photo: Daniel Ponce de Leon (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
As Saturday’s Day 1 of the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch approached, the worry was the weather. Though there was light drizzle and wind, no snow had fallen by the 9:00 a.m. opening, and the day proceeded as planned. That was a huge improvement over the opening day of the 2017 edition of the annual charity event, which was canceled due to an ice storm.
Popular presentations on day 1 include John Mozeliak’s always-informative main tent event and farm director Gary LaRocque’s breakout session. After several years of overflowing crowds, the minor league presentation was finally moved to a larger meeting room on the 18th floor. TCN subscribers will be able to listen to this hour-plus long session next week.
Autograph sessions with 12 current Cardinals were scheduled on Saturday: Daniel Ponce de Leon, Andrew Miller, Kolten Wong, Alex Reyes, Ryan Helsley, Carlos Martinez, Dexter Fowler, Justin Williams, Drew Robinson, Paul DeJong, Paul Goldschmidt and Tommy Edman. Also included is President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak’s audio.
Typically after they sign, the players are brought to the media area for a question and answer session with us.
Without further ado, following are selected interviews held during the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up on Saturday, January 19, 2019. I summarize them and follow with the full audio for those who want to listen to the full content.
Andrew Miller (12:30)
My first impression of the free agent left-hander is that he is very tall and slender. He looks every bit of his listed 6-foot-7. Miller mentioned he talked to Chasen Shreve about St. Louis as they were teammates in New York and had some contact with Paul Goldschmidt, but looks forward to meeting the Cardinals in three weeks in Jupiter.
He feels his role will be the same – get the current batter out – and the difference between the two leagues is minimal.
Miller viewed his 2018 as “frustrating” and he has a “chip on his shoulder”. He admitted he “did not pitch well and as often last year” as he wanted and “chased his mechanics”. He “heard a lot in the offseason that I am old.” He noted his strategy for free agency was to be “proactive up front” about his medical status “to get things going”.
He noted he plans to get to know the key left-handed hitters in the NL Central soon and wants to prove himself against the best. Miller made the first, joking BSOHL (best shape of his life) reference of the weekend.
Tommy Edman (6:07)
The infielder shared some of his experiences from instructional camp, from where he just came. Specifically, he mentioned new St. Louis hitting coach Jeff Albert talked with the group about his hitting philosophy. Specifically mentioned was the use of Trackman data and Blast Motion to measure bat speed and angles. (TCN subscribers can learn much more about these in my instructional camp reports.)
Personally, the switch hitter is working on driving the ball more to the gaps as a left-handed hitter as his RH slugging was higher last year. Defensively, he played 3B for the first time in 2018 but split between 2B and SS. Will also play in OF if needed.
Considers himself one of the better basestealers in the system based on his baserunning ability and reading pitchers, more than speed.
Says Lane Thomas has “one of the best power/speed combinations I have seen”. Has “crazy bat speed and lift” and has good wheels, too.
John Mozeliak (37:03)
The President of Baseball Ops spoke a long time, as always, and had plenty to say. Mo called out the additions of Goldschmidt, Miller, health and starting pitching depth as reasons the Cards should be a “competitive team in the division”.
Mo observed that Mike Shildt has “integrated with the front office” like he had “never seen before”. New staff additions are “modern, proactive”.
“This is a huge year for Alex Reyes. The clock is ticking.” His health is paramount. Don’t want him to end the year with just 50 innings pitched, however. It would have to be a unique bullpen role for him to get in his innings. Need to get baseball side and trainers in agreement of his plan for spring.
Good that he has not heard much about Carlos Martinez this off-season.
Jeff Albert is an advocate for (hard) contact and has a strategy for that.
Marcell Ozuna is in the Dominican for the remainder of the off-season. Not ideal from a medical access perspective. Will look on him next week when in the DR for the academy’s first high school graduation class. Does not know if Ozuna has been hitting and expects his throwing program will start soon.
Prayed hard it would not snow in St. Louis today (for Goldschmidt first impression).
The need for Andrew Miller came from the number two and three hitters in the division. Only factor in length was health and they did due medical diligence. Confident Miller of two years ago will be what they get.
Winning in 2019 is what matters.
Repeated “opportunistic” mantra about market, but made it clear he is “confident in the roster we have now”. “Not a lot of younger players we want to take off the roster” (to make room for others). Trade dialogues got quieter. Not actively pursuing trades at this time.
Minors free agent market was not slow. More open to non-roster opportunities.
Dakota Hudson “has not been given the attention he should as a starting pitcher”. He’d be knocking on the door of the top five, but will likely be in the 2019 pen.
