photo: Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation
The conclusion of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up charity event at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch arrived on Monday with the final group of presentations and autograph signings scheduled.
Autograph sessions with nine current Cardinals were scheduled on Monday: Tyler O’Neill, Andrew Knizner, Brett Cecil, Mike Matheny, Bill DeWitt Jr./Bill DeWitt III, Jack Flaherty, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk.
Typically after they sign, the individuals 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 Monday, January 15, 2018. Along with my summary is the full audio for those who want to listen to the full content.
The article will be updated throughout the day as more sessions are held.
Andrew Knizner (5:57)
Made change from 3B to catcher in college. Had some trepidation then. Kelly has been helpful, having gone through same. Also Roberto Espinoza (Johnson City manager) and Molina.
His most natural skill is throwing as he was always a shortstop before. Blocking balls with his chest was not natural to him. Working on it every day.
Brett Cecil (12:45)
The left-handed reliever was very low key. Has started throwing a few weeks earlier than in the past. Throwing earlier to get kinks and soreness out of his early season sooner. This is first time he has spent all winter in St. Louis. House in Florida not done yet. Does not want to throw too many breaking balls and risk getting into bad habits.
Would score his 2017 at 5 or 6 on a scale of 10. “It was really bad at some points.” He is “not satisfied with it by any means”. Knows he is slow starter and does not expect to be in June/July form in April.
In second year with team, he knows teammates and league. Important for relievers to know roles to get prepared. For him, hardest part was getting to know hitters after being in American League for 7-8 years.
Has not kept in touch with Jays teammate Josh Donaldson, but believes every team needs a player like him. Gets under skin of other team.
Prefers to watch video of himself face batters. Other pitchers are different so not valuable to him. Another benefit to year #2.
His only real smile came when he was asked if he was going to hit this year. “I hope not!” was the reply.
Admitted after he signed a big contract that an “OK year” did not meet expectations. That gave people the wrong impression of him. Wants to change that.
Mike Matheny (21:34)
Though it was not when I was there, the manager told me walking in the room that he had been down in Jupiter for Instructional Camp.
Says everyone should consider they have a shot at being an everyday player. Guys get stronger through adversity. Knows this team is better than 2017.
Ozuna hits good pitches so is tough to pitch to. “Like it or not,” Ozuna is in a leadership position.
Carpenter is one of the better hitters in the game. Can be a catalyst for club. Working on lateral move, first step and grinding at-bats.
On lineup, has drawn up a lot of potential ones. Ideal is Dexter leading off, Pham second, Carpenter third and Ozuna cleanup.
Impactful coaches are rare. McGee is special as teacher. We know Oquendo. Shildt serves as liason to analytics department. Will help McGee’s work with outfield with information from “upstairs”. McGee will also work with Mabry and Mueller on hitters. Was a great day when McGee said he was ready to join staff.
Maddux brings a lot of credibility. Look at starters he had at Washington. Help guys get to next level. Carlos Martinez should not be content being St. Louis’ best pitcher.
Did not have to convince Oquendo to come back. Listened for when he was ready.
Wainwright is strong emotionally. Put more muscle on. “He is going to make it work.” Wainwright is a constant optimist – “better than I am”.
Tony La Russa’s endorsement of him makes him grateful. Knows there are some who have counted them out. “Use that however you want.” There is always someone who does not believe. Do not buy in. Others not picking Cards at top of NL Central – use as motivation.
After 22 minutes, with more questions to be asked, Matheny had to leave to sign autographs.
Bill DeWitt Jr. (17:49)
The club had a nice offseason, “achieved most of our goals”. “If we can do more, we will do more.”
Want to maximize performance. First four Matheny years were “historic run”. Hard to win very year. Hears fan and media chatter. La Russa said Matheny is doing a great job.
A major move the rest of the off-season is “not anticipated”. A lot of young pitching talent. Was asked in main tent to get a closer. “Closers are not guarantees.” Hard job to have longevity.
Hard to give up future players for one-year players in trade. Not their goal.
Goal is to get to October and see how that plays out. Best regular season team often does not win World Series.
Says increases in revenue were anticipated and baked into plans last two years. Team revenue and payroll ranking in comparison to rest of MLB have been compatible.
Stanton was “unique opportunity”. Ozuna also highly sought after.
Asked about rebuilding teams, DeWitt noted different teams are in different places. Cycles. Teams do what they need to do. Said if Cards were not competitive and did not have good farm system, he is not sure what they would do.
Deadline trades are harder now, to get impending free agents to stay. Would rather give up money than players.
Believes image of city and team is positive. “90 percent of players would be positive” about playing for the Cardinals.
As the photo indicates, team president Bill DeWitt III was in the background, but did not speak to the media. As with Matheny’s session, questions were cut off at about 20 minutes.
Tyler O’Neill (3:49)
(My initial impressions – muscular, confident, intense.)
When came to Memphis (tougher place to hit), shifted to trying to hit line drives. When younger, decided his way to stand out in Canada was to be stronger than others and hit balls out. Strikeouts are a part of his game. Also tries to take walks. OPS is his focus.
Playing all three outfield positions is a positive. Has been playing against MLB quality players at Triple-A.
