Here’s Where The Fun Begins (Yet Again)

It’s been a long time, it seems, since Stephen Piscotty struck out against Hector Rondon to end last year’s 2015 National League Divisional Series and send St. Louis home for the winter.  Ever since that moment, we’ve been looking toward the time where 2016 spring training would start and we could begin to remove that bitter taste from our mouths.

The path has been longer than most offseasons of late and had a lot more twists and turns in it, but we’re finally here.  Cardinal pitchers and catchers officially report today, getting us a step closer to the 2016 season.  Baseball, at least in some form, is back and we are all glad of it.

While the pitchers will draw more than their fair share of attention over the coming days, the catcher is the one that everyone is really focused on right now.  Yadier Molina wants to be ready for Opening Day and it seems likely that he’ll be out there when the Cardinals open up against the Pirates, even if he’s not 100%.  We’ve seen the Cardinals be willing to deal with a weaker bat from Molina while he’s recovered from similar injuries over the past season or two and to not have their field general at the opener would take a significant setback, I believe.  Molina’s offseason workouts were limited to the lower body, and while I don’t think we can slap the Best Shape of His Life label on him, apparently he does look pretty good, slimmer but with more muscle.  We’ll see how that translates, as his offensive struggles at times last year were blamed on the weight loss of a winter past.  Yadi may not make it out to the field until a week or two into games, but I still would expect he’ll be the starter Opening Day.

Molina might take center stage right now, but there are a lot of pitchers in camp and that means plenty of news and stories about them.  While the competition might be limited (not many weighed in on the bullpen composition, but those that did were almost unanimous in their selections), there’s still going to be some intriguing things to watch.  The biggest one might be seeing how Seung Hwan Oh acclimates to the big league life.  Oh threw yesterday and drew plenty of attention, especially from catcher Eric Fryer, who got to be the one behind the dish while Oh made his Cardinal debut.  According to the story by Derrick Goold (bolstered by Fryer’s observations), not only does Oh have life on his fastball, he’s got a bit of a screwball-like pitch he can mix in along with his slider.  That should be an interesting thing to see and it would seem to make him that much tougher coming out of the pen in the late innings.

The organization also hired Oh a translator, or as Eugene Koo termed his job per Jenifer Langosh, “part personal assistant, part comrade, part forced best friend.”  Koo will be helping Oh not only with the language barrier, but the cultural aspect of things as well.  Koo will be part of the coaching staff, able to make mound visits with Mike Matheny, and be involved in anything relating to the pitcher.  (I guess he gets a uniform, as he couldn’t go on the field without one, right?  No word on what his number is.)  This whole experience is something new for the Cards and I think it’s going to be very interesting to watch.  If Oh is able to translate his stuff and success to the big leagues, it’ll be very fun to watch as well.

Rick Hummel wrote a great piece about the Patron Pitcher of the Blog, Tyler Lyons.  (You know it’s a good article because his number is mentioned early on.)  The only thing I was surprised by is that the Commish wrote the article with the idea that Lyons could be returned to Memphis.  Unless there’s something I’m missing, he should have been optioned to Memphis three times already (in ’13, ’14, and ’15) and should be out of options.  If that’s the case, Lyons would have to clear waivers to be assigned to Memphis and the odds of a young lefty with major league success passing through waivers is pretty hard to imagine.  Again, I don’t want to argue with a Hall of Fame scribe, so there’s possibly something I’m not catching, but that’s the way it seems to me.

Other than that, it was a nice story on the Patron Pitcher.  Lyons credits improved results (and his work after his late-season callup–mainly out of the pen, but we remember his start in the clincher–was stellar) to an improved mental approach.  If he’s able to carry that over to this year, he’ll make a good ‘pen just that much better.  Unfortunately, he’ll probably be the long man which puts him at risk for the Joe Kelly “Ferrari in the garage” treatment, but given he’s the only left-handed reliever besides Kevin Siegrist (who will probably be saved for the seventh or eighth), he could get some short work when there are a couple of lefties coming up.  I’ve often argued that Lyons doesn’t seem to be the LOOGY type, but he might get some chances to try that anyway this season.

Matheny also commented on another new pitcher, this time starter Mike Leake, saying Leake reminded him of Woody Williams.  The Williams/Ray Lankford trade was made on my birthday in 2001, so I’ve always been fond of him.  (Yes, I can have strange reasons for liking players.  Who doesn’t?)  Williams was a savvy veteran who had his best years in St. Louis, probably due to the influence of Dave Duncan.  Duncan’s not here to work with Leake, but Leake’s also had more success (and, in theory, would need less tinkering) than Williams did when he came to Missouri.

If Leake can have the same impact as Williams, that would be outstanding.  Given that he’s still in what would be considered the prime of his career, at least according to age, it would seem possible.  Which would make an already dominating rotation potentially devastating.  Right now, a lot of folks would consider Leake the weak link in relation to the other four starters (as we’ve noted before, that’s not an indictment of Leake, just a comment on how good this rotation is).  If he becomes on par with the others?  Look out.

We’ve started to get pictures and videos from Jupiter, letting those that are still experiencing winter (it’s going to be in the 60s and 70s here this week, so I don’t think Arkansas qualifies) warm up by proxy.  With more official drills and folks continuing to file in, this season will be here before you know it.  At least, that’s the hope.

If you’ve not done so already, time is running out on the Cardinal Approval Ratings and we’re only about 35% of the way to the response I’d like to see.  Head over here and fill it out–it won’t take you five minutes.  Also, Playing Pepper kicks off Monday with the Arizona Diamondbacks, so I hope you’ll enjoy that series for the ninth straight year.  Finally, if you missed our musical kickoff for spring training earlier this morning, 1) you probably should count your blessings and 2) you can find it here if you want to be a glutton for punishment.

Pitchers and catchers are reporting, folks.  It’s a beautiful thing!

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