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Youth, experience meet in the outfield

 

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday is the veteran star, but the two young outfielders for the St. Louis Cardinals are drawing the most attention this season.

Randal Grichuk, 24, will patrol center field and Stephen Piscotty, 25, takes over in right field.

“We had a bunch of guys that were older that had experienced time and now it’s Holliday and the young bucks,” Grichuk said. “At least we have a good one there to learn from.”

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak traded Jon Jay to the San Diego Padres for utility infielder Jedd Gyorko. That created an opening for Grichuk. Then Mozeliak decided not to sign anyone in free agency after Jason Heyward chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs. In doing so, he showed he had faith in Piscotty in right field.

The result is an injection of youth that manager Mike Matheny said is big.

“You have guys who’ve never necessarily been front line players and there’s obvious front line opportunities out there,” Matheny said. “That creates energy.”

The roster

Grichuk, who underwent hernia surgery in December, broke out last season as a rookie when he made the team out of training camp. He batted .276 with 17 home runs, 47 RBIs, and 49 runs scored in 350 plate appearances. He finished with a .548 slugging percentage and he’s being counted on to provide power for an offense that ranked 25th in homers last year.

But there are some concerns. Grichuk spent a month on the disabled list between April 17 and May 15 due to a lower back strain and spent another month on the DL between Aug. 17 and Sept. 6 with a strained right elbow. Then, you throw the hernia procedure on top of that.

This season, St. Louis is counting on Grichuk staying healthy. He’s slated to Grichuk to start every day in center field heading into the 2016 season.

Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk

Piscotty, who came to the team during the season, hit .305 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in 256 plate appearances last season. He had a .494 slugging percentage

Holliday, at 36, is coming off a season derailed by a recurring leg injury, but he has been an All-Star left fielder in four of his six full seasons in St. Louis. During his time with the Cardinals, Holliday has been joined in the outfield by veterans Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig. Last season, Heyward and Jon Jay patrolled Busch Stadium with him.

The setup

The NL Central champions traded Jay during the winter for utility infielder Jedd Gyorko. Heyward spurned the Cards in free agency to sign with division rival Chicago, citing the Cubs’ youth and potential to be a World Series contender for years to come as a factor in the decision.

Heyward’s decision created roster room for some of the Cardinals’ talented young outfielders.

Grichuk is a former first-round draft choice by the Los Angeles Angels who came to St. Louis as a piece of the 2013 trade that sent Lafayette High graduate David Freese west.

Another young player also will provide backup. Tommy Pham can play all three outfield positions and is expected to make the team out of spring training for the first time in his career.

Holliday embraces the younger players getting a chance.

“I have no problem bringing energy no matter who’s here, but it is fun having them around,” the 12-year veteran said. “They are good players, good guys, a lot  of talent, a lot of upside. I’m excited about their prospects.”

The young outfielders appreciate Holliday’s wisdom.

“You can go up to him and talk to him any time – and he’s helpful,” Pham said.

Pham has hit .268 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 155 major league at-bats.

While Grichuk, Piscotty and Pham are relative newcomers to the major leagues, they are quite familiar with each other.

The trio played together for several seasons in the Cardinals’ minor league system.

Piscotty visited Grichuk in Texas during the offseason to work on hitting. Pham was scheduled to do so also, but those plans had the be shelved after Grichuk underwent surgery for the sports hernia.

Had it not been for injuries the trio of young outfielders may have become more familiar names earlier than this year.

A quad strain kept Pham from breaking camp on the Cardinals’ major league roster last season, ultimately landing him on the 60-day disabled list. Grichuk also spent time on the DL last season.

Aside from a scary outfield collision with Peter Bourjos that caused him to miss a few games last year, Piscotty has been relatively healthy during his time with the Cardinals.

The future

With Holliday a potential free agent following this season, the Cardinals also enjoy a certain amount of payroll security with the young trio.

After this season, the Cardinals hold a $17 million option for 2017 on Holliday.

“I have a passion and a love for the organization. I take a lot of pride in being a Cardinal and being part of the organization for seven years,” Holliday said. “I hope that’s the way it goes, but it’s not always the player’s decision.”

That being said, Holliday has greater control over his near future than most players. If he finishes in the top 10 in National League MVP voting, his option automatically triggers. Agent Scott Boras had that clause written into the six-year, $120 million deal Holliday signed before the 2011 season.

None of the young outfielders can file for salary arbitration until after the 2017 season.

If they perform, the outfield could be theirs for years to come.

“Being able to come up together, have success together, hopefully have some future success together, I mean it’s pretty special,” Grichuk said. “It’s a bond that can’t be broken. Something that hopefully will link us together and keep us friends forever.”

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