All posts by Derek Shore

Cover the Springfield Cardinals and Cardinals minor league pipeline for The Cardinal Nation | Freelance sports writer

Nogowski Relishing his Second Chance in Affiliated Baseball

(photo: John Nogowski/Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos) John Nogowski quickly learned how much of a roller coaster ride professional baseball can be. The game takes players on detours through different parts of the country as they pursue their dreams of playing at the highest level in baseball. Four months ago, the Florida State product did not…

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Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2017 Week 18

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Texas League affiliate in Springfield has moved back into first place with less than a month remaining. Manager Johnny Rodriguez discusses what he expects from his players. A number of pitchers have stepped up, including Chris Ellis, Austin Gomber, Sandy Alcantara and Andrew Morales.

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Valera Named The Cardinal Nation July Player of the Month

(photo: Breyvic Valera/Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

This is the opener of The Cardinal Nation’s monthly two-part series in which we name our Players and Pitchers of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While the Cardinals themselves recognize their top players as well, we undertake our own independent analysis unencumbered by the organization’s selection criteria.

Let’s get right to it with a look at the list of July system-wide hitting leaders, starting with our honoree.

Valera takes home monthly honor

Breyvic Valera (USA TODAY Sports Images)

While a number of position players in the Cardinals system had strong Julys, one offensive player rose above the rest, utilizing a tremendous stretch to lead his club to their best month in franchise history.

Our July Player of the Month is Memphis infielder Breyvic Valera. The 25-year old should also have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Cardinals organization and the Pacific Coast League Player of the Month honors.

Among position players with at least 70 at-bats, Valera led the Cardinals system with a 1.034 OPS, spearheaded by an impressive .484 on-base percentage in the month of July. He finished the month with a .413 average (second to only Springfield’s Andrew Knizner by one point).

Not only that, Valera, who has bottom of the scale power potential (20 on the 20-80 scouting scale), was fourth in the organization with a .550 slugging percentage among those qualified. The infielder, who has experience at a multitude of positions, recorded nine extra-base hits (eight doubles and one homer) as well as plating nine runs.

In 80 at-bats, Valera showed his knack for contact with a 6-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio while swiping four bags in seven chances.


“It’s my game, it’s my game, to put the ball in play and run hard to the base,” Valera told Memphis Redbirds radio broadcaster Steve Selby.. I enjoy this time (being hot). I need to stay there right now. Get going, get going, and play hard.”

The Venezuelan attributed his success to controlling what he can control.

“My mindset is I control what I can control,” Valera told the Memphis broadcast. “I control hit the ball hard. I don’t feel my swing is a little bit late or a little bit early. Right now, my mind is strong. Working on my swing, working on my defense.

“Right now, I feel my swing. I feel great. That is all I control right now.”

Valera, who was added to the Cardinals 40-man roster this past November, makes good contact and has a good feel for the barrel. Despite no over-the-fence pop in his bat, the switch-hitter projects as an average hitter at the major-league level.

His defensive profile is a question as he lacks the range and arm strength to play shortstop and is an average runner. According to two industry sources, Valera ultimately projects as an organizational utility player at best and a 25th man in the most optimistic view.

As Memphis completed its best month in franchise history with a 22-6 record for July, Valera was integral piece atop the lineup while helping the team to an overall 71-37 record this season.

All in all, he is prepared for whatever is thrown his way as he finishes out the season.

“Stay ready, stay strong,” Valera said. “Get going.”

Honorable Mentions

Andrew Knizner (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Had it not been for a lower on-base percentage (.468) and OPS (1.025), Knizner could have claimed the Player of the Month honor for July. As already mentioned, the backstop paced the system in average in July.

Over 19 games, the Cardinals 2016 seventh round pick went 29-for-70 with four doubles, two homers, and eight RBI all while acclimating to the Texas League following a three-level jump on June 14.

“I feel the key to my success is my ability to make the necessary adjustments to be competitive at this level of play,” Knizner said, noting his shortened swing and adjusted posture at the plate created an efficient path to the ball.

One hitting prospect made a huge impact on his club offensively while also making his big-league debut toward the end of the month. Memphis’ center fielder Harrison Bader slashed .314/.377/.600 with six homers and 12 RBI through 21 games at Triple-A before his call up to St. Louis on July 25.

Bader returned to Memphis on July 31.

