ST. LOUIS • Few prospects in the minors this past season took as much of a quantum leap in standing as outfielder Stephen Piscotty.
The Cardinals' Class AA outfielder went from a solid bat with high-average potential and a new position to a player the Cardinals brass mentioned in the same sentence as Oscar Taveras, a player scouts believe could make his debut in 2014, and a player who could close the donut hole that exists in the Cardinals' minor-league system.
The fallout from all of the hitters who graduated to the majors in 2013 or will here in 2014 -- hitters like Matt Adams and Kolten Wong -- was a gap in the depth chart after Taveras.
The next standout, impact hitters were several rungs down.
Piscotty, who turned 23 this past week, moved into that vacancy with a strong showing at Class AA and an impressive turn in the Arizona Fall League. He took a run at the invitation-only league's MVP. Piscotty hit .371 with a .430 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage in 23 games in the Arizona Fall League. That came after a strong finish to a season when he hit .295/.355/.464 with 14 homers in summer split between High-A and Class AA.
He'll come to spring training as a non-roster invite -- his first spring training in the major-league camp.
This afternoon he met with the media at the Winter Warmup for a Q & A:
Question: How do you view your situation now?
Stephen Piscotty: I’m just trying to play baseball. I don’t like getting caught up in thinking about that. It’s not in my control. I’m just out there trying to play ball and do the best that I can do. I’m having a great time. I’m not in a huge rush to get anywhere. I’m just trying to be the best I can be and hopefully I can make it up there one of these days. I’m just having fun. All of the affiliates of the Cardinals in Low A, High A, Double A – I’m just having a great time. So I’m enjoying the process.
Q: Are you aware of the questions about how soon Stephen is going to be in the big leagues? It could happen as soon as this year according to some people. How aware are you of the buzz about you?
Piscotty: I’m not on Twitter. I don’t read the paper much. A lot of that stuff just kind of goes over my head. I don’t see it. But I do hear a little bit about it. It’s kind of an honor to hear it a little bit. I don’t get caught up in it. I don’t think that’s something to worry about because I can’t control it.
Q: What is it about the Cardinals from a development standpoint that stands out for you?
Piscotty: Before I was drafted, my agent ran through all of the organizations and how they develop players. The Cardinals are at the very top of the list. After playing a year and half I can tell that’s very true. Each level there are solid coaches. They treat you well. You’re enjoying yourself. I think it starts with the players that they draft. I think they really seek out high character guys. A lot of the teammates that I’ve had are now really, really good friends and just good people. I think that’s where it starts.
Q: Does it seem like a long time ago that you came to hit for that first time in Busch? And what are the top one or two things you’ve learned about your development?
Piscotty: The year and a half has gone pretty fast. (Laughs.) There have been a lot of events, always something new around the corner, like coming to this event and doing the Cardinals Caravan, which was something cool. I guess one or two things that I’ve learned, you know, what’s been ingrained in my head is the Cardinal Way, how to go about your business, and your work ethic. There are a lot of good teammates around you to bounce ideas off. There’s just a lot of learning, great coaching. Mike Shildt was my manager, not only in Double A but in the Fall League. It’s just been good – he’s been a huge inspiration, motivation, everything. He’s a good guy. That’s all around the system.
Q: Did your performance in fall league raise expectations?
Piscotty: I’m not really sure. I went in and my first fall league week was rough. I think I was one-for-11, six strikeouts. I had to wake up a little bit. But I was able to turn it around. I was fortunate to have a good fall league. Hopefully that helps me out down the road, but for me personally I got to learn a lot. I got to face a lot of good arms. When I went into that league it was really just I want to see what I'm going to be up against, see how I compare, and see where I need to get better.
Q: You were a third baseman at Stanford, but had you played rf before?
Piscotty: I played left field (in college). Never played right field. Also at Stanford I played first base and pitched. Just kind of everywhere. Right field was a bit of a transition, different angle than left field coming off the bat. That took some getting used to. Thankfully, the Cardinals told me well before last spring training, get your outfield glove and get ready. So immediately went to taking fungoes out in the park with my dad, getting used to it. I think it was a good transition this year.
Q: With that versatility do you approach a Matt Carpenter to prepare for multiple positions to find a way onto the club?
Piscotty: Absolutely. Try to keep your options open. There are a lot of good guys out there who do a lot of different positions. I was on the caravan with Jermaine Curtis and he was telling me he was playing in the Dominican playing literally every position but catcher. I talked to him a little about it. There are great guys all around to approach for that.
Q: Seeing these guys in the playoffs every year does it make you want to get up here a little quicker?
Piscotty: It was fun in the Fall League – we were still playing when the World Series was going on, but the way our schedule worked out we were able to watch every single game. It just kind of gives you the tingles thinking one day you could be there. It was fun to watch. It was incredible to see the run that those guys put forth and how hard they fought even when their backs were up against the wall. It makes you want to be a part of that.
Q: The logjam of the outfielders there in Class AAA -- can that create good competition?
Piscotty: That’s exactly how I approach it – it’s good competition. That’s why I think the system is so good. I think there are players, good players at every single position. Ultimately a player recognizes that and you’ve got to be the best. You can’t ever take a day off or relax. It’s just good competition. Honestly I’m fortunate that that’s there because I think that’s going to make me a better player in the long run.
Q: Are you a line-drive hitter who gets home runs or a home-run hitter who also gets doubles?
Piscotty: I’m a line-drive hitter. I’ve always been that way. I’m not going to change my approach really. I hit a few more home runs this year not than I was expecting. But I was really pleased with the home runs that I hit. I attribute that just to getting stronger. I stuck with my same approach and honestly the balls I hit out are the ones I miss that I get a little more under it. I try to stay with that gap to gap approach.
Q: What kind of tips did you pick up at the rookie symposium (run by the union and Major League Baseball this past week)?
Piscotty: A lot of handling you guys, answering these questions. There was a lot of great stuff. Media. Handling finances. Family situations that pop up. It was really cool. A lot of great speakers. Tony Clark. Dave Winfield were there. It was really cool to hear their stories.
Q: How much of the Cardinals development success is that you’ve heard this is a team where if you’ve shown you can play they’re going to give you a chance to move up?
Piscotty: That’s a huge part of it. The stereotypical scenario is being in the Yankees organization and it’s tough to move, even if you’re in the farm system because of how they go out and get other players. We were talking about it on the Caravan how the Cardinals are great about giving guys opportunities. Once you get that opportunity they’ve prepared you so well that hopefully you stick and it’s not just an up and back kind of thing. That’s one thing that the coaches have really ingrained in our heads – when you get there we want you to be ready to contribute right off the bat, game 1.
Q: What did they tell you about the media? Did they show the 'Bull Durham' clip?
Piscotty: It was cool. We got to – who are the guys? Tom Verducci. A couple other guys. They gave the perspective of you guys. What you’re trying to get out of us and what your job is so we can be accommodating to that. I think that helps just make it easier.
Q: Rooting for Jim Harbaugh this afternoon?
Piscotty: I am. I’m rooting for Harbaugh. He was a great coach at Stanford, really turned that program around. I’m definitely rooting for him.
You can see some of Piscotty's interview at the YouTube channel I run for events just like the Winter Warmup.