image: Springfield Cardinals
The 2020 Cardinals Caravan made its annual stop at Hammons Field in Springfield, MO on Friday, January 17, featuring many household names to St. Louis Cardinals fans.
Broadcaster Rick Horton served as the team’s emcee and was joined by former Cardinals players Tom Pagnozzi and Al Hrabosky. Hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Hicks headlined the contingent of current players while outfielder Lane Thomas and right-hander Junior Fernandez also participated.
Giovanny Gallegos was listed among those to appear in Springfield, but he was not in attendance.
Before signing autographs for fans, Hicks, Thomas and Fernandez spoke to members of the media in Springfield and shed some light on their offseason plans and expectations going into 2020 spring training.
Progression of Hicks
The Cardinals closer is nearly seven months removed from Tommy John surgery after undergoing a full UCL reconstruction on June 26.
Hicks said he’s progressing “very well” post-surgery in his rehab process, which typically takes 12-14 months. The organization’s expectation is for him to be back around the All-Star break, barring any setbacks.
For now, Hicks is building up his arm strength. He was cleared to start his throwing program on Jan. 6 and has progressed to throwing 60 feet.
He said everything is on schedule for a normal recovery.
“It’s about getting healthy and taking it day-by-day,” Hicks said. “I’m not pressing to get back, but whenever my body is ready and whenever the team is ready, we will come together and make a decision.”
Hicks said he’s focused on progressing to throwing bullpens during spring training with the hope to start throwing live batting practice after the spring.
“I’ve gained like 10 pounds,” Hicks said. “From the mental side, I know I’m young and eventually I will be back. I try not to think about the negative things. I’m keeping it all positive.”
From a team perspective, Hicks called the Cardinals bullpen “arguably the best” in the big-leagues and believes that once he gets back, it will only enhance the quality of the relief corps.
After watching the team reach the NLCS last October, Hicks wants to feel the energy of the postseason on the mound this year. He likes who the Cardinals have coming back and thinks they could go further.
“We have to put it together this year,” Hicks said.
— Brian Walton (@B_Walton) January 17, 2020
Well, on second thought, maybe not Maddux. He doesn't smile a lot, but I imagine he is happy inside… pic.twitter.com/29zg4ld1qJ
— Brian Walton (@B_Walton) January 17, 2020
Thomas excited to compete for an OF spot
Thomas’ 2019 season was cut short when he was hit by a pitch on his wrist in consecutive games on Aug. 26-27. The outfielder had been productive, even with a lack of playing time and the Cardinals saw enough to value his potential.
President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said Thomas could be an impact player in 2020 during the Cardinals end-of-season press conference in October.
“He’s part of that (outfield) group that we’re trying to create opportunity for,” Mozeliak told the media. “In the month of September, we missed him. He was someone who was coming into his own.”
Thomas said Friday that the broken bone in his wrist is fully healed. He has completed his rehab and enters spring training with a chance to win a starting outfield job in the Cardinals’ outfield.
“I think it’s going to be fun this spring,” Thomas said. “Most of the guys I’m pretty close with. Everybody kind of makes each other better. It’s a good group of guys. It should be a fun.”
Come February, Thomas predicts he will be ready to show he is ready to fill at least one of the outfield roster openings.
“My injuries have been broken bones and stuff – it’s not something I could have prevented,” Thomas said. “At the same, health is a big thing. If you are not healthy, there is not much you can do about it. I should be good and ready to roll for the season.”
Fernandez looks to build on 2019 success
Fernandez has certainly gone through his trials and tribulations over his professional career with the Cardinals.
The right-handed pitcher had health issues. Inconsistencies. Troubles throwing strikes. A role change.
In 2019, it all clicked.
Fernandez was a breakout prospect, starting at High-A Palm Beach and was promoted to Springfield on May 1. The Dominican spent only a month and a half with the Double-A club before another promotion – to Triple-A Memphis – from where he pitched his way to St. Louis.
Fernandez said he’s worked hard on “staying on top of his shoulder” this offseason, which he’s had issues with in the past. His biggest focus is making the big-league club out of spring training.
With Hicks out, Fernandez could also get opportunities to pitch late in games coming out of the bullpen. He’s open to contributing in any role the Cardinals need.
“I’m going to spring training to fight for my team,” Fernandez said. “Anything they want me to do or any situation they want me to pitch – I will do it. That’s my job. I’m going out there to throw zeros up on the board and help my team win.”
This Caravan crew, one of six traveling the area this weekend, is heading on to Joplin and Rolla on Saturday. Then the players will join the festivities associated with Cardinals Winter Warm-Up in St. Louis. The Cardinal Nation will be there with our annual coverage, so check back Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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