The first statement in the St. Louis Cardinals’ designated hitter at-bat competition was made Thursday morning, followed shortly thereafter by a roster change that added a new snag to the competition.
Mere hours after manager Oliver Marmol revealed that Lars Nootbaar would be in the DH lineup for Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Houston Astros, the Cardinals signed free-agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, a source confirmed. .
The Cardinals have yet to announce Dickerson’s signing. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the signing was for a guaranteed $5 million with additional performance incentives.
Dickerson and Nootbaar are both left-handed hitters, and their presence on the roster could make it difficult to find at-bats for utility man Brendan Donovan, who also hits from the left side. Donovan, added to the 40-man roster this winter, brought four gloves with him to spring training: one for first base, one for center infield, one for third base and one for corner outfield.
“It gives you a chance to hit guys, give guys a day off,” Donovan said of his versatility. “It’s different with the double DH switch, but if you’re in a game and someone has to come in, you can slide into the outfield or you can go to any of the infield positions. So it’s a role I’m very proud of.”
Donovan’s master key to unlocking the secrets of his first major league camp has so far been Nootbaar: “He’s probably sick of my questions,” joked Donovan, who a year ago was in the midst of his own first major league camp. Nootbaar’s rise through the system in 2021 was swift, making perhaps the biggest jumps of all after the canceled 2020 minor league season.
“Completely different,” was how Nootbaar described his winter after his big league breakout.
More time in the majors meant more financial success, which allowed him to invest in himself. That included a month-long trip to the Driveline Baseball facility near Seattle, where his former hitting coach, John Soteropulos, works with his students with the help of the latest technology available.
“The bottom line (is), you know, hitting the ball harder, swinging the bat faster, being more precise in my movements, making sure my body is moving correctly,” Nootbaar explained.
His dramatic go-ahead catch against the Mets in New York last September was a highlight of his solid defense, making him a stronger defender than the average designated hitter.
“It’s fine with me,” Nootbaar said of his possible new role. “To help this team win in any way possible, that’s what I’m here for.”
Nootbaar even suggested that he could increase his volume to increase his power. “Maybe gain a couple of pounds and then grab it and rip it up a little bit.”
How much weight did you add this winter?
“About two pounds,” he said, drawing laughter from center fielder Harrison Bader in the next locker.
Dickerson has extensive experience as a designated hitter, starting 140 games there and batting .255 with a .502 slugging percentage, 38 doubles and 32 home runs. His main defensive spot has been left field and he’s not considered as strong a defender as Nootbaar, who is above average at either corner.
Despite the plethora of left-handed options, however, the Cardinals only have one true candidate as their right-side designated hitter: Juan Yepez, who worked his way up to being named the organization’s minor league co-player of the year. in 2021 and was on the active roster (although he did not appear) for the wild-card game loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yepez recalled arriving in Los Angeles knowing very few people; He hadn’t been invited to spring training with the major league club in any previous year, so walking into the clubhouse and then onto the field was the first time he’d interacted with many of the teammates. he.
He quickly latched onto Paul Goldschmidt, who walked him through his own routine at first base even as he prepared to play in the postseason. That connection has continued this spring, as the two have consistently paired up in early field exercises.
“Since I got here, I was like, ‘hey man, I’m a sponge,’” Yepez said of her relationship with Goldschmidt. “Whatever you see that you think is wrong, tell me. And whatever you think I should do, talk to me.
Earlier in spring training, Goldschmidt explained to Yepez his preferred footwork around the first base bag, demonstrating a receiving method that allows the ball to beat the runner but keeps the first baseman out of harm’s way and prepared to make a continuous shot.
Those are all valuable lessons, but for Yepez, the path to the majors is through power. Like Donovan, he is capable of playing both infield corners and outfield corners, and has said he intends to catch some fly balls in center.
However, if he hits, the bat will play and the position will decide itself.
“I just want to show them that I can be whatever they want me to be,” Yepez said.
Most of the time, he will likely be designated to bat.