The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

January 19, 2014

Cards reflect on new look during Joplin stop

The hundreds of St. Louis Cardinals fans who turned out for Saturday’s Cardinal Caravan are evidence of the local support for the team. That support seemingly never changes in this area.

The team itself, however will see a fair amount of change in 2014.

A club that won 97 regular season games and represented the National League in the World Series last year could return as few as two position players to their regular spots in 2014. Matt Holliday is slated to return in left field, and Yadier Molina once again will be behind the plate for the Cards.

Third baseman and 2011 World Series and NLCS MVP David Freese was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk in November.

Joe Kelly, an Anaheim native, was one of the players who stopped in Joplin this weekend. He says he has followed Bourjos’ career through mutual friend and former Angel Mark Trumbo.

“Peter Bourjos is a good friend of mine,” Kelly said. “And he’s a very, very good athlete. It’s going to be fun to see him out there.”

During the question-and-answer session with fans Saturday, Kelly called Bourjos one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

Trading Freese simultaneously allows Matt Carpenter, the club’s second baseman last season, to slide across the diamond to his natural position at the hot corner and opens up second base for former first-round pick Kolten Wong.

The departure of Carlos Beltran in free agency will move Allen Craig to right field from first base, freeing up first for young slugger Matt Adams. Bourjos is expected to compete with incumbent Jon Jay in center.

That leaves shortstop, where the Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta to increase production at the team’s weakest offensive position last year.

“Great bat,” Kelly said. “Our lineup is so deep, I was trying to figure out where we’re going to hit him. That’s a good problem to have. It’s going to be exciting to see what he can do.”

Peralta takes over for Pete Kozma, a backup until Rafael Furcal was injured in Spring Training last season. Peralta is coming off a season in which he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Shortstop was enough of a priority for an upgrade in the upcoming season that the team invested four years and $53 million in Peralta.

As for 2013, Kelly and the other hurler on the caravan, Shelby Miller, combined for 25 wins in the regular season. Miller pitched from the starting rotation throughout the season before being shifted into a mop-up, emergency relief role in the playoffs.

He threw only one postseason inning despite finishing as a finalist in the Rookie of the Year race based on his regular season numbers.

“Obviously I wanted to go in there,” Miller said. “But the guys were doing good and really had no reason to change anything up. I was wanting to get in, but at the same time I was being the best cheerleader I could be.”

Kelly began the season as a reliever, but after injuries to multiple starters took over a spot in the rotation, starting 15 regular season games and four in the postseason.

As has become the norm for him, Kelly’s role as spring training approaches is unclear. St. Louis returns starters Adam Wainwright, Miller, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha in 2014. Lynn has previously pitched in relief and Garcia is coming off an injury, so Kelly may be needed to start games or to relieve other starters.

“I think the best way to go about it is knowing that you might have to play in different roles throughout the whole entire season,” he said. “So you just go in open-minded. Whatever is thrown at you, I feel like I can accomplish. I guess the mind’s a powerful thing, so once you know what you’re doing for that day, that’s when you start to prepare.”

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