ST. LOUIS -- Paul DeJong has made a rapid rise through the Cardinals' farm system since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. His upcoming season, however, will be marked with a fresh challenge.
DeJong will further his transition to shortstop, a position he started playing repeatedly in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to that AFL stint, DeJong had played primarily at third, with 11 shortstop starts sprinkled in during his first two years in the Cardinals' system. But despite the small sample size at short, DeJong, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's No. 15 prospect, said he already feels comfortable there.
"I played there all throughout the Fall League, and I felt like I made every play over there," DeJong said. "I think it just adds another edge to my game to get me in the lineup at a different position."
With a strong spring, DeJong could land on the Triple-A roster. Last year, the infielder ascended as high as Double-A, where he slashed .260/.324/.460 over 132 games. His offensive numbers weren't as impressive in the AFL, though his priority there was on the defensive side.
"I wanted to make sure I played shortstop so I could get comfortable there and just try to see more pitching and see better pitching," DeJong said. "It's almost like an All-Star league. I felt like I started off a little bit slow [at the plate], but got some momentum towards the end."
Gomber climbing the depth chart
With the offseason departures of Jaime Garcia and Tim Cooney, the Cardinals' left-handed starting depth has taken a hit. And while the Cardinals wait to see how Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons recover from their respective surgeries, it's another lefty who has, according to general manager John Mozeliak, taken the top spot on that depth chart.
That's Austin Gomber, who followed up a 2015 season in which he was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year, with an equally impressive '16. Gomber made 17 starts for Class A Advanced Palm Beach and another four with Double-A Springfield before closing his year in the AFL. Over those 21 Minor League starts, Gomber had a 2.69 ERA and a 1.063 WHIP. He averaged 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
The continued success has earned Gomber an invitation to Major League camp for the second straight year.
"I just think once you get closer, you get to Double-A, you get to the Fall League, whatever it may be, you can smell it," Gomber said. "I think you create the opportunities for yourself. I think if you have success, you will get an opportunity."
Bader rising quickly
Following a year in which he hit .267/.335/.452 while splitting time at Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, outfielder Harrison Bader completed his 2016 season with a stint in the AFL. He thrived in the prospect-heavy league, hitting .304/.349/.430 in 21 games. He also took away lessons learned from working with former Major Leaguer Aaron Rowand.
Rowand served as the hitting instructor for the Glendale club on which the Cardinals' prospects played. The former outfielder and rising one quickly found common ground.
"From Day One, he was like a second father to all of us," Bader said. "Having that level of experience behind you every day for 6 1/2 weeks was tremendous."
Bader, a third-round pick in the 2015 Draft, has positioned himself to be the first member of that Draft class to ascend to the Majors. He's received an invite to big league camp and could position himself as a midseason callup candidate with a strong start to the season.
"I'm certainly confident in my talent to play anywhere," Bader said. "At the same time, with regards to [where I start the season], it's out of my control. I'm just focused on what I can control, and that's preparing myself for Spring Training. I'm looking forward to everything involved with that."