Unlike Bader, Nick Martini spent the full month of July at Triple-A. Memphis’ lead-off man posted a .344/.447/.500 slash line with five doubles, two triples, two homers, and 12 RBI in 96 at-bats for the Redbirds.

“Legit guy,” one scout said. “With the right team say, San Diego. He is in the big leagues already.”

Another important part of the Memphis offensive juggernaut is shortstop Alex Mejia, who was optioned from the big-league club on July 10. Mejia took advantage of his 18 games with the Redbirds, hitting .358 with a .953 OPS while bashing three home runs and driving in 17 over 67 at-bats.

A fresh name to the organization is Knizner’s former college teammate at North Carolina State, Evan Mendoza. The 21-year old third baseman was the Cardinals 11th round draft pick this year and had a torrid month of July for State College, posting a .366 batting clip with 13 RBI and a .949 OPS in 24 games after a tough start in June.

“Everyone’s going to go through something like that in baseball; it’s a failing game,” Mendoza told The Cardinal Nation recently. “You just have to stay confident and keep your head up and kind of take a positive out of every at-bat, and that’s kind of what.

“I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks. I’ve been hitting the ball hard, getting into good counts and seeing the ball pretty well. But I think the past couple days, the ball’s just been dropping and that’s how baseball works.”

Some other worthy names to mention is newly-acquired power packed prospect Tyler O’Neill, who slugged three homers and 14 RBI in limited action at Memphis. The outfielder had a 1.002 OPS in 36 at-bats.

Peoria middle of the order bats Stefan Trosclair and Ryan McCarvel each had five home runs as well as a .953 and .947 OPS, respectively.

Second baseman Darren Seferina hit .330 (36-for-109) with four blasts and 13 RBI between High-A Palm Beach and Springfield.

What’s Next

Look for TCN’s July Pitcher of the Month on Thursday and the Cardinals organization’s announcement of their choices as the top performers from the fourth month of the 2017 season at some point this week.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Add Fourth Independent League Player

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2017 Week 15

Behind a seven-game winning streak, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Texas League affiliate in Springfield has taken over first place. As the starting pitching continues its success, catcher Andrew Knizner continues to be on fire at the plate.

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Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2017 Week 13

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Texas League affiliate in Springfield went a positive 3-3 on a long Texas road trip. According to his manager, lefty Austin Gomber made the necessary adjustments to become the Double-A club’s best pitcher right now.

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Kolten Wong Speaks in Springfield

(photo: Kolten Wong/Steve Mitchell/USA Today)

In Springfield on Wednesday night, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong began his first of four games making up his rehab assignment at Double-A Springfield.

Wong, 26, has been held out of action since June 14 with a right triceps strain which he initially injured during a rehab appearance on June 8 at Low-A Peoria, attempting to return from a left elbow injury that sidelined him for 13 games. Overall, the right-hander hitter is slashing .301/.393/.444 with one homer and 19 RBI through 153 at-bats (47 games) this season.

Barring injury, Wong is expected to play five innings on Wednesday night, progress to seven innings on Thursday, rest Friday, and finish out his rehab with two full games on Saturday and Sunday. As always, these are tentative plans as his status will be re-assessed daily.

Below is a transcript from Wong’s presser before Wednesday night’s game. In the media session, he discusses the injury and rehab plan along with much more.


Media Member: What kind of pesky injury has this been? How limiting has it been for you?

Kolten Wong: “It has been one of those things where one thing led to another. It has been kind of frustrating knowing I have been working on one thing, and it goes to my forearm first. Then my elbow and now my triceps.

“It was weird how it all strung together, but I am glad it is all done and back to playing baseball now.”

MM: How much have you been able to work in the field, work in the cage before coming here to Springfield?

KW: “Probably this past week and weekend, I have been going with the team, taking groundballs and taking BP (batting practice) and doing things just to kind of get ready.”

MM: What is the plan this week? Do you know exactly how many you are getting into to? The plan trying to get back to the big-leagues?

KW: “Yeah, I will probably be here until Sunday. From there on, they want to give me an All-Star break to give me that chance to give everything to relax before the second half. So, I think here until Sunday, you know, have a good couple of days off and then back to the grind.”

MM: Those two stints on the DL and the team hovering around .500 and trying to catch the Cubs and the Brewers. How do you describe the first half of the season so far?

