ST. LOUIS — Stephen Piscotty’s name has been tossed around for months in both discussions of intriguing prospects and potential trade ammunition for the Cardinals.
The 24-year-old third-baseman-turned-outfielder finished 2014’s Triple-A campaign hitting .288 and slugging .406 in 136 games at Memphis, but missed a September call up. Saturday at the 19th annual Winter Warm Up, Piscotty’s easy-going demeanor was underscored with purpose. After missing the majors in 2014, he set out to improve what he saw as a hole in his game.
“I felt a little bit of a need to drive the ball a little better,” he said, explaining the work began at the tail end of the year with Memphis hitting coach Mark Budaska. “We were really just trying to focus on what he called ‘getting the head out.’ Driving the ball. Getting out there and, not swinging out of your shoes, but just being aggressive. I like that, and it helped me have a good August and I thought that was a jumping off point.”
The end goal was to increase home runs. Piscotty hit nine last year, and felt that number needed a bump as he takes his next shot at the bigs. So in the offseason he began working with his former hitting coach at Stanford on tweaks.
“Mechanically it’s finding a little bit better slot for my bat path. It allows my bat plane to stay on the pitch longer, through the zone more and get more extension,” he said. “I’m trying to use my long arms as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.”
Piscotty was at ease behind the lectern, handling a room crowded with media like a veteran. Perhaps some of that relaxation was due to his other offseason accomplishment: a completed degree.
“That was a huge weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I’m kind of clear-minded now and really excited for this year now that I got that behind me.”
Piscotty’s degree is in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, an announcement which drew a round of impressed laughter from a room full of journalism grads. He was able to finish his schooling —a promise to mom and dad— because Stanford is on the quarter system, running the final fourth from late September to December. As far as silver linings go, that’s not too bad. If Piscotty had been called to the big club, the degree would remain unfinished.
With school wrapped up, the California native heads into 2015 singularly focused on and off the field. His swing alterations are designed to find a happy medium between the high-average output he is known for and the home run power that the MLB expects of corner outfielders.
“I know what’s on the line this year,” he said with determination when asked about his prospects of making an MLB debut. “I can kind of figure that out. It’s go time and that’s why I’ve been really focused in the offseason on training and really getting ready.”
The energy sector will have to wait a few years.