ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- The Cardinals are back in St. Louis for two days of appearances, autographs and interviews. Though Saturday's session was canceled, Sunday featured a parade of players with plenty to say. Here's first highlights from the second half of the day. Read part 1 here.
Randal Grichuk’s surprise surgery
The Cardinals’ best pure slugger went under the knife this offseason, to the surprise of just about everyone.
Grichuk had arthroscopic surgery to clean out floating cartilage in his knee, something he said bothered him from plate April on.
“There was a lot going on. Clicking, soreness, tightness. Kind of pain throughout the year. It was good to get that looked at at the end of the year and get that cleaned up.”
Fully healthy heading into spring, the 25-year-old is hoping to continue his late-season run, one that saw him hit .275 with 12 homers over the last two months.
“I think last year I kind of changed a little bit at the beginning of the year, and that's why I struggled a little bit. I think I went out of my approach, and who I am at the plate. I tried to feel a little bit too much for the ball,” he said. “Regardless of where I hit this year, I'm going to go with the same approach as last year, in that last month. Go out there and let it fly.”
The idea of a fully healthy and liberated Grichuk should excite fans, as even Cardinal GM John Mozeliak is dreaming big. In his 30-minute session, the cerebral personnel man said he envisions 30 home runs from the young outfielder.
Carlos Martinez’s grand goals
Carlos Martinez isn’t letting his current contract situation with the Cardinals affect his enthusiasm for the upcoming season. Through an interpreter, the de facto ace of the Cardinals rotation shared some lofty goals.
“Personal goals like the Cy Young and things like that have helped keep me focused to get to the next level,” Martinez said. “That would really keep me focused. I really hope this year can be the year I reach my personal goals.”
While Martinez would need to take a significant step forward from his career production to make good on his goal, his continued maturation last summer was one of the bright spots in a disappointing season for the team. A career-bests in wins, innings pitched, WHIP and ERA+ made the stat sheet for Martinez in 2016 a sterling one.
Beyond striving for personal achievements, Martinez touted a team goal: win the World Series. Though the Cardinals will benefit from a healthy Lance Lynn, an extended look at Alex Reyes and the arrival of Dexter Fowler, a World Series title would be quite the leap from last year’s club that stayed home in October.
Realistically, contention alongside Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the title of best pitcher in the National League may not be a plausible goal for the 25-year-old righty, either. But hearing that sentiment from the man expected to carry the club every fifth day doesn’t hurt.
Kolten Wong has a new perspective
One of the most publicly emphasized elements of the Cardinals offseason was GM John Mozeliak’s re-commitment to Wong as the team’s starting second baseman. While outsiders have heavily discussed his support from the organization, Wong isn’t taking anything for granted– he’s seen this movie before.
“I don't know if it's really going to happen or not,” Wong said. “That's why I'm going to come into Spring Training trying to earn my job. I'm not anticipating being given anything. I'm going to work and see what happens.”
Wong was candid regarding his disappointment with the previous season. After signing his new five-year contract extension, nothing went how he thought it would. Wong went the whole month of April without an extra-base hit, and finished the season with a .240 batting average–his lowest in any season as a primary player.
After last year’s debacle–which included a demotion to Memphis for the 25.5 million dollar man– a chip on the shoulder does not adequately express his determination for success in 2017.
“Oh, I’d say a block,” Wong said, tweaking the clichéd idiom. “As soon as the season ended last year I took a week off, tried to mentally relax and then get right back after it. I wasn’t happy with the way the season went last year and this year I’m kind of playing with a chip, like you said.
Jedd Gyorko– a serviceable defender at second or third base– led the team in home runs last year. Jhonny Peralta is looking claim the third base job after injuries bogged down his 2016 campaign. Just like last year, there will be plenty of infielders gunning for at-bats.
Though the front office has voiced its belief in Wong, playing time for the athletic infielder cannot be assumed. Based on everything he said Sunday, he knows it.
Aledmys Diaz’s evolution
Perhaps more than any other Cardinal, 2016 was a whirlwind for Diaz. Just months after being dropped from the 40-man roster, he forced his way onto a major league club that seemed desperate to avoid using him (at one point, Ruben Tejada was the preferred option–this is a real thing that happened).
From there, Diaz hit .423 in April to cement his status as starting shortstop on his way to an All-Star bid and a fifth-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting.
“That season changed my life,” Diaz said. “I look back and a lot of good things happened. It was a great year. We went to the All-Star Game, but in the end we were short of going to the playoffs, and now we're focused in the offseason on getting better.”
Diaz’s .300/.369/.510 line jumps off the page. The numbers should assert his name in the conversation of top NL shortstops with the likes of Corey Seager and Trevor Story. Brushing aside the thought of a sophomore slump, Diaz hopes to continue his progress on the field while taking on greater leadership responsibilities in his clubhouse.
“I think as a player you have to work on everything,” Diaz said. “Yeah, for sure I want to have a better year than last year. I'll be focused and be a better teammate – it's something [where] I can help more of my teammates, talking more in the clubhouse and on the field. It's tough to do that when you're a rookie. This year I have more confidence, and I know the players better. I can be a better teammate.”
Lt. Mitch Harris gets great news
Mitch Harris was a in absentia for the Cardinals in 2016, and by the end of it, he was no longer a member of the 40-man roster. After experiencing elbow troubles toward end of 2015, then again last spring training, Harris went under the knife. But like former teammate Seth Maness, Harris woke up to news that he had not undergone Tommy John surgery.
Instead, Harris received a yet-to-be-named repair requiring less recovery time. With a new season approaching, Harris says he expects to be back to 100 percent within the next week and a half–meaning he would be ready to go come spring training.
After getting cut from the 40-man roster, Harris said he didn’t know whether he would have the chance to remain a Cardinal.
“Obviously I wanted to be,” Harris said. “They're the only team I've been with, the team that took me when most other teams had no idea what was going to happen. I love this organization.”
For now, the Cardinals are sticking with him, offering the chance to rebound after his procedure. Harris was encouraged by the idea that his injury was likely not related to bad mechanics. Rather, it probably cropped up due to the accelerated pace at which he ramped up baseball activity after years away from the sport during his time in the Navy.
This was a thought shared by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery on Harris.
“He used the example: you take a sprinter who hasn't sprinted in a couple of years, put him out on the track and tell him to run as fast as he can, you are going to pull something,” Harris said describing Andrews’ point of view. “He said that's probably what happened.”
Add Harris to a lengthy list of Cardinals relievers looking to force their way into a crowded St. Louis bullpen this season.