Cardinals Winter Warm-Up – In Their Words: Sunday, 1/14/18

photo: Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation

Sunday’s Day 2 of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up charity event at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch arrived with continued cold temperatures and the threat of light snow showers – but nothing that would keep the throngs of Cardinals fans away.

Among the popular presentations in the main tent include General Manager Michael Girsch and scouting director Randy Flores’ breakout session.

Autograph sessions with 14 current Cardinals were scheduled on Sunday: Oscar Mercado, Alex Mejia, Harrison Bader, Adam Wainwright, Tyler Lyons, Paul DeJong, Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, Patrick Wisdom, John Gant, Mike Mayers, Marcell Ozuna, Luke Weaver and Michael Wacha.

Typically after they sign, the players are brought to the media area for a question and answer session with us.

Following are my notes from selected interviews held during the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up on Sunday, January 14, 2018. After each summary is the full audio for those who want to listen to the actual content.

The article will be updated throughout the day as more sessions are held.

Tyler Lyons (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Tyler Lyons (9:47)

The left-hander wasn’t actively involved in the arbitration process. Will prepare the same for the season despite his role. Was eager for this off-season because he did not have to rehab. Was able to rest but also gain strength in knee. Had some atrophy in it.

He and his wife had their first child, a daughter, on November 30. The usual items followed, including less sleep.

John Mozeliak had mentioned Lyons’ increased strikeout rate in 2017. The pitcher attributed it to being more aggressive. Being in the pen allowed him to pitch less to contact and worry less about establishing pitches. Goal was to get ahead early in count and not give in.

Change in mentality started in 2016, but slowed by injury and comeback. Had to learn again. Felt strong and comfortable by mid-year.

Lyons enjoyed pitching in late innings, but does not think about inning or situation. Just wants to pitch.

Hasn’t spoken with new pitching coach Mike Maddux yet, but has long relationship with new bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd back to Double-A in 2012.

Oscar Mercado (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Oscar Mercado (7:17)

The center fielder said that his focus in the Arizona Fall League was to see more pitches and get on base more. He also wanted to be less predictable on when he steals bases – reading the pitchers and catchers. Mercado predictably said speed is his best weapon. Mentioned Willie McGee helped in the spring.

Part of his growth as a base stealer is to look at the effect of his stealing on his teammates and the situation. Cited the example of Magneuris Sierra hitting behind him at Double-A and seeing more fastballs as a result.

Pleased the organization showed confidence in him by adding him to the 40-man roster. Has spoken with teammates Mike Mayers, Andrew Knizner and Paul DeJong on the Caravan about what to expect in spring training.

Has confidence in his abilities in the outfield. It is a “good thing” that the Cardinals have a number of other good outfielders at the high levels of the system. A lot of talented teammates make him strive to perform to his best.

Tommy Pham (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Tommy Pham (27:56)

2017’s sensation held court for almost 30 minutes, handing every question in his detailed, straight-forward manner.

Mo talked to his agent about Pham taking over in center field for 2018. He has always been a center fielder and is very familiar with it. Left was new to him (just 50 career games prior).

Areas in which he wants to improve are baserunning, defense and power. One goal is to play in 150 games, “then good things will happen”. Working on improving flexibility in hips and shoulders. Has been in Florida for over a month. Baserunning focus on increased speed through stride frequency using “overspeed training”. For power, he already has the strength. Needs to use hips and lower body and finish better.

Another goal is to become a 30-30 player. Thinks he could have made it in 2017 if he had been up all year. (No Cardinal has ever done this in team history.)

“A lot of people don’t believe what I say.” He says it so later, he can say “I told you so.”

He talked to Matt Carpenter to get on board being prepared to take an extra base. He agreed. Said that Harrison Bader wanted to race him, but he would only do it for money.

Ask if StL outfield is best, he said, “It is one thing to say it, but another to do it.”

On his eyes, he reiterated that he tried new lenses in 2016 that were recommended but very expensive. He could see better but not play better. Went back to old lenses for 2017. No issues.

Was “pumped” about Ozuna trade. “He killed our pitchers – all of them.” Uses all fields. Will impact game on offense and defense.

When he plays CF, he focuses on his zones to cover, not on those in left and right.

