The St. Louis Cardinals came to spring training with a core unit of proven veterans at almost every position. The young prospects for the team seem to be proving their abilities for minor league assignments more than they seem to be competing for major league jobs.
The two exceptions to that rule, Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong, came in to spring training with much fanfare and high expectations. Depending on which pundit you spoke to, it was possible for both to be on the roster come Opening Day. Wong was poised to start at second base. Taveras was in a position to make the outfield more crowded than it already was.
The spotlight would shine brightest on these two prospects as workouts began. Spring training may end up being a very different experience for them.
The Pressure Mounts
Pressure can be a determining factor when it comes to a prospect and the determination of readiness. Wong had a turbulent offseason both personally and professionally. Wong's offseason would start with the glaring memory of an unfortunate baserunning mistake the youngster made in the 2013 World Series, allowing himself to be picked off to end Game 4 against the Boston Red Sox. The offseason did not get any easier for Wong, who lost his mother, Keala, to her four-year battle with cancer on December 19.
Wong would arrive in Jupiter, Florida, ready to put his best foot forward on the field. He put an immense amount of pressure on himself and began to struggle. A young man who had always been portrayed as a solid hitter continued to struggle to do just that. Many fans began to wonder what was wrong and if Wong could ever realize his potential.
Meanwhile, the top prospect in the Cardinals' organization, Taveras was struggling in his own way. Taveras had injured his ankle last season. Though team doctors had proclaimed him healthy and ready to play, the young man refused to put his ankle to the test, reportedly fearing another injury. The team continued to push, and Taveras finally found his way into game action.
A Calm Approach Allows a Breakthrough
Wong seemed to take a much calmer approach in the last few games, and the results have started to show. Rick Hummel, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointed out that through Tuesday's game action, Wong has reached base five times in his last seven plate appearances. Three of those five baserunning opportunities came by way of hit, including Tuesday's home run and double.
The relaxation has shown in other ways as well, as pointed out by Stan McNeal of FoxSportsMidwest.com:
All you needed to see was what he did during the Cardinals' team stretch hours before the game. The feat was impressive enough to stop manager Mike Matheny in mid-sentence during his pregame media session.
From a standing position, with his teammates watching, Wong did a backflip.
It certainly appears Wong has found his stroke and a new, relaxed approach that could lead to success.
Pushing Forward May Have Set Taveras Back
Taveras was finally poised to take the field for his much anticipated debut over the weekend. He played in two games, the most recent on Saturday. Now, the team reports Taveras is slowed by a tight hamstring in his right leg, the same leg the injured ankle is attached to. According to manager Mike Matheny, who shared his thoughts with Hummel, Taveras will likely not find himself on the Opening Day roster:
We kept saying we need to see him healthy before we can make any determination and we say the same thing right now. We just thought we had kind of crossed that hurdle where we could watch him play on a consistent basis. Now we're held up again. He just hit another roadblock.
Taveras, unable to stay healthy this spring, will likely find himself getting regular at-bats in Memphis to start the year.
The two prospects are struggling to impress their future manager. Both players figure to be a big part of the future in St. Louis. Wong's time may very well be this season. Taveras will need to find consistency to get there.