I sit here able to see the couple of inches of snow that fell yesterday. I sit here iced in, at least for the morning, keeping me from heading to work. (Yes, I know, you Northerners are a hale, hearty lot that would head to work on your Tauntaun. Yet 90 degrees this summer will get you a “heat advisory” and us a “unseasonably cool”.) So it’s wonderful to have a number of stories written by the Cardinal beat writers and columnists to warm my heart, if not my fingers (the home computer room doesn’t have heat).
First off, Bernie Miklasz is writing a lot about Jason Heyward, which is understandable in many aspects. For one, he’s the main new face on a team that’s been together for a while. Two, he was the only real offseason acquisition, him and Jordan Walden in the same deal. And three, Heyward sounds like a fairly interesting person to follow around. Bernie’s description of Heyward getting to know his teammates, of his interactions with Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter, is a nice inside look at how a new guy can come to be a part of the whole, even if that whole has been there for a while.
Mike Matheny, who has been reticent to say anything about the lineup over the winter, has come out and said Heyward wouldn’t be the leadoff man, which seems to have put Heyward at ease. While none of us expected J-Hey to hit that high in the order, given how he didn’t care for the role in Atlanta, it has to be freeing to know that he’s going to be able to have a different mindset at the plate. I think one of the reasons many people are excited about Heyward’s potential is the fact that he won’t be tailoring his game to that leadoff role, having to take pitches, worrying about really working a pitcher. While he’ll probably do some of that anyway while later in the order, if he sees a good pitch, he can take a rip at it, no matter if it’s the first or the fifth in the at-bat. He’ll hopefully often be coming up with runners on as well, which will change the pitcher’s plan to dealing with him, rather than bases empty after the pitcher bats, freeing the opposing hurler to really attack him.
Bernie runs the numbers on Heyward and comes out optimistic. While it seems unlikely we’ll have a 30-homer guy on our hands, there’s no doubt that he’ll be an upgrade over what the Cards had in right field last year. Tara asked about Heyward in the roundtables and most of us seem to be content with 15-18 HR and continues his ability to get on base, it’s going to be a fun year watching him, especially on the defensive side of things.
However, and I know you’ll be shocked, but Heyward isn’t the only player down in Jupiter. In fact, I’m not sure there is anyone missing from the camp right now, which is good. (Actually, I see Derrick Goold notes less than six players haven’t done a workout, but they could be there.) Games start in just about a week (so hard to believe, so ready for it to happen!) so everyone’s getting their pre-spring schedule workouts in.
There’s a lot of talk about speeding up the game. Now, my opinion, you could cut a commercial from each break and you’d get more savings of time than most anything else you are going to do, but that’s basically a non-starter for the money-focused game. A pitch clock is just nuts and while I understand that watching a hitter fidget can be frustrating and time-consuming, there’s also a lot of money on the line. We don’t want player to give away at-bats, right? So if that lets them process, lets them think about what’s coming, lets them prepare for the pitch, isn’t that them trying to do their best? Are we going to discourage that?
Anyway, one rule idea that I’d not seen floated was apparently to force pitchers to face more than one batter. Which is unworkable even on the face of it, as Randy Choate points out. Choate has given this a lot of thought, of course, because that’s the best use of him. If LOOGYs were outlawed, only outlaws would have LOOGYs. (Wait, that’s not right.) More to the point, Choate would be out of a job. We’ve seen that he’s not that great when facing righties, even as Matheny tried to stretch him out last year to not be that specialist that he should be. Choate’s best use is to come in, face a lefty, and get out. And that’s what we’ve come to expect from baseball, right? I mean, Tony La Russa set us on this path but we’re not returning to the olden days of starters throwing 50 complete games or 10 man pitching staffs. We’re just not. This is baseball and it’s the best way to optimize your chances of winning. I don’t think that rule would go anywhere and I know Choate is glad for it.
In the same notes article by Goold, he talks about Michael Ohlman, the catcher that the Cards acquired from the Orioles a few weeks ago. While there’s been plenty of talk about Ohlman’s unnatural height for a catcher, I hadn’t realized that Matheny wasn’t much smaller when he was behind the dish. Talk about a good place for a young guy! You’ve got a manager that knows pretty much exactly what to do in your unique situation and you’ve got one of the best catchers of all time in Yadier Molina helping you with the rest of it. Would we be surprised if this combination turned Ohlman into a strong Cardinal prospect? I don’t think so. That’s potent stuff right there, especially since the knock on him for the most part has been behind the plate, not at it.
The great thing about spring training is that, eventually, almost every player gets their turn in the paper spotlight, getting a feature written up on them, talking about their offseason and their goals for the coming year. Today Kolten Wong gets the treatment, talking about how Hawaii was so excited about his offseason but how that is only fueling him to be a better player. What I found most interesting was that Matheny thinks Wong can be one of the next generation of Cardinal leaders.
We don’t think about it much, but the top guys in this group aren’t going to be around forever. Molina’s already put himself in the longevity conversation with Ozzie Smith and Bob Gibson. Adam Wainwright is 33 and, while nobody is calling him decrepit, time does remain undefeated. It’s time to start putting the succession plan in place, informally, grooming tomorrow’s leaders. I could see Wong being one of those. He’s a homegrown Cardinal, which helps. (That’s not a requirement, because I think Heyward if he signed an extension could also be one of those guys.) He’s seen disappointment, he’s seen success, and he doesn’t seem like the shy, retiring type. It will be interesting to see if we hear more about Wong’s leadership skills as time goes by.
All this and we still didn’t cover Walden, who gets some love as well. I’ve not seen Walden’s delivery, the major point of that article, but it sounds pretty interesting. If you are bringing heat plus some deception or a distraction to the hitter, that’ll serve you real well, especially as a reliever that sees a limited number of hitters. Having him in the back of the bullpen this year really looks like it will help us get over the loss of Pat Neshek and the moving of Carlos Martinez to the rotation. Putting him and an effective (hopefully) Trevor Rosenthal at the end of games will shorten things up nicely.
And now I’ve sat in this room long enough. Must go find some real heat, not just the reflected warmth of the green grass of spring training. The Braves’ Playing Pepper will be up this afternoon, so be sure to return for that!