Jack Flaherty (10:26)
At MLB Rookie Symposium, picked up a lot of little things. Palm Beach in 2016 was “not great”. Wanted to get off to a good start in 2017. Get back to throwing strikes, attacking, made adjustments.
Very rare will a pitcher have all pitches working in a start. Can change from bullpen to mound and during game. Have to work with what you have that day.
In spring, everyone has a purpose. Just wants to be a part of it. Not going to do anything “crazy different” but will use knowledge from last September. Was “awesome” to make MLB debut in San Francisco, closer for family and friends.
Did not listen to trade talk. Cannot affect. “Nice to be a Cardinal.” “It feels right.”
On relieving. Was put in pen in second half of September. Good to watch and learn. It would be new challenge for him. What will happen will happen. Going to Florida on February 6.
Randal Grichuk (9:47)
Admitted disappointment about projected role as fourth or fifth outfielder. Different not knowing he will get consistent at-bats. Same as in 2015, when he was not a starter, but got 300-400 at-bats. (Actual count was 350 plate appearances.)
Gets game plan from Mabry as pinch hitter. Brandon Moss advised him to understand who you are as a player.
Said Cards have “37 outfielders”. Discussed with Stephen Piscotty following last season about being traded. Goal is opportunity to play. He is happy here. He and Greg Garcia noticed Piscotty “wasn’t the same guy” after his Mom’s health problems emerged.
Grichuk “played freely” for a while in 2017, but got caught up. He has ability, needs opportunity. Winning cleans it up. Played some 1B in high school. Has infielders glove, but for shagging fly balls.
Matt Carpenter (26:11)
As one of the team leaders, Carpenter remained for as long as there were questions.
Will hit “wherever Mike tells me.” People think he is asking every day to hit leadoff. That is not the case. More than enough others on team to hit #1. “May see another face there.” “If I am hitting third and Ozuna fourth, the pitcher has to make a decision.” Will likely see more pitches to hit.
Does not accept the difference in his numbers between leading off and hitting third to be anything other than coincidence and would change with more opportunity. Just started to hit in third spot last season when moved back to leadoff. Top three batters with high OBPs will put pressure on other teams.
The pulse was that there would be changes for 2018. Saw that in coaches, trades, signings. Some of it was expected. League is competitive. Expected organization to be active. Gap to Cubs has closed “some” but acknowledged results last two years. New group does not know yet what they are.
His shoulder is strong. Physical therapy. Relieved MRI at end of last season was clean. Issue is mobility, soft tissue.
Now one of old guys on team.
No talk of playing in OF. Team is pretty set there.
On baserunning, Pham is a motivator. Great to have him on team.
Two things he wants to do better:
- Better decisions on bases. Oquendo will help.
- Be consistent defensively at better rate. Oquendo will also help.
Also need to accept who you are athletically. Front office provided data on similar players like Paul Goldschmidt who are not fast, but good on bases. About awareness to take opportunities when they arise. However, when batting third will need to ensure he is not thrown out at third ahead of Ozuna.
Thirst among players to win World Series. Guys used to playing deep into October, but also new guys who have not experienced it. New identity.
Molina grades out well as baserunner despite not being speedy. Pham may be fastest on team, organization now that Sierra is gone.
Did not think he would be traded. Gets some feedback on front office thinking through Matheny. Separates himself from “unhealthy” social media. Imagines the fan base is uneasy.
Most demanding position is third base, then first. Second is often playing short right field. Turning the double play is main focus.
Yadier Molina (12:56)
The catcher discussed the continuing hurricane recovery in his homeland of Puerto Rico. He is returning there Friday with more relief. As Jose Martinez said, he also traveled to Venezuela during the off-season to try to help in a difficult situation for the people.
Likes the team’s key additions, but when pushed, joked that of course he would like more. Likes Gregerson’s closer experience. They need Carpenter on the field and in the clubhouse. “No doubt” Cecil will be better in 2018. Saw Reyes in Florida and he is in good shape.
Took him 2-3 weeks to recover from concussions at end of last season.
Managing Under-23 World Cup qualifier was fun and hard both, with 22-23 players. Did different stuff managing. Asked if he would want to manage in MLB, he said, “I don’t know.” Expects Cards will be playing in October when World Cup occurs, so will not be able to manage in World Cup.
Delvin Perez was his shortstop in World Cup qualifier. He is young and has to learn, but had a good time.
What Carlos Martinez needs additionally to win Cy Young Award is mentality.
Wainwright is warrior and soldier. When he had a bad year, it was painful to all.
Oquendo is like a big brother/Dad. Talks baseball 24/7 on how to win games. Positioning guys on each pitch. Oquendo is the Secret Weapon. They did not make the playoffs the last two years (when he was not there). Cards will have an advantage with him.
Saw Maddux as one of best pitching coaches from other side. He obviously knows pitching.
In terms of his preparation for 2018, he is doing nothing different. Body feeling fine.
Three years and done. Molina does not plan to play beyond the term of his new contract. Asked to clarify, he did. After three years, he will enjoy his family. In meantime, cannot wait to grab the trophy in October. The front office did a good job. They will have a good team out there.
Earlier related articles
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: St. Louis Cardinals Instructional Camp News – January 12
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