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Hicks shows grit in sealing first big league win

Cards rookie throws 2 1/3 scoreless innings to finish off Reds
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Your first Major League win is supposed to be one you remember most, long after your career is through, the details etched in your mind and immune to the cruelty of time.

But just minutes after Jordan Hicks' first big league win, which he earned -- capital E -- by closing out St. Louis' 4-3 win over the Reds on Saturday, the rookie already could barely recall.

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ST. LOUIS -- Your first Major League win is supposed to be one you remember most, long after your career is through, the details etched in your mind and immune to the cruelty of time.

But just minutes after Jordan Hicks' first big league win, which he earned -- capital E -- by closing out St. Louis' 4-3 win over the Reds on Saturday, the rookie already could barely recall.

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"I think I blacked out a little bit," said Hicks, who completed 2 1/3 scoreless innings by wiggling out of a tense, traffic-heavy ninth.

Asked when he woke up, Hicks said: "When we were shaking hands."

Somewhere in between, the 21-year-old rookie showed why the Cardinals already trust him in the most high-leverage spots. His triple-digit stuff with run is no longer a secret, not after three weeks of hapless swings and Statcast™ readings. His demeanor is garnering a reputation as well, eliciting adjectives every late-inning arm wants to be associated with. Fearless. Trustworthy. The guy the manager opts to win or lose with, which is exactly what Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny did with Hicks on Saturday, while Greg Holland barely stirred in the bullpen.

"It was his [Hicks'] game," Matheny said. "That's a tough spot to toss Holland into as we try to slow play this."

Video: CIN@STL: Fowler, Matheny on Cardinals' 4-3 victory

With closer Bud Norris unavailable after throwing 29 pitches the night before, Matheny allowed Hicks to finish the ninth, an equation churning in his mind.

A starter in the Minor Leagues until this season, Hicks has the ability to throw multiple innings, even while his stuff and velocity profiles more for a one-inning role. 

Hicks was summoned after Tyler Lyons allowed a game-tying single in the seventh to left-handed-hitting Scooter Gennett. Hicks immediately escaped further damage and then breezed through the eighth, before escaping trouble of his own creation in the ninth.

Pitching with a one-run lead courtesy of a Yadier Molina home run, Hicks hit a batter and walked two more, loading the bases for Gennett with one out. He had nearly ended the game a batter before, when Joey Votto worked a walk by taking several close two-strike pitches, all registering near triple-digits.

"There were a couple pitches on Votto [that were close]," Matheny said. "I don't think he really cares who is up there. For the most part, he trusts his stuff. Any pitch he's throwing, he has confidence it's going to work out."

Two 98-mph sinkers later, it did, when Gennett bounced into a 6-4-3 double play.

Hicks planned to celebrate his first career victory over dinner with his parents, Jason and Jennifer, who visited from Houston to see their son pitch in the Majors for the first time. Maybe they'll fill in the blanks for him.

"When I'm out there I'm just in the moment," Hicks said. "It's not like I don't remember anything, I just try to stay in that moment and do my job."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jordan Hicks

Highly ranked prospect O'Neill joins Cardinals

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Tyler O'Neill's scorching-hot start lifted him all the way to the Majors.

The Cardinals promoted O'Neill, one of the hottest hitters in the Minor Leagues and the Cards' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, prior to Thursday's 8-5 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. O'Neill got into the game as a pinch-hitter in the fifth, striking out to end the inning.

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CHICAGO -- Tyler O'Neill's scorching-hot start lifted him all the way to the Majors.

The Cardinals promoted O'Neill, one of the hottest hitters in the Minor Leagues and the Cards' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, prior to Thursday's 8-5 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. O'Neill got into the game as a pinch-hitter in the fifth, striking out to end the inning.

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"Everything I worked for my whole life came down to that one moment," O'Neill said of the callup before the game. "I'm going to try to make the most of every chance I get and leave nothing out on the field."

The club originally planned to promote O'Neill for Wednesday's game, before it became the second postponement in three days due to inclement weather at Wrigley Field. That gave St. Louis another day to officially recall the slugger from Triple-A Memphis and make a corresponding move, which was the optioning of right-hander John Brebbia to Memphis.

5 cool things about O'Neill

O'Neill could provide insurance for center fielder Tommy Pham, who suffered a minor right groin injury in Tuesday night's 5-3 win.

Pham underwent a variety of tests on his right groin on Wednesday, and he was held out of Thursday's lineup as a precaution.

Video: Tyler O'Neill talks about coming from the farm

The 22-year-old O'Neill brings immense raw power, sneaky speed and an ability to play all three outfield positions. If Pham is fine, O'Neill will give the Cardinals a fifth bench player for the first time this season. The team had been carrying eight relievers, but saw no need for an additional arm during the upcoming schedule. The Cards have three off-days in the next 13 days.

