GLENDALE, Ariz.–When Paul DeJong first took the field for grounders with his Arizona Fall League teammates, he noticed a numbers game stacked against him at third base.
He was one of three players lined up there for grounders, while shortstop had only one player.
He found out later that he was the second shortstop.
“It was,” said DeJong, 23, “news to me.”
A second baseman who moonlighted at catcher in college and a third baseman in pro ball, DeJong spent the entire fall as the Glendale starting shortstop. General manager John Mozeliak, sitting in the crowd for one of the AFL games, said that if the AFL goes well for DeJong he’ll open 2017 as the everyday shortstop at Triple-A Memphis.
“I feel like I can let my feet and my arm play better,” DeJong said of shortstop. “Honestly, I feel more in rhythm there. I don’t know if it’s the angle (or) more time to read the ball.”
DeJong hit .232/.257/.290 in 19 games in the AFL. His manager, former big leaguer Aaron Rowand, quickly pointed out that “he’s hitting fine (but) hitting into bad luck.”
DeJong had more strikeouts (21) than total bases (20), and he remarked how he had not seen more than a handful of 85 mph sliders before arriving in Arizona to face some of the best pitching prospects in the minors.
The Cardinals loved DeJong’s versatility at Illinois State and made him a fourth-round pick in 2015. An illness at Double-A Springfield this season pressed DeJong into service at shortstop and the team saw him adapt to the most difficult infield position.
His arm stayed true. His reads were solid. The Cardinals decided to keep him at shortstop, with the idea that if he can become proficient at enough positions, he will be more capable of helping the big league team.
“I’ll do anything to get me on the field,” DeJong said. “If shortstop is going to get me there quicker, then by all means.”
• The Cardinals added switch-hitting middle infielder Breyvic Valera to the 40-man roster to prevent him from qualifying as a minor league free agent. He asserted himself with a .341/.417/.415 turn in 73 games at Triple-A Memphis.
• The Cardinals signed Chad Huffman, a first baseman who led the International League with an .892 OPS at Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers system.