For Pham, baseball is a 'contacts' sport

Outfielder aims for '16 improvement with new lenses, diet

For Pham, baseball is a 'contacts' sport

ST. LOUIS -- Tommy Pham, who projects to serve as a fourth outfielder on the Cardinals' 2016 club, believes a new pair of contact lenses and a healthy dose of vegetables will not only keep him on the field, but also allow him to finally maximize his ability.

Though Pham, 27, made some key contributions down the stretch last season, his career has been repeatedly stalled by injuries and hampered due to an eye condition called keratoconus, which causes visual distortion. To address the latter, Pham tried glasses back in 2008, but found his peripheral vision to be an issue because of the limitations of the frames.

He turned to contacts in 2009 and has been sifting through various lens options since. But Pham has found deficiencies with each, including the set he played with in '15. He described his vision as "off" last season, though he still managed to hit .268/.347/.477 with 17 extra-base hits over 153 at-bats with the Major League team.

After the season ended, Pham traveled to Los Angeles to meet with another eye specialist, who prescribed new hybrid contact lenses that Pham hopes will correct some of the continued sight issues. Pham has plans to travel to California next week to pick up the new prescription.

"They're going to give me the best vision," Pham said. "[They may] not necessarily [be] the best fit, but I wanted the best vision."

"If he's confident about where his eyes are, I would say we should all be very excited about what potentially we might have in him," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Because think about how he played last year -- it was still pretty darn good."

Pham's vision problems have only been one of the many physical ailments he's fought since joining the organization as a 16th-round pick in the 2006 Draft. He's dealt with a broken wrist, labrum surgeries on both shoulders and, most recently, a quad tear that stalled the momentum he was building toward earning a Major League roster spot out of Spring Training in 2015.

While Pham was more of an uncertainty a year ago, he will enter camp next month positioned as the team's fourth outfielder. With Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos and Jason Heyward departing under various circumstances this offseason, Pham represents the most immediate depth behind projected outfield starters Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.

Everyone acknowledges that the biggest obstacle in Pham asserting himself as a ready fourth outfielder may just be himself.

"I always feel like when you're somebody like Tommy Pham, turning 28, at some point you either gotta do it or you don't," Mozeliak said, pointing to Pham's past troubles staying on the field. "I think for him, this is a window to try and go out and prove he can contribute at a Major League level. I think all of us got to see it a little bit last year and believe it's there. Certainly from an athletic standpoint, he might be the most athletic guy on our team. So I think giving him this chance makes sense."

Aside from the precautionary measures Pham can take physically, he believes he's found another way to improve his chances of finally getting through a season without interruption. The answer, he said, may be in greens.

"Apparently, I don't eat enough vegetables," said Pham, who consulted with a nutritionist this winter. "He was saying the vegetables, they help the cellular tissue in your muscles. I like to eat meat. I guess that's not the right way to eat. I need to eat a lot more vegetables."

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