Manager Mike Matheny has rarely used his eighth reliever in the early going, while routinely running out of bench players late in game. Matheny couldn't replace Pham in the ninth inning on Tuesday after Pham's groin tightened in the cold weather, because the skipper had already exhausted his reserve options. Twice over the season's first two weeks, Matheny used starting pitcher Luke Weaver as a pinch-runner.

Video: Mayo on O'Neill getting called up to the Majors

O'Neill was summoned to Chicago on Wednesday, as Pham underwent testing on his groin. Neither were in the starting lineup for Thursday's series finale.

Pham isn't expected to miss much time, meaning most of O'Neill's playing time would likely come as a pinch-hitter or late-game replacement.

"On all the off-days we have, we always talk about having the extra pitchers, and I love the arms," Matheny said. "We were thinking about this before, but as soon as Tommy went down, I had the trainers starting making calls. Let's have another position player here."

In O'Neill, St. Louis plucked the most locked-in hitter from a Memphis team sizzling at the plate in the early going. The right-handed-hitting O'Neill is tied for the Minor League lead in home runs with six, and he was hitting .388/.385/.837 with 18 RBIs across 12 games.

"For me, it was a couple of different things that all clicked at the same time," O'Neill said.

Acquired from Seattle last summer for left-hander Marco Gonzales, O'Neill entered his first Spring Training with the organization as a candidate to make the club. He hit .246/.321/.499 with 31 home runs in his first season at Triple-A in 2017, including 12 home runs in 37 games for Memphis. Club officials expressed disappointment after oblique and hamstring injuries limited O'Neill to just 12 at bats in Grapefruit League play this spring.

"I'm not really looking back to spring. That's over and done with. I went to Memphis with a positive mindset and did my thing," said O'Neill. "Everything was really clicking for me. Now we're going to see if I can do it here."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Tyler O'Neill

O'Neill leads outburst by Cardinals prospects

Young outfielder tied atop Minor League leaderboard with six homers
MLB.com

Few, if any, hitters in professional baseball have had a better start to the season than Tyler O'Neill. The Cardinals' No. 4 prospect homered twice to highlight an offensive outburst by several of St. Louis' top young batters at Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis on Monday afternoon.

O'Neill, after going 0-for-5 in his season debut, went on a torrid seven-game stretch in which he hit four homers and drove in 14 runs to earn a spot on the season's first Pipeline Team of the Week. MLB's No. 94 prospect then began this week by blasting a pair of long balls to bring his total to six for the season -- tied with fellow Canadian Josh Naylor (Padres' No. 16 prospect) for most in the Minor Leagues. O'Neill also added a single in Triple-A Memphis' 7-4 victory over Iowa, finishing the game 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs scored.

Few, if any, hitters in professional baseball have had a better start to the season than Tyler O'Neill. The Cardinals' No. 4 prospect homered twice to highlight an offensive outburst by several of St. Louis' top young batters at Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis on Monday afternoon.

O'Neill, after going 0-for-5 in his season debut, went on a torrid seven-game stretch in which he hit four homers and drove in 14 runs to earn a spot on the season's first Pipeline Team of the Week. MLB's No. 94 prospect then began this week by blasting a pair of long balls to bring his total to six for the season -- tied with fellow Canadian Josh Naylor (Padres' No. 16 prospect) for most in the Minor Leagues. O'Neill also added a single in Triple-A Memphis' 7-4 victory over Iowa, finishing the game 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs scored.

O'Neill slugs way to Pipeline Team of the Week

Only Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has more homers than O'Neill among all players in the Minors or Majors. And O'Neill has done it in five fewer games than the Nats' slugger.

Watch: O'Neill crushes two-run homer

O'Neill's hot start comes after he missed a chunk of Spring Training due to oblique and hamstring strains, which limited him to just 12 at-bats in Grapefruit League play. A slugger capable of playing all three outfield positions, He entered his first Cardinals camp a candidate to make the Opening Day roster after the club acquired him from Seattle last summer for left-hander Marco Gonzales. O'Neill hit 31 home runs in his first season at Triple-A in 2017, including 12 in 37 games for Memphis.

A number of other Cardinals prospects joined in on the barrage to begin the week. Max Schrock (Cards' No. 10) went 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored, while Oscar Mercado (No. 13) also crushed a solo homer for the Redbirds.

Edmundo Sosa (No. 16) hit a solo home run for Double-A Springfield in its 6-1 win over Frisco. Sosa, 22, doubled in the contest as well to finish the day 2-for-4 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored. Andrew Knizner (No. 9) added two hits and and scored a run for Springfield.

Cardinals prospects' stats from Monday

All together, five of St. Louis' top 16 prospects combined to go 11-for-22 with two doubles, four homers, nine runs scored and seven RBIs, as the Cardinals' two highest affiliates rolled behind strong pitching performances from right-handers Dakota Hudson (No. 6) and Jake Woodford (No. 22).

Hudson, 23, allowed two earned runs on seven hits while striking out four in six innings for Memphis. Woodford struck out five in five innings of one-run ball for Springfield.

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals rookie Jordan Hicks appears to have taken the title of Fastest Pitcher in Baseball

Since becoming a full-time big leaguer back in 2011, Aroldis Chapman has been the undisputed hardest thrower in baseball. The Cuban's flamethrowing dominance is such, that MLB.com's Statcast leaderboard for fastest pitches has a "Chapman filter" that files out all of Chapman's hardest pitches so you can actually sort through the data. Small sample sized data be darned, things are looking a smidge different thus far in 2018. 

With Holland added, Reyes moved to 60-day DL

Girsch: Decision doesn't indicate setback for Cardinals' top prospect
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- The signing of All-Star closer Greg Holland finally gave the Cardinals a concrete answer to their late-inning questions. It also forced a roster decision that required the club to shift its plans for top prospect Alex Reyes.

The club transferred Reyes to the 60-day disabled list to clear room on the 40-man roster for Holland, whom it officially signed to a one-year deal Saturday. The move precludes Reyes, who is nearing the finish line in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, from returning before May 28. The club had initially circled May 1 as a soft target date for Reyes' return.

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NEW YORK -- The signing of All-Star closer Greg Holland finally gave the Cardinals a concrete answer to their late-inning questions. It also forced a roster decision that required the club to shift its plans for top prospect Alex Reyes.

The club transferred Reyes to the 60-day disabled list to clear room on the 40-man roster for Holland, whom it officially signed to a one-year deal Saturday. The move precludes Reyes, who is nearing the finish line in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, from returning before May 28. The club had initially circled May 1 as a soft target date for Reyes' return.

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"This is in no way indicating a setback for Alex," general manager Michael Girsch said. "Early in the offseason, we said we'd push him back to May 1 because we felt running him out here for the whole season was too much risk for a guy who we consider a big part of our future. Now, with the moves we've made, we can be more conservative. Why even push this?"

A late May or early June return would put Reyes, the club's No.1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, more than 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Reyes remains at the club's Minor League complex in Jupiter, Fla., where he spent spring making incremental increases to his workload. Reyes faced live hitters several times on the back fields with an eye toward appearing in a Minor League game at some point in April at the earliest.

Video: Top Prospects: Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals

That timetable has been slowed now, but that has little to do with Reyes' health.

"More of what's changed is with our big league roster and with our options," Girsch said.

Keeping Reyes on the 10-day disabled list would've required the Cardinals to remove another player from the 40-man roster, like the promotion of Jordan Hicks did earlier in the week. That decision cost right-hander Josh Lucas, who was traded Saturday to the A's.

Moving Reyes to the 60-day disabled list allows the Cards to keep all their players -- and Reyes in their plans. They'll just have to wait a little longer. The club hopes Holland eliminates any late-inning needs it may have been forced to turn to Reyes to fill.

"It's amazing what he does to our bullpen," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Holland. "We've talked about a number of players we thought we could plug and play in different spots, but this creates a great staple we can then add to. This is a guy we know has had a lot of success at the back of the game, and we're anxious to get him in the mix."

Holland passed a physical Friday and will report next to St. Louis' Minor League complex in Jupiter, where he'll ramp up his throwing alongside Reyes. The club negotiated special language in his contract to allow it to technically option Holland to Class A Advanced Palm Beach. Because he was optioned, Holland must remain there for at least 10 days, over which he could appear in Minor League games.

A three-time All-Star and seven-year Major Leaguer, Holland had long surpassed the service time thresholds that protected him from Minor League assignment.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Greg Holland, Alex Reyes

How Martinez helped Munoz make Cards' OD roster

St. Louis first baseman gave prospect advice on adjusting swing
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- The friendship between Yairo Munoz and Jose Martinez was struck on one of Munoz's first days at Cardinals camp. The 23-year-old was so green, some of his gear still sat in an Oakland A's equipment bag. Its gold-and-pine design clashed noticeably against his new clubhouse's red-and-white décor.

The first conversations came, naturally, in the batting cage. In an environment full of new sights and sounds, Munoz gravitated towards the baseballs Martinez sent flying from his bat. How they sizzled, and how far they travelled through the air. In his native Spanish, Munoz asked Martinez how he could get them to do the same off his.

NEW YORK -- The friendship between Yairo Munoz and Jose Martinez was struck on one of Munoz's first days at Cardinals camp. The 23-year-old was so green, some of his gear still sat in an Oakland A's equipment bag. Its gold-and-pine design clashed noticeably against his new clubhouse's red-and-white décor.

The first conversations came, naturally, in the batting cage. In an environment full of new sights and sounds, Munoz gravitated towards the baseballs Martinez sent flying from his bat. How they sizzled, and how far they travelled through the air. In his native Spanish, Munoz asked Martinez how he could get them to do the same off his.

"I didn't know him before," Munoz said through interpreter/first-base coach Oliver Marmol. "I was watching Jose hit and realized he got a lot more backspin on his ball than when I hit it. I asked him a couple of questions and Martinez said, 'Tag along with me.'"