Pham considers himself a good self-evaluator. Adjusted in May/June when he struck out too much. Stopped chasing sliders. Does not want to be an easy out or be out in same way. Focus on eliminating cold zones.

Uses information to his advantage and to help team. Game is weeding out hitting only players who had bad defense and baserunning. “How many can score from first base on a double – not many.” Don’t clog bases in front of him. Fowler can run a little bit. Hitters would see better pitches if they don’t chase.

“Fangraphs is my site. They tell me everything.” Pham knows all the new stats. Jeff Albert (now Houston asst. hitting coach) schooled him in the minors. He focuses on lowering strikeout rate, increasing walk and line drive rates. Thought his BABIP is too low, though others think it is high.

Talked more about his “overspeed training” Current groundspeed is 22 MPH. His targets are Trea Turner, Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton. Turner is currently 22.7. Math was his best school subject – except PE.

On leadership, he has had guys come up to him and ask his opinion, but he is busy every day.

Not thinking about a multi-year contract as it would sell him short. Not yet the player he can be.

Harrison Bader (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Harrison Bader (6:36)

The outfielder said he learned more in his first month in the majors than over his entire career prior. Hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller reviewed film with him, talked about the game and kept things simple so he could work on his own. Putting his body in a good hitting position.

Traveled to Europe with best high school friend during off-season. Doing weight and speed training to stay sharp.

He said his big advantage is to “find a way and compete”. Was always underrated. More to game than physical side.

Bader tuned out any trade talk. Is one thing he can control. Front office has to make tough baseball decisions and he would not take it personally, but happy he remains a Cardinal.

Looking forward to learning from Marcell Ozuna.

Luke Weaver (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Luke Weaver (12:10)

A lot from his 2017 to build on. Hasn’t met Maddux yet.

Was told to gain weight over winter. Added 10-15 pounds on 5000 calorie diet prescribed. Always full. Eating has become a job.

No idea of number of innings expected from him. Doesn’t track current numbers. Moved to an attack mentality. That is pitcher he is going to be. Did not show emotion before, but pitching angry gave him an edge.

Was asked about launch angle change and joked about not knowing. But said he tries to change eye level of hitters.

Ozuna is a “stud”. Hopes he hits home runs and makes diving catches. Pham “means business”. Yadi is The Godfather and Pham  follows down the road. It is contagious.

Wainwright is like a database guy with stories and experiences. Wacha and Carlos can share recent experiences. Rotation is well-rounded. Haven’t met Mikolas, but seems like a cool dude.

Michael Wacha (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Michael Wacha (11:20)

Goal is to be healthy, make as many starts as he can. Healthy 2017 gave him a lot of confidence. Focus last winter was shoulder. This time could work on other things.

Happy with curve ball. Became an out pitch by end of season. Fastball came out (of his hand) better than before leading to best ever velocity. Will continue last year’s routine between starts.

Helping each other is what Cardinals do. Wainwright was huge mentor. Trying to help others. Definitely different coming into fifth season. Looks up and now he is one of the older guys on the team. Have to step up.

His weight started to “stick on him more” last year.

Good to get contract done.

To get deeper into games, he wants to attack zone, get more early outs. But it is not easy to go deep. He is better conditioned now. Feels he is a better pitcher than before because he knows more about game.

Adam Wainwright (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Adam Wainwright (21:37)

The long-time staff leader spoke for some time. His rehab went smoothly. This has been his most dedicated off-season in diet and nutrition. Procedure was to trim cartilage and smooth out bone. Hopefully bone bruises healed.

Rotation has good mix of old and young. Still thinks Martinez has much more in him. Will not see a step backward from Wacha. Young guys itching to prove they can do it. Healthy competition between young and old.

200 innings means he pitched deep into games. Can help by keeping pitch count low, handling bat well.

Some people in room think he is #5 in rotation. His mindset is he is fighting to be the #1 pitcher in the game. He has to think that way. Wants to prove himself to be greatest. Got into trouble last year. First time he ever felt good, pitched badly. Stopped thinking about next contract and focus on now.

Loves being the guy to shepherd young – his role has not changed. Mike Matheny believes in him. Wainwright wants to back it up. Doesn’t want to be mediocre again.