KW: “It has been a crazy first half. I think the guys in the clubhouse we all know how good we are. We understand that we haven’t been playing our best baseball yet. To be where we are at right now knowing we are way better than what we have been doing.

“It is definitely exciting for all us. We are coming in every day excited knowing we still are not playing really good, but we are still right in the thick of things. So, everyone is excited and ready to go. Just waiting for everybody to start clicking together.”

MM: How anxious have you been to be able to contribute more yourself as kind of getting back into the playoff race?

KW: “Yeah, especially going through this injury right now. You are sitting on the bench and seeing these guys grinding away, winning some tough games. It definitely lights a fire under you to know that, ‘Man, I want to get back there to help these guys.'”

“They have been doing everything they can to get us victories. Keep us close. I want to do what I can to help, too.

MM: You already alluded to the plan but is the plan to play a full game tonight and then how does that progressing in this rehab assignment?

KW: “It is going to be five innings tonight. Probably seven tomorrow. I think they were talking about a day off the next day and then two nines. I am guessing that is what it is going to be. We will see what happens.”

MM: Baseball-wise, what are you hoping to get done in those innings that you play here?

KW: “Just get back into it. It is definitely going to be different not playing for a month and then coming back. It is a pretty lengthy layoff, but baseball is not going to change. Go out there and play the game as hard as I can.

“Try to help this team win down here.”

MM: Outside of baseball, is there anything you want to do while you are back in Springfield?

KW: “I didn’t really know what there was to do here. I was here strictly for baseball when I was here. Just enjoy being back here. I had a great time when I was here. Then see what it is about.

“Like you said, find out some different things and Bass Pro. That is all I have done down here.”

MM: One of your teammates here Carlos Martinez making it to the All-Star along with Yadi. Just talk about those two guys and what they mean to this organization?

KW: “Those two guys are kind of, they are it right now for us. They have been carrying this team, and obviously, we play with other guys, but to see what Yadi has done every single year we all expect him to make the All-Star game. You expect them to be good.

“To see Carlos and the progressions he has made as a pitcher and just growing up, in general. The guy is a stud now. He knows it. He expects it. He carries himself with that chip on his shoulder. When he has that, we understand what he can do for our team.”

MM: A lot of young players have been stepping up while you have been out. What does that to do your compete level and what have you seen from that?

KW: “That is what it is about. This game is all about competition, and the guys have been coming in and definitely stepping up and doing what they can do, but everybody knows what I can do as well. It is kind of hard to match.

“I am confident in what I can bring to the table. I am just happy those guys came in and did what they could do to help the team win.”

MM: Does seeing Carp playing second base have any impact on you or change your approach anything like that?

KW: “Absolutely not, no. It is at a point where if that is the route they go, then that is the route to go. I will be ready to come back and do whatever they need me to do. It is time to win. We are this close to being a playoff team.

“If that is the route that we are going to go, let’s do it. I will be ready to go to be the guy I need to be to help the team get some victories.”

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Dunedin Coach on New Cardinal Lane Thomas

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

Arozarena Named TCN’s June Player of the Month

(photo: Randy Arozarena/Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

This is the second of The Cardinal Nation’s monthly two-part series in which we name our Players and Pitchers of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While the Cardinals themselves recognize their top players as well, we undertake our own independent analysis unencumbered by the organization’s selection criteria.

Let’s get right to it with a look at the list of June system-wide hitting leaders, starting with our honoree.

Randy Arozarena (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Arozarena stands out

While a number of position players in the Cardinals system had strong Junes, one offensive player rose above the rest, while utilizing a tremendous stretch to earn a promotion to Double-A.

Our June Player of the Month is then Palm Beach outfielder and now Springfield corner outfielder Randy Arozarena. The 22-year old should also have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Cardinals organization and the Florida State League Player of the Month honors.

Among position players with at least 75 at-bats, Arozarena led the Cardinals system with a .590 slugging percentage and .964 OPS in the month of June. He finished the month with .295 batting average and .306 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which made for an obvious choice given the success of offensive players in the pitcher-friendly FSL (average slash line for league players this year: .250/.321/.361/.682)

The Cuban native was making up for lost time in Palm Beach after a slow start to his first season with the organization. After leaving his homeland following the 2014 season, Arozarena sat out all of 2015, played in Mexico and signed with St. Louis last August before an aggressive assignment in his official Cardinals debut.

