Hazelbaker turning heads at Cards camp

Outfielder making case for roster spot with spring performance

March 21st, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. -- Of the 41 players bench coach David Bell could have singled out on Monday, he chose Jeremy Hazelbaker, a non-roster outfielder who, 11 months ago, went from being a Double-A outfielder in the Dodgers' system to having no job.

Bell, manager du jour in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Red Sox while Mike Matheny attended a family funeral, had been asked before the game if anyone had caught his eye in camp. He noted that one player, in particular, came to mind.

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"I had never really seen him play and had heard so much about the year he had last year," Bell said of Hazelbaker. "He's a guy who has a chance to help us out. He brings a lot to the table -- the way he runs, he can play all three outfield positions, left-handed bat, has good at-bats, a good approach."

Those on the Major League staff who heard about Hazelbaker's success last season are now seeing it after inviting the 28-year-old to Major League camp. He has shown an ability to play all three outfield positions capably and, after capping a two-hit day with a two-run homer on Monday, is 9-for-29 with seven RBIs this spring. He has stolen four bases and hit two homers, tied for most on the team.

"It's been a great Spring Training," Hazelbaker said. "First Spring Training with this organization, and it has been my favorite so far. I'm trying to take the opportunity when I can to show them all my skill set and all aspects of my game."

The Cardinals signed Hazelbaker last May, after he had been released by the Dodgers. A former fourth-round pick out of Ball State University, Hazelbaker took off in the new environment. He hit .308/.394/.503 in 40 games for Double-A Springfield to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit .333/.403/.594 in 58 games.

Word quickly trickled north about this new player who had caught fire.

"I just heard he was the greatest hitter ever," Randal Grichuk said of his first introduction to Hazelbaker. "A couple guys in Memphis said he was the greatest hitter they'd ever seen last year."

Hazelbaker is one of 19 position players remaining in camp. There will be Opening Day roster spots for 13 of them. While the Cardinals still appear to be leaning toward filling their final bench spot with utility infielder Greg Garcia, a strong spring showing from Hazelbaker has him in the mix as well.

"Honestly, that's not for me to even think about, because I'm just trying to go out there and open some eyes and perform," Hazelbaker said. "If they make that choice, then that's great. But if not, that's great also. As long as I have a number and a jersey on my back, then I'm going to be a happy man."