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In Memphis no more: Yepez, Donovan performing for St. Louis like they intend to stay awhile

The Cardinals have begun to let the kids play—and the kids are rewarding the team for it.
St. Louis Cardinals' Juan Yepez is congratulated by teammates after hitting a solo home run...
St. Louis Cardinals' Juan Yepez is congratulated by teammates after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 12:35 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Though the roster churn is likely to continue with haste around them all season, recent call-ups Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan are busy proving that their bats belong in the bigs for good.

After a torrid 10-for-22 start to his MLB career, Yepez stayed in the flames on Wednesday. Playing left field and batting clean-up for the Cardinals, Yepez launched his first Busch Stadium home run and in the process seemed to deliver a message to the front office: When you’re looking to create open roster spots in the days and weeks ahead, look elsewhere.

And when it comes to the shortstop vacancy that Paul DeJong left behind on his way down to the minors earlier this week, Donovan may have given the Cardinals’ front office more to think about with his performance in a 10-1 Cardinals win over the Orioles at Busch Stadium Wednesday.

Starting at shortstop for the second night in a row while Edmundo Sosa makes his way back from the injured list, Donovan reached base four times. He made his presence felt out of the nine-hole by stroking a pair of doubles, drawing two walks and scoring three runs while boosting his OPS to a sturdy .937 on the season. As Yepez and Donovan aim to solidify their standing on the roster with each passing plate appearance, the duo combined to reach base six times Wednesday, scoring four runs and driving in three. That’ll play.

Other contributors from this revamped version of the Memphis Mafia on Wednesday included the first big-league plate appearance and RBI for Kramer Robertson as well as an attention-grabbing two scoreless innings in the MLB debut of reliever Jake Walsh, who had been promoted to St. Louis in lieu of Kodi Whitley earlier in the day. Walsh allowed just one hit while striking out four and closing the door on the Cardinals’ blowout win.

The Cardinals have begun to let the kids play—and the kids are rewarding the team for it.

“We talked a decent amount in spring about this group of players coming up, that there was something about them that was just very fearless,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol said. “They don’t back down. They don’t make the moment any bigger than what it really is. And we’re seeing that with a couple of the guys that have come up lately.”

Marmol shared Wednesday that he has been struck in particular by the focus Yepez brings to his preparation for each individual at-bat.

“You can tell—just the way he, in the on-deck circle, going to the plate—each at-bat is personal to him,” Marmol said. “You can tell that a kid’s been told for a long time that this isn’t possible. And he’s enjoying proving a lot of people wrong.”

And it’s not to say that Yepez isn’t as locked in on those moments as his manager seems to believe, but the 24-year-old slugger did acknowledge that his manager might have missed an integral part of his on-deck routine.

“Well, he probably doesn’t see me giving knuckles to those kids that are there,” Yepez laughed. “But after that, yeah, I’m just trying to see the pitcher. See the at-bats before, from Goldy and Arenado, how they attack them. Try to see the ball and hit it. Keep it simple, that’s what I try to do.”

It’s an approach that Yepez seemed to pass along to the rest of his Cardinals teammates in Wednesday’s win over Baltimore. Following Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Baltimore, the Cardinals’ manager was open about his desire to have seen more engaged, consistent at-bats than he did prior to a ninth-inning rally that ultimately fell short for St. Louis.

Marmol got his wish Wednesday, as nearly every Cardinal who dug into the batter’s box during the game found his way on base at least once.

“Those at-bats looked different,” Marmol said of the team’s collective plate approach Wednesday. “One through nine, they were relentless. There were some tough at-bats but there were also some smart at-bats where we took what was given to us.”

The energy supplied by guys like Yepez and Donovan is undeniable. For a Cardinals team that has fallen into the trap of sluggish performances from time to time early on this season, the youth movement provides tangible value to the competitive spirit of the team.

Yepez is clearly soaking in every bit of this moment. He excitedly shared with reporters Wednesday that Miguel Cabrera, a baseball idol of his growing up as a Venezuelan-born player, had reached out via DM to congratulate him on his first big-league home run. He was awestruck by the reality of it all.

His parents have been watching all the action from home and, according to their son, have been shedding plenty of joyful tears as their son has taken the league by storm in his first opportunity with the Cardinals.

It’s clear that Juan Yepez is living out his dreams.

“If you tell me this, I don’t know, five years ago, I would say, ‘Nah, you’re lying,’” he joked.

Making this experience all the greater for Yepez is that his milestone moments are happening at the same time as those of several of the teammates with whom he has risen through the system over the years.

“It’s fun much fun because I’ve been playing with these guys for three or four years in the minor leagues,” Yepez said. “And now we’re all getting our dreams fulfilled.”

The fulfillment of a dream is a wonderful thing. With the way Yepez and Donovan are impacting the Cardinals in such significant ways lately, these bright young players are on the verge of seeing those dreams solidified as their new reality for a long time to come.