ST. LOUIS -- Tommy Pham went quietly to Minor League camp in the waning days of Spring Training. At the time, he looked lost at the plate (9-for-42 with 16 strikeouts) and had been outplayed by Jose Martinez.
Over the next month, however, Pham would correct his vision and, in turn, his confidence, setting the stage for an emphatic return to the Majors. Injuries to Stephen Piscotty and William Fowler created an opportunity, one that Pham seized. And now the biggest question surrounding Pham is whether he's finally poised to stay.
"I feel like my ability will speak for itself," Pham said. "I drive the ball pretty consistently. I'm going to play better defense this year. I'm going to steal some bases. If I do all that, there are not too many guys in the league that bring that set of abilities to the table."
The skill set has never been in question. It's why the Cardinals have retained Pham despite myriad injury issues and prolonged slumps. Perhaps the payoff is arriving now.
Thrust into the Cardinals' thinning outfield this past week, Pham hit three home runs in the team's sweep of the Braves over the weekend -- including the game-winning blast in the 14th inning on Sunday. He rolled that momentum into the series in Miami, tallying another four hits. There, Pham started rallies on Tuesday and Wednesday that helped the Cards climb out of four-run deficits.
In total, Pham reached base in all six road wins, scored six runs and tallied six extra-base hits.
"Talent-wise, I think we see hints of this, which just amazes you," manager Mike Matheny said. "But it's the consistency, just like I'll tell you about any other player who hasn't been in the league all that long. We have some young guys out there, but this door was opened up because of injury, and he's coming, bull-rushing through the door."
Pham, a student of sabermetrics, always believed he was capable of thriving at this level. When the results weren't there, he'd look at his spray charts or stats like exit velocity and line-drive rate to assure himself that his approach was sound. Pham is an avid consumer of advanced metrics and Statcast™ data, finding that it provides supporting evidence to what he long believed were strengths.
Statcast™ data reminded Pham that he ranked second on the Cardinals in 2016 with an average exit velocity of 92 mph. That exit velocity ranked 18th in the Majors (minimum 75 at-bats). Pham posted an average exit velocity of 93.5 mph on this road trip, and he connected for the hardest-hit home run (110.1 mph) of any Cards player this season.
Pham is using the whole field, too, as illustrated in the spray chart below.
"He's a dangerous player when he's locked in," Matheny said. "It's just getting the opportunities."
Pham will continue to earn those opportunities with this sort of production, perhaps even at the expense of those who beat him out for Opening Day roster spots. He could challenge Randal Grichuk or Piscotty for playing time once Piscotty returns from the DL. And Pham may block Martinez from regaining his spot as the team's extra outfielder when he, too, gets healthy.
After years of vacillating between the Minors, big leagues and DL, Pham believes he's finally on the verge of sticking where he wants.
"I've been having pretty consistent quality at-bats since the start of the Triple-A season," Pham said. "I'm just trying to continue with my routine and put together quality at-bats each and every day."