Cardinals nominees? Here are 4 players to watch in 2023


the basics He’ll head into the season confident in a starting nine that features many of the same names as the 2022 Opening Day lineup. While Chief of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak was hoping to make more changes in the off-season, the organization is excited about the core of his title. Paul GoldschmidtAnd Nolan Arenado and arrival Wilson Contreras.


There is no denying that the Cardinals rely on their inner talents to live up to expectations. Lars marked personalities to be an influential player in every day, Tommy addiction Once again it will be highly relied upon Brendan Donovan It is likely to be a wandering puzzle piece.

But there are a few players who need rebounding seasons if the Cardinals are going to achieve their goal of a World Series this season. Mozeliak touched on some of those players over the weekend during the Cardinals’ annual wintertime charity fundraiser in St. Louis.

Who are the Cardinals counting on to prove themselves in the spring? Which players are facing the most intense scrutiny? Let’s take a look at four rebound candidates and what they focused on during the off-season.

Perhaps no player on the Cardinals’ roster has higher expectations – both internal and external – than O’Neill. After a season undermined by injury and poor performance, O’Neal spent most of the casual workouts in St. Louis under the watchful eyes of the Cardinals’ coaching staff.

For O’Neal, who only played 96 games last season, adjusting his training was his top priority in the winter. It was important to O’Neal not to lose focus on the heavy lifting and strength training he favored, but he also wanted to find ways to make the workouts more dynamic. During the off period, he focused on plyometrics and a detailed warm-up routine, with an eye toward better understanding his body composition.

“It’s good to have you watching me throughout the season, just to get some suggestions as to what specifically I might involve in warm-up activities,” O’Neal said. “If I was going to do some heavy legs, I’d do more hip movement, opening up the hips. I’d do shoulder maintenance almost every day. I wouldn’t do much during the season, but I can wear it down a bit now and put myself in a good place physically. We’ve put in a lot of Plyometrics this year, so I feel like my legs are ready. The running program started a lot earlier, the throwing program, the hitting program, same thing. I’ve never been this quick in the offseason so far, and I feel really good where I am.”

While he was being treated for his health, O’Neal pitched his starting hitting program routinely with former Cardinals player Jim Edmonds in suburban St. Louis. O’Neal will represent Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic this spring, which has led him to start his routine much earlier than usual. Because of this, he feels he has been able to start taking a relaxed and consistent approach – a key factor for his success during the second half of 2021.

“Last year I felt like I was getting my feet under me and then something happened, and it happened again. Of course I work on the physical side first and foremost to be able to stay on the field and get my legs ready for 162 games. Inside baseball, being in a balanced position, staying in good shape with the bottom half. I don’t like being too mechanical and too technical for that matter. I’m more of a feel player.”

Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol both reiterated their confidence in O’Neal, but made it clear that his improved performance would be crucial. Contreras’ addition has bolstered the lineup’s protection around Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado at the heart of the order, but O’Neill’s power bat will be just as important. That’s a duty the 27-year-old doesn’t take lightly.

“I want to be on the field with these guys, I want to help them win ball games,” O’Neal said. “I’ve been as proactive as I can be in my coaching this offseason. … We’ve taken it to a whole new level. I have more dynamic workouts, and my warm-ups are more intense. I started hitting and throwing programs earlier this year in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. You know, I really believe in what I’m doing.”

Paul DeJongeNew swing, new mentality

Paul DeJong had a . 530 OPS in 77 games last season. (Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)

This season marks one last chance for DeJong, who is entering the final season of his contract (although he has club options remaining for 2024 and 2025). DeJong’s offensive troubles over the past two seasons have been well documented. The former All-Star hasn’t hit over . 200 since the 2020 season and couldn’t regain any offensive stability last season, even after being demoted to Triple A.

However, the front office is willing to give DeJong another chance. Tommy Edman will be the starting shortstop when the Cardinals open camp in mid-February, but Edman will play in the World Baseball Classic for Team Korea, giving DeJong an open window for as much playing time as possible. The club is optimistic that consistency in the spring will help DeJong, who is also expected to play various positions in the spring. However, the focus remains on offensive production, and DeJong feels he’s finally making important changes.

DeJong spent the offseason in Florida, working extensively with hitting coach Daniel Nikolaysen, who was added to the major league staff as third hitting coach (joining Turner Ward and Brandon Allen) in early January. The two outlined several changes, both physical and mental, that have led to DeJong feeling more optimistic than ever.

“I kicked my leg, kind of going without a step,” said DeJong. “I’ve been trying to keep my head as steady as possible. Watching how (Paul) Goldschmidt hits, there’s a lot of good things about his swing and I’m trying to emulate a little bit of that. Having a stable body position is something I was really struggling with before making these changes, but I’m quite confident from my place

“In general, I think the most important thing is to eliminate (the leg kick). My weight was flying forward, my head was flying forward and changing my heights, and it was really difficult to hit the ball constantly like that. Not stepping and sitting there, using the power of the ball and the spin of my swing For productions, I think I’ll have a lot of bat-by-ball skills with that.”

