Coming off his first big league season in which he was a finalist for the National League Rookie of the Year, Paul DeJong is keeping his goals simple for 2018.
“It’s hard really to put big goals and numbers and all those things,” he recently explained. “I just want to be a good player for this team and get a chance to play in October. That’s really what it’s all about. There’s a little bit of urgency going into spring this year. We are all feeling a little itch right now. I want to go out there and play hard and help my team win any way I can.”
And like the rest of his teammates, DeJong is excited about the addition of Marcell Ozuna.
“Great bat,” he stated. “It’s good to have him on our team. He will be a great addition to our lineup and add that impact bat. He’s going to drive a lot of runs in and hit for power.”
The addition of Ozuna likely means that DeJong will move out of the third spot in the lineup, at least early on, as Mike Matheny explained a possilbe scenario that could see Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Matt Carpenter hitting in front of the new slugger.
“You can see how he stands in the box,” said DeJong. “Super balanced. It always seems like he’s about to hit one hard. Definitely a presence.”
But as much as having Ozuna in the lineup could benefit the hitters in front of him, DeJong hitting behind him could also provide an added bonus.
Last year in Miami, Justin Bour and J.T. Realmuto hit a combined 26 home runs batting behind Ozuna. By comparison, DeJong hit 25 by himself.
An argument could be made the Cardinals need an additional left-handed bat to break up a run of Ozuna, DeJong, Yadier Molina, and Jedd Gyorko.
“Right on right isn’t as big of a deal as left-on-left,” countered DeJong. “A lineup full of lefties would have been a way different situation. A lineup full of righties is going to be okay for us, just because righties, we can hit lefties and righties. As far as attacking each hitter, it’s just going to help us honestly.
“Look at the Nationals last year. No one wanted to face that middle of the order. And those guys were pretty much the same. So, just having power, impact bats that impact the game at any point will really add an edge to our club.”
Defensively, DeJong showed continued improvement once he became the everyday shortstop last season and there is an expectation that his fielding can reach an even higher level–especially with Jose Oquendo being around on a daily basis.
“Great impact,” agreed DeJong. “He has so much knowledge and experience. I’m looking forward to working with him on an every-day basis. That’s something I really haven’t had the chance to do. This year will be the first time.”
“A lot of it is just continuing to work on the fundamentals. For me it’s about discussing certain situations with him that might come up in a game. There are so many little things in baseball. You can talk for 30 minutes and get something out of it. Really, it’s a great experience for me to be working with him, in so many ways.”
Oquendo will have his familiar #11 back, which was worn last year by DeJong.
“Jose gets it back–he’s got more time,” smiled DeJong, who will instead wear #12.
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com; Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports