Cardinals Winter Warm-Up – In Their Words: Sunday, 1/20/19

photo: Adam Wainwright (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Sunday’s Day 2 of the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up charity event at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch arrived with continued cold temperatures, high winds and a couple of inches of snow that fell late Saturday – 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 16 current Cardinals were scheduled on Sunday: Mike Mayers, John Brebbia, Lane Thomas, Andrew Knizner, Chasen Shreve, Max Schrock, Dominic Leone, Miles Mikolas, Jose Martinez, Yairo Muñoz, Austin Gomber, John Gant, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright, Jedd Gyorko and Michael Wacha. Also included were manager Mike Shildt and first base coach Stubby Clapp plus manager Michael Girsch stopped by to talk.

However, Gyorko was unable to travel due to the weather.

Typically after they sign, the players are brought to the media area for a question and answer session with us. As you will see below, due to time constraints, several teamed up at once.

Following are my notes from selected interviews held during the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up on Sunday, January 20, 2019. Following my summary is the full audio for those who want to listen to the full content.

Mike Mayers (6:35)

Mike Mayers (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The Denver resident is one week from reporting to Jupiter. Injuries at end of 2018 were related to mobility. Struggled down the stretch – hips, hamstring, spine. Played winter ball in 2017.

Regarding being out of minor league options, “the ball is in my court”. “Perform and hopefully I will have a spot.” “Disappointed in how I finished the year.” Hudson and Hicks are not close to their ceilings. Views himself as a “competitive, hard-hitting right-handed pitcher.”

Lane Thomas (6:50)

Lane Thomas (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The outfielder reiterated that health was the primary factor in his breakout 2018. Noted he was 6-feet, 160-pounds when signed, so improvements come with physical growth. Just worries about where his feet are that day, not about future.

Knew Stubby Clapp from time with Toronto. Admired Derek Jeter as a player growing up. Veteran leaders with Memphis last season were Edward Mujica and Alex Mejia (both since departed as free agents). Considers center field his defensive home but plays all three.

John Brebbia and Chasen Shreve (13:02)

John Brebbia and Chasen Shreve

Brebbia got to have his photo on Instagram due to Kris Bryant controversy. Molina has his full support. He loves the city and it loves him. Good reminder baseball season is coming.

Brebbia jumped all over opportunity to play in Japan after the season. Baseball is different there, though the fans are passionate.

Cardinals have two rotations. Could they add an American League team?

Shreve on Miller. One of my favorite teammates ever. Good leader. Does everything right.

Brebbia and Fowler are golf and karaoke buddies.

Shreve has done it all – one out or multiple innings. Will be ready when the game starts. 98% of Brebbia’s outings are between the third and seventh innings.

Both guys like change in tradition with the opener. Special and unique ability to move relievers into any role needed. Team would be fine with no named closer.

Brebbia understands he needs to be good right now to make the team. Shreve thought he was coming back until he was shocked by an MLB article that said he would be the only non-tendered Cardinals. Guaranteed deal eases his mind.

Stubby Clapp, Max Schrock and Dominic Leone (9:00)

Leone – all systems go. A lot of progress in August and September. Normal off-season, no setbacks.

Clapp – get to know players on and off field. Knows how hard it is to play. Wants to keep things light, but get the work done. Hit it off well with Shildt in spring training a few years ago. Did his homework prior to interviews last fall.

Schrock – third base idea was brought up by Stubby. No warning. Was fun. Got close to 20 games by end of season. Also played a few games in the outfield. Would love to be like a Greg Garcia.

Clapp – Schrock did a really good job at third base.

Leone – Miller is game-changer. Young guys with another year of experience. Key need in pen is versatility – play any role needed.

Clapp – Genesis Cabrera is a left-handed Carlos Martinez. Kept him as a sleeper, a surprise in the playoffs. Didn’t get to see him as a starter. Electric and nasty.

Clapp – Justin Williams – it takes time to get comfortable. Talked about differences between AL and NL. Has potential to make a big impace.

Andrew Knizner (8:57)

Honored to be recognized among top catching prospects. Came after a lot of hard work. Will keep at that.

Always felt his catching has been good. Getting better and consistent with more reps.

Does not think about heir-apparent talk. Just doing work every day. His performance might have kind of forced hand on Kelly trade.

His dad always said that the hardest thing in sports is to take the place of a future Hall of Famer. People have to be reasonable in expectations. Molina did not become himself over night. Same for the guy who replaces Tom Brady.

Jamie Pogue in St. Louis (bullpen catcher) watched video and contacted minor league catchers once per week last year. Did not know about Tony Cruz addition to minor league staff until announced last week, but MLB experience and Cardinals tradition will be helpful.

Implementing Jeff Albert’s hitting philosophies in instructions. Caught Mikolas’ bullpen down there. Same as last year.

Molina says #1 tool is your body. Have to be mentally tough – fighting through nicks and pains through the season.

On Cubs controversy. Yadi is tough guy. Likes to have that respect. Always defending home plate – in this case, the home plate of St. Louis. Symbolic in a way.

Mike Shildt (34:09)

Mike Shildt

Goldschmidt has residual value, maybe can be measured and maybe not. Defense and passion for baserunning important.

Clearly committed to Fowler. A+ result from medicals. Met with him yesterday. Jose Martinez excited, deserves to play. Hard to anticipate role, but he kills lefties so good chance for him to play then. Huge bat off bench.

Dialogue with players both ways is important. Many people and departments assisting. Trying to condense information so guys can understand. Use spring training to execute. Players can challenge respectfully – two-way communication.

Encouraging Carlos Martinez to get the most out of his ability and hopefully be ready to start. Had him since extended spring training in 2010 or 2011. Had in 2012 in Springfield. Long relationship gotten to know him. Has a huge heart. Has grown a lot from having a lot of fortune and fame. Challenged him to take his off-season seriously. Will see best fit for club.

Support Yadi’s comments completely. Everybody has their opinion. Went through long list of former Cardinals who chose the city as home and don’t think it boring.

Andrew Miller creates more bullpen flexibility. No closer, but many who can close based on matchups.

10-11 guys to compete for starting role. Know how to best use resources. Starters won 63% of games across NL. Maddux says the games you use fewer pitchers, you tend to win.

Miles throws strikes, quality strikes. Disruption of timing and balance, throwing inside and outside, up and down.

They have spoken with Ozuna during off-season. He will come to Jupiter early, hoping for early February for them to get a look at him.

September won 6 of 7 going into final two series. Bad timing for series loss to Milwaukee. That was pivotal series. We weren’t good enough. Lost a couple of close games. No excuses.

August was historic month. Something to strive for. Consistency is mindset. Be smart aggressive. Fundamentally sound. Trust your ability.

Lineup variations. He is not doing it as much as the media. Have a lot of pieces that could hit in no. 2 spot. Goldy, Pauly, Kolten (though don’t want two lefties up top), Molina, Dexter, Martinez, Bader (at some point) all could fit.

Confidence that defense will be shored up because lineup will be fairly consistent.

Free agency “outside of my pay grade.” Fans want best players. Don’t get too deep into the economics. Owners running a business.

Fowler meeting got a lot of attention. Have meetings with many others, too. Good relationships require honest communications. He looks great, feeling good. They believe in him.

Spring training. Will be efficient. No eyewash. Avoid monotony. Make routine seem fresh. Progress every day. Create tempo to be ready. A lot of focus on team defense. Get it ingrained.

Wants everyone to have sense of enjoyment, passion and enthusiasm – players and coaches. But preparation necessary. High expectation for year.

Molina has sweet spot of ability, strong desire to compete, loves the game. No coincidence he and Oquendo are so close. Both are baseball guys. Molina giving time to the young players, Team Puerto Rico. Perfect package. As smart as anyone on the team – he’s the Yadfather. When he speaks, everybody listens. He doesn’t have to carry leader mantle alone – Wainwright, Carpenter…

DeJong and Bader learning how to lead themselves. Impressed by the two. Evolving, adjusting. Strong desire, they care, they are hungry.

John Gant (6:47)

John Gant (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The right-hander noted the Cardinals are “pitcher rich”. He noted the difference in starting is routine oriented – there is lower body day, upper body day, etc. as a starter, but less choreographed in the pen. No difference in per batter approach whether start or relieving – go after every batter.

“It was great to burn my last (minor league) option,” Gant said.

Had a “great reflection conversation” with Mike Maddux. Data sheet showed areas of success and improvement. Everyone got one. Example for him was that he learned he was more successful with fastballs in to left-handed hitters than he thought. Main area to improve is fewer walks. One of his goals. Did not change workout routine because of that.

Austin Gomber (7:54)

Austin Gomber (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Wants to make the team and the rotation. Does not feel he has an outside shot, responding to a question. Psyched to learn from fellow tall left-hander Andrew Miller. Wants to do whatever he can in spring training to separate himself from other candidates.

Big difference in MLB is amount of data available – “It can be a lot”. Each player needs to filter. Feedback from Maddux helped. His preparation includes throwing right sequences at right time vs. throwing whatever Molina signals. Has been toying with two-seam sinker for last five years. Fell in love with it late in season and got beat a lot with it in September.

Dakota Hudson (5:35)

Dakota Hudson (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Says his weight is same as last year, but better eating. Lost his “dad weight”. Noted he has more overall experience starting but more MLB experience in relief. Wants to be with St. Louis. Spring camp competition will be “exciting”.

At the end of last season, felt like he “nit-picked” his throwing. Felt good physically, but his “mechanics got sideways”. Working on how he will use his pitches differently – be less fine, better planning on location.

Jose Martinez (14:24)

Jose Martinez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The outfielder-first baseman acknowledged he was aware of the earlier trade rumors, and thought he might be leaving after the season ended. He considers the Cardinals team his family. It was the first organization to give him a chance. Happy to help the team and do his job.

“I am not a kid,” he said regarding understanding his situation. “Dexter (Fowler) deserves a second opportunity (in right field).”

Part of winter ball play decision was not knowing where he would be playing in 2019. Played as designated hitter because he had been injured the prior winter.

Admitted that earlier in his career, he focused more attention on hitting. Last year, he was a little shaky on defense. Getting more confidence. Coaches helping. Fans had reasons to hate him, yet they encouraged him.

Has respect for Chicago, having lived there. St. Louis has the best fans in the world.

On Shildt: “I’ve got his back, because I know he’s got my back.”

Heading home to Venezuela to be with his family due to fear of protests next week. Problem getting visas for his kids to travel to the USA is getting worse.

Michael Girsch (24:36)

Michael Girsch (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

On the ‘St. Louis is boring’ controversy, “If they want to get Yadi fired up for the season – that will work.”

Jose Martinez is “an effective hitter, a great weapon to have.” “Great teammate, brings energy.” “Other teams wanted him on the cheap.”

On getting a left-handed hitter, “It would not be a bad thing, but we don’t need to fill it.” Would be great if opportunity comes.

Starting pitching is not a priority. Have quality and depth now.

Will need #6, #7 starters at Memphis to open the season. Will mean tough conversations at the end of spring training. Some guys are viewed as starters long term. If they make starters relievers in April, they can’t go back that season. Will not put a lefty in the rotation if lesser than the top five.

Andrew Knizner has hit everywhere and getting better on defense. Has knack for squaring up the baseball. He will be the priority catcher in Memphis.

Marcell Ozuna is not yet at the “concern” level. Anxious to see him after shoulder surgery.

Carlos Martinez is turning over a new leaf in preparation. Cannot prove his health day 1.

The Pitching Lab in Jupiter is not off the ground. Facility complications with Marlins is a factor.

Did not envision Lane Thomas would be on the 40-man roster 18 months after acquiring him. Justin Williams’ non-baseball injury is disappointing. Will not be ready to start the season. Dylan Carlson will probably open 2019 at Springfield. Looks bigger this year. A player Girsch hopes will break out.

Likes Genesis Cabrera’s stuff so far. Sees him as a starter but when he goes to the pen, he adds 3-4 mph. Still hasn’t even been to Jupiter yet.

Miles Mikolas (9:12)

Miles Mikolas (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Out to reprove himself this season. Hopes to duplicate 2018. Needed adjustments mid-season were needed. “I think I surprised myself.”

Jupiter is an ideal location. Open to contract discussion. No deadline.

Cubs comments about St. Louis gets under the skin. Cardinals fans will let them know (when the team comes to Busch).

Always wants to throw inside, but pet peeve is to put a batter on base who did not earn it.

Yairo Munoz (4:41)

Yairo Munoz and Carlos Viloria (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The Dominican Republic native was translated by Cardinals employee Carlos Viloria.

Working on not chasing outside pitchers as a hitter. His defensive focus has been second base, but also working at third, short and outfield. Wants to be a guy the manager can trust. Jose Martinez has been helpful.

Michael Wacha (6:40)

Michael Wacha (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Started throwing program. Bullpens in the next week and a half. Was feeling great until oblique last season. Could not bounce back. Getting mobility right. Fully cleared to go in spring.

No thought about contract situation.

Said before the trade that Goldschmidt was toughest hitter he always faced. Huge addition to team. Wainwright is the leader of the team. Always the guy he was watching.

Adam Wainwright (8:04)

Adam Wainwright (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

First off-season since 2014 that he is not coming back from something. Knows team is in good hand coming forward. Young group used to winning titles together reminds him of 2010-11-12 group that included Jay and Descalso. Young guys carried them in 2H 2018.

Got ahead of himself last two years. Maybe did not believe in himself deep inside.

This might be the most talented rotation he has been a part of. Mikolas a top 10 pitcher in baseball. Flaherty a special talent. Wild card is Gant, one of the best athletes he has ever seen.

Until mid-September, his decision was to retire. Even though he had not built up arm strength, his arm started to feel good. Was more animated and into it more in September Sunday night game against the Dodgers. Realized he could do more, if he returns to higher level of tenacity.

Special thank you

Shout out to friend and compatriot Brian Stull of St. Louis Baseball Weekly for sharing audio when I was away from the media room. You call them by the more pleasurable stereo listening.

Earlier related article

Cardinals Winter Warm-Up – In Their Words: Saturday, 1/19/19

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