DeJong also credited Nicolaisen for the consistent work he’s put in since November. Aside from eliminating the leg kick, Nicolaisen identified how the pitchers were exposing DeJong and helped orchestrate the pace of the lead.

“Dan was really collaborative with me,” said DeJong. “He dived into what was going on in the area, where I had the tendency and my weaknesses. If I can work on those weaknesses and be strong on the pitches I had last year, I think that’s very important. He also spoke to me resentfully, because I can I rush a little sometimes.”

He added, “It’s more about what I was doing wrong and having the courage to change, whereas I thought I was changing (before) but I really wasn’t and it never felt right. It’s about finding that comfort in me and that confidence, not just Talk about it but actually do it.”

Hudson’s senior year after Tommy John surgery came with its own setbacks, but Hudson isn’t one to use recovery as an excuse. Instead, he approached the offseason with a new mentality, which he attributes to new coach Dusty Blake.

“It started with a long toss that I did with Dusty,” Hudson said. “I learned a lot about electronic baseball manipulation, turnover rates as far as TrackMan goes, and trying to build consistency into what I needed for my pitchers in order to rebuild.

“I’ve always been very old school with my approach to baseball, especially since I’ve been with the Cardinals. A lot of it has been based on feel as much as developing pitches, and I think that’s why last year you saw me go a little slower. I was looking for The sense…that analytical stuff, I think it clarified a lot of things, especially since I had more knowledge and I learned more about it. That’s what this off-season was about, just clarifying a lot of those things that Dusty or (the former shooting coach) was telling me. ) Mike Maddow was working for me last year. Now I can apply it and know what I’m doing.”

Hudson credited Blake with “changing my view of the game”. With Blake’s guidance, he was able to better understand the analytics and data presented to him, which he then applied to his business mechanics. Hudson has identified two tools as the most useful this winter as he looks to earn a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation. One was the electronic slow motion camera – a slow motion camera that shows grip, pitch release, and how different fingers can create different motions on the ball. The other was a power plate, which helped stabilize his foot during his descent while building strength in his hind leg.

“Last year, Dusty told me where to go, he was pointing me in the right direction, but I didn’t have the knowledge to apply it any faster,” Hudson explained. “I think this is where I learn more about the TrackMan, how I launch the ball, what fingers you throw with, consistency in creating the motion, where I don’t have to worry about my body, I just worry about getting the ball up front. And that finger pressure It’s where I make my move. So it just makes things clear, and I think everyone would be happier about it, myself included.

“I’m excited to go there, to say the least.”

When Mozeliak signed VerHagen to a two-year contract ahead of the 2022 season, the hope was that he would be able to add depth both as a starter and as a long-running assistant. But a defective hip – which eventually required season-ending surgery – left VerHagen struggling in terms of health and performance.

VerHagen said his hip has fully healed and that he was not hindered. But he made a change to his arsenal on the field. The 32-year-old has always been a heavy hitter. This winter, switch to a four-seam fastball instead.

“I’ve been working on getting more of the real Four Tailors,” VerHagen said. “I’ve always been mostly a two-seam drowning man. And I feel like with my thighs, that layer flattened. When I was expecting more of a pelt for her, it was more flat, and she took a beating. So I worked on more four seams than I could play with from the broken balls because I had two balls.” Two good for breaking and if I could set them up better with four seams, I think it would be really, really useful for me.”

This was an issue Blake and the Cardinals staff identified midway through the 2022 season. The goal was to start working on a four-seam fastball at the time, but VerHagen’s end-of-season stint on the injured list prevented that.

“I’d fiddle with it in the malls and they’d see the numbers,” VerHagen explained. “They were seeing where the separator was vertical versus the horizontal separator, and (the Cardinals) came to me and said ‘we think you need to make that (the Four Tailors) a major part of your repertoire.'” “You’re working on it and that just helps the slider and the curve ball.”

VerHagen still believes in his ability to get started but admitted his top priorities will be staying healthy and listening to his body. With multiple pitchers set to miss time in spring training while playing in the World Baseball Classic, he should have plenty of opportunities to show off his restored health and continue to create a new fastball.

“It was hard because I felt like I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to get over the injury and get out there, because these guys invested money in me and it’s a new team,” VerHagen acknowledged. “I wanted to show everything I had in mind. I think a lot of that was self-inflicted…but now (the hip) is fixed and I’m excited to be back in full.”

(Top photo of Dakota Hudson: Jeff Carey/USA Today)

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