JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals entered Spring Training hoping a young right fielder would captivate in camp and prove himself ready for a 2014 summons to St. Louis.
That was supposed to be Oscar Taveras. Instead, it has been Stephen Piscotty, who, with Taveras spending most of the spring watching Grapefruit League play from the bench, has used the additional exposure to shine in a group that is overrun with outfielders.
Piscotty leads the Cardinals this spring with 14 hits, the last four of which have gone for extra bases. He came close to connecting for a second home run, too, in Thursday's 11-0 win over the Braves before it died at the warning track in left field.
"He's done a very good job the way he goes about it. He's squaring the ball up and doing a nice job in the outfield, too," manager Mike Matheny said. "We're excited to watch him as we heard what he did through the [Arizona] Fall League and had a nice season last year. But we were anxious to see him at this level and with this group. He's making the most of it."
What it took for Piscotty to let his natural talent begin to shine were a series of early-morning sessions in the batting cage with new assistant hitting coach David Bell. In his effort to make an impression as a first-time participant in big league camp, Piscotty negatively channeled that excitement into his swing.
Bell noticed the jumpiness and urged Piscotty to relax.
"I was naturally a little overly aggressive, trying to do too much," Piscotty said. "He calmed me down and got me back to where I want to be. I feel like he has helped me a tremendous amount and has helped me really dial into my swing. I've been having some better at-bats, I think, thanks to him."
Piscotty, ranked No. 3 in the Cards' system by MLB.com, opened his 2013 breakout season at a new position (right field) and showed little difficulty with the transition. He earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Springfield, where Piscotty hit .299/.364/.446 over 49 games.
He then went to the AFL, where he had his best showing yet. Piscotty, the 36th overall player taken in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, hit .371/.430/.506 with seven extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 23 games.
"I'm real pleased with my performance over the past year," Piscotty said. "I think it's put me in a good position. But you can't be satisfied. You have to keep working. You can't be content. That's the goal. I did learn a new position and I'm by no means great at it yet. I need a lot of work."
It's because Piscotty still needs work that the Cardinals do not plan on placing him on the Opening Day roster as a bench player, regardless how well he plays over the final two weeks of camp. The Cardinals believe there is still value in having Piscotty play every day, which he is expected to do as a corner outfielder in Triple-A.
The 23-year-old, however, has turned enough heads that should the Cardinals need a bat off the bench or an outfielder to fill in later this season, Piscotty could be considered for the assignment. For now, Piscotty intends to continue to take advantage of the exposure.
"There are so many good guys to listen to and extract knowledge from," he said. "They're great competitors, and it's fun to be in that clubhouse. I've watched them on TV in the playoffs and everything and it's cool to actually be here with them."
Cards option top prospect Taveras in latest cuts
JUPITER, Fla. -- Top prospect Oscar Taveras, whose health never allowed him to make the impression he wanted this spring, was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday afternoon along with right-hander Eric Fornataro and catcher Audry Perez. This latest round of cuts leaves the Cardinals with 46 players remaining in Major League camp.
The Cardinals entered camp open to the possibility of Taveras, 21, playing his way onto the Opening Day roster with a stellar spring. Instead, he hardly played at all. Though he was expected to be fully recovered from the right-ankle surgery he had in August when he reported to camp, Taveras showed a hesitancy to trust that ankle in conditioning and running drills. That cost him the first week of Grapefruit League games.
Once cleared, Taveras played in two games (1-for-6) before a right hamstring strain forced him to be pinch-hit for in the second one. He has not been back on the field since Saturday.
"I think there were a lot of question marks coming into camp, and unfortunately, they all weren't answered," general manager John Mozeliak said. "He was slowed early on by his ankle and then most recently with a slight hamstring strain. Therefore, we could just never really get him going. And as we enter the final two weeks of Spring Training, as our regulars start to stretch out, it's going to be hard to get him playing time. We just felt it made the most sense to allow him to get his work and get his timing back. If you think about all the time he missed last summer plus what he missed in this camp, we just want to give him the best chance of success and we feel that's getting him at-bats."
Mozeliak said Taveras is "very close" to being game-ready again and should be in a Minor League game within the next two days. Mozeliak added that it is too early to know whether Taveras will be ready to open the season with Triple-A Memphis or if he will need to stay back in Florida to make up for any of the lost time.
Taveras will play one of the two corner outfield spots, Mozeliak said, once he does begin his Triple-A season. Taveras appeared in 47 games for Memphis last year before the ankle injury sidelined him in May.
