For those the St. Louis Cardinals fans that were unsure or just needed a reminder, Paul DeJong is giving them plenty of opportunity to learn the correct pronunciation of his name this spring (De-Young).
A 4th round pick in 2015, he has made quite an impression showing off the addition of shortstop to his resume.
“It’s just about getting experience over there and each day getting a little better,” said DeJong, who played second base at Illinois State and third base the last two seasons in the minor leagues.
This past season in the Arizona Fall League gave DeJong a chance to gain confidence at the position, as he played there regularly and proved to himself and others he could make all of the routine plays to be a solid defender. Spring Training has provided the next step and then some.
“I think I’ve made more strides (this spring) than I did in the whole Fall League,” said DeJong. “It’s more just because we’re breaking stuff down and actually talking about different plays, footwork, feeds, you name it–positioning, even. Just having the constant feedback is what has allowed me to make some strides this spring.”
It also didn’t hurt getting to spend some time working with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
“Transfer the flow of energy, keep your feet moving forward–don’t ever get stuck in the mud,” DeJong shared of the advice from Smith. “Physically, it’s about chopping your steps kind of just to create the hop and not to sit and wait for it. Just transferring the momentum. When you get stuck, your hands get stiff and you have a chance to miss it if you’re not perfect. So, it’s just really about making sure you keep the feet moving–plus, if you keep moving forward you get to the ball sooner, better chance to turn the double play.”
The expectation is that DeJong will spend the majority of his time with Memphis (AAA) at shortstop, but he is still prepared to shift over to second or third base when called upon.
“He’s been very impressive all spring,” stated bench coach David Bell. “Really, seeing him play short–not having seen him a lot, but having seen his body type and the way he moves out there and runs the bases for a bigger guy, it’s pretty impressive to be able to play all three positions like that.”
DeJong also recently wowed Bell with his swing on an opposite field home run.
“It wasn’t a big swing, he let the ball get deep,” said Bell. “Off the bat, I thought it was a single or double to right center just because you’re not used to seeing a ball coming off the bat like that, off a right-handers bat. It just kept going. I was like wow, that’s impressive.”
“For me, it’s a little easier to stay back on 98(mph) and hit it to the opposite field than 88,” downplayed DeJong. “But I think it’s something in my zone or my swing path kind of goes there. I feel like I can hit the ball the other way pretty well, it kind of works with my swing.”
Last season in Springfield (AA), DeJong hit 22 home runs–several of them were over the opposite field wall.
“I know he’s working on that,” said Bell. “Part of that is just a gift–to be able to do that, to have power the other way. It’s not something that’s easily taught.”
“He’s in a good place and really it’s been a big spring for him.”
photo credit: Scott Rovak, Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports