Piscotty earns degree while honing skills at Stanford

Cards prospect spent offseason working with college hitting coach, attending classes

Piscotty earns degree while honing skills at Stanford

ST. LOUIS -- Almost three years removed from ending his standout career at Stanford University and nearing a callup to St. Louis, outfielder Stephen Piscotty found his way back to his familiar college campus this offseason. His purpose wasn't to visit or reminisce or soak in the attention of being a budding Major Leaguer.

This was about going back to school.

The offseason has been steeped with learning for Piscotty, who recently completed his degree with classroom coursework and who has worked to refine his approach in the batting cages where he once honed his craft. It was a return to the setting that served as so much of his foundation and one that he expects to be a springboard for future success, both on and off the field.

The Cardinals' decision not to promote Piscotty -- ranked by MLB.com as their top prospect -- in 2014 offered the 24-year-old outfielder the opportunity to return to California before Stanford's fall quarter of classes. He had put his studies on hold after his junior season, instead leaving campus to join the Cardinals as a first-round draftee.

But Piscotty had made a commitment to himself and his parents that he would eventually finish. He now has a degree in atmosphere and energy engineering as proof of a promise fulfilled.

"The academics are a big deal for the kids who come here," said Mark Marquess, longtime head baseball coach at Stanford. "They usually come back to finish. That's normal. But his major is unique. I told Stephen that he's the only guy to ever major in that."

Piscotty described his studies as having "to do with solar wind power, anything that has to do with renewable energy."

The content of that coursework was much more complex than the baseball work Piscotty was doing in between classes. But that, too, has been narrowly focused.

Already on campus, Piscotty took advantage of the university's baseball facilities and the opportunity to again work alongside his college hitting coach. Together, they identified tweaks that Piscotty could make with his bat path that should afford him better extension with his swing. Doing so, Piscotty hopes, will allow him to drive the ball with more authority.

"Small adjustments, but I think it's going to have a pretty big impact," Piscotty said. "Ideally, it would increase home runs. I wanted to do that in a way that wouldn't take away from what my game is, using the right side of the field and spraying the ball."

"The good thing about Stephen is he can do that," Marquess added. "He's bigger and stronger than he used to be. You can always go from being a good hitter batting over.300 without a lot of strikeouts and make the transition to pull the ball a little more and strike out more. It's much harder to go the other way, which is why we like to develop the way we do."

Piscotty had been content to sacrifice power for a higher average, better on-base percentage and fewer strikeouts in his first three seasons with the Cardinals. In 2014, he batted .288/.355/.406 with nine homers and 32 doubles over 136 games in his first test at the Triple-A level.

The Cardinals were pleased with the production, but Piscotty sees potential for more as he enters a critical year in his career. He watched young outfielders Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham move from Memphis to the Majors and make their debuts in 2014. His name was never called.

That decision had a business component to it, as the Cardinals were able to delay Piscotty's placement on the 40-man roster by holding him in the Minors. With little playing time to offer him in St. Louis, the Cardinals chose not to sacrifice that roster flexibility.

"Triple-A -- it was a fun challenge," Piscotty said. "I tried to be as consistent as I could, and I learned a lot. Being able to play the entire year, staying off the disabled list was, I think, very, very crucial, so I was able to get a lot of experience."

But now, he's itching to make a move. Piscotty doesn't have an obvious fit on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster, which already has Jon Jay, Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday lined up to start. Peter Bourjos will be the team's fourth outfielder.

There was talk earlier this winter about Piscotty spending some time at first base this spring, though the Cardinals have recently cooled on that idea.

"Before we got Mark Reynolds, I would have said that was a very real opportunity for him," manager Mike Matheny said. "Right now, between what we have time-wise in spring between Matt Adams and then you have Xavier Scruggs and obviously Mark, we'll have quite a bit of coverage there already. Just let Stephen really have a full spring to show what he can do and continue to move forward."

Piscotty will likely get work both in left field and right, though his days as a third baseman have probably passed. He is open to playing first base down the road if the Cardinals make that suggestion again. It's all about being a willing pupil.

"Ideal. A leader. A great attitude," Marquess said of his former player. "Great makeup and successful. That makes any coaches' [job] easier and any professional manager's job that much easier."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.