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Cardinals spring training continues

Cardinals pitcher Jake Woodford practices throwing during Cardinals spring training on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JUPITER, Fla. — He is not the blazer like Jordan Hicks or Alex Reyes. Or at the next level, Ryan Helsley. But Jake Woodford, a 22-year-old Tampa area product, may be the Cardinals’ next top pitching prospect, a righthander you don’t really know. Yet.

Woodford made his spring debut Monday, throwing two innings and allowing two runs in the second to the Detroit Tigers in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie as the Cardinals rallied for two runs in the ninth. The tying run scored on a two-out single by little infielder Tommy Edman, who is five for 10 so far this spring and is “the Little Silent Assassin,” according to manager Mike Shildt.

The buzzword ascribed to Woodford, a supplemental first-round pick in 2015, is “preparation.”

“Jake’s probably one of the most prepared guys coming up through our system,” said Shildt. “When you come to the performance camp and you ask around, ‘Who’s the guy who’s most attentive? Who’s the most prepared? There’s 30 guys in that camp and Dr. Butler (performance director Robert Butler) said, ‘It’s Jake Woodford.’

“Then I go around to the clubhouse guys (at the camp) and ask who’s the guy who’s most respectful and takes care of you? ‘They say, ‘They’re all great.’ But, who’s the guy who’s the best? Independently, they say, ‘Jake Woodford.’

“(Woodford) is really prepared. Attention to detail. He pays attention when Chris Carpenter is around. He takes advantage of his experiences. He’s really intent on being the best he can be.”

Woodford, 6-foor-4 and 215 pounds, led the Florida State League in earned run average at 3.10 while pitching for Class A Palm Beach, the league champion, in 2017. Last season he was at both Class AA Springfield and Class AAA Memphis, and he threw 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball as Memphis clinched the Pacific Coast League championship against Fresno.

Woodford led the minor league system in innings pitched last season at 145, and his 28 starts (16 at Springfield) tied for the minor league lead. In addition to his league championships, Woodford has been an All-Star selection at Peoria in the Midwest League in 2016 and at Springfield last year.

Director of player development Gary LaRocque talked of Woodford’s work ethic. “He knows who he is,” said LaRocque. “He knows how to get people out.

“He’s always prepared well,” LaRocque said.

There’s that word again.

Catcher Andrew Knizner, who handled most of Woodford’s 28 starts last year and who caught him Monday said, “Every year he’s always impressive at how he gets ready. He’s always prepared.

“The thing that is impressive is not only his preparation but his control of the game. No matter what’s going on, he’s pretty consistent with his mental approach in between pitches. He’s able to slow the game down and think through what he has to do. He’s a very technical pitcher,” said Knizner.

And Knizner said Woodford throws harder than it might appear. “I’ve seen him up there at 96. He can throw it in there pretty good, especially when he switched to throw more four-seam fastballs than his two-seam sinker,” said Knizner.

“He’s deceptive because he’s got a slow delivery but the ball comes out quick. So his 93, 94 looks like 96 or 97.”

This trait, said Knizner, is very similar to Jack Flaherty, and that is not a bad comparison.

Preparation, incidentally, was the message of the day Monday. Pro golfer Zach Johnson, a friend of Adam Wainwright’s, addressed the team, talking in large part about how he prepares for a golf tournament. Johnson is in town for this week’s Honda Classic, and he said several things that resonated with Woodford, whose ideas of preparation often jibed with Johnson but carried more meaning when they came from a two-time major champion.

“It was really interesting to hear that from a different perspective, from someone who plays a different sport, but at the highest level in his competitive field because there are similarities in how we prepare and how he prepares,” said Woodford.

“He hit the nail on the head. Do everything you possibly can to put yourself in the best situation to succeed. When you get in that situation, you’re in the moment. ‘Execute this pitch.’

“For him, it’s execute that shot. After that, you move on. You don’t look at 18 holes, like he said. You look at one shot. Execute that shot. And then you execute the next shot. And when you look up, you’ve had a solid round.”

Woodford followed the plan in the first inning Monday but not as much in the second.

“I walked the first guy (in the second). I was getting ahead. But I just wasn’t putting guys away,” he said. “The two pitches they hit I was ahead in the count and I just hung some breaking balls, so that’s definitely something I’m going to work on in the next week.”

Shildt said, “I really liked the way Jake went at it. In this camp overall, you feel really feel good about the execution taking place. But the bugaboo has been walks.

“The walk opened up that inning a little, but I liked his composure. I liked his stuff. The game didn’t seem to get too fast for him.”

Woodford averaged more than five innings a start last year, which is a lot in minor-league baseball, even in the majors with the proliferation of deep bullpens. Before his first start as a Cardinal, Woodford was concentrating on that task ahead, but he didn’t tune out when Johnson talked. “Any time you can get someone who competes at the highest level in the field ... you’re all ears,” said Woodford. “You’re locked in on what he has to say.

“Even if it’s something really small that he says that kind of sticks with you, that’s something you can hold on to for your entire career. Even if it’s one tidbit.

“You don’t get to talk to PGA golfers every day, a guy who’s won the Masters and another major. This is not the pro at your local country club.

“This is a guy who’s at the top of the top. He’s doing something right. When guys like that talk, you listen. One hundred percent.”

CARDS' PROSPECTS TO WATCH

Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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