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Bird Watching: St. Louis Cardinals 2022

Pujols returns to St. Louis, but who else is new?

Hello, fellow bird-watchers! And cheers to you as we welcome the 2022 MLB season upon us. In St.Louis, it can be equated to maybe only Christmas day. Opening day signifies the end of winter and the turn of something new. A clean slate and a glass half full for all 30 teams. After the Winter of darkness, we all just endured, opening day is oh so very much a welcomed sight.

Apologies for the delay in our bird watching coverage as my cup has been running over. Nevertheless, baseball prevails and the Cardinals opened up their season at home with 4 games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2 games against the Royals, and then on the road for 4 games against the Brewers. There were also some late off-season moves made that I certainly want to hit upon today as we finish up our “Hello’s” and touch on some stories to follow for the season and predictions for our favorite redbirds.

So please, if you’ll have me, let me be your tour guide for this 2022 season of St.Louis Cardinals baseball. But first, a quick story to preface our season.


 

The year was 2001. My dad had just taken me and a friend of mine to our local baseball card shop in town (I was and still am an avid collector). My favorite players at the time were Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, and a starry-eyed rookie named Albert Pujols.

“Big Mac” Mark McGwire, was and is who I still recall as the player that made me fall in love with baseball (My “First favorite player”, that Summer of 98 was insane.). Now McGwire had already had a Hall of Fame career up to this point. In fact, there were grumblings, besides the ones in his knees, that he could even hang ’em up, and retire at the end of the season. That is exactly what happened. I wasn’t looking for a McGwire card that day, I had a good bit already.

Jim Edmonds will always be my favorite childhood player. Nothing will change that.

In 2001, Edmonds was in the middle of his prime and entering his second full season with the Cardinals. Reasons why he was my favorite included

  1. As a kid, I played centerfield. Jim Edmonds played CF and I mean played. The man ran everything down in CF and made it look graceful at the same time. From watching him I developed a motto while playing “Any ball, anywhere, catch it.” I would stand in CF and speak my mantra over and over again. I wanted to be Jim Edmonds. I wanted the ball to be hit to me so I could rob the hitter of the sweet taste of a single, double, or maybe even the coveted homerun.
  2. His swing. He had such a smooth swing. Alas, I tried to teach myself how to hit lefty and failed. I was a natural righty.
  3. He was a showman. Whether it was a robbed home run against the Reds in the ninth in the middle of July. A diving catch in the NLCS against the Astros in 2004. A walk-off home-run in the NLCS in 2004. He always had the flair for dramatics.

In the end, Edmonds eventually was traded to the Padres for David Freese in 2007, and later retired in 2011. He played a huge role in why I fell in love with the “Cardinals brand” and organization. I always kept a good eye out for a nice Jim Edmonds card, but I also had a few already as well.

That left Albert Pujols. The young 21-year-old came blasting onto the scene after Placido Polanco got injured late in spring training. In his rookie season, he hit 37 home runs, batted in 130 runs, and batted .329. He won the NL rookie of the year award and ended up coming in 4th for the NL MVP award behind Luis Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds who had 57, 64, and 73 home runs respectively. WHO DOES THAT AS A ROOKIE?! I wanted a nice Pujols card. I needed one.

As I walked around the card shop looking for the right card to pull the trigger on with my allowance, I kept all the above in mind. Suddenly, out of nowhere a dual relic game-used-jersey card of both Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds appeared. My favorite player and the star rookie?! I HAD to have it. I knew I didn’t have enough money for it but I couldn’t let anyone else have it. I had to ask my dad if he could help me out. I’m lucky that he did.

I remember walking out of the store that day with that card in my hand and my dad, and a friend both asking me if the card would be worth anything when Pujols retires, or if I’ll cry when he does.

I don’t remember my response but 21 years later and entering his self-proclaimed last season, Albert Pujols has returned to St. Louis. The same man who bears the accolades of 2001 NL Rookie of the year, 3x NL MVP, 9x All-star, and 2x WS Champion. That card is priceless, it always has been and always will be. Thank you, dad. Here’s to a beautiful new season of Cardinals baseball everyone.