Fowler is the starting RF. Has to prove himself. They have options. Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill would get 550 plate appearances elsewhere. Martinez is good hitter. There was interest from the AL, but never got to the point a trade made sense.
Assessing free agent value looks different to fans. Responsibility to owners and fan base. Challenge to please all. How many 10 year deals are successful? Hard to find winning approach with odds less than 50 percent.
On tanking: “We’ve been a beneficiary in trades” driven by rebuilding teams. Hard to legislate change.
Brett Cecil lost weight. Aggressively got in better shape. Luke Gregerson’s “offseason was not perfect”. “He began throwing but was not feeling perfect.” “Sometimes it does not go on forever.” But “we can be a little patient with him.” Dominic Leone’s injury last year was freak. Should be fine.
Harrison Bader is an all-star defender. Albert to help him with hitting. Has all the tools to be successful.
Yadier Molina is coming back from the flu, but his knee is great.
The two minor leaguers he thinks could emerge are Genesis Cabrera (power LH arm, exciting stuff) and Ryan Helsley.
New game planning coach needs to be fluent in analytics and baseball. Available to do research for Shildt at a moment’s notice. Pregame focus. Not in uniform. Part of the “khaki” crowd.
Best to have one ninth inning pitcher. Not a fan of committee.
Mo in the main tent (no audio)
Mo’s main tent began when he was introduced by Chris Hrabe, after which Mo introduced Andrew Miller. After Miller spoke for a few minutes, Mo’s time was mostly fan question and answer, so I did not record it. Here are a few notes, though.
He called Shildt a “baseball rat”. Mo was asked his favorite ballpark other than Busch. He said he likes the setting in Pittsburgh, the city of Chicago and San Francisco, as well.
Said he “looks forward to get back to a winning way.” On Goldschmidt, he plans/hopes/intends to sign him, but wants him to experience St. Louis first. Cited past examples of McGwire, Edmonds, Rolen and Holliday.
Asked when he would be signing Harper, he said that Goldschmidt is the middle of the order bat, but if they hadn’t gotten him, they might have gone down a different path. He mentioned the OF depth and that the trade market is slowing down.
Not expecting the Cardinals to adopt the “opener” trend. Teams who are experimental do not have five competent starters. Now 200 IP is real milestone.
Backup catcher hard to sign. They don’t play. “When Carson Kelly was traded, he might have been the happiest guy on earth.” Getting Francisco Pena back means at least they have “somebody”.
8-10 year contract for free agents mean the players control the upside. Shorter deals always better. Designated hitter possibly/probably coming in long-term. Balancing NL strategy diehards with scoring being down across MLB and pitchers hitting trends down. Those strongly against “should start warming up to it.”
On labor situation: “I don’t feel there are dark clouds.” Sport is healthy but landscape changing. Not two sides one vs. other. Baseball is special.
Drew Robinson (7:03)
Not a favorite position. Likes something at each. Turn double plays at 2B, getting the ball at short and coming on bunt plays at 3B. Has fun at each. In the season, works at two positions per day.
Consistency is key to get playing time. Hopes to prove he deserves the at-bats. Don’t put too much into high strikeouts, but working on it in his drills. Had a minor injury when he did get his chance late last season. Likes idea of increasing contact rate with help of Jeff Albert.
Describes himself as above average in all areas (except contact rate) now. Always been a utility player so am comfortable with the role.
Daniel Ponce de Leon (8:44)
After one week of rest, he got antsy and started his lifting and prep for 2019. Ponce de Leon has found a grip on his curveball and “it is back”. He credits help from Eric Cressey and Brian Kaplan who have a training facility in Florida that he uses. He also mentioned a change up delivery in which he puts the ball in the palm of his hand that led to good movement. He asked Miles Mikolas what he learned in Japan and is using the advice to try to keep his head as still as possible.
While most comfortable starting, he will play any role asked of him. Ponce de Leon said that as a starter, he can work out hard for four days to be ready, but as a reliever, he has to moderate working out and eating since he does not know when he will be called upon.
Justin Williams (10:05)
The outfielder has a cast on his right hand, the result of a “mistake” – a battle with a television that the TV won. The result is fractures/dislocation in his metacarpal bones in fingers that occurred in mid-December. Williams sees a doctor Friday but had no prognosis on how long he will be out. He said he is continuing lower body workouts.
The trade from Tampa Bay at the deadline was initially “shocking” but the Cards are a “first-class organization”. On his past teammate Genesis Cabrera, Williams said he is a “different player as a reliever” with arm strength “I did not know he had.”
Williams wants to polish his game more, specifically learning better situational hitting. He feels if he can master that, the power will come.
His former 3B/OF coach at Durham was Ben Johnson, the new Memphis manager. Williams says he “batted heads” with the coach because he was young, but recognizes him now as a father figure. “I love him.”
