No. 1 pick Stephen Piscotty making most of opportunity

News-DemocratMarch 13, 2014 

— Outfielder Stephen Piscotty has taken most of the at-bats surrendered by Oscar Taveras, and he's capitalizing.

Piscotty, the St. Louis' Cardinals' first-round pick in 2012 from Stanford, is batting .333 (7-for-21) in 12 Grapefruit League games. His six RBIs are one behind team leader Matt Holliday.

"He's done a very good job (with) the way he goes about it," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's squaring the ball up and doing a nice job in the outfield, too.

"We were excited to kind of watch him, as we heard what he did in the (Arizona) fall league and he had a nice season last year. But we were anxious to see him at this level and see him with this group. He's making the most of it."

Piscotty figures to get more chances, given that Taveras was optioned to Class AAA Memphis on Thursday along with catcher Audry Perez and pitcher Eric Fornataro.

Piscotty, 23, might not break camp with the major-league club, but clearly he has caught the eye of Matheny and the coaches. Last season, the right-handed hitter batted .295 with 23 doubles, 15 homers and 59 RBIs in 112 games at high-Class A Palm Beach and Class AA Springfield. He had just 46 strikeouts in 427 at-bats.

"He's got a nice, patient approach at the plate. He's not afraid to take a walk," Matheny said. "He's not (swinging) out of the zone much, and when he gets the barrel to it, it's not a violent swing. It's a very controlled swing, but the ball jumps. Those are things that are all hard to teach."

Piscotty made a sliding catch in right field Thursday as the Cardinals buried the Atlanta Braves 11-0. He was 0-for-3 at the plate, but a strong wind blowing in from left field robbed him of what would have been his second homer of the spring.

"I'm feeling comfortable at the plate," Piscotty said. "I've been working hard with (assistant hitting coach) David Bell. He's been getting me really locked in. He's kind of my mirror. He shows me what I've been doing. At the start, I was antsy and a little too aggressive. He's got me to calm down and let the ball get to me. I've been able to put some better swings on the ball."

Matheny also points out that Piscotty is producing at the plate despite having minimal experience in the outfield. At Stanford, Piscotty was a third baseman.

"He's really only played one full season in the outfield," Matheny said. "As comfortable as he looks out there, his aggressiveness, his instincts, all those are pluses and positives to what he's done so far this spring."

Piscotty has no desire to return to third base.

"I love it in right field," he said. "It fits me better; it fits my tools. I'm having a great time out there. There's a lot of great Cardinal outfielders to learn from. Willie McGee has been pretty influential."

Piscotty, who received a $1.43 million signing bonus two years ago, also played left field, first base, pitcher and designated hitter at Stanford. The Cardinals' main intentions are to use him primarily in right and perhaps some in left.

"At this point, because he's had so few repetitions out there ... he needs as much time in the outfield as he can get," Matheny said. "That's a position where he seems to have really found his stide offensively and defensively. To slow that up, to muddy the water right now by throwing something else on his plate, I don't think is real beneficial."

Taveras improved

Prized outfield prospect Taveras was running more freely Thursday but still is not ready for a return to the lineup.

Taveras injured his right hamstring Saturday in a Grapefruit League game against the Washington Nationals and has missed five consecutive games. He is not expected to make the Opening Day roster.

Taveras is 1-for-6 with a double in two spring games.

Martinez effective

Carlos Martinez allowed two hits in four shutout innings, walked one and struck out three in a 6-4 victory against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie on Wednesday.

Matheny, however, said the competition for the No. 5 starter's spot will continue to be waged.

"I thought he did a real nice job," Matheny said of Martinez, who has a 1.80 ERA in 10 spring innings. "We'll continue to let them pitch --all of them. Stuff sometimes works itself out. We'll keep watching closely. It's not time for those statements or decisions."

Joe Kelly, Martinez's main competition, has a 15.75 ERA and has allowed nine hits in four innings.

Garcia returns

Left-hander Jaime Garcia is back at spring training after being shut down by shoulder discomfort. Garcia returned Tuesday after being examined by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

"It was a good trip," Garcia said. "I'm ready to start throwing here really soon --maybe tomorrow or the next day. Just catch. We'll go from there. ... I feel fine now. It's not starting from zero and playing really easy catch for three or four weeks."

Garcia's hope is that he will throw from the mound before spring training breaks March 27.

"Obviously, I'm going to miss some time. I'm not going to break with the team," Garcia said. "I (want) to be ready to go for a whole season and stay healthy."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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