JUPITER, Fla. — As nearly 130 Cardinals minor league players sat in the outfield of a back field at the team’s complex in Jupiter, Fla., they huddled around minor league coaches and front office staff members, and were posed a question about their future.
“Where will you be in August?” Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque asked in an interview before he addressed minor leaguers ahead of Monday’s first full-squad minor league workout. “Now what are you going to do? So you can say what you want. ‘I want to be (there).’ But where are you going to be once you’re there? Where are you going to be in June? Where are you going to be in August? What level you’re going to be at?
“Therefore you have to determine that in April and May. That’s how it works.”
Where those minor leaguers are assigned won’t be known until later this spring. But the process that leads to that determination began Monday as the backfields of the Cardinals complex filled with constant action and fans looking to catch a glimpse of that.
While top prospects such as Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Tink Hence were in big-league camp, some new and familiar names circled the George Kissell Quad that features four baseball fields budded up against each other.
For the first time, teenage prospect Jonathan Mejia was in Cardinals spring camp. Mejia, 17, was the club’s headline international signee in January. The bonus he received at age 16, $2 million, was the largest one the Cardinals have given to a player that young. A switch-hitting shortstop born in the Dominican Republic, Mejia played in the short-season Dominican Summer League last year and hit .267 with an .897 OPS, 14 doubles and five homers in 46 games. He turns 18 in April.
Other minor leaguers in camp for the first time: 2022 third-round pick Pete Hansen, Luis Rodriguez — a former top-30 international player signed in 2022 — and Class High A Peoria fourth coach Christina Whitlock, who is the first uniformed female coach in Cardinals history.
Before Monday, prospects already had been prepping for the season. A group of 36 players, plus some who arrived early on their own accord, began official workouts in late February as a part of the Cardinals’ Spring Training Early Program Camp.
That early arrival gave players a chance to be seen in front of Cardinals minor league coaches and front office members, such as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez who were present Monday. The early arrival also led to a chance to get into a Grapefruit League game.
Outfielders Victor Scott II, Mike Antico, Scott Hurst, and pitcher Connor Lunn are some of the players from that minor-league camp who already have played in a spring exhibition game. Left-handed pitcher Cooper Hjerpe, who is in minors camp and was in earlier camp, has warmed in the bullpen of a Grapefruit League game but hasn’t been called upon.
As is the case with Cardinals’ main camp, some players in minor league camp have left to report for the World Baseball Classic. Right-handers Joseph King (Great Britain) and Wilfredo Pereira (Panama) and outfielder Matt Koperniak (Great Britain) have departed.
Infielder Noah Mendlinger (Israel) was present for the first full-squad workout of minor league camp. He will report to Team Israel’s camp on Tuesday, but won’t go too far. Team Israel will use the Marlins’ complex, which neighbors the Cardinals’, to prep for the tournament.
“I’m just so excited to kind of get in that moment and just soak it all in,” Mendlinger said earlier this spring on playing in the WBC.
Along with LaRocque’s “Where will you be in August?” message, the concepts such as patience and preparation were touched on during the farm director’s message to players. The latter of the two concepts began Monday.
Players shuffled from field to field during the afternoon. Coaches and players had brief introductions with one another. Some went through fundamental workouts, such as pitchers who took part in fielding practice and the practice of pickoff moves. Conversations about base running and leads were had.
Groups of hitters moved around from fields to hitting cages. At times they shouted over to remind each other when they needed to be. Other times they had to avoid traffic, such as a group of hitters that included former 2020 draft pick L.J. Jones. He waited for a group of jogging pitchers to pass them before trotting over to the next field.
Infielders such as Mejia took grounders, practiced turning double plays and were given direction by minor league fielding instructor Jose Oquendo.
All a part of a collective first day of work.
“We talk about how to go about a game and winning the game,” LaRocque said. “The scoreboard is on. It’s important, but we don’t talk about that that is the ultimate thing to have to do. We talk about the preparation that goes into it, leading up to it. So if we prepare well, we feel as though, and it’s shown over the years, we feel as though the success will come with it.”
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