Cards rework Spring Training plan to get more athletic

Cards rework Spring Training plan to get more athletic

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- While the Cardinals are unlikely to distinguish themselves as among the offseason's most active, the organization remains persistent with its intent to shift its on-field identity once again.

They've done that with unintended regularity in recent seasons, going from a team that had historic success with runners in scoring position in 2013, to a club that rode the strength of its pitching staff in 2015, to one that compensated for defensive deficiencies by riding the long ball in 2016.

The desire now is to trend more athletic.

It's through that lens that the Cardinals will continue their work this offseason, but also one that will alter what's already in place.

Manager Mike Matheny acknowledged forthcoming changes to the organization's Spring Training and in-season work. The Cardinals believe those tweaks will address the fundamental lapses that held the club back in 2016. They'll also explore ways in which to maximize freshness and efficiency of work.

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"We're going right back to the drawing board when it comes down to the basics of baserunning, when it comes down to how we can be that defensive team that we need to be, which we know internally influences our pitching," Matheny said. "We've given guys opportunities to weigh in as well, and we believe there's another level of baseball for us, and just the consistency, the excitement that we're talking about of playing the game the right way."

Matheny did not dive into specifics of what might look different, but he did acknowledge that some of the alterations might be significant enough to notice from the outside. He and bench coach David Bell will be working closely with new coaches Oliver Marmol and Mike Shildt to revise the Spring Training plan. Marmol and Shildt were recently promoted to Matheny's staff after serving as managers in the Minors.

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The end goal isn't necessarily to make Spring Training days longer, but rather to maximize what comes out of the time players spend at the complex.

"This year it's going to be more about work management and efficiency and not falling into maybe some of the traps that are considered consistent with how things were run in the past, whether it's Spring Training or whether it's your work period before you play a 162-game season," Matheny said. "[We're] trying to think outside the box a little bit."

The Cardinals are also reevaluating how they instruct and nurture players on the way to the Majors so that the transition from one level to the next can become more seamless.

"We want [these changes] to be very organic and very bottom-to-top," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "You look at a lot of the success that's happened at the big league level and even transcending down into the Minor Leagues that there probably is a level of, 'This is all working.' At some point you have to remind yourself that the reason you got there was because of this and doing it this way and doing it right. That's really what you're hoping to recapture."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.