Several players catching Matheny's eye at camp

Manager expects Cards to face stiff competition in National League Central

Several players catching Matheny's eye at camp

JUPITER, Fla. -- With most of Spring Training in the rearview mirror and the start of the regular season quickly approaching, manager Mike Matheny visited with MLB.com to discuss a variety of team topics. To watch the full interview, click on the video link. Below are some of the highlights.

MLB.com: Which players caught your eye this spring in terms of spring performance or overall improvement?

Matheny: I think if you're to look at who may have had a standout spring, Randal Grichuk is one of those. Not just the home runs -- the power is nice to see -- but also the defense, the baserunning and just his all-around baseball sense of ability. Stephen Piscotty continues to get better. We brought in a couple of young players -- a new player in Ty Kelly, who has made a positive impression, and Jacob Wilson, a young player through the system. And Tommy Pham, before he got hurt, had a real nice spring going. I think on that front -- position-player wise -- we've had some nice surprises.

Pitching-wise, Tim Cooney continues to impress and continues to get better. And Marco [Gonzales] has really opened up our eyes to being a more developed pitcher. We're all excited about Mitch Harris and what he brings to the table and his whole story of being a former Navy grad. We have quite a few options, because we know at some point we'll need some help.

MLB.com: How do you foresee the National League Central race shaping up this season?

Matheny: I don't think there's any secret that Chicago is a better team. They have a lot of talent. Milwaukee, let's not forget, is a team that led the [NL] Central for almost the entire season last year. They're going to be right there. Pittsburgh is still the team that has been right down to the wire with us. And Cincinnati has always played us extremely well. So you look all the way across, and it's just not going to be an easy division. You're going to have to fight your way through it, and that's what we look forward to.

MLB.com: Your team has been very aggressive on the basepaths this spring. Do you expect speed to play a little more of a role within your offense this year?

Matheny: I think it could. We don't want to force the issue, but we have a couple guys that can take advantage of it. And when they can, we want them to. We have done a lot of running with the younger players, many of which won't make this team. But we have some players who can run. You have a Peter Bourjos, you have a Kolten Wong, you have a Jason Heyward, all of whom have the ability to steal bases. And Jon Jay, if he gets the right jump. Those are the kind of guys we want to take advantage of it when they can get it.

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.