What resulted was the type of swing change most hitters take longer to complete, and it translated into production the Cardinals could not ignore. The club adores Munoz's defensive versatility, and more than anything, his ability to play all over the diamond was ultimately what landed the rookie on St. Louis' Opening Day roster. But it was his swing -- just tweaked -- that eventually made him a revelation of the spring for the Cards.

"It's really hard to show up to Spring Training and just start raking," Martinez said. "He did a great job proving he belongs here."

Video: STL@BAL: Munoz hits RBI single to left in 4th

At Martinez's advice, Munoz adjusted his bat path in the way many have over the past few years -- by flattening his swing in an attempt to "get behind the ball" more. The goal was to create line drives with "more carry," Munoz said, to improve on the doubles power he showed as a Minor Leaguer.

"Wait longer, then push through the ball using your bottom hand," Martinez said. "To me, ground balls are not allowed."

It was the same idea Martinez brought to camp last year, when he slugged his way onto the roster with his own sensational spring. This year, he acted as a mentor to Munoz, providing tips and translating between him and coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller. Munoz hit .323/.364/.516 with 20 hits in Grapefruit League play, one more than Martinez collected the spring before.

"The student surpassed the teacher," Martinez said. "The alumnus surpassed the master."

The Cardinals' plans were twofold for the deal that yielded them Munoz and second-base prospect Max Schrock from Oakland on Dec. 14. They were looking to both unclutter their outfield alignment and give Stephen Piscotty a chance to play closer to his ailing mother. But they also sought to add infield depth to a Minor League system they felt lacked it. Munoz was supposed to provide insurance in that regard.

"Coming into this spring, he wasn't the favorite for a roster spot," general manager Michael Girsch said. "But you watch him take 60 at-bats, and it grows on you."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jose Martinez, Yairo Munoz

Cards No. 7 prospect Hicks to make OD roster

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Though he was the first player cut from camp, Jordan Hicks was clearly still part of the Cardinals' plans. Few reasons were given when the club reassigned the 21-year-old right-hander to Minor League camp less than a week into Grapefruit League play, an oddly early dismissal.

Club officials only spoke of Hicks' demotion -- for multiple latenesses to team functions -- in hints and whispers. But they considered his return more a matter of "when" than "if."

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NEW YORK -- Though he was the first player cut from camp, Jordan Hicks was clearly still part of the Cardinals' plans. Few reasons were given when the club reassigned the 21-year-old right-hander to Minor League camp less than a week into Grapefruit League play, an oddly early dismissal.

Club officials only spoke of Hicks' demotion -- for multiple latenesses to team functions -- in hints and whispers. But they considered his return more a matter of "when" than "if."

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The Cardinals reinvited Hicks to big league camp last week, three weeks after his departure. Then, they decided Tuesday, before a 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays in Montreal, to include him on the Opening Day roster. Multiple sources told MLB.com of the decision, a dizzyingly last-minute move that clears up the club's cloudy bullpen picture and marks an extraordinary ascent for Hicks, who last season reached only Class A Advanced Palm Beach.

The club confirmed the move on Wednesday, when it finalized its Opening Day roster. Hicks takes the place of right-hander John Brebbia, who was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday. Infielder Breyvic Valera and right-hander Josh Lucas were designated for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster for Hicks and backup catcher Francisco Pena.

All spring, the Cardinals refused to designate late-inning roles or sign any big-name free-agent closers. The hope was that candidates would emerge from within, and now, several have. Hicks, the club's No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is the second young, hard-throwing righty to make the roster in a week, joining Mike Mayers. Both could factor into the club's late-inning picture, along with Dominic Leone and Tyler Lyons. Bud Norris, Matt Bowman, Brett Cecil and Sam Tuivailala will round out the club's eight-man bullpen, with Luke Gregerson starting the season on the disabled list.

Video: Top Prospects: Jordan Hicks, RHP, Cardinals

On Sunday morning, the club pivoted. It decided Adam Wainwright's strained left hamstring would place him on the disabled list to start the year, opening a rotation spot for rookie Jack Flaherty and a Sunday start for Hicks.

Hicks sizzled in Wainwright's place on a sunny afternoon against the Nationals, dominating a lineup full of Washington regulars. He breezed through four innings, allowing just one hit. Cardinals evaluators noticed the swings -- from Bryce Harper to Anthony Rendon to Trea Turner -- that Hicks' high-octane arsenal elicited.

"Boy howdy, he showed that he can compete at the top level on the big stage," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "And we loved what we saw. It was outstanding. A lot of firepower. He throws velocity, but it's easy velocity and he commands the baseball, a lot of movement, so the kid's got a bright future."

It was the same stuff -- a fastball clocked as high as 102 mph, running in to righties, plus a swing-and-miss slider -- Hicks showcased briefly earlier this spring. Drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2015 Draft, Hicks entered camp perhaps the highest touted of a cadre of power pitching prospects. Crowds gathered for his initial batting-practice sessions, after which, coaches, catchers and veteran sluggers alike spoke of him in superlatives.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jordan Hicks

Munoz makes roster as Cards send down 3

Versatility a big reason 23-year-old picked over Bader
MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- Yairo Munoz completed a meteoric rise through Cardinals camp Friday, when manager Mike Matheny informed the rookie utilityman he'd won a spot on the club's Opening Day roster.

Munoz had a sensational spring after coming over from Oakland in the Stephen Piscotty trade this winter, hitting .375/.423/.625 over 48 at bats while playing six positions. The Cardinals believe the 23-year-old can play all nine, if necessary, and point to this versatility as the reason Munoz will break camp over Harrison Bader, who entered the favorite to win the fourth outfielder spot.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Yairo Munoz completed a meteoric rise through Cardinals camp Friday, when manager Mike Matheny informed the rookie utilityman he'd won a spot on the club's Opening Day roster.

Munoz had a sensational spring after coming over from Oakland in the Stephen Piscotty trade this winter, hitting .375/.423/.625 over 48 at bats while playing six positions. The Cardinals believe the 23-year-old can play all nine, if necessary, and point to this versatility as the reason Munoz will break camp over Harrison Bader, who entered the favorite to win the fourth outfielder spot.

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"I don't think you can have a more versatile player. He fills a lot more holes than anybody else, and that's what it comes down to," Matheny said. "That's truly the difference, that he can play anywhere on the infield."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

That was the main separation between Munoz and Bader, who followed his 32-game big league cameo in 2017 with an impressive spring. Still, Munoz was able to leapfrog him as well as corner-type Luke Voit, both of whom the club optioned Triple-A Memphis.

"All three guys are capable of being on a Major League team, just not here not now," Matheny said. The club also optioned right-hander Josh Lucas to Memphis, bringing further clarity to a 25-man roster picture already most of the way complete.

Munoz, Jose Martinez, Greg Garcia and Francisco Pena will make up a four-man bench, meaning the Cardinals will carry 13 pitchers to New York for Opening Day. Only the last of those spots remains unfilled, with right-handers John Brebbia and Mike Mayers battling to be the eighth man in the bullpen. Both, however, could end up breaking camp since Luke Gregerson is slated to begin the season on the disabled list.

Video: STL@BAL: Munoz hits two homers in the same inning

"Munoz has done everything we could have asked of him and more," general manager Michael Girsch said. "He's one of those guys who seemingly, every at bat, hits the ball hard somewhere."

Matheny delivered the news in Spanish to Munoz, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and doesn't speak English. Munoz celebrated by calling home to tell his family.

"My mom cried," he said, through translator/first base coach Oliver Marmol.

Then he started in left field for the Cardinals against the Mets. Munoz started at shortstop the day before, played right field on Wednesday, and center field earlier in the week. Matheny believes his throwing arm and offensive upside might suit him best at third.

The Cardinals coveted upper-level infield depth when scanning the trade market for suitors for Piscotty, who had been squeezed out of the club's outfield picture following a down year. In the A's, they found a way to give Piscotty a chance to play near his ailing mother and an organization willing to trade from a heavy stock of infielders.

"Everyone is aware of outfield depth and pitching depth, but middle-infield depth wasn't something we had a ton of," Girsch said.

The club expected Munoz to begin the year at Triple-A, where he held his own last season after slugging through the Texas League. Munoz hit .289/.316/.414 in 65 games at Triple-A, but figured to return there to refine a high-upside but free-swinging approach.

"I've been working hard with my hitting coaches and with Jose Martinez," Munoz said. "Working on being more selective, and it's paid off."

Video: STL@WSH: Watch Bader's two great grabs side-by-side

Bader rebounded after a slow start to hit .313/.346/.500 this spring, adding several home runs during live bullpen sessions on the back fields and making numerous diving catches in center. The Cardinals believe Bader can be an elite defender. But where Munoz's versatility helped his case, Bader's somewhat hindered his.

Bader can play all three outfield positions, but so can all three Cardinals starting outfielders, who also happen to be three of the clubs top hitters. The club expects Martinez's bat to elbow itself into a corner spot some days. And with Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler entrenched, Matheny foresees inserting few late-game defensive replacements. Limiting Bader to such little playing time could hinder his development.

"He did everything he needed to. But there is a guy with more versatility," Matheny said. "And that's where we're at right now. He did exactly what we had hoped for."

"I like short and center best," Munoz said. "But to be in the lineup, I'll play anywhere."

Pearce suspended
Major League Baseball announced Friday that it suspended Cardinals Minor League RHP Matt Pearce for 50 games following a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Pearce is currently on the Triple-A roster.

Up next
The Mets and Cardinals continue to shield starting pitchers from each other prior to their opening series next week in New York. Hard-throwing reliever Mike Mayers looks to complete a scoreless spring when he starts what'll be another bullpen game Saturday. First pitch is slated for 12:05 p.m. CT. The game can be seen on MLB.TV and heard on Gameday Audio

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Yairo Munoz

Hicks holds Marlins to 2 ER in callup outing

Cards prospect sees first Majors action since sent to Minors for punctuality issues
MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- After sending enticing pitching prospect Jordan Hicks to Minor League camp early for a reason that had nothing to do with his arm, the Cardinals often spoke of returning Hicks to big league camp sometime before the end of spring. That day came Wednesday, when Hicks made a 2 2/3-inning cameo in the Cards' 13-6 win over the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

Hicks, ranked St. Louis' No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, allowed two runs but also struck out four, including big leaguers Scott Van Slyke and Cameron Maybin. Hicks' second Grapefruit League appearance marked his first since he was sent to Minor League camp three weeks ago after repeated punctuality issues. The move was designed to teach Hicks accountability.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- After sending enticing pitching prospect Jordan Hicks to Minor League camp early for a reason that had nothing to do with his arm, the Cardinals often spoke of returning Hicks to big league camp sometime before the end of spring. That day came Wednesday, when Hicks made a 2 2/3-inning cameo in the Cards' 13-6 win over the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

Hicks, ranked St. Louis' No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, allowed two runs but also struck out four, including big leaguers Scott Van Slyke and Cameron Maybin. Hicks' second Grapefruit League appearance marked his first since he was sent to Minor League camp three weeks ago after repeated punctuality issues. The move was designed to teach Hicks accountability.

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"I just have to show up to the field on time, ready to go," Hicks said afterward. "It's definitely a learning experience. You get on that big league side, and you see everybody else doing the right things, what you should be doing. You don't want to be that guy, you know?"

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he continued to check in on Hicks after his move to the Minors side, which he said Hicks responded to "very positively."

"We believe that consistency, in how you behave and how you compete. We believe that's a good foundation that carries over and allows you to get you to where you want to be," Matheny said. "Trying to be consistent with what we talk a lot about here. If we don't follow through with it, it's a bunch of lip service and it has zero value to anybody. I truly believe in trying to help these guys develop as people as well as players."

Spring: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

The Cardinals have been patient in letting their late-inning picture unscramble itself in large part because of the cadre of high-upside reliever types developing in their wings. The 21-year-old Hicks entered camp with perhaps the highest ceiling in the club's plentiful class of precocious hard throwers, armed with a triple-digit fastball but no career innings above Class A. Veteran hitters gathered to watch his live batting practice sessions on the back fields, whistling with surprise at the sight of a fastball that's been clocked as fast as 102 mph. On Wednesday, Matheny called Hicks "the biggest arm in camp."

Video: Top Prospects: Jordan Hicks, RHP, Cardinals

"We set some standards, and they need to be adhered to," Matheny said. "He's been great. He gets all that. He wants to get better. He wants to find a way to be more consistent all the way around."

That means in the strike zone and the clubhouse alike. Hicks' re-arrival was temporary, not meant to further complicate the club's plans for its final two bullpen spots. But St. Louis expects to summon Hicks at some point in the near future, possibly as early as this summer, a year after it needed 19 relievers to cover 162 games. That Hicks has mostly been a starter in the Minors is secondary. His stuff profiles in the late innings, particularly short-term, where the Cardinals could have a need.

"Being a guy that's trustworthy, that tends to manifest itself out on the field too," Matheny said. "Never said we're trying to raise choir boys here, but there are certain character qualities that tend to carry over, whether in this walk of life or in yours."

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Injury update
St. Louis' No. 1 prospect Alex Reyes continues to pass tests brought on by small modifications in his rehab program. Reyes threw three innings of 15 pitches each to a mix of Major and Minor League hitters Tuesday morning, up from the 40-pitch, two-inning breakdown his previous sessions had been split into.

Reyes won't travel north with the club when it breaks camp next week, instead completing his rehab at the club's Jupiter facility. The Cardinals have set a soft return date for the hard-throwing righty of May 1, at which point he'd be nearly 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery. But that could change if St. Louis opts to deploy Reyes as a starting pitcher, instead of in a hybrid bullpen role.

Video: Reyes and O'Neill hope to make impact with Cardinals

Middle-order thump
Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna hit back-to-back home runs for the first time as teammates Wednesday, solo shots against Marlins righty Jumbo Diaz in the sixth. Matheny expects to slot Carpenter and Ozuna in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively.

Camp battle
Yairo Munoz and Harrison Bader appear neck-and-neck in the race for the club's final bench spot, and both helped their causes Wednesday. Munoz notched his fifth hit in his past eight at bats with a single in the fourth. Bader doubled him home on the next pitch and finished the game 3-for-3.

Up next
Miles Mikolas is the only starter the Cardinals won't shield from big league hitters over the last week of spring. The hope is to get Mikolas as many in-game looks as possible after three years of pitching in Japan. He'll start against the Braves at 12:05 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jordan Hicks

How will Cardinals use top prospect Reyes?

Club wants to balance consistent role with reasonable workload for righty returning from TJ surgery
MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- For months, Cardinals officials have only been specific about Alex Reyes' role when outlining how the club's No. 1 prospect won't be handled. In this arena, the club has employed some hard and fast rules.

