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Winter Warmup Round-Up Part One

Where I attempt to condense 20 interviews into 2,000 words

Syndication: Peoria Journal Star MATT DAYHOFF/JOURNAL STAR / USA TODAY NETWORK

“It’s all about consistency” - Matthew Liberatore

Not every player on Saturday and Sunday used the actual word consistency, but it was certainly the theme to success at the MLB level throughout the day. Keep doing the same thing every day, stick to the process, good things will happen. When things go badly, you probably deviated from the process.

“For me it was two things: it was confidence and simplification. Coming out of the bullpen gave me a different perspective on how I could approach pitching. I think it showed me some valuable things that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my career.”

His childhood buddy Nolan Gorman echoed the same sentiment. “This game is too hard, pitchers are too good to change things at-bat to at-bat. Making sure the lows aren’t too low and not for too long. Consistency - you probably hear about a lot - but that’s the biggest thing in this game. That’s what it takes to be elite at this game.”

For Drew Rom, he felt he proved he belonged with his start against his former organization the Orioles and his goal is to figure out a way match what he did. “A lot of it was just execution-based. When everything was going well, like in the Baltimore game. The turning point was how I am going to do that mentally and how am I going to do that physically.”

Without using the word consistency, that is a similar sentiment to Liberatore and Gorman. Victor Scott II emphasized being able to repeat the same swing every time. When Masyn Winn looked back at video as a Cardinal, he noticed his swing changed a couple times. Ivan Herrera used the word routine.

“I had fun at the big league level, but there’s so much work we do behind the scenes. So there’s a routine that comes. So I stick to it and it works. Knowing that if you’re having a bad game for example. Sticking to that routine is hard because you’re feeling like you’re not good enough at the time. You need to change something. That’s one of the best things I’ve heard from players, sticking to your routine.”

I’ll finish off with a Jordan Walker quote, because honestly I could find some version of needing to be consistent from probably every player (certainly hitter), and I can’t share all their quotes.

“I have to be more consistent. I have to be on a lot more than I would have to in the minor leagues. I’m not saying the minor leagues are easy but in the big leagues they make less mistakes.”

“Thinking is never good” - Brendan Donovan

Part of the reason that players want consistency and to stick to a routine is that baseball is a game of failure. Gorman had a habit of looking at what he was doing wrong mid-game.

“This game is so mental. Honestly it’s probably more mental than physical. Being able to have that stability and knowing this is a long season and going into each and everyday as a new day, not dwelling on the past and even to the extent of not looking at video during the game is kind of what turned it around for me.”

If you stick to a routine and do the same thing, it’s your way of ignoring failure. Not letting failure affect you. Consistency and the mental aspect of the game appear to be intertwined, so much there were more than a few quotes that could honestly have been placed in either section. Luken Baker helpfully bridged the gap with one quote for me.

“Everything is largely mental for me, me thinking I had to do more than I had to. The true difference at this level is everyone is good everyday. They don’t have down days.”

See? Everything is mental, and yet he emphasizes the consistency required to stick at the MLB level. Rom also mentioned the mental aspect when talking about needing to execute.

When it comes to failure, or ability to ignore failure, I don’t think there’s anybody better prepared than Thomas Saggese. He is somehow both supremely confident and extremely laid back. He has never doubted that he would make the majors since high school. His struggles at AAA seemed to not affect him in the slightest. He didn’t think he was overmatched, just chalked it up to that being how baseball was. Sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re cold.

“It’s kind of like baseball. Everything is simple, it’s just not easy” - Luken Baker

A quote that very easily could have came out of Yogi Berra’s mouth and yet it does make sense. What a hitter is ultimately trying to do is not hard. “The approach is fairly simple. See the ball, swing at good pitches.” Executing that objective however is not easy.

Keeping things simple is something Brendan Donovan agrees with. “I’m very analytical in my preparation. And I try to play very old school in my style of play. I think if you’re worried about internal things, you can take away from external things. If I’m worried about where my hands or how my load is, then I’m not really focused on being on time, swinging at a good pitch, and competing. If I can be like “I’m just going to be on time and try to hit a line drive here, I believe the body will self-organize itself to have success.”

He followed up the quote I shared above, but in context: “Thinking is never good. If you’re thinking in the box, it’s like hitting with one hand tied behind your back.”

When you listen to about 20 player interviews in two days, you feel like you’re hearing the same points. And it makes sense because they’re all coached by the same people. But it’s also because it’s all connected. Having the mental fortitude, staying consistent, and keeping things simple when it comes time to actually play, all are in service of the same thing.

“I need to get at least 20-30 bags a year.” - Masyn Winn

Coming soon to a stadium near you is more speed. One of those players is pretty likely to make the Opening Day roster. Winn plans to make stolen bases a part of his game.

