ST. LOUIS -- For more than a decade, Jose Martinez has returned to Venezuela in the offseason and represented his hometown club in the Venezuelan Winter League. He continued that practice this year, though this time Martinez returned with a full season of big league experience under his belt.
He also returned with a specific to-do list in mind.
Martinez left St. Louis ready to get additional exposure at first base this winter, and he's done that this month. Since making his season debut with the Tiburones de la Guaira on Nov. 2, Martinez has started nine games at first. His other four starts have come as a designated hitter.
Martinez's intention was to utilize his winter ball stint to build upon the first-base experience he gleaned with the Cardinals, who had him start 29 games at the position in 2017. They project to utilize him there, likely in a backup role, again next season.
"Being available at a couple positions this year, I think, has been great," Martinez said before departing St. Louis last month. "I think the work that I put in with coaches has worked. I just want to go out there and learn a little more defense."
Martinez planned to play in Venezuela until sometime in December and then report to Florida in January to get individualized instruction from infield instructor Jose Oquendo. He planned to take additional precautionary measures upon returning to his unstable home country.
Offensively, Martinez has anchored the Tiburones' lineup. In 13 games, he has posted a .383/.446/.638 slash line and a 1.085 OPS. Martinez has scored 12 runs, driven in 13 and tallied seven extra-base hits.
Out in the desert
The Arizona Fall League's six-week season concluded last week, thus ending the showcase and instructional opportunity for the Cardinals' eight participants. The Cards had especially strong showings from their position players, which included catcher Andrew Knizner, infielder Edmundo Sosa and outfielder Oscar Mercado.
Knizner, ranked by MLBPipeline as St. Louis' 27th-best prospect, slashed .358/.403/.537 in 17 games. His .940 OPS ranked seventh-best in the league. Sosa (No. 12) hit .305/.359/.356 over 17 games, while Mercado (No. 18) posted an on-base percentage of .363 while tallying five doubles and driving in 11.
On the pitching end, Sandy Alcantara (No. 9) followed his first taste of the Majors with five AFL starts. He finished with a 4.20 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 14 strikeouts to eight walks in 15 innings. Opponents batted .208 against the hard-throwing righty. Jordan Hicks (No. 14) led the four Cardinals pitchers with 15 2/3 innings, while Josh Lucas and Arturo Reyes pitched exclusively in relief.
• Tickets for Cardinals Winter Warm-Up go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. CT and can be purchased online at cardinals.com/WWU or at the Busch Stadium ticket office. Adult ($40) and child ($10) tickets are available for the event, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch from Jan. 13-15. Each ticket purchased is good for admission on all three days.
• The Cardinals and Cardinals Care will hold their sixth annual gift drive Dec. 6 to support area youth and children of military families at Scott Air Force Base. Fans are asked to donate new, unwrapped toys or gift cards at the Gate 4 entrance to Busch Stadium between 6 a.m.-1 p.m. CT. For more information, visit cardinals.com/giftdrive.
• FOX Sports Midwest has expanded its Cardinals offseason programing and will debut its Cardinals Rewind show Wednesday. The one-hour program will showcase some of the most memorable games from last season. Also, each Wednesday this offseason, FSM will air its 30-minute Cardinals Warmup program, featuring the latest Hot Stove news.