Scruggs trying to muscle his way into bench role with Cardinals

Versatility key to winning roster spot

Scruggs trying to muscle his way into bench role with Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals are thick with candidates as they look to fill the five spots on the bench. Tony Cruz, Mark Reynolds and Pete Kozma appear to be locks. Peter Bourjos projects to be a part of that bench, too, as long as the Cardinals don't leave Spring Training overly concerned about his anemic spring results (now 2-for-25).

That would leave one opening, and Ty Kelly, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham and Jacob Wilson have so far distinguished themselves as the leading candidates for it.

That's likely to bump Xavier Scruggs back to Triple-A, where he hit .286/.370/.494 with 21 homers and 29 doubles in 135 games last season. But what Scruggs has been doing this spring is preparing himself for the call he hopes will come at some point midseason.

Aware of how much the Cardinals value versatility, Scruggs has continued the outfield training that he began during a stint in the Dominican Winter League. A first baseman by trade, Scruggs had made just two Minor League appearances in the outfield before getting regular time there in winter ball. That winter work gave him a head start on the repetitions he'd get in big league camp.

"It was huge for me getting into game speed, seeing the balls off the bat, reacting to balls down the line and over my head, and learning what my weaknesses were with that," Scruggs said. "The biggest thing is to learn as much as possible from these guys here."

Scruggs made some early Grapefruit League appearances in the outfield, but he has had limited opportunity lately as the Cardinals have been sticking with their starters longer and making time for players deeper in that bench competition. Still, it's been enough to display competence.

Said manager Mike Matheny: "Xavier has shown that he is a guy we can put out there."

In addition to preparing himself defensively, Scruggs has worked with hitting coach John Mabry to put together a hitting plan for games in which he'd be needed off the bench. With Matt Adams and Reynolds ahead of him on the depth chart, Scruggs doesn't have a clear path to any other Major League job than one off the bench.

Scruggs went 1-for-4 as a pinch-hitter during his time with the Cardinals in 2014.

"Last year, I was just trying to learn as much as possible and show them that I could compete at the big league level," Scruggs said. "I think I've put myself in position to where they know that now and now it's time to go after a job. It's really important for you to focus on everything in the game, so that when it's time, you're always ready."

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