St. Louis Cardinals Spring Surprises: Jeremy Hazelbaker

Mar 10, 2016; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker (91) connects for a double during a spring training game against the New York Mets at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker (91) connects for a double during a spring training game against the New York Mets at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker has turned heads this spring. Will it be enough to earn a bench spot?

Every once in a while there is a player who turns heads during spring training. It could be a non-roster invitee or a minor leaguer that is starting to come into his own.

Early on, that guy for the St. Louis Cardinals is Jeremy Hazelbaker.

Here are some quick hits on Hazelbaker:

  • Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 4th round of the 2009 Amateur Draft
  • Bats left and throws right
  • This isn’t the first “Cardinals” team the Ball State University alum has played for
  • Has bounced around in the minors
  • Signed to a minor league deal by St. Louis after being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer

Hazelbaker was a relative unknown entering spring training for the Cardinals. But the 28-year old had a nice half of a season last year once he was called up from Springfield to Triple-A Memphis.

With the Redbirds, Hazelbaker hit .333 with 10 homers, 46 RBI, seven triples and eight stolen bases in just 58 games. That kind of play is what got Hazelbaker a spring training invite, and he has continued to open eyes this month.

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So far this spring, Hazelbaker is slashing .310/.375/.552 with two homers and seven RBI in 29 at-bats. The two homers put him tied for first on the team in spring training.

Perhaps more impressive is the outfielder’s speed. With Charlie Tilson cut, Hazelbaker also leads the Cardinals this spring with four stolen bases.

The Indiana native has taken advantage of the playing time, and he is making a strong case for a spot on this Cardinals team come Opening Day.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a great story today about Hazelbaker’s strong spring performance and how hard he worked on retooling his swing after the Dodgers released him. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told Goold that Hazelbaker’s performance certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed:

"“It’s become more than a nice story,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “It’s exciting to watch him go. He obviously had a very impressive few months with us last year. I think Mike (Matheny) and I and the whole staff have been extremely impressed. Tough decisions will have to be made at some point.”"

That is high praise from Mozeliak. So, can Hazelbaker play his way into a bench spot on this Cardinals team?

The only problem with spring training is it is a small sample size. The toughest part of this for a coach and a general manager is determining whether or not a player’s spring breakout is truly a diamond in the rough or fool’s gold.

Unfortunately, strong springs from relatively unknown players can often be nothing more than a flash in the pan.

Still, I’ve never bought the rhetoric that spring games and performances simply “mean nothing.” Sure, in the grand scheme of things these games don’t count and neither do the player’s stats.

I get it. But at the end of the day, MLB players, even the all stars and superstars, want to perform well whether it is a spring training game or not. The only difference is those all star or veteran players are more relaxed and not as worried about spring struggles because they know their spot is secure.

For them, it is a time to get prepared for the season. But for guys like Hazelbaker, a spring training invite is a chance to prove himself and show that he belongs in the Majors.

So, will Hazelbaker crack a roster spot with the Cardinals? It’s hard to tell. Odds are that he won’t, though.

The Cardinals are more likely to go with a guy like Greg Garcia because it gives them that extra infield backup just in case anything were to happen to Kolten Wong or newcomer Ruben Tejada.

Hazelbaker is purely an outfielder. Although, what might help his case is that he can play all three outfield spots. Not to mention, that speed I noted earlier could be a valuable asset to a ball club that has been depleted of speed for more than a decade.

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I don’t believe Hazelbaker will make the club out of spring training, but I am rooting for it. A lefty bench bat with speed is quite intriguing. If the 28-year old is sent back down to Triple-A Memphis and continues hitting well, he could be one of the first call-ups of the season for the Cardinals. That wouldn’t be too bad for a guy who was released a year ago.