"I think in the end he probably knew this was coming, the fact that he hasn't played yet," Mozeliak said. "You can't hold a spot forever. At some point, in this game, you're judged for what you do on the field, and he was having trouble getting on the field. For us, I think we would be doing him a disservice if we were to going to just squeeze some at-bats between now and Opening Day just to get him on the roster."
Garcia back in Cards' camp with rehab goals
JUPITER, Fla. -- Jaime Garcia, who has returned to the Cardinals' spring complex after a two-day visit to Dr. James Andrews' rehabilitation facility in Birmingham, Ala., said that he hopes to resume playing catch by the end of the week and to be back on the mound before the Cardinals head north in two weeks.
It has been almost a month since Garcia halted his throwing program due to bursitis in his surgically-repaired left shoulder. He has since received a cortisone shot and assurances from two doctors that there is no new structural damage. Garcia traveled to Birmingham earlier this week to get input from physical therapists on what should be incorporated into his rehab program. They also tested Garcia's shoulder for weakness; none was found.
"It was a good trip," said Garcia, who will incorporate the suggested exercises into his rehab program and between-starts routine moving forward.
Garcia will open the season on the disabled list, but he has set a pair of personal goals as he prepares to move past this delay. Not only does he want to be pitching off a mound before the end of the month, but once he's on it, Garcia does not want to have his season interrupted by a shoulder issue again. He spent time on the DL for a shoulder injury each of the last two years.
"I want to be smart about this thing, but at the same time, I'm close to 10 months after surgery and I'm ready to get things going and be healthy," Garcia said. "Obviously, I'm going to miss some time and not break [camp] with the team. But my goal is to be ready to go for a full season once I'm healthy."
Waino not missing a beat with charity events
JUPITER, Fla. -- Adam Wainwright plans to formally announce the establishment of his foundation once the regular season starts, but he has already gotten a head start planning the country music event that will headline the foundation's first year.
Wainwright has secured the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis on Jan. 17, 2015, for a country music concert that will raise money for several non-profit organizations in the city. The event will fall on the Saturday evening of the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up event, a night that long belonged to Tony La Russa's fundraiser for the Animal Rescue Foundation.
Wainwright is planning a second country music event in his hometown of Brunswick, Ga., for Dec. 12-13. This will replace the charity golf tournament that he has run for the past seven years. Wainwright found that event to be inefficient because so much of the money raised had to go toward paying off the overhead expenses.
The list of country music artists who will participate in the concert series is in the process of being finalized. Wainwright is also still seeking sponsors to come on board to offset costs and allow for nearly all donations to go to charity.
"It will be a lot of fun," Wainwright said. "We just want to help people. The final writing of the mission statement isn't finished yet, but it's going to be centered around Matthew 25:35. It is just a verse that sticks strongly with my wife and I and is a call to give back to people."
That verse is the beginning of a passage in which Jesus instructs His disciples to provide essential needs like food, water and shelter to others. Wainwright will choose charities that provide such services to receive the money collected through the concerts.
Wainwright also intends to run his fantasy football charity event for a second consecutive year and has recruited players from eight other teams to implement the event in their city. Details about this fundraiser will be released in April when a new website launches.
Last year, Wainwright said he raised $121,000 through the event.
"It just opened my eyes to different ways you can help people," Wainwright said. "I'm trying to figure out now how I can drive to the gas station and raise money for charity. It never stops. It did open my eyes because it was so fun, but we raised so many good dollars for people."
• Jason Motte is scheduled to face hitters for the first time during a live batting-practice session on Friday. Motte has spent the past few weeks increasing the intensity of his bullpen sessions so that he could move onto this next phase in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
• Allen Craig started at first base on Thursday, marking the first time this spring that he has played anywhere but right field. Craig is projected to open the season as the Cardinals' starting right fielder, though he will also get playing time at first base again this year. It was his primary position in 2013. Jon Jay made his first spring start in left field on Thursday.
• MLB Network has announced that it will televise nine of the Cardinals' games over the first month of the season, including four against division rivals Cincinnati (April 3, April 7) and Pittsburgh (April 4-5). For a full listing, visit the broadcast plan.
• Matheny spent some time in the early morning working with the organization's Minor League catchers. During the tutorial, Matheny explained and demonstrated the organization's new philosophy of not having its catchers block the plate. The change was made in conjunction with Major League Baseball implementing new guidelines regarding home-plate collisions.
"I didn't get any rolling of the eyes or any of that stuff, but I know some of them are disappointed in, 'Why do we need to do this?'" Matheny said. "I was dumb enough to think the exact same thing when I was a player, and I would be exactly where they are. We're just trying to save them from themselves at this point and create, what I believe, is going to happen at some point in the game eventually anyhow."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.