Piscotty poised for breakout 2016 with Cards

Right fielder capped strong first impression in '15 with 3 postseason homers

Piscotty poised for breakout 2016 with Cards

JUPITER, Fla. -- Perhaps the boldest prediction of the Cardinals' spring came from the far-left corner of the clubhouse, where, on one March afternoon, ace Adam Wainwright casually identified the team's next budding star.

"He is going to be an MVP candidate," Wainwright forecast.

He was talking of Stephen Piscotty, and he was talking about now.

While 2015 offered Piscotty a chance to show he belonged, '16 could be the year he breaks out to establish himself as a legitimate future lynchpin in the Cards' core. He's set to be on a big league Opening Day roster for the first time in his career, he has a position to call his own and he's already proved to himself that he can shine when the lights are brightest.

The latter was evident when he punctuated a strong first impression last year with three National League Division Series home runs and six RBIs, both franchise rookie records.

Piscotty's two-run homer

"Obviously, the postseason was, for me, everything coming to fruition," Piscotty said. "I felt like I kept getting better, and that's what you want in a season."

Piscotty, who became the needed bat the Cardinals couldn't find elsewhere at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, now stands ready to become the long-term right fielder St. Louis thought it had in Jason Heyward. While the club almost certainly would have found Piscotty another position had Heyward returned, his presence was the reason the Cards didn't panic and pivot elsewhere in the free-agent outfield market.

When it came to cost and upside, the Cardinals didn't see a better option than the one they already had.

St. Louis credits Piscotty with having the remarkable foresight to overhaul his swing before the 2015 season, despite already being on the path to the Majors. However, that work allowed the 25-year-old to arrive with peak potential. Piscotty's impact was immediate, too.

From the date of his Major League debut on July 21 until the end of the regular season, Piscotty ranked among the top three on the team in hits (71), doubles (15), RBIs (39), average (.305) and slugging percentage (.494). He hit safely in 47 games and drove in 23 runs with two out.

That was all in his first 63 big league games (233 at-bats). Now, there's high expectation of what there could be over the course of 162.

"It's not something where I can say, 'I've done it. I'm there. I've arrived. I've figured it out by any means,'" said Piscotty, the team's likely two-hole hitter. "I know there are going to be bumps and some dips that I have to work through this season. I'm not claiming to know it all because I had a good half season in the big leagues.

"I just think there are a lot of guys on this team, myself included, who have the potential for a breakout year."

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.