With Jason Heyward gone, Cardinals are counting on Stephen Piscotty
While losing Jason Heyward in free agency to the division-rival Chicago Cubs hurt, the St. Louis Cardinals are counting on a younger generation of talent to make an immediate impact, starting with Heyward's outfield replacement, Stephen Piscotty.
Heyward, 26, was an early bloomer in the majors, and said one of the main reasons he went to the Cubs was the aging core of the Cardinals. While Piscotty is only one year younger than Heyward, St. Louis likes what it has seen from his progression through the minors and his first full season with the big league club.
"You look at his progression through the minor leagues, and it was a perfect trend," general manager John Mozeliak said of Piscotty, according to MLB.com. "It was always getting better. There is a level of confidence that he's the right guy to make the bet on."
The Cardinals could have been major players for another free-agent outfielder such as Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon, but they chose to see if their own crop of talent can be the long-term answer.
"[Piscotty] is a phenomenal talent, and one of those guys we see so much potential for," manager Mike Matheny said. "We talk about how this kid can make quick adjustments. This kid figures it out on the fly. There is a mental side that Stephen brings, and we'd like all the other kids in the system to figure that out as well. He's the kind of kid we're convinced there is even a higher upside than what we've seen already."
Piscotty is slotted to take over in right field, the position left vacant after Heyward’s one season with the Cardinals. In center field, Randal Grichuk is expected to be tabbed as the everyday starter. While Grichuk needs to make sure he stays healthy to be productive for St. Louis, Piscotty can pick up where he left off -- showing early signs of star potential.
Instead of the Cardinals making an acquisition at the trade deadline, promoting Piscotty to the majors turned out one of the best moves the club could have made during its push to a 100-win regular season. In 63 games and 256 plate appearances, Piscotty hit .305 with a .853 OPS along with 15 doubles, filling in at left field for injured Matt Holliday.
"That whole process I think really solidified my belief in what I was doing," Piscotty said. "I trust it, and so this offseason, I'm not trying to change that at all. I think it works."
While many players new to the majors have issues with a learning curve in a second season when veteran players have had time to adjust, Piscotty believes he is capable of maintaining the success.
"I felt like I was able to make adjustments on the fly," Piscotty said. "I think in the minor leagues, I made adjustments maybe game-to-game. But I felt in the big leagues, working with the coaching staff, I was able to make adjustments at-bat to at-bat."
The Cardinals didn’t have the splashy offseason experts and fans wanted to see from a club working to remedy an early postseason exit, but Mozeliak believes letting players from St. Louis’ own system get a chance to showcase could be the best thing for the club in 2016.
"If you can imagine multiple cars in your garage, and you seem to drive the same one every day, at some point you may ask yourself, 'Well, does the other one work?'" Mozeliak said. "You have to give it a chance. You have to go test drive it. You've got to let it out of the garage and find out if it's what you thought it is."