The Cardinals Winter League Notebook: 10/07

Where but The Birdhouse brings you first-hand reports on St. Louis Cardinals prospects in winter ball? Our local reporter in Hawaii, the appropriately-handled "highrent", checked in on the Honolulu Sharks over the weekend and offers his observations on hot-hitting outfielder Jim Rapoport.

Editor's note: Since there were no games on Monday, our regular Winter League Notebook will return on Wednesday. Tuesday's special report on St. Louis Cardinals prospect Jim Rapoport comes from our man on the ground in Hawaii, "highrent", who will be offering up periodic first-hand observations all season long.

I was able to attend the Honolulu Sharks game on Sunday and as such, I got to see quite a bit of prospect Jim Rapoport. He was picked by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 35th round of the 2006 draft and had been previously selected out of high school in the 39th round in 2003 by the Indians, but did not sign. The Californian attended the same prep school as Cody Haerther. His old college bio describes him as being pretty fast and he was proficient at base stealing while at Stanford.

His stats confirm that he had a tough year but there were some interesting trends. Between Palm Beach and Springfield, the centerfielder mostly led off and played centerfield. He posted an aggregate line of .277/.322/.357 (BA/OBP/SLG).

Rapoport's best month was May (.333 BA), but after below-average results in June and July which included a significant level change, he finished strongly in August/September (.310), including a .480 mark (12-for-25) his last two weeks with Springfield.

Bottom line, he didn't walk a lot or hit for much power, relying on singles to get on base.

So far in Hawaii, Rapoport has continued that end-of-season rush. Through his first seven games and 23 at-bats, the 23-year-old's line is .435/.552/.609. This, I had to see!

Game observations

Rapoport looks to be of medium build and although he is listed at 5-foot-11, he seems to be closer to six feet to me. He seems to run decently although I couldn't tell exactly how fast he is. I didn't see him make any plays in the outfield but he played right field in this game for the Honolulu Sharks.

The left-handed hitter seems to have a good approach to the plate. He clearly was able to see the various pitches and remained extremely patient, which contradicts his previous minor league stats.

In the third inning, Rapoport took a called strike that was clearly a ball but continued to stick to the zone instead of chasing. He watched two pitches go inside but remained ready to hit them rather than just casually watching. (He started his motion but did not swing.) Rapoport clearly can hit the ball with some authority as he fouled off one of the inside pitches that got out over the plate. He worked the count full and walked.

In his second at bat, Rapoport continued to be patient and got ahead in the count. He fouled off pitches that were marginal and stayed selective. From the look of it, he's a line drive hitter with a strong ability to pull the ball. They tried to jam him most of the afternoon with inside fastballs and breaking stuff.

His home run was a fastball that caught too much of the inside part of the plate and went about 335 or more feet by my estimate, as the ball went out near the right field corner, which is 325 feet. It was smacked with authority and he pulled it all the way. It was a three run job with one out. It broke the game open for the Sharks, so it was a key situation.

His third at bat, Rapoport laid off a pitch for a ball before going the opposite way on a low outside pitch, slapping the ball past the shortstop. I liked what I saw of the kid.

Rapoport seemed to pick up the ball extremely well and did not chase any balls. He never swung and missed the entire time I saw him and appeared to have good bat speed. From my untrained eye, he appeared to have a good level swing and kept his hands back. I am not an expert though, so take it with a grain of salt.

In terms of baserunning, he is already 2-for-2 in stolen bases. The opposing team seemed aware that he might steal in the third inning since they did their best to keep him close.

Obviously, his minor league performances to-date indicate that Rapoport will have a long road to the majors and this was just three at-bats, but you have to like the trends. So far he has hit well in the Winter League with a big improvement in walks, six in 23 at-bats here versus just 18 in 314 at-bats between Palm Beach and Springfield.

I can't help but think the Sharks' hitting coach from the Cardinals organization, Mark Budaska, has Rapoport taking a different approach at the plate. The Winter League is generally a pitcher's league with reasonably-promising starters mixed with relatively-talented relief pitchers along with Japanese players who are almost ready for the Nippon Professional baseball leagues. So the level of competition should be comparable or perhaps better than what he saw in Double-A and high-A.

I am very interested in Rapoport and continue to report on him and hopefully other Cardinals prospects playing in HWB. It is still early, but we may be seeing a new approach for him and a turnaround. It wouldn't be that unusual since we have seen other players improve and progress quickly after playing in winter ball.

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