This time of year always provides several signs that baseball is around the corner. The weather begins to warm up, players report to Spring Training and the countdown to opening day at AutoZone Park dwindles down to a reasonable number. In addition to that, Baseball America releases its top 100 prospects list with the season just weeks away. That list was revealed last night on MLB Network with four names from the St. Louis Cardinals organization on it. While Kolten Wong and Carlos Martinez are expected to make the big league club out of Spring Training, Memphis has a good chance of hosting Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras for at least part of the season. Here is a more in-depth look at the four talents.
Oscar Taveras: Taveras earned the #3 ranking from Baseball America, the highest of any Cardinals’ prospect this year. The outfielder has been on the radar of the organization after his stellar 2010 season, leading the Rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals to an Appalachian League Championship behind his .322 average. Since then, the 21-year old has hit above .300 in every season and slowly began to hone his power numbers, including a .572 slugging percentage and 23 home runs in 2011 with Double-A Springfield. St. Louis’ top prospect was expected to see action in the big leagues in 2013 before going down with an ankle injury that cut his season short after 46 games in Triple-A. Taveras saw most of his playing time in center field with the Redbirds, although he is projected as more of a corner outfielder once he reaches the major league level. Early reports from Spring Training are positive towards the way Taveras feels on his ankle, as the young player eyes his debut in the majors during the 2014 season.
Carlos Martinez: Martinez earned the #31 spot on the top 100 list. The hard-throwing right-hander has been a top three prospect in the St. Louis organization since 2010 and named to Baseball America’s top 100 list since 2011. The Dominican Republic-native was rated as having the “Best Curveball” in the St. Louis organization by Baseball America the past two seasons as well. Martinez has been a Cardinal since 2010, pitching through three different levels in 2013, including the major leagues. A starter his entire career in the minors, Martinez went back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis, pitching as a starter in Triple-A and reliever in the majors. He put up solid numbers in several stints with both Memphis (5-3, 2.51 ERA) and St. Louis (2-1, 5.08 ERA). The 22-year old is looking for redemption and expecting to spend his first full season in the big leagues during 2014, claiming a spot in the bullpen.
Kolten Wong: For the third time in three years, Wong’s name appeared on the coveted list, this time as the #58 prospect. The second baseman has done nothing but produce after being drafted 22nd overall in 2011 by St. Louis out of the University of Hawaii. During his three seasons at the minor league level, Wong has compiled a .301 average and recorded 50 steals. Last year at Triple-A Memphis he hit .303 with 21 doubles and 45 RBIs in 107 games and earned a late-season promotion to St. Louis on August 16. The 23-year old struggled to find a rhythm following the promotion though, going 9-for-59 (.153) with 12 strikeouts at the plate. The starting job at second base for St. Louis appears to be Wong’s to lose for the 2014 season. Many project him to man second base for many years in a Cardinals’ uniform.
Stephen Piscotty: Piscotty was probably higher on the list than most people thought he would be, taking the #70 spot. Entering his third professional season after being drafted 36th overall in 2012 by St. Louis, Piscotty has aggressively climbed the ranks with hopes of beginning the 2014 season with Triple-A. The 23-year old was converted from a third baseman to an outfielder after the 2012 season. After being ranked by Baseball America as having the “Best Outfield Arm” coming into 2013, he proceeded to make eight outfield assists and record three double plays. The crazy thing about it all is that his defense is not what he is noted for. After hitting .295 between Advanced-A and Double-A last season, Piscotty took an invitation to the Arizona Fall League and made full advantage of it. With a team-high .936 OPS, the outfielder hit .371 with 18 RBIs in 23 games. If the California-native can put together a good spring, a roster spot could be his to begin the year in Memphis.
Presidents Day is celebrated every year on the third Monday of February in honor of the nation’s first president, George Washington. Washington took office in April 1789, and since then, 43 other men have claimed the title of the president of the United States.
In the spirit of the day we compiled a list of past Redbird players who share last names with past presidents.
Matt Adams hit .329 with 18 HR and 50 RBIs in 67 games with the Redbirds in 2012
Ryan Jackson batted .278 with 23 extra-base hits in 2013
Gabe Johnson had two separate stints with Memphis, one in ’06 and one in ’08.
Mark Johnson played with Memphis in 2008, one of four Pacific Coast League teams the catcher has been on.
Rob Johnson hit .236 with the Redbirds in 2013.
Tyler Johnson played with Memphis from ’05 to ’07, most notably notching seven saves in 59.0 innings during the 2005 season.
Adam Kennedy hit 10 home runs and added 63 RBIs in the 1999 season at Memphis.
Rico Washington was a Redbird from ’06 to ’08, recording a .536 slugging percentage in 2007 during 54 games.
NOT PICTURED: Brian Johnson played 15 games in Memphis during the 2000 season, posting a .250 average.
“From a running standpoint, we just want to be smart and patient,” St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said about OF prospect Oscar Taveras. “We don’t open tomorrow, so there’s no reason to push him as if we were. We have six weeks, and he needs to take advantage of those six weeks. But where he is physically is very encouraging.”
