Walking up to Roger Dean Stadium I could just feel the vibe of baseball, brats and beers. We arrived around 10:30am to see the team practicing on the backfields though this was our first ever time to Jupiter to experience the Cards Spring Training so we had no idea where to go and we were also in ahh over the experience. After taking pictures of Roger Dean and asking a few employees and other Cards fans how to get to the backfields we made our way back. It is quite a hike to get around the stadium and all the way around to the backfields but it was well worth our time. Matheny was right in the middle of everything leading his troops. The players were much more relaxed as you would expect at practice early in Spring Training with the exception of the youngsters that had something to prove…this was their chance to be in front of the coaches, players and front office to make an impression. For me it was a chance to get closer to all the players, coaches and front office which was an experience of a lifetime for a hardcore baseball and Cards fan. It was like a community back there as all the fans would talk with anyone just like you were neighbors for the last 10 years. Talking baseball with others that love baseball is much as you is quite exciting. Practice was winding down and many fans were heading to Roger Dean to get situated before the game…I wanted to stay as long as anyone was back there practicing. It came down to Matheny working directly with some of the young catchers such as De La Cruz, Stanley and Hill. Afterwards Matheny came over and chatted a little with the few fans left and signed autographs…my first autograph of Spring Training was our our new skipper!
As much as I would like to go into a long drawn out rest of the experience over 4 days I will just recap it like this…if you are a baseball and/or Cards fan Spring Training is a much do experience. It different than watching regular season games…the atmosphere, the fans, the smaller stadiums, the chance to get close to the players and coached without dozens of security personnel, ex-Cards (Mabry, Jimmy E, Red, Gibby, etc) and some other random people such as Parcells and Gammons. And lastly if you are a fan of our youth you get an opportunity to see all the farm hands all in one place.
So what about the players and my observations? Yeah Yeah I am getting to that! I have to tell one more story before jumping in. The 2nd day I was at the backfieldsas most of the fans and players were wrapped up and in the clubhouse I see a few young players walking to the main practice field with a few catchers. From afar it was hard to tell who they were but it was obvious one was a tall and lean guys that looked super athletic and the other much shorter but had a purpose with his walk. As they got closer I could tell…these are 2 of our best pitching prospects in Martinez and Jenkins! They each took the mound while no more than 6-8 fans were left to watch. Martinez was impressive and looked better overall than the last time I saw him live last year at Busch. His FB was popping the mitt quite well as Cards Minor League Pitching Coach Dennis Martinez was giving him instruction. There is some effort his in delivery but nothing too concerning. But then Jenkins took the mound…all I can say is WOW! His delivery was silky smooth and he delivered pitches on a nice downhill plane with good movement and pop on his pitches. This was quite a treat for me! OK OK now to some key player observations…
Matt Adams – Our Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 was impressive. He is bigger than I expected as he is nothing short of a big monster! In BP he was drilling pitches over the right field fence and had nice power to CF as well. When hitting to LF you can tell he has more work to do to be a more complete hitter. His approach to opposite field hitting is not there yet. His D at first was more than adequate as he got a decent amount of playing time in the games I saw and in practices. I have been a little harsh on him in the past year but he seems to be continuously making strides and very well could be the Cards 1B of the future…2012 will be a big year for him in AAA.
David Freese – I am worried with his postseason success that Cards Nation would have too high of expectations from him in 2012. After seeing him in practice and in games I will say we should have very high expectations for him in 2012! His glove looked great and he was moving well as he appears to be 100% healthy which is key. His AB’s were impressive both in practices and in games. His approach looked very good in each AB. He was working very hard in practice BP to hitting with authority to all fields and his swing looked great. We might actually be surprised with what we see from Freese in 2012.
Zack Cox – He is a very hard working and was taking every second of his time seriously. His arm looks just fine for 3B but his glove needs a little work yet. But with his work ethic I could see him being no worse than average defender when its all said and done. His hitting approach was also impressive. He seems to have the ability to do what he wants at the plate (similar to the way Tony Gwynn could do it all when he wanted – don’t confuse this statement as I am comparing the 2…more of an example). He has power…don’t be fooled. It just that he chooses to be a solid overall hitter than try to hit bombs all day. I think we will see 20+ HR power in the future for him.
Jaime Garcia – He pitched against the BoSox in the 1st game I went to see. He was beyond impressive as he had all his pitches working and he had the hitters off balance throughout his outing.
Yadi Molina – After signing his big contract he looked relaxed though not lazy by any means. He was putting in a ton of work with anyone that would listen to him. He worked with the MLB pitchers, farm hand pitchers, young catchers and was keeping the whole group loose. When it was time to get serious he was zoned in…he was working on a number of little things on the practice fields and in the games he got a ton of playing time. His AB’s looked good and I don’t anticipate his bat dropping off at all.
Jon Jay – The funny thing about Jay is he doesn’t get enough love including from me. He doesn’t do anything exceptional but he seems to do everything well. He is low key and he just goes about his business continuing to work on his game. I’ve always wondered if his hitch in his hitting approach would be the downfall but it seems to work for him…so more power to him. I am perfectly comfortable with him as our CF.
Ryan Jackson – Our best SS prospect was a guy I really wanted to see and pay close attention to. He is taller than I imagined and his defense is as good as advertised. He made a few plays in both practice and games that were jaw dropping. There is no doubt his range, glove and arm are MLB ready today. His bat is improved from video I have seen of him. He appears to know his limitations and just feeds off his strengths. He will never be an offensive force but he appears to be able to hold his own and not fall into the trap of an “all defensive” utility player.