Hellos

Albert Pujols-DH/1B-RH

My goodness, where I touched on it a bit above I will go into more in-depth here. Albert Pujols is back baby.

Albert Pujols. Let me just try to give you an understanding of the legend that is, Albert Pujols.

Homerun ranks All-time: 5th (681)

Runs Batted In All-time: 3rd (2,154)

Hits All-time: 6th (3,306)

That’s just a few of the many categories that Pujols appears at the top of the list, but not all. The 22-year veteran returns to St. Louis after a 10-year vacation in LA. I guess he earned it? “The Machine” started his career in St. Louis with 10 straight seasons on 30+ HRs, 100+ Rbi’s, and a .300+ batting average. The list of players in MLB history to do that has one name on that list, Albert Pujols. Pujols was the cornerstone, backbone, heart, and soul of the Cardinals organization from the moment he arrived until the final out of the 2011 World Series. Cardinals fans mourned when he departed, but accepted the fact that Cardinals management was not going to match the Angel’s $225 million dollar deal.

Pujols, now 42, is not the Pujols of yesteryears. He has only had three 30+ HR seasons since he left St. Louis in 2011 and with his age and injury history now, he will be limited to primarily a DH to face majority left-handed pitching. That isn’t to say this is a signing with limited impact or potential. This is a marvelous signing and I couldn’t rave enough about it. Here’s why

  1. Pujols still can mash against lefty’s. In 2021 he hit 13 dingers while spotting the tune of a .294 average and a .600+ slug. Heck at the time of writing this, Pujols is 4-6 with 2 HR’s and 4 Rbi’s against LHP on this young season.
  2. He is an incredible presence for this locker room to have. From veterans to rookies, everyone will benefit from having not only one of the best St. Louis Cardinals to ever put on the jersey, but also a future first-ballot HOF player. There’s just so much that goes into a grind of a 162-game MLB baseball season. Having someone like Albert around to lean on for experience and knowledge is invaluable.
  3. Having Pujols back for the 2022 season means the Cardinals actually care about the fans and the legacy that has been made about this organization since the early 2000s. Giving Pujols the opportunity to retire a Cardinal and go out with his self-proclaimed younger brother, Yadi, is class act on the Cardinal’s part to find a way to get done and is by far one of the coolest stories in sports right now.

Pujols does still have a lot left in the tank and I am looking forward to watching him hit his 700th HR in Cardinals uniform, still hitting against RHP, and retiring after 22 professional seasons in which he did not strike out 100 times or more in a single season.

Andre Pallante-RHP

I put Andre Pallante on this least not because he is new to the organization but because he has only played in 2 games above AA before this season. This year ( thanks to injuries to Flaharty and Reyes) he made the big league club out of camp. The young right-hander has a 99 mph fastball to pair with a nasty curveball. He gets the privilege of working with and learning from Cardinals legends like Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina before they’re gone. Welcome, Andre Pallante!

Aaron Brooks-RHP-1 Yr/ 1.4 Million

Look! The Cardinals snatched up another hard-throwing pitcher that just finished up a stint in Asia, how original. All jokes aside, something the Cardinals are very good at is finding pitchers who have gone to play overseas and figured something out. Now I’m not guaranteeing that to happen here, just pointing out that it has happened before. The former Royal’s, A’s, and Oriole’s pitcher Brooks, 30,  just spent the last two seasons in Korea where he may have actually “figured it out”. In 2020 he threw 151 innings to notch 14 wins and earn a 2.50 ERA. That’s pretty good. Now it’s the KBO and not MLB, but professional season and showing nonetheless. He, unfortunately, wasn’t able to continue that success in ’21 due to off-the-field issues. Regardless, a good depth signing for the Cardinals. Let’s see what the Aaron Brooks the Cardinals get in ’22.

Corey Dickerson-OF-LH

The perennial search for an addition of a left-handed bat with some pop off the bench comes this year in the form of Corey Dickerson! We welcome Dickerson as an LH complement to Albert Pujols at the DH position. Dickerson comes to the Cardinals after spending 2021 with both the Marlins and Blue Jays and socking just 6 HR’s, he has career ops of .815 and has hit as many HR’s as 27 in a season before. We’ll see how Oli manages him and handles the DH position. Welcome, Corey Dickerson!