“I didn’t run too much. I didn’t get on base a lot so I didn’t get many opportunities. You see guys like Tommy taking a bag and Goldy hits a broken bat single and he ends up scoring that’s a big deal. Each run counts. I think it’ll be huge for me, being a speed guy, I need to get at least 20-30 bags a year.”

The other guy, well he’s the guy VEB is so high on, the only prospects they voted as better were Masyn Winn and Tink Hence. Victor Scott II is likely to steal more than 20-30 bases a year. He shared his approach to stealing bases, which I did catch video of:

“I want to say from a 1.5 to 1.3 to the plate, it’s pretty much just green light go. But as you kind of get down in those times like 1.2 and 1.1 and 1.0, you kind of got to look for tendencies. So I’ll go prior to the game and look at what he does when a runner’s on 1st and what he does when a runner’s on second. Sometimes, pitchers are creatures of habit, so they may twitch a certain way to get into their internal hip rotation or they may breathe a certain way or look a certain way. So kind of noticing those things to get that first jump is always critical.” (For those who can’t watch the video)

“Took it personally” - Alec Burleson

The Cardinals’ outfield defense was not good last year. And it has not escaped the attention of Alec Burleson, who realizes he needs play better defensively in the outfield in order to play.

“Getting everything better, losing weight, getting faster. Was told I had to get better in the outfield. Took it personally, in a good way.”

When people complimented Luken Baker’s slimmed down appearance, Burleson happened to be in the room, and when Burleson’s interview was over, as he walked away, he remarked “Where’s my comment on how I look thinner? I lost 12 pounds.” (It was one of those jokes, but not a joke if that makes sense. He intended to get laughter, which he did, but he was serious about losing the weight). By the way, Baker’s secret to his weight loss is no more after-dinner eating. Not a new concept, but effective.

Winn doesn’t have quite as large a hurdle as Burleson in improving his defense, but he has sort of a secret weapon. And no it’s not The Secret Weapon, it’s Stubby Clapp. “He’s a lefty and I don’t know if ya’ll ever have taken fungo from Stubby hitting lefty backspin, hitting sliders at you. Taking grounders really prepares you for the game. It’s probably harder than the game actually is.”

Walker’s approach to improving his defense is both mental and physical. On the physical side, he’s working on getting to balls faster. “In strength and conditioning, I’ve been working on movements. Being a little bit quicker laterally. I grew fast and they told me that. It was a little bit difficult, I was a little behind to catching up to how my body moved. They helped me out a lot in this offseason and I have to continue doing my drills to maintain that.”

And on the mental side, he’s learning to trust his instincts. “I have a tendency to start - when I see a ball, I go after it and I try to make sure I read it right, so I come back on my heels a bit more. He’s working with me and teaching me to go after it. It’s not always maybe whether you’re athletic enough or not, it’s based on a mental aspect of trusting your gut instinct.”

“I expect to see Jordan Walker things” - Masyn Winn

To finish off this post, there were quite a few quotes said by one Cardinal about another Cardinal, and I’ll just share a few of my favorites.

“He’s the Mookie Betts of the Cardinals” - Jordan Walker about Victor Scott (his bowling)

“I don’t know how he gets up this year, but great guy to be around. Everybody I’ve ever met loves him. Just a great person.” - Masyn Winn on Pedro Pages

“Tommy Edman is a fantastic outfielder. If any of that rubs off on me, I feel like that’s a pretty good thing” - Jordan Walker

“He’s one of those guys I compared to Jordan and Kobe. Motivated Nolan is a scary Nolan, so I’m looking forward to it.” - Lars Nootbaar on Nolan Arenado

“He’s a psycho for lack of a better term. He lives and breathes baseball. For me it’s inspiring, because I don’t have to feel a certain way about wanting to get better.” - Lars Nootbaar on Nolan Arenado

“I get to freaking work out with Nolan Arenado” - I think you know

“He’s actually kind of been one of my hitting coaches. He’s stoic. He’ll tell you exactly how it is. He will hurt your feelings. I think that’s a good thing about him. He gets to the point, he makes it short and quick. But you know he loves you and you know he wants the best for you, so whenever he sees something you’re doing wrong, he’ll let you know.” - Jordan Walker on Brendan Donovan

“I know how unbelievable he is and I can’t wait for a lot of other people to see that in person” - Masyn Winn on Tink Hence

I’ll have a part two on Thursday. I don’t know if you noticed, but with a few exceptions, the pitchers were mostly ignored. This was not on purpose, just so happened to not have transcribed Sonny Gray’s interview yet. Of the other four starters in the planned five-man rotation, two are going to be at the podium tomorrow and the other two do not appear to be on the schedule. I’m not sure the pitchers will be as easy to write about, so at the very least, I’ll share my experience about Winter Warmup.