Tyler Greene – Another guy I wanted to watch very closely as I still have high hopes for him. His glove is not his meal ticket though his range and arm look good at both SS and 2B. His speed and instincts on the basepaths is what differentiates him from just about any other player on our roster. If, and its a big if still, he can get on base enough he will be a difference maker. In my opinion he needs to be more patient at the plate and let things come to him. Be more selective at the plate. But when he takes good AB’s he really looks good…but consistency is still a work in progress. Ultimately I think he wins the opening day 2B job.
Matt Carpenter – I have seen him a number of times on video and on TV and was impressed with what I saw. When I saw him in person I was even more impressed. Why this kid doesn’t get talked about more is baffling. His glove and overall D at 3B is plus IMO. His hitting approach is far advanced from his experience in the Bigs. He can hit to all fields and seems to find gaps quite often. He will never be a big power guy but he will put you to sleep with the amount of doubles he hits and his patience at the plate (he takes a lot of BBs).
Salas/Sanchez/Lynn – All very impressive. Even if Lynn is temporarily in the rotation you put Salas and Sanchez with Motte and WOW.
Mitchell Boggs – Same ole same ole. He looks dynamite one outing and then looks like trash the next. He continuously appears to struggle with repeating his delivery and for whatever reason just hasn’t made the strides he needs to over the last few years. I would be perfectly OK if anyone showed interested to trade him and get something in return. Our bullpen depth is good and I think we could sustain without him.
Adron Chambers – I will continue to tell everyone that I am higher on him than anyone I know or talk to. He did nothing to disappoint me in person. He can flat our fly and his D looked really good in CF. These did not surprise me. What did was what he showed with the bat. He appeared to not look over matched with his AB’s like he did with his taste of the Bigs last year. That is a huge step forward. I still see a leadoff type hitter than can start everyday in the majors. Just might not be with the Cards.
Scrabble – The more I see him the more I like him. As a lefty reliever he is impressive but I look beyond that. His stuff is starter caliber IMO and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a legit shot next year at winning a rotation spot.
Daniel Descalso – He is the reason we should feel good about our INF depth in 2012. I saw him play 2B, 3B and SS and he was adequate or better at all 3. He is competing for the 2B job but I actually see him being more valuable with his D and competitiveness being that utility guy to relieve our infielders and be there just in case the injury bug hits any of them. I think long term he can be a starter but the best thing for the team in 2012 is having him being that very reliable utility infielder.
Erik Komatsu – A guy I totally discounted as our lone MLB Rule 5 pickup this year. An OF that can play all 3 OF spots. His stature isn’t going to impress you…but then you take a closer look. He was impressive as his D at all 3 OF positions are above avg to plus. He gets good jumps and has some wheels. He is a max effort type of performer…no such thing as loafing in his head. At the plate he seems to be more advance than I anticipated…not only did he not look over matched but he looked like he had a really good idea what he was doing at the plate and executed very well. His BP on the backfields were also very impressive. If you don’t know anything about this kid I was say you need to get to know him…don’t see anyway he doesn’t make the team out of ST from what I saw.
John Gast – One of our better lefty pitching prospects he got into one of the games and he looked pretty decent. Obviously he still has work to do but from what I can tell he certainly can stay as a starter with his arsenal…probably a ceiling of a #4 SP.
Trevor Rosenthal – Starting to get the press he deserved last year as a very impressive pitching prospect. What I saw is he will jump up the ranks of MLB prospects over the year. He was absorbing info from the veteran staffers and he was looking more impressive on the mound than I recall in the video I had seen of him. Mark my words – Rosie will be the biggest mover in the Cards Prospect Ranks by the end of the year…I certainly can envision him being in the Top 5 if not better.
Cody Stanley – To me the most complete C prospect in our system though I am still not giving up on Audry Perez who has the most upside IMO. Stanley was impressive as he seems to receive the ball well and have a pretty quick release and above avg arm throwing to 2B. At the plate he seems to show the skills that would make me believe he will be able to hit at the MLB level down the road.
Kolten Wong – The Cards 2011 1st Rd draft pick was in camp with the big boys. Didn’t see much of him but he got in some work and what I saw didn’t make me have any different impression of him or show any major red flags. A solid 2B prospect that is advanced and could see the majors in 2013.
Skip – This is the definition of a guy that you just root for and want on your team. He does everything the right way and continues to do whatever the team asks him to do…a true “team player”. My view is he always impressed me more in the OF than the INF defensively…which is the consensus for most fans and analysts. But no one can deny that Skip worked his tail off to improve as a 2B and become at least adequate there last year. If the worst case scenario at 2B is Greene and Descalso can’t cut it and Skip is our starting 2B in 2012 than I think we should feel good about things.
Puma/Holliday – Exactly what you expect from our offensive leaders. They were impressive in their workouts and in games but it was what you saw on the backfields that was more intriguing. They were keeping the gang loose while ‘mentoring’ the young guys in camp. From your star veterans this is exactly what you want to see to help keep a sustainable successful team and attitude.
To see a full list of my personal photo’s of the trip click here: 2012 STL Cardinals Spring Training Photos
There you have it folks! Like I said before I could go on and on and on about the experience and other players. On a final thought I would say the only player that was a disappoint was Boggs. Everyone else either did what I expected or was more impressive than what I anticipated. The 2012 STL Cards have a lot of talent, depth and other guys ready to step up in our upper minors if needed. I will certainly be back to Jupiter…that is one thing I know for sure!