JUPITER, Fla. – A new season, a fresh start for Paul DeJong.
The former All-Star endured a rough ride last year, one in which he lost his place as starting shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals and spent months in the minors refining his mechanics.
Now the Cardinals’ longest-tenured active position player, DeJong might not yet have a clear route to starts like years past. That doesn’t seem to bother him this spring.
“I know what I can do, I know what I’ve done in this league, [and] I know I can do more,” said DeJong during Winter Warm-Up last month. “I’m excited to get out there and show everyone what I can do. More importantly, show myself I still belong here, I want to be here and have fun. All sorts of new feelings for me this year, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
DeJong spent much of the offseason in Jupiter, Florida, working with new Cardinals assistant hitting coach Dan Nicolaisen. He also studied Goldschmidt’s swing last year and reviewed footage from prime Albert Pujols years. His biggest conclusion from it all, eliminate a leg kick in his swinging motion.
“My weight was flying forward, my head was flying forward and changing heights. It’s just really hard to consistently hit the ball like that,” said DeJong. “For me, it’s staying back, not stepping, using the power of the ball and the rotation of my swing to produce. I think I’ll have a lot more bat-to-ball skills with that.”
A small sample size in spring training shows that change could be effective. Recent video from Cardinals’ MLB.com beat writer John Denton shows DeJong swinging with more balance and improved contact skills without sacrificing too much power.
DeJong says some midseason tweaks from recent campaigns have not been enough. He’s finished below the Mendoza line [.200 batting average] each of the last two campaigns and knows there’s room for improvement.
“I trust myself as an athlete to be able to do things, [but] in the last couple of years, my mind and my body haven’t matched up,” said DeJong. “This year, I’m trying to match those two things and allow my body to do what my body is telling me to do. It seems a lot more synced up. I’m excited to get out there and show what I can do.”
Nicolaisen gave DeJong some new perspective.
“He dove into what was going on zones wise, where I was getting pitched,” said DeJong. “We worked on my weaknesses. If I could work on my weaknesses, and be strong on pitches I was getting exposed on last year, I think it’s super important.”
In the upcoming weeks, DeJong should see plenty of action at shortstop, and possibly other infield positions. Many of his Cardinals teammates [nineteen players and prospects] will depart spring camp briefly for the 2023 World Baseball Classic. DeJong will work in Jupiter for the foreseeable future.
“It’s about the competition [and] overcoming struggles,” said DeJong. “Yesterday’s home runs don’t count today. It’s 162 games. There’s going to be [tough] moments, but at the end of the day, you keep working. You have people around you, supporting you. We have a goal we’re working toward, and that’s what makes us all love this so much.”
Baseball sabermetric site ZIPS projects DeJong will improve on his batting average from his last two seasons and finish with around 20 home runs and 60 RBIs in 2023.
DeJong enters the final season of a 6-year, $26 million contract he signed in 2018. That contract runs through this year and includes club options for 2024 and 2025.
The Cardinals start their slate of spring training games Saturday with a home matinée against the Washington Nationals. The lineup is out, and DeJong will serve as the designated hitter and bat eighth.