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Pitchers and catchers have officially reported for the reigning National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, FL., as spring training is underway. The Birds have 19 non-roster invitees participating with the club, the same number of invites that were extended last spring.
To get the reaction of anxiousness and excitement from the players, we took to the world of social media, specifically Twitter. In this first edition of Twitter Talk, here are some pictures and thoughts from a few of the players preparing for and arriving in Florida.
Matt Carpenter told the Twitter world all he needed was a bat and a swimsuit for Spring Training.
— Matt Carpenter (@MattCarp13) February 9, 2014
Jordan Swagerty and his girlfriend stopped by the Duck Dynasty headquarters looking for a catcher
— Jordan Swagerty (@JordanSwagerty) February 9, 2014
Jon Jay told Shane Robinson to not bring any Florida State gear to camp with him.
@SUGASHANE43 haha! I’ll see you soon and I don’t want to see any of this FSU national champs gear
— Jon Jay (@jonjayU) February 9, 2014
Carson Kelly is one of five infielders that got an invite to Spring Training.
Jupiter bound! #ST14
— Carson Kelly (@carskelly) February 9, 2014
Randal Grichuk’s journey from Texas to Florida felt a little strange.
Feels so weird driving to Florida for ST, after driving to Arizona for the past 4 years #Cardinals
— Randal Grichuk (@RGrich15) February 10, 2014
Greg Byron was all prepped for his “roady” to Spring Training
Last full week in Iowa City. Car is now officially ready for the long roady to Jupiter, all that’s left is to pack up! — Greg Byron (@byrongreg) February 10, 2014
Marco Gonzalez got first hand experience of drivers in the South
Couldn’t be more excited for this week ahead. Sharing my Birthday with my Dad on Wednesday and leaving for Spring training on Saturday!
— Mike O’Neill (@MikeONeillUSC) February 10, 2014
We hope you enjoyed a sneak peak from a few players into the voyage of Spring Training. Keep an eye out for another Twitter Talk soon.
The 2013 Arizona Fall League may be a distant memory to many, but impressions were certainly made. The league, which was completed last year on November 16, takes the top prospects of each organization and combines them on teams competing in a 32 game schedule. The top prospects from the Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies all joined with those from St. Louis to make the Salt River Rafters. Fans were able to see the best and brightest young players fine tuning their skills. Last year we highlighted the list of players in the Cardinals’ organization here. This is a look at how they did and where they might end up when the baseball season begins in April.
Anthony Ferrara LHP - The left-hander had one of the highest ERA’s on the Salt River Rafters, but that all stemmed from two bad outings. His 4.91 ERA (4er/7.1ip) would have progressively gone down if given the opportunity to log more innings, but with only eight appearances, Ferrara’s trouble in two games came at a high price. The Riverview, Florida native held the opponent hitless in six of his eight outings on his way to a 1-0 record.
Ferrara still has some room for improvement coming into the 2014 season. Watch for him to land back at Double-A.
Sam Gaviglio RHP - The former Oregon State Beaver hurled the second most innings on the team en route to a 3.58 ERA (11er/27.2ip). Gaviglio had a tough time adjusting to the talent in his first three starts, holding a 7.38 ERA (10er/12.2ip), but finished strong in his last three outings of five innings a piece, allowing a combined one run (0.60 ERA). The right-hander ended with a 3-0 record and 21 strikeouts.
Gaviglio was solid last year at Advanced-A Palm Beach and clearly had a good fall. Anticipate the right-hander to start the season at Double-A.
Dean Kiekhefer LHP - Coming out of the bullpen, Kiekhefer appeared in nine games with a 3.72 ERA (4er/9.2ip) and three walks. Left-handers actually hit him better (.357) than right-handers (.231), although the sample size is small. The former Louisville Cardinal held teams to one hit or fewer in two-thirds of his appearances.
Kiekhefer had a good 2013 campaign and needs to continue keeping lefthanded batters to a lower average. He’s a long shot as a bullpen arm in Memphis with a likely start in Double-A Springfield.
Stephen Piscotty OF - Piscotty, who was named the organization’s top prospect by the AFL, tore up league pitching in his 23 games. Bringing all aspects of his offensive game to the league, the rightfielder’s final stat line looked like this: a .371 average, team-leading .936 OPS, 18 RBIs, three triples, seven stolen bases, and 20 runs scored. He was also named the AFL Player of the Week on 10/22, further proving his dominance.
Piscotty was ranked the #98 top prospect by Baseball America coming into the season because of his offensive prowess. With a strong showing during the AFL, expect a similar spring by the outfielder that will land him in Triple-A.
James Ramsey OF - Ramsey appeared in one game less than Piscotty and hit .246. Favoring left-handers over righties, the outfielder hit .333 with a 1.029 OPS against southpaws. The former Florida State Seminole hit only .129 during 10 day games and .342 in 12 night games. Ramsey was one of only seven position players to not make an error.
