Even with snow and wind whipping around downtown, day two of the Winter Warm-Up was a packed affair
As always, the Cardinal players took time between autograph sessions and appearances on stage to meet with the media. We will have longer stories on the app in the hours and days to come, but here’s a digest of the day two happenings:
The big righty was the first to speak Sunday, and said he was itching to return to baseball. After taking 2-3 weeks off after the season, Wacha got restless and started working out again. He’s focused on his health this year, and is committed to maintaining his strength all season.
As for the offseason, personnel moves were all around him. For the second straight year, he was with Shelby Miller when news broke the latter was traded (this time from Atlanta to Arizona.). But Miller wasn’t the only friend on the move. John Lackey and Jason Heyward both headed north, and Wacha expects seeing them in Cubbie blue will be a shock.
“I think it will be weird. I was really good friends with both of those guys. I guess it’s part of baseball seeing those guys leave for another team,” he said.
But Wacha’s goals have little to do with Chicago, or even a division title. He wants it all.
“That World Series. We’ve all obviously been in the postseason, at least I have the last three years, and haven’t won it yet. That’s all I’ve been thinking about. That’s all I want. That’s all that’s on my mind.”
The hottest prospect in the system had a major setback this fall, receiving a 50-game suspension when he tested positive a second time for marijuana. Sunday he appeared at the Winter Warm-Up to give a statement to the press and answer questions.
“It was tough just dealing with my family and friends and the organization. It's something hard to explain. I really don't have an answer for it,” Reyes said of his actions. “I'm honestly disappointed in myself. It was a huge mistake I'm learning about. I'm learning how to get past it. It's been tough dealing with the problems and everything. I'm looking forward to next season and just putting this behind me and turning the chapter on this.”
Reyes was poised to make serious waves in camp, and many believed he had an outside shot at seeing MLB action this year. With the suspension, that projection seems to have taken a serious hit. Asked if he believed he could be MLB-ready when he is reinstated, Reyes was deferential.
“That's something I can't answer for you. I'm just sitting here doing my job on the field and bigger guys ahead of me make that decision,” he said.
Versatile infielder Jacob Wilson wasn’t snatched in the rule five draft, and after finding his power to the tune of 18 homers, 20 doubles and 77 homers at Double A and Triple A.
He opened up about the challenges of minor-league play, identifying the toughest part of the jump he made last year.
“The travel. They always talk about the higher you go, the pitching gets a little bit better but the command is what gets a lot better and that was the biggest thing I saw. The command of pitches that I was seeing was a lot better than what I saw at lower levels. And then you do that, you throw in the travel with a six o’clock flight, seven o’clock game—it makes it tough to play, but it’s one of those you things you sign up for. You go out and you compete every night to try and drag that dream out as long as you can.”
Wong was a fountain of words Sunday, covering everything from the Cubs, to stealing bases to takeout slides at second base. Some of the most interesting stuff came from chatting lineup, and where the speedy second baseman would like to hit.
"I would love to be leadoff. Seeing what Carp did last year, the power numbers he put up, you have me in leadoff and I'll get into scoring position and if he hits one in the gap, I'm going to score (from first). It's definitely adding different things to the lineup that we can score more runs. I think that would be a good thing to do,” he said. “If Mike has me at eight, I'm more than happy to be at eight, too. So we'll see what happens. Hopefully, No. 1 is the spot."
Wong’s on base percentage was .321 last season, something he says he must improve if he tops the order. In the minors, he never had a season with an OBP below .342.
Piscotty is in the process of making himself into a defensive Swiss army knife this offseason, getting work in both corner outfield spots as well as first base. Last year he was reworking his swing to tap into his power, and he liked what he found.
“I felt it was a slow start, it was tough. I really had to battle through some stuff. But that whole process I think really solidified my belief in what I was doing. I trust it and so this offseason I’m not trying to change that at all,” he said.
Seven homers and 15 doubles in just 63 games will do that.
As far as his training goes, the Stanford product says this offseason work has been a family affair.
“Thankfully my dad’s been helping me quite a bit in the offseason,” he said. “Also my brother. My youngest brother is a shortstop at St. Mary’s College and he’s a tremendous shortstop, so he’s helping me- he’s teaching me, really. It was really cool to have him home for the holidays and do that sort of stuff.”
Regarded among the Cardinals’ catching prospects as the closest to MLB-ready, the 25-year-old Ohlman just wrapped up his first season with the club. Formerly in the Baltimore system, Ohlman says his time in Double-A Springfield has already made a massive difference in his game. Springfield manager Dann Bilardello and hitting coach Erik Pappas, both former MLB catchers, were credited with Ohlman’s development, as the young backstop spoke candidly on the help from his coaches.
“To be honest, I learned more in that past year just from those guys. And I didn't even have to go to them, they came to me, and I'm OK with that, I don't mind. They helped me out immensely. More than the five years that I spent in another organization,” he said.