Drew VerHagen-RHP

Not appearing in majors since being released by the Tigers in 2019, VerHagen, 31, spent the last few seasons in Japan with the Nippon Ham. He went a combined 13-14 in the W-L category but kept his ERA below 4.00 both seasons, which is more key to me. VerHagen is a sinkerball pitcher and looks to take advantage of the fact that NL hitters will not have seen his stuff before as well. I see the righty being a flexible piece coming out of the bullpen as long as he can stay in the strike zone and not walk people. A good depth signing. Stay healthy Drew, and welcome!

Nick Wittgren-RHP

Another depth move that could pay dividends later in the season as the saying goes “you can never have enough pitching”. Wittgren, 30, comes over after spending the last 3 seasons with Cleveland, which includes a 2021 season where he appeared in 60 games. He isn’t a big strikeout pitcher and looks to do more of the same as most of the pitchers that have been brought in over the last few years, get ground balls, and use the defense.

Oli Marmol-Manager

As with Pallante above, Marmol is not new. His role and expectations though very much are. Welcome your new manager Cardinals fans! Marmol, 35, is by far the youngest manager in the big leagues at the moment but will set out to prove he has sticking power. His previous two predecessors didn’t last more than a decade total (Matheny 12′-18′, Shildt 18′-21′). In order to buck that trend, Oli will look to hit the ground running with a hungry team fresh off a late-season 17-game winning streak, a defense that won a record 5 gold gloves in 2021, and an offense eager to prove it can hit with the best in the league.

Oli knows this team well. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 2007 and spent the next 4 seasons as a utility player in the Cardinals organization hitting to the tune of just .206 until he was cut in 2011. Immediately upon being cut Oli asked the team if there was a spot on the coaching staff for him. He knew he wanted to be a coach.

In 2011, Marmol became the hitting coach of the Gulf Coast Cardinals of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The next season, he became manager of the Johnson City Cardinals of the Rookie-level Appalachian League, and led the team to the postseason. In 2013, he managed the State College Spikes of the New York-Penn League. He returned to State College in 2014 and won the league’s championship. In 2015, he was promoted to manage Palm Beach, and he managed Palm Beach for the 2016 season.

The Cardinals named Marmol their first base coach before the 2017 season. Before the 2019 season, the Cardinals shifted Marmol to bench coach, and on October 25, 2021, he was promoted to manager of the Cardinals.

Oli knows the responsibility that comes with being the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He understands that winning is expected. He’s aggressive, smart, savvy, and winning the Cardinals shall do under Oli. I expect great things from manager Marmol. Welcome, Oli!

Steven Matz-LHP-4 Yr / 44 Million

The big off-season signing, right?! Signing a 4-year 44 million dollar deal, Matz, 30, brings his strong left arm south of the border from Toronto to St. Louis. Look, everyone thought this deal wasn’t good enough, and it still may not be, but I’m of the belief that baring an Injury Matz will work wonders in the St. Louis environment. Matz uses four pitches; A sinker, changeup, slider, and curveball. When he is on, he will work down in the zone and use his defense to get quick outs. No other team in baseball can take advantage of that style better than the slick-fielding Cardinals. He won 14 games with a 3.8 ERA last season with the Blue Jays. Even if he does just that in St. Louis he has a welcomed spot in the rotation. The fear is that he gets injured, or goes in the way of Mike Leake. Injuries happen in this sport and there is no fail-safe way in trying to predict that, but as long as he sticks around for the duration of his contract and gives you 160-180 innings a year, you will get a competent 3-4 starter with upside. Great signing and welcome Steven Matz!


Minor hellos- ( A brief look at signings to our minor league system.)

Arfeni Batista-SS

This right-handed hitter is only 17 years old! He comes over from the Dominican Republic and enters his first season of professional baseball.