Ryan Helsley (3:59)
The right-hander said he “felt something” in his shoulder in May. Helsley tried to come back in August, but since he did not feel 100% and just two weeks were remaining, they decided to shut him down. No procedure was required; he is doing range of motion and stretching. Has already thrown 4-5 bullpens so far, with a plan of 10 before spring training.
Helsley has made only three relief appearances in his career, but will play any role. He sees opportunity ahead with this being his first year on the 40-man roster. The Oklahoma native’s main goal in 2019 is to stay healthy.
Kolten Wong (13:40)
Wong was gracious about not winning the Gold Glove Award, with compliments to the other two finalists. He said his goal is to win the award every year. Noted he started 2018 as a “platoon player” but his second half upturn was related to Shildt telling him he was the everyday second baseman. Communications building chemistry/family. Playing every day is his goal – needed someone to believe in him.
Wong acknowledged that injuries have hindered him the last five years and changed his workout program again. Focus is on more explosive movements, yoga, Pilates, not lifting.
He admitted he is “not the most accurate thrower” and with Paul Goldschmidt, he can take more risk, going after more balls. The two of them “won’t let anything past them on the right side”.
Wong expects he and Harrison Bader will bat seventh and eighth, depending on the pitcher. He called Jeff Albert right away when hired. “He simplifies things.” Uses heat charts and says to focus on hot zones – “but don’t miss”!
The bone chip in his knee shifted and is in a good spot. No issues now, but it bothered him all season and led to the hamstring injury. Took one month off his legs at end of season.
Main word for the team is “accountability” in 2019. Put personal stats aside.
Alex Reyes (7:15)
He would love to be a starter but will do anything to be on the 25-man roster. This Tuesday and Friday were his first two times throwing off a mound. No change in mechanics. Threw a few changeups and breaking balls, but expect to throw more next week. His curve is his best pitch, but his changeup is most effective because it looks like his fastball.
Any pitcher who is in the pen wants to be the person in the ninth inning.
Helsley has an explosive fastball that he can go down and up with. Compact, smooth delivery. Ball explodes out of his hand.
Paul DeJong (8:05)
The shortstop hopes Paul Goldschmidt will save a few errors in the dirt. Gold Glove winners usually have a good first baseman. His defense was better last year due to more experience and Oquendo positioning him more up the middle and playing back. He did not love defense when at third like he does now at short.
DeJong ready for any spot in the lineup, whether third or fifth. Felt he did a better job third in his rookie year. His problem after the hand injury last year was mental. Took too many pitches, not aggressive enough.
He is staying in Jupiter as is Jeff Albert and is already working with him. Albert and Mark Budaska have a simplistic view of hitting.
Carlos Martinez (4:40)
Cleared his mind from last season (said this multiple times). Working out every day to get ready for 2019 Opening Day. Mike Shildt calls every week. Thanks God he does not have to face Goldschmidt. Good person, too. Andrew Miller is going to help a lot. He, Ozuna and Yadi talk about everything in the off-season. Will be a better team this year and he will be better.
Dexter Fowler (13:45)
The right fielder said that Chris Young had mentored him in the minors and his wedding was this weekend, but ended up skipping it to come to WWU. Also noted he never attended the Cubs Convention either.
Acknowledged he came because he feels he owes to the fans. He did not have a good year and felt the backlash. Hopes people will give him a chance. Has way more left in the tank. He, Mo and Shildt talked and cleared the slate.
His foot feels good. He is running and has his speed back. Got his legs under him now. Barry Bonds says his swing is “perfect” now. His “swipe feels good”.
Molina is a fiery guy and Fowler likes to stir the pot. He considers Molina an easy target.
Said Kris Bryant’s comments are good for the rivalry. On Brett Cecil (and himself), “When you have done it for a long time, you don’t just stop.”
Paul Goldschmidt (19:14)
The Cardinals organization has sustained success, which others are trying to do. But in Arizona, they reported to camp expecting to win the World Series each season. Hasn’t met many players yet. Will do it in spring training. Trade and how he was treated by Diamondbacks was better than he could have asked for.
Baseball has always been his favorite sport. Does not take role model to kids lightly. Not focused on contract. Will only become an issue if you let it get on your mind. Focus on day to day. Loves the game and wants it to thrive – considers it a metaphor for life.
On slow signings, “need the best guys on the field”. Otherwise, “it is a disservice to the fans”. They may look to other sports. More conversations are happening between players as changes occur.
Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is a big thing. Did know his hitting against the Cubs was good until the trade. Job at first is to catch the ball or knock it down. Loves being able to pick up others or have them pick him up. Builds team.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation
If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.