Loves Ozuna signing. His bat stays in the zone for a long time. Improved a lot in last two years. One of toughest outs in National League.

Cardinals lacked good fundamental baseball play last year and every man on the team knew it.

Saw different focus and level of intensity from Weaver. Showed he is ready. Hoped Reyes would not be traded. “He can become a superstar.” Gregerson has wipe out slider, good sinker. Hitters know they are coming and still cannot hit him.

Pham dealt with injury and opportunity. It hits guys at different points in career. Had to weather the process. Loves his outspokenness. Cited example of calling out entire clubhouse. Wainwright likes the competitiveness he brings to the team.

Molina and Oquendo are extensions of each other. He is the Secret Weapon. Gives you an edge. When you mess up in the field, he is there.

Designated hitter in NL would be “a shame”. More strategy in NL. Doesn’t see why MLB is trying to change the game.

Helping others helps him get better himself. Not enough great role models in game. He tries to be one.

Mike Mayers (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Mike Mayers (4:17)

Reason he went to winter ball was after the last two years, he needed to “change something”. MLB level hitters there were ready for fastball, so he relied on off-speed more. Could get by in Triple-A on fastball only. Started in winter to get innings in and catch up on workload since relieved last part of year. Cards consider him a reliever.

Going to Florida in two weeks. Because he was away a lot, will get some additional family time.

Jose Martinez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Jose Martinez (14:12)

In winter ball at home in Venezuela, Martinez played entirely at first base. Played with his brother Teodoro, a center fielder four years younger, called “Little Cafecito”. Had suffered a quad injury running to first, but it is fine now. (In season 2017 injury was groin on the other side, he said.)

He wants 2018 Cardinals to be “more hungry” about winning games. Ozuna is a great player, great addition.

Martinez will play defensively wherever asked. Expects same as 2017. Oquendo is waiting for him in Jupiter, where he is heading next.

Difference in fast start in 2017 spring training was due to getting more opportunity. 2H 2017 improvement was because he got better pitches to hit. Also more selective.

Feels “100% better” at first base compared to last season. Lot more confidence.

Molina volunteered to visit Venezuela and came down for three days to tutor youngsters. Situation in the country is still not good. He should be able to get his work visa.

After not owning any before, Martinez now has two first base mitts. The laughing at the end is when he gestured one is for each hand.

John Gant (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

John Gant (3:18)

As the photo attests, the right-hander has a new look. He says his girlfriend likes the long hair, but he plans to talk to Mo about whether it stays.

Gant’s off-season focus was to put on weight, get stronger, lift weights. Not positive about his role, but is preparing as starter. Has already been in Jupiter one week, but hasn’t thrown from a mound yet.

Marcell Ozuna (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Marcell Ozuna (10:20)

The last interviewee was the day’s most anticipated. Upon seeing the collected media horde, Ozuna’s exclamation was “Wow!” Ozuna smiles a lot and it is clear having fun is important to him. He feels no pressure playing the game. He is happy with the expectation to win that comes from St. Louis.

When rumors about a trade from Miami to Oakland came out, he said, “God, leave me here.” For coming to St. Louis, he was thankful. Suggested the reason he hits well in St. Louis is the crowd. He likes to interact with them in left field during games. Said there were maybe 50 in Miami, and could be 600 with St. Louis.

He deflected my question about what led to the improvement in his game over the last two years, attributing it to God. Has regular group chat with teammates Molina, Pham, Wong, Fowler.

Now he can play for a reason – good team, playoffs. Does not care about position in lineup. Wants to play every day. Cannot wait for season to start. “Fans made me feel important to them.” Makes him want to work hard, play hard every time.

Confirmed the story that Molina and Martinez told him at the All-Star break he should come and play for the Cardinals.

While I was out attending Randy Flores’ scouting breakout, I missed three players’ media sessions. They are included below without commentary, courtesy of colleagues Brian Stull of St. Louis Baseball Weekly and Rob Rains of StL Sports Page.

Patrick Wisdom (8:03)

Alex Mejia (3:06)

Paul DeJong (11:53)

Earlier related article
Cardinals Winter Warm-Up – In Their Words: Saturday, 1/13/18

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