After mashing his way through the Minors, Saggese's confidence sky-high

March 12th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- Dressed in board shorts and a rumpled T-shirt most days, always radiating an aw-shucks, go-with-the-flow aura, often gives off the vibes of a surfer dude breezing through life without a care in the world.

With his sleepy eyes, three-day stubble and unspectacular build, Saggese could easily pass for a student from the nearby college, or a pizza delivery boy who errantly stumbled into the clubhouse. The 21-year-old infielder jokingly admits that “I don’t do a whole lot other than baseball,” when it comes to variety in his life or outside interests he’s particularly confident about.

However, once the Cardinals prospect steps into the batter’s box, his carefree nature becomes confident strength, and he knows he’s right where he belongs. Those chill vibes transform into white-hot energy and his batting glove-free hands seemingly grip the life out of the lumber he’s about to swing.

Hitting, Saggese said with a conviction buried well beneath his mellow exterior, is exactly what he was meant to do in this life.

“I’ve always known from an early age, and for whatever reason, I’ve been very confident that at my very best, I know I can make it,” he said of his pursuit of a Major League Baseball career. “I’m not sure why, but that’s kind of the only thing in my life like that. I know I can produce in the big leagues.”

Can he ever produce?

Saggese, the No. 5-ranked player in the Cardinals' system, per MLB Pipeline, is coming off a Double-A season where he won the Texas League MVP, and he was just a few homers shy of capturing that league’s elusive Triple Crown. He was already on the radar of the Cardinals, who made sure he was included in the Trade Deadline deal that sent Jordan Montgomery to the Rangers.

This spring, with Saggese being a non-roster invitee to the Cards’ big-league camp, he’s done nothing but improve his already steadily rising profile by going 11-for-29 (.379) with one homer and nine RBIs in 14 games. He’s hit whether he’s started or come off the bench, as evidenced by his 4-for-4, six-RBI performance as a reserve on Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Saggese was the first Cardinals reserve to have six RBIs in a game since Brian Barton in 2009.

“He’s been exactly as advertised,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Good organizations have depth, and we’ll continue to run him out there. He works hard. He loves the game … and loves learning about the game.”

Saggese’s talents will be on display later this week when the Cardinals’ top prospects play two games in MLB’s inaugural Spring Breakout, a showcase for the game’s stars of tomorrow. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Saggese, an unquestioned star already in the Cards' system, is on the roster for both Friday’s Spring Breakout game, when the Cardinals host the Marlins, and on Sunday morning when they face Houston’s top prospects.

“I think it’s a really cool idea,” Saggese said of MLB creating a forum to showcase the game’s top young talent. “I didn’t even know I was in it until [Cardinals and Spring Breakout teammate Victor Scott II] asked, ‘Hey, are you going?’ It’s definitely a cool thing to get the Minor Leaguers some exposure. But just getting to play baseball is a blessing in itself.”

One thing that energizes Saggese as much as hitting, he said, is his new-found faith. He poured himself into his faith not long after his mother, Wendi -- his professed “best friend” -- died of breast cancer in 2020 when he was a high school senior in Carlsbad, Calif. As a tribute to his late mother, Saggese writes “MORE” on his wrist tape because when he would tell Wendi that he loved her, she always responded, “I love you … more.”

Saggese taps that wrist tape before he steps in the box, and last season, following a monstrous 405-foot homer, he tapped his wrist twice before crossing home.

That blast came for Triple-A Memphis, where Saggese was promoted following his demolition of Double-A pitching (.318, 25 homers and 107 RBIs). The next progression from Triple-A could be a promotion to the Cardinals, where Saggese has no doubts that he will pound MLB pitching.

“[My hitting confidence] is kind of an interesting, underlying thing with me,” said Saggese, who is something of a rarity in that he doesn't wear batting gloves because he likes the feel of the wood in his hands. “When I got to pro ball, I was like, ‘Oh this is different,’ but there was still that feeling that I could do this.”