“It is harder,” Palm Beach manager Dann Bilardello told The Cardinal Nation. “For one, it is the language, and two, you are thrown into an atmosphere different from what you are accustomed to. There was an adjustment period off the field for him. That is tough for anybody, and he handled it pretty well.”

There were many on-field challenges as well. He came in with a reputation for consistent contact with line drive power, but failed to show either to start the season. Arozarena batted just .105 with 11 strikeouts and one extra-base hit in his first 11 games (38 at-bats).

In 21 games for the Beach Birds in June, Arozarena hit safely in 16 while being named FSL Player of the Week for the period of June 5-11, including a power surge with four homers over the course of five games.

With that, the right-handed slugger was selected to the midseason FSL All-Star Game, where he also took part and won the pre-game Home Run Derby.

“The improvements still need to come in all aspects of his game, offensively and defensively, the mental approach, the baserunning – all of it,” Bilardello added. “There is still a ways to go, but we are pleased with the progress so far.”

Arozarena played in just one game following the All-Star break at Palm Beach before receiving a promotion to Springfield on June 30. While the opening was at the expense of Oscar Mercado’s injury, Arozarena earned his shot at Double-A.

“I really like the adjustments he’s made on a daily basis,” Palm Beach hitting coach Erick Almonte told MiLB.com recently. “We’ve been facing a lot of good pitchers who throw hard, and his bat speed is incredible. He’s been much better at shortening his swing and going gap to gap. And the results are showing every day.

“The month of April was his first time playing [in the United States]. This is a hard league to hit in, and he was trying to do too much at the beginning. We made some adjustments, and he’s been swinging at strikes, which is key.”

One area of his game Almonte noted needs improvement is to show more patience in an attempt to increase walks. In the month of June, Arozarena controlled the strike zone well with a 14-to-6 strikeout to walk count (compared to 19-to-3 K/BB in April and 20-to-4 in May).

“When the second half begins, pitchers will pitch differently against him,” Almonte told MiLB.com. “But I think he will be up to the test and show everybody that he can put up good numbers for a whole season.”

Harrison Bader (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Honorable Mentions

Had it not been for his strikeout to walk ratio (28-to-3 K/BB) and an unsustainable .397 BABIP, Harrison Bader could taken home the Player of the Month honor for June. That said, Bader did perhaps the most damage this past month with 14 extra-base hits (but in 23 more at-bats) and 19 RBI.

Overall, the outfielder slashed .317/.355/.564 with a .919 OPS, and one pro scout said he was most impressed with his skill-set on that Memphis roster.

“Definite everyday player with All-star upside,” the scout said.

Cutting down the strikeouts is one key stepping stone to the big leagues for Bader going forward.

Another player who received consideration is Springfield lead-off man Oscar Mercado, who recently went down with a shoulder injury. Prior to his move to the disabled list, Mercado paced the system with a June-best .339 batting clip that included nine extra-base hits (five doubles, one triple, and three homers) and six RBI, finishing with .865 OPS.

Mercado was simply outperformed in terms of doing damage with the bat.

Magneuris Sierra (USA TODAY Sport Images)

Speedster Magneuris Sierra also had a robust June, posting a system-high .344 average along with .876 OPS to boot. The lefty Sierra even flashed some sock with his bat, producing 12 extra-base hits (10 doubles, one triple, and one inside-the-park home run).

Memphis Mafia basher Luke Voit was on pace to have the strongest month among Cardinals prospects, but for a good reason, he didn’t. In his 20 games before his first call-up to St. Louis on June 25, Voit had a .957 OPS with four homers and 19 RBI.

We should also not overlook the .338 batting average from Peoria outfielder Shane Billings, but it was mostly of the singles variety, with 21 of his 26 June hits one-baggers. Billings earned his promotion to Palm Beach to replace Arozarena.

Two other players definitely also deserving of mention are Memphis’ Nick Martini and Peoria’s Ryan McCarvel, who batted .313 and .299, respectively. Martini had 15 RBI while McCarvel had a system-best 15 extra-base hits last month.

What’s Next

Look the Cardinals organization’s announcement of their choices as the top performers from the third month of the 2017 season.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Florida State All-Star News is Good and Bad

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.