JUPITER, Fla. -- The chatter started weeks ago, as players started wondering aloud what a Spring Training under manager Mike Shildt might look like.
The guesswork is about to go away.
Though Shildt isn't new to the job -- he led the Cardinals to an 41-28 record after replacing Mike Matheny last July -- he is poised to oversee Spring Training with new authority. He arrived at the club's Florida complex well ahead of Tuesday's report date for pitchers and catchers and will run the team's first official workout on Wednesday.
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He has hinted at nuanced changes, but changes nonetheless. He specifically cited how desired improvement on defense will steer a renewed focus on fundamentals this spring.
"We're going to get it to where it's so engrained that it's more of a natural habit," Shildt explained. "We're going to do it respectfully, and we're going to do it mindfully, but we are going to do it."
Asked by one of his players if this meant that camp would be more relaxed or more intense, Shildt answered: "Both."
"We're going to enjoy it," he continued. "We're going to appreciate what we're doing. It's going to be efficient. Our job as a staff is making sure we're going out and providing them things that are actually going to help them and not create any eyewash. The challenge that I have for our staff is to make the routine seem fresh. At the end of the day, you want to come out and be ready to go and be ready to play and create that template and baseline."
That organizational baseline hasn't budged, despite a run of three straight seasons without a postseason appearance. The Cardinals still expect to be competing for division titles and championship banners.
"We're in a position, fortunately, I think where we're a division-winning contender with a team good enough if we do make the playoffs to do some damage in the postseason," principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "That's where we are currently."
Those efforts to get back to October prompted the Cardinals to add a dynamic bat (Paul Goldschmidt) and impact arm (Andrew Miller) to the roster this offseason. Not to be overlooked, too, were the changes president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made to the field staff.
Shildt was permanently installed as manager in August. His staff was finalized a few months later with the additions of an analytically minded hitting coach (Jeff Albert) and standout Minor League manager (Stubby Clapp). Each will make an impact long before the Cardinals open the regular season in Milwaukee on March 28.
"I think that we've got a lot to prove still," Matt Carpenter said. "I think we have to go out, and we have to earn what our goals are. This is as excited as I've ever been to start a season, and I think there's good reason for that."
The course correction the club seeks begins immediately. Pitchers and catchers are required to report to Jupiter by Tuesday. The first full-squad workout is scheduled for next Monday, five days ahead of the club's Feb. 23 Grapefruit League opener against the Marlins.
And while the club sets its collective sights on October, it must first settle a series of uncertainties. A rotation needs to be finalized, and a bullpen built. Bench jobs remain up for grabs. Those coming off injuries and surgeries -- most notably Alex Reyes, Dexter Fowler and Marcell Ozuna -- will need to prove their health. A batting order must be determined.
The finished product will be unveiled in six weeks.
"Man, we look at our team on paper and we've got the pieces," Michael Wacha said. "There's a lot of potential, but it's just going out there and getting everybody together in Spring Training … and then going out there and winning some ballgames."