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Fowler preparing for shift to right field

Cards outfielder ready to do what team asks; Reyes modifies throwing program; Matheny discusses pace of play
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Dexter Fowler debuted in the big leagues with the Rockies in 2008, the 22-year-old brought a speed element to a unit flanked by corner outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe.

"I've got from here over," Holliday told him, scraping a line in the grass with his cleat. "You take everything else."

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Dexter Fowler debuted in the big leagues with the Rockies in 2008, the 22-year-old brought a speed element to a unit flanked by corner outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe.

"I've got from here over," Holliday told him, scraping a line in the grass with his cleat. "You take everything else."

Nearly a decade later, now 31, Fowler plans to pass the message along. He's the veteran now, the clubhouse leader on a big contract, and for the first time in his career, not the center fielder. One season after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract with Cardinals to be just that, Fowler enters camp committed to shifting over to right, at the team's behest.

"I'm going to tell Tommy Pham the same thing," Fowler said. "Let the young legs run around out there."

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Slowed by lingering heel injuries for most of the year, Fowler limped through an odd debut season in St. Louis in 2017, when his power spiked, his on-base skills sagged and his defense suffered -- according to virtually every metric.

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Though his sprint speed remained average among center fielders, Fowler was ranked the fifth-worst outfielder in baseball by the Statcast™ metric outs above average (OAA), which compares outfielder range based on opportunity and difficulty. By OAA, Fowler rated lower than notoriously bat-first players like J.D. Martinez and Kyle Schwarber.

Meanwhile, Pham (six OAA) emerged to rank among the better defensive outfielders in baseball, and newly acquired Marcell Ozuna (one OAA) rated nearly exactly average. Ozuna, who possesses the best arm of the group, won the National League Gold Glove in left field.

"We had this conversation last year, just initiating it: 'Hey, this is something we'll probably see on the horizon,'" Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of moving Fowler over. "Nobody wants to hear that, but it's just the truth."

Video: STL@CIN: Fowler leaves his feet to make slick catch

Over dinner early this offseason in Las Vegas, where Fowler lives, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak informed him of the club's plans to shift him to right. Fowler didn't initially know the reason for Mozeliak's visit. As they sat down to eat, Fowler's wife, Aliya, pressed the executive.

"OK, Mo," she said. "Why did you really come out here?"

By the end of the meal, Fowler was on board -- as long as he didn't have to switch positions midseason, he said. Fowler has just one inning of big league experience in right field, though he played there occasionally in high school and as a prospect in the Arizona Fall League.

"I can catch a fly ball," said Fowler, who added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. "I feel like [switching] can save my legs a little bit, probably help me through the rest of my career. Maybe play five or six more years."

Small step for Reyes in throwing program
Alex Reyes took another small step in his throwing program Friday, completing a 45-pitch bullpen without any issues. The intensity of Reyes' bullpens has increased incrementally early this spring, going from one set of 20 fastballs, to two sets of 20, and now to three sets of 15. The modification is meant to simulate an increase in innings, hinting at the club's preference to use Reyes as a starter upon his return.

Wick claimed
Designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Bud Norris, Minor League righty Rowan Wick was claimed on waivers by the Padres on Friday.

The claim ends a unique six-year climb through the Cardinals' organization for Wick, who enjoyed a 20-home run season in the low Minors in 2014 before converting to pitching the following season.

Pace of play
Matheny spent nearly 10 minutes Friday opining on the possible rules changes slated for 2018, and speculating how his team might adjust to them.

On the proposed rule to limiting manager and catcher trips to the pitcher's mound, Matheny said: "Bottom line is, they've got to do something better and different to help the pace of the game.

"It's something the commissioner has done very much. He's had his ear to the ground on what our fans are saying. Part of it would be a different style of communication … We're still going to have to slow pitchers down. Stepping off is still an option. We can step off all day … We'll have to keep close track of [the number of trips], which is putting a lot on us. And it'll put a lot on that communication between the pitcher and the catcher."

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Dexter Fowler