Blake Parker-RHP

The 36-year-old journeyman marks his third straight spring with a minor league deal. He had a 3.09 ERA over 43 innings in 2021 and found himself a last-minute cut in spring. I feel as long as he stays healthy down the stretch he will make an appearance on the big league roster

Cory Spangenberg-2B-LH

Assigned to AAA Memphis, the former 2010 first-round pick still finds himself on the outside looking into a major league roster. Spending the majority of his career with the Milwaukee organization, Spangenberg, 31, spent the last 2 seasons in the NPL in Japan. He swatted 14 HRs in 2020 and has a quick swing from the left side. It would take an injury for a call-up. Welcome, Cory!

Diego Dominguez-RHP

Diego hails from Mexico and looks to enter his first full season in professional ball. At 17 years old, he will be raw and looks to take advantage of the Cardinal’s coaching staff and polish his craft.

Jonathan Mejia-SS

This 16-year-old was already the #14 prospect on Baseball America’s top international free agents before he signed this off-season. Now he slides in as one of the Cardinal’s most intriguing prospects. Obviously, it will be a few seasons before he will have a chance to slip on the Cardinals uniform, Mejia has all the tools to get there and thrive.

Jose Suriel-RHP

A right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic. 2022 will be his first professional season.

Jovi Galvez-RHP

Another right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic. 2022 will also be his first professional season.

Junior Chrinos-RHP

A tall right-hander from Venezuela. 2022 will be his first professional season in the states.

Leonel Sequera-RHP

Another right-handed pitcher from Venezuela. 2022 will also be his first professional season in the states.

Luis Rodriguez-C

Ranked #26 on the International prospects list, Rodriguez, 17, was another great grab by the Cardinals in the international free-agent market. The right-handed catcher Luis stands already a little above 6 feet and is ready to grow into his body and mash dingers. It will defiantly be a few years before he’s on the St. Louis radar but it will be fun to watch him grow.

Nelfy Ynfante-RHP

Another right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic. 2022 will also be his first professional season.

Packy Naughton-LHP

One of the coolest baseball names you will find, Packy Naughton will try his luck with the Cardinals after being designated for assignment by the Angels late in Spring Training. Packy, 26, starts his season with Memphis and hopes to claw his way up to the big league club at some point and help contribute. Drafted as recent as 2017 Packy is still young enough to see a bright future ahead of him if he can put it together.

Won-Bin Cho-OF

This kid intrigues me mightily. He is the first amateur the St. Louis Cardinals organization has signed from Asia, ever. He has such an interesting story on how he arrived on the Cardinals roster as well. You can find that here. Cho,18, swings lefthanded and brings all five tools to the table. He performed in a power showcase at the age of 16 in Texas and there are clips of him hitting 485 bombs on youtube as well. The excitement is there, the tools are there, and time is there in front of him to take advantage of. I’ll be watching. Best of luck and welcome Cho!

Yordalin Pena-OF

A young righthanded batter from the Dominican Republic that will see 2022 as his first professional season in the states.

Yordy Herrera-LHP

The lone lefty of the group, Herrera, 17, spans from the D.R. as well and will see 2022 as his first professional season as well

Zach McAllister-RHP

The once former Clevland All-star hasn’t appeared in an MLB game since 2018 but hasn’t given up yet in his quest to make it back to the majors. The Cardinals took the chance and signed McAllister to a minor league contract. He is currently at Memphis AAA. If the Cardinal’s pitching depth gets tested too much, don’t be surprised to see McAllister called up as long as he is throwing strikes.


That’s it for our hellos today as we turn the page and get ready for game coverage and recaps from here on. A little late here to start the season on welcoming some of the new faces but better late than never. The marathon of 162 is underway and the Cardinals look to make it back to the promised land for the first time since 2013 ( that’s the world series). I look to talk to you very soon, and if not on here keep up with me on Twitter @MattBlaker83. Whether you are a first-time bird watcher or seasoned vet, welcome baseball, bring your cheer.

Written by Matthew Blaker

Former minor-league broadcaster and still a contageous baseball nerd. Have watched every Cardinals game for the last 22+ years, and I will never stop. Love to travel and try great food too! I also play Bass in my spare time.

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