Coming into 2006, he had such a strong introduction to pro ball with Class A Quad Cities that we named him our Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year and ranked him the #16 player in the system.
During 2006, Stavinoha was on top of the world, putting together such a solid season with Double-A Springfield that the Cardinals followed it up with an invitation that fall to the prestigious premier prospect spotlight in baseball, the Arizona Fall League.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder seemed poised to blow though Triple-A last season, but instead, everything fell apart. His slugging percentage was a meager .373, down from .460 the year before and .564 in 2005. As the season dragged on, it only got worse, as Nick posted a measly .223 batting average in the second half.
During this past off-season, Stavinoha's stock as a top prospect plummeted, as first Rick Ankiel, then Colby Rasmus had passed him in the Cardinals outfield prospect pecking order. Cody Haerther was back in the system and served as able competition, as did 2006 draftee, Cuban import Amaury Marti.
Finally, there was the breakout status of Joe Mather to contend with, too. While Mather and Rasmus received the lion's share of 2008 prospect spring training at-bats, Stavinoha's non-roster invite to major league camp ended almost as quickly as it had begun. He was reassigned to minor league camp on March 5 after four official at-bats, in which he singled and doubled.
In our blended prospect rankings here at The Birdhouse over the winter, Stavinoha had dropped from #10 in 2007 to #38 for 2008. Two of our staffers left Nick off their top 40 lists entirely, while I kept the faith, ranking him at #25 on my personal list.
The even-keeled native of Houston, TX didn't let any of it bother him, taking care of business on the field for the 2008 Memphis Redbirds. His rebound season to date consists of a stellar .346/.375/.519 line (BA/OBP/SLG) with ten home runs and 50 RBI in 260 at-bats at Triple-A.
With the decision to place shortstop Cesar Izturis on the 15-day disabled list and only three bats on their bench, the Cardinals wanted to add some right-handed power. Stavinoha's contract was officially purchased by the major league club on Sunday and Manager Tony La Russa immediately suited up Stavinoha as #61 and inserted him into his lineup. Nick is batting fifth as designated hitter, facing tough Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.
Whether his stay in the majors is long or short, Sunday, June 22, 2008 is surely a day that Nick Stavinoha will remember forever. I spoke with him that morning in the visitor's clubhouse at Fenway Park.
Congratulations on being here, Nick! When did you find out the news?
Thanks. Yesterday afternoon, I found out. It was about a three hour drive from Memphis to Nashville. They let me know when we got to Nashville so I got off the bus, got my bags off the bus, put them into a cab and went straight to the airport.
Not much time for goodbyes with your teammates, huh?
No. There were a couple of guys still lounging around the bus getting their stuff, but I had to get in the cab and head to the airport.
Who is the first person you called with the news?
My wife. Definitely my wife was the first person I called. Then I went down the list of family members from there. My wife is excited. She drove down to Dallas and is going to fly to the next stop and meet up with us there (Detroit).
The last time we spoke in any detail was from the Arizona Fall League about a year and a half ago. Everything was going well for you at that point. What was your mindset coming into 2007?
The '07 season, I wanted to continue to do what I had been doing the previous years. It was a tough adjustment for me in Triple-A. Guys were sinking it, cutting it a little bit more and hitting their spots a little more often, making less mistakes. Up until that point, I had learned how to hit a mistake pitch. So I went into Triple-A looking for mistake pitches. There were less of them and I hit less.
I had some other complications along the way but it didn't turn out to be a great season for me in 2007. So I just tried to work on going into the '08 season to straighten it up and figure it out.
So you attribute '07 to better quality pitching or did you also have some physical issues?
Well, I had lost a lot of weight for the season. I had come in (to camp) lighter. I lost more weight throughout the rest of the year. I had wanted to lose some weight to play a little better defense in the outfield and in turn, I kind of lost my stroke a little bit at the plate. (Over the winter) I went back home and put my weight back on, worked hard in the weight room, things like that.
Yes, it was a higher quality level of baseball, but I didn't take care of my end, either.
How did you change your workout regimen this off-season?
I got into a program by my house with a bunch of pro guys. It is an everyday deal and we grind it out pretty hard. That has paid dividends for me so far.
What's your view of the 2008 Memphis Redbirds?
We're young. We have a lot of energy. We're a younger team there than normally your Triple-A team is, but these young guys have a lot of talent. Bryan Anderson, Colby Rasmus to say the least. We had (Chris) Perez, who is already up here. Jason Motte is really throwing it well down there.
It is a competitive group. We like to compete. It is a group that wants to win. That is a big difference. We are not just going out there to play. We are going out there to try to win every game. It's a lot of fun.
You mentioned being competitive. Is being one of a group of solid Cardinals outfield prospects a good challenge or bad sometimes?
I think a challenge is good. And I think it is a challenge. Competition is good. We are never looking at one another hoping that they will struggle. We are trying to push each other along the way, to push ourselves to higher limits and to compete with one another to become better baseball players and for our team. We are not competing with one another, hoping the others will fail. But competition is good, always.
Last question. Have you ever faced Jon Lester before?
No, never have even seen him pitch.
Well, I had better let you go so you have time to sit down with (video coordinator) Chad Blair and check out some video.
Yes, I am going to get a scouting report in a little bit.
Thank you and good luck!
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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