league and applying that to spring training coupled with adjustments to his hitting will allow him to take things day-by-day in Florida.

Marco Gonzales (7:26)

Gonzales opened by sharing that he is up to 90 feet on his long toss with building up arm strength the biggest focal point. As it stands, the left-handed pitcher is expected to throw off a mound by spring training. Gonzales feels he is a bit behind in his rehab, but should start facing hitters towards the end of spring training.

Gonzales believes his best is yet to come with strength and stability with the hope of it being a “refresh button”. The 24-year old feels with a healthy spring training that he will be back in the mix for the rotation.

John Mozeliak (30:32)

As his original time to speak at WWU was canceled on Saturday, in a pleasant surprise, Mozeliak spoke to the media at-length on Sunday morning. The always dry-humored general ‘Mo opened the presser reflecting on the offseason.

Some key points of the press conference include the arbitration cases with Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha while explaining his expectations for Aledmys Diaz and Lance Lynn for 2017. In addition, the Cardinals general manager talks about what he sees in Matt Carpenter at first base and the roster with versatility to mix-and-match.

As far as any other headline acquisitions this offseason, Mozeliak envisions adding another complementary player to the mix. He said there continues to be speculation in regards to penalty for the hacking allegation, and a resolution should come sooner rather than later.

Mozeliak also addresses the state of the farm system and how soon the “doughnut hole” in the higher level could close in the near future.

Harrison Bader (5:37)

The cool, calm, and collected Bader was thrilled to be able to attend his first of what will hopefully be many WWU events with the Cardinals. The outfielder, who plays center and can handle both corners, was asked if he is ready to be the outfielder St. Louis currently desires, but he answered by saying it is out of his control.

During the regular season, the 22-year old said improving plate discipline comes with understanding his hitting zone and feels he continues to grow in that aspect of his game. In his time in the AFL, Bader also gained tremendous knowledge from working with Glendale Desert Dogs skipper Aaron Rowand, a former MLB outfielder.

Carlos Martinez (through translator – 11:48)

After interviewing in English at last WWU, Martinez went back to Spanish, speaking through interpreter Alexandra Noboa of the Cardinals Media Relations Department.

Martinez was first asked about a tough offseason for his native Dominican Republic, but he has been fortunate to be able to give back and help his community through “Tsunami Waves”. The powerful right-hander also said ever since he was a little boy he has wanted to represent D.R. as part of the World Baseball Classic.

When asked about contract negotiations with the organization, Martinez said he will leave that with his agent, but eventually admitted that he wants to spend his entire career with St. Louis.

His goals are quite ambitious with the biggest one to compete for a Cy Young Award in 2017. Martinez relishes the opportunity to be a leader on this pitching staff and to help develop a player like Alex Reyes.

Mike Mayers (7:01)

From a colder climate in Columbus, Ohio, Mayers is anxious for the warmer weather and has an understanding of what it takes to play at the big-league level despite a shaky introduction.

Coming off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery two years ago this summer, the right-hander has learned the importance of taking care of his body and has been able to add weight to increase his durability as a starter.

This offseason, Mayers’ biggest focus has been to be more consistently down in the strike zone while understanding his mechanics. His spring training goals include learning from mistakes in the big-leagues and be ready to compete to make a solid impression.

Kolten Wong (9:58)

The second baseman admitted that he went into 2016 spring camp expecting to win the second base job, but that “kind of backfired”. Wong is not assuming anything in 2017, staying in St. Louis to work out at the ballpark.

He would not share goals other than to try to get on base and not to try to hit home runs. Wong admitted that got him in trouble before. Said he “got punched in the mouth last year” getting sent down to minors, but did not feel sorry, he came back batter. No offense to anyone but felt he (and Randal Grichuk) did not belong at Triple-A.

Wong does not have a chip on his shoulder for 2017, he has “a block”. Took week off after the season to reassess himself as a player. Needs to be more consistent, improve bat speed, let his athleticism take over. Coming to spring to earn a job. More winning will lead to more fun in the clubhouse.

Luke Weaver (10:04)

The top prospect right-hander felt he got into trouble with St. Louis last year because he had only two established pitches. Working on breaking pitches to ensure they are weapons. Will throw more of them in the spring. Practice does not replicate live pitching in games.

Veteran Mike Leake has proven that size does not matter. Weaver thinks of himself as wiry, “and wire can’t break because it is strong”. Best advice he received was to “be yourself”.

MLB debut was intimidating, nerve-wracking, but he has learned on the go. Along with Carson Kelly, Weaver participated in the MLB Rookie Program.

Stephen Piscotty (8:33)

The outfielder is fine batting cleanup or wherever Mike Matheny puts him. Wants to keep approach simple – if a guy is on base, he wants to drive him in.

Felt he “hit a lull” in late August-early September due to the weight of the season-long adrenaline. Piscotty heard the call to get more athletic. Is coming into camp in his best shape since becoming a professional. Off-season training intended to make him more explosive, quicker.

Has a goal to be better stealing bases. Did it a lot last spring, but got more red lights in season after being caught several times. Will work on it again this spring.

Piscotty wants to get sharper, quicker. Felt “dull, less crisp” at end of season. To play 162 games, he needs to be in tip-top shape. “Blew out too soon” last season by taking too many swings early. Coaches wanted him to moderate, but he did not “chill”.

Aledmys Diaz (4:46)

Off-season focus to get stronger, ensure his body is healthy. Will go to camp two weeks early to work with Jose Oquendo. Worked this third off-season with trainer Adam Brush in Florida. (To read about their first winter together, check out this 2015 article.)

Last season, his shoulder was not strong. Put stress on it because his forearm was weak after his injury. Tough to help in clubhouse as rookie. This year will be different. Feels good about Cubans the Cards signed. Took them to dinner.

Sam Tuivailala (4:25)

Ran into problems last season when getting two quick outs, then making mistake pitches. Working on adjustments to his mechanics – getting set with his hands placed higher.

Now free agent Jerome Williams served as a mentor for him last season. Recognizes is it is “always a competition” for jobs in the spring.

Randal Grichuk (8:02)

The outfielder disclosed his left knee was scoped early in the off-season to remove floating cartilage. Could not rehab for 1 ½ months. It bothered him last season starting at the end of April or beginning of May, when he began treatment. Never had knee problems before.

Had no elbow issues in 2016. Definitely stronger. Problems behind him.

Bringing in another center fielder in Dexter Fowler is good. Grichuk only played corner in high school and rookie ball behind Mike Trout. Working with speed and routes to be best outfielder possible.

Said he “took off the first three months of last season.” Felt he went out of his approach early in the year. Pleased he finished more strongly and was more consistent at the plate. Felt his swing improved with more regular playing time.

30 home runs is not a goal for 2017 but thinks he can reach it. Main goal is to stay consistent.

Check back at The Cardinal Nation for more Winter Warm-Up content throughout the weekend and in the days that follow. Photos of all the above individuals and more are now loaded at TheCardinalNationblog.com, so check them out, too.

Brian Walton and Derek Shore of The Cardinal Nation collaborated on this article.

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