The Dawn of the Stephen Piscotty Era in Right Field
Drafted in 2012 out of Stanford as a third baseman, Stephen Piscotty was converted to an outfielder and rising quickly through the St. Louis Cardinals system. Piscotty enters the 2015 season as the top-ranked prospect in the organization.
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The Cardinals selected Piscotty during the supplemental first round with the 36th overall pick of the 2012 draft. He just happened to be the compensation pick for the loss of Albert Pujols, who had signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the offseason. Pujols is the gift that keeps on giving. The Cardinals drafted Michael Wacha in the first round with the Angels’ pick. The rest is history.
“At the time, we had him evaluated as one of the top hitters in the draft,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz told Redbird Rants. “We just don’t see many amateur hitters who combine high contact rates with impactful contact like Stephen does. Usually, if they hit the ball hard, they also swing and miss a lot. Our scouts raved about this combination of skills with Stephen.”
“Stephen continues to develop consistency as a hitter, putting together a productive AAA season with good discipline at the plate and steady improvement defensively in RF,” farm director Gary LaRocque said.
A native of Pleasanton, California, Piscotty attended Amador Valley High School, where he played for head coach Louis Cesario. A four-year varsity starter, Piscotty was named as the MVP of the East Bay Athletic League during his senior season in 2009.
“Stephen was great player and a better person,” Coach Cesario said in an email. “I am very proud of Stephen and what he has accomplished. Hopefully, we will see him in the Big leagues soon.”
Cesario described him as a player who was “Very motivated to be successful” and “made everyone around him better.”
When he played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2011, Piscotty was coached by Cypress College’s Scott Pickler.
“He was pretty consistent the entire year,” Pickler said over the phone. “I thought he was very, very good. A lot of times, you get guys to come to the Cape and they don’t play as hard and they only think of it as summer ball. It was just the opposite. He got after it every day, wanted to get better, and came in early for extra hitting. I thought he was going to play in the big leagues.”
Right field is traditionally seen as a position that is supposed to have some power in the bat. However, Tony Gwynn was a right fielder and he reached ten or more home runs in only five of his twenty Major League seasons. This isn’t something that troubles the prospect nor the Cardinals according to a MiLB.com column by Chris Jackson.
"“The Cardinals haven’t said anything to me,” he said. “I have a style of game that I like to play. I like to put the ball in play, (hit) hard line drives, hopefully they’ll find the gap and the ones I miss are the ones I should get out and get a little bit under them. I like to stay with that approach."
Piscotty hopes the home runs will come but he won’t mess up his game to try and bring them.
It’s interesting that I bring up Gwynn because Brock Ungricht, who joined Stanford’s coaching staff prior to the 2010 season, played for and later coached under Gwynn at San Diego State. As he worked with the hitters and catchers, Piscotty would lead the Cardinal Baseball team with a a team-best .329 batting average.
I want to stress that the bulk of this article was written before a nearly 14-minute phone interview with Ungricht to discuss Piscotty.
“What Stephen did as we built our relationship was the fact that he wanted to learn about what he was doing at the plate all the time that would make him successful,” Ungricht said. “Then that turned into the video part. Just a huge student of the video. Taking notes, almost like his class, and he was a proponent of always writing things down whether it was the day that he hit off the tee for a half hour to 45 minutes. If he was doing something that he liked or didn’t like, he would write it in a journal. That was something that I got from Tony.”
As a coach that played under Gwynn, Ungricht is in that unique position of being able to pass down the Hall of Famer’s teachings and hitting philosophy. Gwynn was a proponent of keeping a journal, playing wiffle ball, and watching video.
“If you look at Stephen, I think what helped him, too, was takes,” Ungricht said. Tony used to say takes—taking a pitch—are as good as swings. He obviously wanted to get in there and swing. Well, Tony used to say ‘Takes are as good as swings. Takes are as good as swings’ That’s something that kind of clicked with him, too, a little bit. With Stephen, he would work on his takes if he was in a good athletic position to hit. If he wasn’t in a good athletic position to hit, he’d feel like, okay, now I’ve got to make that adjustment I’ve got to work on. That’s why my hands aren’t working because I’m not in a good position to hit. That’s another thing, too. That’s what we would watch on the video and that’s what we would definitely dissect the most is body position and what Tony would stress the most.”
As Piscotty finishes up coursework at Stanford to get his degree, he’s hitting a few days a week.
“The power numbers are going to show up in the next year,” Ungricht said. “I’m a firm believer. He’s been working at it, tweaking some things. The power potential is through the roof with him. He can always hit for average but that’s what I am interested to see next year.”
There’s talk that the Cardinals should go out to get a free agent to help with right field. The Cardinals really do not need look into making a move as they have a solid option in Piscotty, whom Bleacher Report ranks third in their list of the ten best right fielders in five years. He could very well be the next Matt Carpenter as Jared Simmons writes at McGeeTriples.
“I think you could see him in St. Louis early next year,” MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis said in an email. “I like his bat and overall game more than Grichuk, though Grichuk has more athleticism to him.”
Randal Grichuk, of course, was described during the postseason as a center fielder that plays right field. That’s alright but in the long term, Callis is of the belief that Piscotty will win the starting job in right field.
Former scout Bernie Pleskoff wrote his thoughts on Piscotty shortly after the 2013 Arizona Fall League concluded.
“There will be no need to platoon Piscotty,” Pleskoff wrote last year. “While he is a good natural hitter against both right- and left-handed pitching, he is an even better hitter and is really dangerous as a gap hitter against lefties.”
As the Cardinals look at the internal and external options, the answer is right in front of them.