JUPITER, Fla. — Jose Oquendo, longtime Cardinals third-base coach and infield coach who will switch to instructing minor leaguers for much of this year, has been around the prospective Cardinals’ infield for several days before camp officially begins here. And he has seen enough.
“It’s going to be a huge difference having (Paul) Goldschmidt at first,” said Oquendo. “I’ve always said — and I said this to Albert (Pujols) when he moved down to first base — that for infielders to win Gold Gloves, your first baseman has to be a Gold Glove winner.”
By that, Oquendo meant that outstanding defensive first basemen save many errors that would have resulted from off-target throws by others. “For the infielders to be better, they’ve got to have a good first baseman,” said Oquendo.
“No matter all the new things about velocity and striking people out, you’ve got a catcher (Yadier Molina) who’s more into keeping the ball in play and getting the hitter out with one pitch instead of striking out with three pitches. That’s the way John Tudor and Danny Cox did it (when Oquendo played behind them in the 1980s). They’d say, ‘Here it is. Hit it.’
“The defense will be better that way. They’ll stay more engaged.”
Oquendo is so enamored of the Cardinals’ defense, which had the most errors (133) in the major leagues last year, that he sees multiple Gold Gloves in its immediate future.
Goldschmidt already has three to go with Molina’s nine. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna, bothered by a sore right shoulder last year, won one in 2017 and Oquendo envisions at least two more players capturing them. One would be second baseman Kolten Wong, who won a Fielding Bible Award last year and even third-year shortstop Paul DeJong out of Illinois State, who has been working with Oquendo to improve his backhand.
“Paul did a great job last year. He improved a lot and then he got hurt and we missed him,” said Oquendo.
“Wong is going to be a Gold Glove winner. I don’t doubt it. If DeJong keeps going the way he’s going, he also will be a Gold Glove winner. We might have a potential five Gold Glovers on one team.”
And that’s not even counting Harrison Bader, who starred in center field after he was made the regular there last season.
Third baseman Matt Carpenter is not in this conversation, but he feels he will be much improved because he actually can throw instead of shot-putting the ball to first base because of his sore throwing arm.
“Now I’m back to no pain,” said Carpenter. “I feel like I’m throwing as well as I’ve thrown in my career. I’ve never had a ‘plus’ arm, but I had a big-league ‘average’ arm. The last couple of years, I’ve been well below average. But I feel like I’m back to a big-league average arm, which is what you need.”