you'll definitely want to read ken rosenthal's piece on the state of the cardinals --- provocative musings about la russa, the owners, and the front office, which rosenthal calls "a house divided." it all rings true; indeed, none of this is really news. but the article does a pretty good job of connecting up and contextualizing some of the tidbits and hints and whispers that have surrounded this organization for the past year and a half. rosenthal overstates the sense of foreboding, in my opinion --- but he accurately captures the choices, and possible changes, this franchise will have to confront in the not-distant fuure.
speaking of the not-distant future (please forgive the cheesy segue), i had a chance to talk to rapid riser jon jay on monday afternoon. at this time last year, jay was playing college ball for the miami hurricanes; by this time next year, there's an outside chance that he could be vying for a roster spot in st louis. the cards took him in the 2d round of last june's draft, one round after selecting jay's college teammate chris perez. jay made the leap directly from college ball to full-season class A and proved up to that difficult challenge, hitting .342 / .416 / .462 in 60 games at quad cities. based on that performance, baseball america rated him the #5 prospect in the organization this spring, and the 2d-best hitting prospect behind colby rasmus. john sickels lists jay as one of the top 50 hitting prospects in the minors, and PECOTA rates him as the 13th-best corner-outfield prospect in the minors (for context, PECOTA rates rasmus as the 13th-best centerfield prospect).
the cards challenged jay again this spring, advancing him straight to double A; he got off to a slow start but has started to warm up with the weather. before an injury on may 3 he had hit in 9 consecutive games, lifting his average to .234. he hasn't played since, but is expected back in the next few days.
you might recall that erik manning posted an illustrated breakdown of jay's swing here a few months ago; worth another look. my subjective impression of the kid after talking to him for 15 minutes: hard worker, not flashy, all business. if he gets to the big leagues, he'll fit right in in st louis. my thanks to mike lindskog of the springfield cardinals for facilitating this interview:
how'd you hurt yourself?
i jammed my shoulder sliding into third base.
and what kind of timetable are you on for getting back out there?
it's just day by day. i'm just trying to get stronger.
leading up to that injury, it looked like you had a pretty good little streak going after kind of a slow start --- 9-game hitting streak. had you made any adjustments?
yeah, i just got off to a slow start, but you gotta keep working every day. i was just working on little things and stuff was starting to come around for me. hopefully when i come back i can continue on where i left off.
when you say "working on little things," are you talking about the mechanics of your swing? do you mean working on the mental approach? certain types of pitches or pitchers that you are trying to improve your game against?
no, my timing was just a little off in the beginning. i'm just trying to get into a good routine here and just try to roll it along.
you've made a couple of big jumps --- from college to A ball, and then skipping high A and going straight up to double A. can you tell the difference being at a higher level?
it's just that there's less mistakes the higher up you go. people are more consistent, that's what the big difference is. in A ball last year, people had a lot of talent and stuff, but it's just about honing your skills and being more consistent, and guys are more consistent here. that's the big difference.
you've been a pro for less than a full year. in that short span of time, is there a certain part of your game where you feel you've made a lot of improvement already?
i think i've improved in all areas. every day i try to work on something and just try to get better with it, whether it's defense, baserunning, or hitting. i think my overall game has expanded, and i'm just going to keep honing my skills.
most of the people who read my site are familiar with your name and your stats, but they haven't necessarily seen you play. do you have anyone who you can compare yourself to as a ballplayer?
i'm not sure. i'm just a guy who's trying to get on base, hit line drives, and play good defense. i'm not real big on trying to hit home runs and stuff like that, but i'm just the type of player who tries to do all the little things to help my team win.
but you do have some pop in your bat --- all throughout college and last year at A ball you got a decent number of extra-base hits, and even this year when you started to heat up you had a couple of triples and a homer during that hitting streak. so you don't just go up there trying to hit singles.
yeah, i just try to go up the gap, try to hit some doubles and triples.
is that how you hurt yourself, sliding into third on one of those triples?
yeah, on a triple.
sorry about that.
was there a ballplayer you idolized growing up as a kid --- somebody you always wanted to be like on the field?
ken griffey jr is one of those guys who when you were younger you always looked up to and stuff, but i just liked watching games and trying to pick something up from everyone. i used to like david justice a lot when i was young --- i was a big braves fan growing up in miami, because we didn't have a team until the marlins came. i liked him a lot, but i was just a big fan of the game.
you must have been about 10 years old or so when the marlins came?
yeah i was pretty young, and i enjoyed going to those games a lot. we used to go to those games often.
and they won a world title when you were probably a teenager back in '97.
yeah, in '97. and i remember the '03 one too; i was in high school, so that was a good experience.
last year you played a full college season, which is about 70 games, and then you played 60 games in a-ball. how'd you feel by the end of the year?
i felt fine. i think i do a pretty good job in the off-season of getting myself ready, and i felt fine.
had you played in the cape cod league or anything during your summers in college?
no, but i got to play for Team USA the summer before my junior year [ie, the summer of 2005]. that prepared me a lot. we got to travel all throughout the country; we got to go to japan and taiwan. i think that really helped me get prepared for pro ball.
what did you do this past off-season to get ready for 2007?
i took about a month off, and then i lifted and ran about 4 days a week. then i got into my hitting routine and went from there.
were you back home in miami for that?
yeah, i worked out in miami, back at school, with a trainer and a group of guys. we had a good time getting ready for the season.
were you working out with any of your teammates from the cardinal organization? old teammates from college? or some of both?
some of both. chris perez is down there, and he's kind of on a different program because he's a pitcher. but there's a group of minor leaguers [from various organizations] that are down there in miami, so we worked out, and i spent some time with my ex-teammates just helping them out any way i could.
you and perez have been together all throughout the minors and college; has it been helpful to have a familiar face around as you go up the chain?
yeah, it has been helpful. it's funny because me and chris have actually been together since our senior year in high school. every summer we've been together and every spring. it's been neat to have him. we both know each other's game, and we both help each other out when one of us is doing something we shouldn't be doing on the field.
this spring you got to experience your first spring training as a professional. did you get a chance to take any swings against any of the big leaguers?
i didn't get to take any swings against the big-league pitchers, but just being at the complex i got to see how the big-leaguers work and go about their business. so it was a good experience.
you've got a big-leaguer on your team right now --- juan encarnacion has been down at springfield for 10 days or so. what have you learned from him?
aw, he's a great guy. he goes about the game the right way. he's a quiet guy. he's always even-keeled, and that's one of the things that can get you to the next level --- just being level-headed. he's just a great example for players like myself and my teammates.
how much does the organization talk to you guys about the cardinals' need for outfielders? there's a real opportunity at the big-league level --- is that drilled into you, or do they just let it ride?
they just let it ride. we're not concerned about that right now. obviously our main goal is to make it to the big leagues, but we know we gotta work on things right here. we're not prepared yet, so we're trying to work on things that can help us get there.
that's a pretty good outfield you guys have this year at springfield.
yeah, it is. it's a lot of fun playing out here. with rass in center and joe in right sometimes, it's a great outfield we have.
and there are a couple of old hands on the roster who've been in the minors a couple of years longer than you, haerther and gorecki --- is it helpful to have some veterans around?
yeah. gorecki's great. he's always teaching us little things that can maybe help us out. he's a great teammate to have. we all respect him very much.
you following the hurricanes this spring?
yeah, i still follow them. a lot of those guys are my good friends, and i'm always rooting them on. they're doing alright; they'll probably get into the tournament and hopefully our postseason success can continue this year.
hopefully your own success will continue too. a lot of st louis fans are watching your progress. get back out on the field soon. thank you, i appreciate it.