The Cardinals won't accelerate the rehab program of the 23-year-old Reyes, now 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, to mollify a team need. They won't -- at least, they would rather not -- constrict him to an opportunity-based role -- let's say closer -- at the risk of hindering his future development. And they won't push him irresponsibly after he does return, no matter the urgency following two consecutive playoff misses.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- For months, Cardinals officials have only been specific about Alex Reyes' role when outlining how the club's No. 1 prospect won't be handled. In this arena, the club has employed some hard and fast rules.

The Cardinals won't accelerate the rehab program of the 23-year-old Reyes, now 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, to mollify a team need. They won't -- at least, they would rather not -- constrict him to an opportunity-based role -- let's say closer -- at the risk of hindering his future development. And they won't push him irresponsibly after he does return, no matter the urgency following two consecutive playoff misses.

View Full Game Coverage

So what will his role look like?

It's a hard question to answer with so many factors at play. The challenge will be finding a way to keep the 23-year-old in a consistent role without having him finish too far short or beyond his career high of 111 1/3 innings by the end of the season.

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"If starter is that path, the start date might be delayed," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Tuesday. "If bullpen is the path, it would be easier to do."

Mozeliak said he prefers Reyes to return in either one capacity or another, rather than shuttle back and forth between roles as he did during his 12-game big league debut in 2016. He's floated the idea of a "hybrid" role in media sessions and fan forums alike. It's a term used around the league to describe several different types of pitcher.

Video: Reyes looks to regain form after Tommy John surgery

If Reyes is a hybrid, is he the type he was in 2016, when he started five games and finished three? Is he the Andrew Miller type, who can come out of the bullpen to throw in the middle of the game as well as the back end and on varying days of rest? Or is he more along the lines of Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock, deployed to get through vital middle innings when the lineup turns over a third time?

The short answer is: probably that last option.

The Cardinals hope to keep Reyes between approximately 70 and 100 innings, a workload that would land him somewhere between full-time starter and traditional reliever. Devenski threw 80 2/3 innings exclusively out of the bullpen last year, averaging around 1 1/3 innings per appearance. Michael Lorenzen racked up 83 innings for Cincinnati in a similar role. Peacock proved to be a valuable weapon during the Astros' World Series run while being unleashed in this manner.

"At the end of the day, what do you hope Alex Reyes' season looks like? You hope it looks somewhere near 100 innings. We don't want to blow by [his career-high]," Mozeliak said.

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"What we don't want to see happen is, say he ends up being someone we stick in the bullpen, and then at the end of the year we wake up and he has 70 innings. What is he going to be next year? It would be hard to envision him being a starter every fifth day because the workload is going to put him back at a risk."

The Cardinals carefully managed Reyes' innings throughout his Minor League career, avoiding spikes in workload they feared could put his high-octane arm at risk. Reyes threw 109 1/3 innings in 2014, 1161/3 the following season, then 111 1/3 between Triple-A Memphis and the Majors in '16. He got hurt anyway.

Those numbers once represented a floor. They're now more of a ceiling -- one he'd reach quickly if used exclusively out of the rotation. Tossing 100 innings would give Reyes approximately 16 starts -- four months of regular work. Assuming a May 1 season debut, such a schedule would require the Cardinals to either transition to a six-man rotation for parts of the year, shut Reyes down late, or both, assuming injury doesn't strike their five-man rotation. And if it does spring a leak, Jack Flaherty and John Gant would likely be the first two summoned from Memphis.

Reyes is scheduled to throw to hitters again Wednesday, his sixth such back-field session at the club's Roger Dean complex. He said he's "anxious to compete again" in whatever role he's given. Reyes is scheduled to throw three innings of 15 pitches each on Wednesday, a workload segmented differently from previous sessions, in which he was given 40 pitches to simulate two innings. Three innings could ostensibly constitute a short start -- or a long relief appearance.

"The role is going to be based part on team need," Mozeliak said, "and part what makes the most sense for him."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes

Prospect report: Cardinals camp

MLB.com

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Cardinals.

JUPITER, Fla. -- There's that old axiom that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And given the success the Cardinals have had in developing homegrown players who contribute, it would be understandable if the model never changed.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Cardinals.

JUPITER, Fla. -- There's that old axiom that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And given the success the Cardinals have had in developing homegrown players who contribute, it would be understandable if the model never changed.

Cardinals' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Conner Greene

Occasionally, though, things need to get tweaked. And the Cardinals did exactly that in alternating their offseason schedule. Gone is instructional league play in the fall at the end of the Minor League season. Now there's an instructional camp in January, so instead of capping off a year, it's being used to start things off.

"We've been very fortunate, a lot our affiliates made the playoffs and were playing into September," said Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque, referring to the fact that four of the organization's minor league clubs played postseason games in 2017. "Instead of coming with a two-day rest and suddenly they're in instructional league, now they're here in January. They go home, they get their rest and they start all over here in January. Development-wise, it's all about the teaching time, and January is a wonderful teaching time. It's a good time to find out where they are physically. The front end of this camp has been good, it's so competitive because of what the preparation did."

