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Cardinals' Springfield camp had no games but high energy, GM Girsch says

Cardinals' Springfield camp had no games but high energy, GM Girsch says

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Cardinals Nationals Spring Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matthew Liberatore works out prior to a spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Thursday, March 5, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Cardinals’ alternate training site which has been operated in Springfield, Missouri, for the past couple months, will be shut down this weekend. But a few players who are there now, including prized outfielder Dylan Carlson, are expected to join the Cardinals in St. Louis next week for their potential postseason “bubble,” general manager Michael Girsch said.

The roster limit for postseason games will be 28, the same as it has been for most of the regular season, but reportedly clubs can add as many as 12 players, which would include those on the injured list, such as reliever Giovanny Gallegos and outfielder Austin Dean, and outfielder Dexter Fowler, who is on the COVID injured list as he tries to protect his immune system while he takes medication for a stomach ailment. There are four others from the Springfield camp who already were on the taxi squad and pitcher Junior Fernandez, infielder Max Schrock and outfielder Justin Williams all were activated during the recent Milwaukee series.

With the Cardinals having had to pull up many players to cover injuries or COVID-related absences, the Springfield camp often hasn’t had enough players to divide into two teams but Girsch said the spirits had been high even though the drills, rather than games, were all that were available for the players.

“We had all sorts of live batting practices, with varying degrees of base running and infielders and outfielders,” Girsch said. “Sometimes, there might be only two infielders and a coach standing at first base to play out a play. Sometimes there would be no fielders and sometimes there would be eight guys besides the pitcher.”

But Girsch said the attitude of the players “honestly, was impressive. The way they approached each day with energy and excitement really was one of the most pleasant surprises. I thought it might become rote and boring. Facing the same people day after day and no actual competition. No traveling. No social life.

“But there were guys who had gotten shots at the big leagues and went back there and there were guys who had just gotten drafted and were excited to be doing anything.

“Frankly, everybody was excited to be doing anything. They all had friends who were stuck at home. The level of appreciation that they were part of something was high. And the staff (headed up by Jose Oquendo and Tim Leveque) did a terrific job of keeping them engaged, which is a challenge."

Girsch, who made three visits to the camp, said that, among top prospects, lefthander Matthew Liberatore, acquired from Tampa Bay for outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena,  particularly had been impressive.

“For all these guys, while we have performance data and metrics from how they’ve performed in the various game-like situations we’ve put them through,” said Girsch, “it’s nothing like a true minor-league season. But, that being said, Liberatore has been great.

“He’s had a fantastic summer. He’s worked hard and he’s really impressed everyone with his approach and his stuff.”

Liberatore, the Rays’ first-round pick in 2018, last pitched professionally in Class A ball last season but where and when he projects still is uncertain.

“It’s not like he put up 150 innings at high-A and Double A, or split in between,” Girsch said. “What he’s done is everything we could hope for and he’s not even 21 years old yet. But what that means for when he’s ready is still to be determined.”

Girsch said he was confident, though, that the Cardinals had two lefthanded starters on the horizon, coupling Liberatore with Zack Thompson, who was the Cardinals’ top pick last year and who appeared briefly in summer camp here in July.

“He went to summer camp and he went to zero to 100 pretty quick,” said Girsch, “so we kind of eased him back to get him in good shape before we started stretching him out. He was a little behind Liberatore as far as accumulating innings down there but he did well.

“But it’s exciting to have two lefties who are starting rotation quality prospects who are coming. It’s been a while for us.”

The last lefthanded starter who came through the system and did that for more than a year or so with the Cardinals was Jaime Garcia, who pitched here from 2008-16 although Korean import Kwang Hyun Kim, primarily, and Austin Gomber have made several starts this year.

While Liberatore, 20, and Thompson, 22, were among the youngest players in camp, they were far older than 2020 high school draftees Jordan Walker, a third baseman, and Masyn Winn, a shortstop/pitcher.

Girsch said Walker "was going toe to toe with Nolan Gorman in batting practice, as far as showing off his power. And he showed good skills at third base. He got to work with Oquendo quite a bit down there, which, obviously, was great for him.

“But for guys like Masyn and Jordan, who are facing pitchers like (Jake) Woodford, Fernandez, (Nabil) Crismatt and (Rob) Kaminsky, and Liberatore and Thompson — who are upper level or big-league quality pitchers — they struggled. It’s an adjustment. 

“Jordan made great impressions with the physicality, the strength, the power, the approach. He’s a really mature kid.

"Masyn predominantly played shortstop although we had him throwing off the mound the last two weeks of camp. We figured we’d ramp him up first as a shortstop. The reports are very glowing how the ball comes out of his hand and the kind of stuff he has. He’s a high energy guy, a fun guy to have around and he has all sorts of tools. We haven’t figured out which direction we want to go. I don’t know if you should expect him to be starting on Friday and playing shortstop on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“But his potential on both sides is very intriguing.”

Third baseman Gorman, the top pick in 2018 who has been in big-league camp in Florida the past two springs, “is displaying great power and still is working on his defense, which is more than adequate,” Girsch said. “He’s still working on trying to cut his strikeouts down. That’s his bugaboo.”

The lefthanded hitter has fanned 228 times in 693 pro at-bats.

“He knows it,” Girsch said. “He’s working on shortening his swing to be able to get to his power quickly as possible, because the power is elite.”

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