At least two major league-ready prospects were blocked when the St. Louis Cardinals traded for right fielder Jason Heyward in the offseason.
Randal Grichuk, a potential 25- to 30-homer threat, for a time was the Cardinals’ No. 1 option in right after the death of Oscar Taveras. He faded into the role of fourth or fifth outfielder after the Heyward acquisition, or perhaps even the starting right fielder at Class AAA Memphis.
“If it was my spot to win, (Taveras’) spot to win or not even a spot, I think I’m still going to go about my business the same way in the offseason to prepare for spring training and the season,” said Grichuk, 23. “(The offseason) was different, a little roller-coaster. Coming in fighting for a spot, then saying it’s your spot, then getting Heyward. I’m still fighting for right field. The odds might not be in my favor, but I’ve still got to look at it that way and just play hard every day.”
Grichuk, the former Los Angeles Angels farmhand, batted .259 with 25 home runs and 71 RBIs in 108 games at Memphis. He enjoyed two stints with the Cardinals, batting .245 with three homers and eight RBIs in 47 games. A skilled defender in right or center, possessing a strong and accurate arm, Grichuk seems only to need at-bats to develop into an impact player.
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But he points out he isn’t yet a finished product. Strikeouts have plagued Grichuk. He had 31 in 110 at-bats with the Cardinals and 108 in 436 at-bats with Memphis.
“When I came up the first couple of times, I feel like I was trying to make contact with the ball and wasn’t being my normal self, just smooth in the box,” Grichuk said. “It resulted in a lot of Ks, a lot of chasing, a lot of guessing and just being too anxious to put the ball in play, not recognizing good pitches to swing at. You want to put the ball in play more and make them make mistakes or make them make the play.
“Coming into this year, I really want to manage the strike zone better and have better quality at-bats all-around, better ABs against right-handed pitching. Hopefully, I can show that. We’ll see in the future whether I get more regular playing time as it goes on and just see what happens.”
Grichuk smoked four home runs in his first 32 at-bats in the Grapefruit League, batting .281 and establishing himself as one of the Cardinals’ best spring hitters. Despite the impressions he was making on manager Mike Matheny and General Manager John Mozeliak, Grichuk said he wasn’t going to fall into a familiar trap.
“I try not to play GM,” he said. “Coming up through the minor leagues, you try to play GM and they do something that wasn’t even an option in your head. I try not to really think about it too much because they’re thinking about things you have no idea about. So I just come out to the yard and try to get better each day. Just try to get ready for the season, really.”
Most players would rather play sparingly at the big-league level than regularly in the minor leagues. But the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Grichuk isn’t opposed to more time in Memphis.
“You want to be in the big leagues, but you want to do what’s best for your career,” he said. “Whatever the case may be, you wouldn’t want to be up here sitting, getting one or two at-bats a week. You want to do what’s best for your career. Whatever that may be, they’ll decide that.”
Piscotty, 24, is nothing like Grichuk. Piscotty hit for average (.288) and seldom struck out (61 times in 500 at-bats) last season at Memphis. In 1,137 minor-league at-bats, Piscotty has fanned just 132 times.
The 6-3, 210-pounder doesn’t have Grichuk’s power, hitting just nine homers for Memphis. But long-ball potential seems to exist. Defensively, Piscotty could be a tick better than Grichuk.
“I would like to drive the ball a little bit better,” said Piscotty, a first-round pick from Stanford in 2012. “But I feel really good. I just need to get those at-bats in. I think that’s what everyone’s doing in spring training. That’s the whole point of it.”
Piscotty’s natural swing sprays hits to all fields, but he is learning to identify pitches he can lift out of the ballpark.
“I want to do it the right way,” Piscotty said, expressing his desire to not overhaul a swing that always has worked. “(Hitting coaches) John Mabry and Bill Mueller have been really good working with me on that. We’re on the same page. I’m really excited with what we have going on right now.”
Piscotty knows his time is near.
“I get the feeling I’m getting closer and closer,” he said. “It’s exciting and everything. The thing that’s kind of fueled the most motivation is just watching the playoffs last year, imagining that chance and opportunity could be there. This organization is right there every year in the playoffs. That’s something you want to be a part of. That fuels my fire to get better and get there.”
Infielder Jacob Wilson was a 10th-round pick out of Memphis in 2012 who batted .302 with five homers and 41 RBIs in 66 games at Class AA Springfield and Memphis last season. Wilson, 24, played several positions in spring training and almost certainly will spend time in the big leagues at some point this year.
“It’s been a focus to make sure I get in work at as many positions as I can,” the 5-11, 180-pound Wilson said. “I’ve played all four infield positions, I’ve done some stuff behind the plate and played the outfield. The more comfortable I feel at those positions, the better off it can help me out in the long run. So far, that’s been my main focus – and getting quality at-bats.”
Trying to be proficient at so many defensive positions has forced Wilson to arrive at camp extra-early each day to give necessary time to his hitting.
“I spend 30, 45 minutes, an hour in the cage, getting my work in the cage early in the day so when I get into BP, there’s no more thinking about it,” Wilson said. “I take a good round of BP and then work on my defensive stuff. Getting my work in early in the cage every day has helped a lot because you get more one-on-one time with guys, where you an actually talk about your swing. In BP, everyone stands around and you just hit.”
Wilson, who batted .323 in is first 16 spring-training game, said camp has been a blast.
“It’s really easy to have fun with this team,” he said. “The older guys are willing to talk to the younger guys. You don’t feel like you’re separated in the locker room. It takes a little bit of the load off your back when the older guys are willing to stop what they’re doing and come and work with you and talk with you and give you their knowledge.”
Left-handed pitchers Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney are vital parts of the Cardinals’ future.
Gonzales, 23, advanced from high-Class A Palm Beach to Springfield to Memphis and on to St. Louis last season, just one year after being taken in the first round of the draft. The Gonzaga product was 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA with the Cardinals, and his three Grapefruit League victories led the team.
Gonzales also is a fine hitter.
“I look at myself as a left-handed pitcher,” Gonzales said. “I don’t know where I stand. That’s not my call. Right now, I’m just trying to go pitch by pitch. Right now, my status is a pitcher. I’m just trying to be an athlete and get some hits along the way.”
The 24-year-old Cooney, meanwhile, was 14-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 26 games at Memphis. Like Gonzales, he has developed a changeup that could be an effective weapon against right-handed hitters and lefties alike.