With the Rule 5 draft set to take place on December 10th, the deadline has come and gone for teams to protect players from their inclusion in the draft, and the Cardinals chose to protect three (by subsequently adding them to the 40-man roster): utility infielder Aledmys Diaz (his second stint on the 40-man), center fielder Charlie Tilson, and relief pitcher Dean Kiekhefer. As you may recall, back in October, I wrote a post titled "What's next for the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen with Randy Choate off the books?" I made a pitch for Kiekhefer taking a Choate-like role in 2016, and while he will likely be shuttling back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis for much of the season, it appears the Cardinals are on the same page regarding the potential value provided by the 26-year-old lefty.
Recent Minor League/Fall League Statistics
Viva El Birdos: At the big league level, do you think the Cardinals will use you as a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) or for full innings regardless of batter handedness?
Dean Kiekhefer: I’m not certain, but I will do whatever they ask of me. If they want me to get one out one day and go multiple the next time out, I feel that I can do that. I want to be versatile, so they can use me in many different situations.
VEB: You’ve always thrown very few walks in your career. What is your general strategy when facing hitters?
DK: I try to attack and get ahead of each hitter. For me, it’s about the odds. Good hitters fail seven out of 10 times, so I want them to have to earn their way on base. Being able to control the count is so important because when you fall behind hitters, they hit for a higher average as opposed to their average dropping when you work ahead in the count.
VEB: Do you spend any time reviewing your statistics? If so, how often and do you focus more on traditional stats (wins, losses, ERA) or sabermetrics?
DK: During the season, I do not look at stats, but rather just take it one outing at a time. After the season, I will look back more at splits and see things that I would like to work on and improve for the next year. For me, I’m most interested in certain stats like walks as well as leaving inherited runners stranded, which is a big one for relievers.
VEB: Give us a snapshot of your repertoire.
DK: I throw mostly two-seam fastballs from two different arm slots. I drop my arm angle a little lower versus lefties to try and add more deception as well as make my slider a little better against them. When facing lefties, I mainly throw two-seamers and sliders. When facing righties, I use my normal three-quarter arm slot and throw two-seam fastballs, a changeup—which was a pitch I really worked on in the Arizona Fall League—and more of a slurvy slider.
VEB: Do you ever feel like you have difficulty staying consistent with your arm slots since you vary them based on hitter type?
DK: At first, it took a little time getting used to it, but now I feel very comfortable from both. It’s a little more difficult after facing a lefty and going back up [in arm slot] against a righty. It’s easier going down arm angles than up for me. This was my third season throwing from multiple arm angles, and I’m getting more used to it.
VEB: Considering the National League Central is full of quality hitters, which divisional hitter do you look forward to facing most next season?
DK: I have not really thought about who I would look forward to facing, but I know I’m hoping to be able to help the team out in any way possible. It’s a very good division that is so competitive as three teams made the playoffs last season, so each game is so meaningful.
VEB: Which minor league coach do you feel you learned the most from so far during your time with the Cardinals? What’s one concrete piece of advice you’ve been given by coaches?
DK: Everyone on the staff has been so vital in developing me over the years. The Cardinals do such a great job at developing all their players as opposed to just a select few. It gives guys like me hope knowing that they take pride in using their farm system and that later round selections have made it up [to the big leagues] and play a huge role on the team.
My first pitching coach was Tim Leveque, who is now our pitching coordinator, and he helped me so much in learning a breaking ball, which was a pitched I really struggled with early in my career. This season, Gerdy [Bryan Eversgerd], our Triple-A pitching coach, helped with my changeup over the course of the season. Shilty [Mike Shildt] has always been such a great teacher of the game and really teaches the little things that help you win. That is what the Cardinals are known for, doing the little things right and being fundamentally sound.
VEB: So, were you able to spell your last name in kindergarten?
DK: That’s funny. You know I’m not sure when I did learn how to spell it, but I can tell you it was very difficult!
VEB: Have you ever thought about how special it is to have a birthday of 6/7/89?
DK: Yeah, it’s unique. I love messing with people when they ask my birthday, and I respond "6789," and they give me a strange look! I’ve enjoyed having a fun birthday, and a strange thing was that my best friend growing up, who lived two houses down the street, had a birthday of 8/8/88, so we always debated over who had a cooler birthday.
VEB: Is former Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds deserving of being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
DK: Of course he is! I loved watching him growing up, and he was the best center fielder in the game at that time. He always had a knack for the big hit. My other position I played as a kid was center field, and he was the guy I wanted to model my game after.
VEB: Finally, if it weren’t for baseball, what would you be doing as a career?
DK: For me, it’s always been baseball, and it’s really something I’ve put my heart and soul into, so I would think I would be coaching or working in the game somehow.
I am appreciative of Kiekhefer's thoughtful participation in a Q&A for Viva El Birdos on his first day off (the Fall League is over) in quite some time. Here's to a restful (but brief) offseason and a successful 2016. I look forward to seeing him pitch at Busch Stadium next season.