Ramsey climbed the ladder through three different levels last year, finishing at Triple-A. Though his numbers at Double-A do not jump off the page, Ramsey has a good shot of manning the outfield at AutoZone Park with the Redbirds if he puts together a good spring.
Lee Stoppelman LHP – Stoppelman was one of the better relievers for the Salt River Rafters, possessing a 2.89 ERA (3er/9.1ip) in nine outings. Holding opponents to an overall .143 average and left-handers to a dismal .071, he surrendered only four hits. The Pleasant Hill, Missouri native struck out 12 and walked nine on his way to seven scoreless outings.
Stoppelman mirrored Ramsey, going through three levels last year and finishing up at Triple-A. Expect to see the southpaw back in Memphis to begin the year, with an outside chance to grab big league experience sometime during the season.
Jacob Wilson INF – Never having reached a level higher than Advanced-A, Wilson could be considered the surprise of the team. The second basemen appeared in only 13 games, but hit .304 with two doubles and a home run. Wilson was at his best when the stakes were high, hitting .412 and knocking in all 13 of his RBIs with runners in scoring position.
Wilson is still young and needs the maximum amount of at-bats possible. Even though the infielder impressed in the AFL, expect a trip back to Advanced-A Palm Beach to start the season.
Seth Maness had one of the shortest stints of all players with the Memphis Redbirds last season. The right-hander appeared in four games, going 2-2 with a 4.23 ERA in four starts. His minimal time in Triple-A warranted a call up to the big league club, one Maness took full advantage of. The former 2012 MILB.com Organization All Star ranked 21st in the National League with 15 holds, complimenting a 2.32 ERA in 66 games. Maness was a key piece to Mike Matheny’s bullpen.
One of the reasons Matheny relied on Maness was his ability to get hitters out in front and produce groundballs. Maness talked about that, and his excitement to get back into the swing of baseball, in a recent article.
The 2014 Winter Olympics have officially kicked off in Sochi and even though snow and baseball don’t normally mix, the great sport is always on our mind here at AutoZone Park.
Baseball became an official medal sport in 1992 when Barcelonia, Spain hosted the ceremonies. It lasted until 2008 when the Olympic Committee decided to cut baseball and softball after the ’08 Beijing Olympics. They were the first two sports erased in 69 years.
Since 1992, a total of 20 former Memphis alum have coached or played in the games. Here are what happened to just a few of them.
1992: Michael Tucker (USA)
Tucker hit .279 during his 72 games in 1993 with the Double-A Memphis Chicks. He amassed a twelve-year big league career, playing for seven different teams. In 1992, a year in which the average age for the USA Olympic baseball team was just over 20 years old and the youngest player was Nomar Garciaparra, Tucker took on the designated hitter role for the U.S. Olympic side. Tucker helped the U.S. score just under six runs in their nine games. The team finished in the top four and advanced to the next round, but could not climb any higher. Cuba would go on to defeat Chinese Taipei to win the gold.
1996: Troy Glaus (USA)
Glaus donned the USA jersey in the ’96 Olympic games. In typical Glaus fashion, many photos from the games reveal him with his pants rolled up to show his high, blue socks. He played third base in all 9 games for the Stars and Stripes, accumulating four longballs and five RBIs. The American squad would improve from their past performance, grabbing a bronze medal in their defeat over Nicaragua. During his short time with the Redbirds, the infielder whacked three home runs and hit .216 in 15 games during a rehab assignment.
2004: Stubby Clapp (CAN)
Making his first of two appearances for the Canadian baseball team, Clapp and his teammates fell just short of medaling. Combined between the team’s nine games, he notched eight hits and five RBIs. After losing two of their first three games, Clapp helped the team to victory in their next four which advanced them to the next round. The second baseman’s efforts past that fell short. Cuba went on to take another gold and Japan defeated the Canadians in the bronze medal game. The ‘04 games would be Clapp’s best shot at a medal as the 2008 Canadian team couldn’t make it past the round robin games.
Clapp played some 425 games for Memphis in his four years with the team, scoring 258 times. He is best known for performing backflips when taking the field and having his number 10 jersey retired by the Redbirds. Clapp got a taste of the majors in 2001, going 5-for-25 with two doubles and an RBI. On a side note, the 2004 Olympic Team Media Guide stated that Clapp’s first experience with Olympic baseball came at age 12, appearing as the batboy for the U.S. team during a qualification tournament that took place in Canada.
2008: Rick Eckstein (USA)
Recently retired Davey Johnson managed the 2008 USA squad and selected former Redbirds’ hitting coach Rick Eckstein to fill the same position. Eckstein is the only former Memphis alum to be a coach during the Olympics. Under Eckstein’s coaching, the club scored the third most runs by any squad in the tournament. The team averaged more than eight hits in their nine games en route to a 6-3 record and another bronze medal. During the 2007 season under Eckstein’s coaching, the Redbirds finsihed second to last in team hitting. The two parted ways following the season when Eckstein joined the Washington Nationals staff and Memphis hired current hitting coach Mark Budaska.