The feel-good story of 2015, Mitch Harris enters this season in a completely different place. After his improbable, incredible return to and rise in baseball after his Navy service, Harris has a foundation of major league success to motivate him.
“Last year, I went to the [Arizona] Fall League. Coming back from that it was kind of a push to see. My goal last year was let's start in Triple A and just see what happens. And we did,” he said. “I think going into this year after last year it's, ‘let's take what happened last year and build off that.’ If that starts with the big league club, that's what I want, obviously, and we will push from there. I just want to help this ball club out any way I can.”
Harris appeared in 26 games and posted a 3.67 ERA. Coming into 2016, he says he has no plans to add any pitches to his bag of tricks, preferring to stay with the tried and true.
“No just sticking with the repertoire I got now, and fine tuning everything. Keeping the ball down, and refining those things you need to tune up a little bit,” he said.
The Cardinal ace was back in front of the media Sunday, and was eager to get back to baseball action. The big righty said he feels “light years” better than he did when he returned to action last fall, and is more excited about spring training than he’s ever been.
“I’m chomping at the bit to get back out there. I just miss pitching. I love pitching. It’s just fun. I miss pitching for this team. I’m real excited for what we can do,” he said.
As for all the “aging core” business, he had this to say:
“I keep hearing that. Nobody likes being called old, right? But I think they’re right, for the most part. We are aging. We’re just becoming more wise. We’re learning our bodies better and learning how to do things better. Somebody has to get old,” he said with a grin. “And if we’re still playing and older, it means we still have some ability. I think the more and more people talk about that, the more we laugh because we just know Matt Holliday is still going to hit well. We know that Yadier is still going to catch well. And hopefully we know I’m going to pitch well.”
Recovered from sports hernia surgery, a long-haired and goateed Grichuk talked health to reporters. His abdominal issues addressed, questions still linger over his arm. The 24-year-old missed significant time with an elbow muscle strain combined with a ligament sprain.
He began a throwing program two weeks ago and hasn’t had a setback, but while he expects to have no issues, caution is the word of the day.
“I might try to save some bullets early in the year. I really don’t think it will be a problem. I’ve talked with the doctor and he’s expected that it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “I don’t know if something like that will heal totally ever. I think it’s going to heal enough to where I don’t feel it or notice it, you know, unless something crazy happens.”
He also talked offense. With his prolific power flashing often last year, he’s eager to see what he can do with a full season.
“I try not to do a goal statistical-wise. But I think 30 [home runs] is a realistic goal if we had to set something on there. I had 17 in a little over 300 at-bats last season. I feel pretty confident if I can get in a little groove I should be able to get to [there].”
Kelly has plenty of hype as a backstop, but is still just 21 years old. There’s a long road ahead of the prospect, but he’s already collecting hardware along the way.
Kelly won a minor league Gold Glove last season, surprising himself with his transition.
“I had no idea. Going into it, I was just trying to soak up as much information come spring training and then going into the season trying to be the best catcher I can be and the best teammate I can be,” he said. “Going through all that and being recognized as the Gold Glove winner. it’s really an honor. It’s been two seasons since I’ve been a catcher and it’s been a lot of fun so far. I’m excited to learn.”
He says the next step is to refine his staff management and game calling, while beginning to develop his offense now that his glove and body work has improved.
New Cardinal catcher Brayan Pena was magnetic in his media session, offering a beaming handshake to every reporter in the room.
The 34-year-old veteran from Cuba had a wide-eyed enthusiasm about his role on the team, saying he was more than eager to join the depth chart behind Yadier Molina, a spot many would not take.
“It’s just an opportunity for me- I’m not 25 anymore, you know? I really want to win. I really want to have a chance to go out there and play in the playoffs,” he said.
Of course, there is also the added benefit of playing alongside Molina, a guy Pena praises as a great representative for Hispanic players as well as one of the best backstops in the game.
“It’s one of those things where you have an opportunity to share the same locker with a Hall of Famer - a future Hall of Famer and Yadier is that guy,” he said. “I’m not a Hall of Famer, I know I’m not a Hall of Famer, but I just want to be one of those guys that everybody says, ‘You know what? This guy was a great teammate.'”
Bill DeWitt Jr.
Chairman DeWitt took his turn in front of the cameras and recorders Sunday, talking history, personnel, and the new collective bargaining agreement. Inevitably, questions turned to the public hacking scandal and whether the team expects MLB punishment.
“You just take it as it comes. Nothing's going to happen real soon, I don't think, because it's going to be a while before the sentencing occurs. almost 3 months from now. I don't know how all that works but MLB has said until they get all the information from the US attorney's office they're really not in a position to make any decision on what the outcome of that will be. I think we'll just wait and see and deal with it as it develops,” he said.
The top Cardinal brass has remained confident no other members of the organization were involved in the scandal. Even as the details of former employee Chris Correa’s plea came out and the media responded with shock, the franchise asserts this was the action of a “rogue element,” and not reflective of the organization as a whole.