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That instructs camp, which had around 45 participants this year, combines nicely with the performance camps the Cardinals run throughout the offseason for strength and conditioning. It's gotten to the point where the digs at Roger Dean Stadium are open year-round, and the Cardinals are just fine with that.

"The chance to become a 12-month facility, we clearly are doing that, with many different systems in place," LaRocque said. "The performance camps have worked very well because from a physical standpoint, if you're on rehab, you're clearly coming through it. If not, one week a month, we have X amount of kids who come in, who we want to make sure are doing their work. And they are.

"We've had a very good offseason, the players are here ready to compete. Health has been good up to this point, due to the great offseason they had. We want to be a winning organization and we recognize it has to be about preparation. We have to do that and the kids have responded to that."

The system, in many ways, is split into two tiers. There is a distinct group of prospects who are either expected to make the big league roster or are at least knocking loudly on the door. Catcher Carson Kelly, pitcher Jack Flaherty, outfielders Harrison Bader, Randy Arozarena and utilityman Yairo Munoz have all gotten a lot of playing time in Grapefruit League games.

"This has been a good spring for them," LaRocque said of the players who have spent considerable time in big league camp. "They are very competitive and they've been able to be seen by the Major League staff."

The impressions prospects have made for manager Mike Matheny and company go beyond just those upper level players. Every year, opportunities are given to younger players, at lower levels, to show what they can do in Major League games. That's a win-win, as the Major League staff gets to know what the next wave looks like and the player development staff gets a sense of how that group handles the slightly hotter spotlight.

"We've been able to filter a lot of guys over from the step camp that our Major League staff has gotten to see, which has been very beneficial for us," LaRocque said, pointing to a recent split-squad day when 21 players from the Minor League side got to join the Major League teams. "The exposure, it works to different degrees. Harrison, Carson, they're playing almost every day. It's the next wave of guys we try to get exposure for and make sure the Major League staff gets to see them. And the players know what the expectations are.

"That's exactly what we tell them is going to happen. Be prepared, be ready, everything is going to happen quickly. You're only 30 seconds away from the stadium. They've all responded well."

Delvin Perez righting the ship

Delvin Perez got off on the wrong foot before his pro career even started. A positive drug test for a performance-enhancing drug knocked him from a potential top 10 selection in 2016 and the Cardinals rolled the dice by taking him No. 23 overall. His pro debut in the Gulf Coast League went well enough, but he struggled in his first full season and then broke his hand in early August. But when LaRocque talks about prospects -- Perez is still No. 25 on the Top 30 -- who had successful offseasons, Perez might be near the top of that list.

The shortstop played for Puerto Rico in the World Games in Panama, not only making up for competitive at-bats lost, but getting a head start on what the Cardinals hope will be a resurgent 2018 campaign.

"He had Yadier Molina as a manager, Jose Oquendo as a coach, it doesn't get better than that, right?" LaRocque said. "They were here working out for a period of time, which was great as well. His offseason got started well and that's important for a young player to get. Now he comes to spring that much more readied to compete and do what he has to do.

"He's right in the middle of that process. I was watching him on the back fields working with our field coordinator Mark DeJohn, working on some infield work, and it was excellent. I think he's seeing the idea of how to grind it out every day. His tools are solid all the way around. Like most young players, it's going to take time and at-bats. We're going to be patient. All things are pointing in a good direction and we'll see where it goes as we get through the next couple of weeks. So far, so good after the winter he's had."

Video: Reyes and O'Neill hope to make impact with Cardinals

Traded prospects gone, but not far away

The biggest offseason move the Cardinals made was the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. It cost the system four Minor Leaguers, three of whom are now among Miami's top 15 prospects. Any trade like that will impact a system, but the player development staff feels the organization is still on very solid footing.

"Yes, you do lose some prospects whenever you do this, but we feel we have some depth," LaRocque said. "I don't go out on a limb too much, but this is a really solid group coming through the system, particularly pitching, which is no secret either for us."

You don't often see prospects you've traded away during the offseason. Sometimes they're dealt to teams whose Spring Training homes are in Arizona, or the other side of Florida. In this case, however, the former Cardinals who are now Marlins are just on the other side of Roger Dean Stadium.

"They come over to see us on our fields to say hello," LaRocque said. "All of their friends are here. It's great. We wish them well. They're a great group of players who have moved on. But they do come back."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals

Prospect Q&A: Cardinals' Conner Greene

MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Cardinals camp, it was St. Louis's No. 21 prospect, Conner Greene.

Greene was a seventh-round pick out of the California high school ranks by the Blue Jays in 2013 and moved up prospect lists in 2015 and 2016 as his tremendous arm strength and raw stuff started to produce results. He struggled quite a bit in Double-A in 2017, but the Cardinals liked the upside enough to make sure he was part of the return in the Randal Grichuk trade this offseason.

JUPITER, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Cardinals camp, it was