MEMPHIS, Tenn. • A little more than a week ago, about the time that the Cardinals were really cleaving into the spring roster and sending players to minor-league camp, infielder Tommy Edman drew a start against Washington and its ace, St. Louis-area native Max Scherzer. Edman was written in at leadoff, meaning the first live pitch he’d see from Scherzer would be coming his direction.
He took it for a strike.
The second pitch he saw, a fastball up, Edman drilled for a triple to center.
“Shows up, takes an immediate jab in the first inning,” manager Mike Shildt said, “and didn’t stop punching the whole game.”
Edman, 23, finished two-for-five in that Grapefruit League game and added an RBI later to his two runs. The first at-bat offered a one-act play of the work he’s been doing dating back to last season. On his way to his first 17 games at the Triple-A level, Edman had a career-high batting average (.301) and career-best on-base percentage (.354) to go with a .402 slugging percentage and 30 steals in 35 attempts. He also learned how the stylish approach to pitching – high in the zone, away from the launch angle, and whizzing with spin rates – may not fit his style of hitting. So he had to adjust.
This spring, Edman has earned a stay in the Cardinals’ clubhouse to the end. He’ll go to Class AAA Memphis to start the season there this week, and he’ll be a priority everyday player without an everyday position. The Cardinals want to see him get work at shortstop and second base as well as a relatively new position for him, third base, and anywhere else he might fit. Edman and Edmundo Sosa will effectively be the Cardinals’ backup shortstop options, playing for that role while playing almost every day in the minors.
Edman elbowed his way up on the depth chart with a strong spring training, the most-impressive spring of any infielder that did not make the Cardinals opening day roster.
Building off his work at the invitation-only Arizona Fall League, Edman hit .333 (15-for-45) during the Cardinals’ exhibition schedule, and he had five extra-base hits to up his OPS to .903. He walked four times, drove in nine, and struck out eight. He impressed enough to be one of the team leaders in plate appearances. A sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Stanford, Edman said he started making adjustments to the high strike and finding his “hot zone” with help from a hitting coach in the Cardinals’ system, and he merged that this spring with a more proficient use of video. As he prepped to face Scherzer, he asked around the clubhouse and he looked at video and Scherzer’s sequencing. When he got the pitch he’d seen and readied for, he pounced.
In another in an ongoing series of Q-&-As with Cardinals prospects, here’s Edman explaining how he came to be a switch-hitter, how many positions he’ll play, and the story behind that triple against Scherzer and what it shows about him being on the brink of the majors:
Post-Dispatch: Before asking about specifics, how about, in general terms, how has this spring gone for you – you’re obviously going to be here through the final day?
Tommy Edman: It’s been great. I’ve been fortunate to get a ton of playing time this year compared to last year in camp. I think I’ve done a good job of making the most of it. Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it all the way to the end of camp. It’s been a pretty cool experience. Excited that I’ve been able to spend as much as time up here as I have.
PD: You’ve had success in the games, the numbers say so, but there’s the work in drills and on the back fields that has contributed to you still being here, too. Where do you think you’ve caught their eye?
Edman: I think my ability to take a consistent at-bat. My at-bats have been pretty good throughout the spring. And that’s kind of something that I’ve gotten a lot better at – over the course of the second half of last year – and I carried that over into Arizona and the offseason. I think my approach has definitely gotten a lot better over the course of the past couple of years. It’s about looking for pitches that I’m able to handle, rather than the pitches that might be in the strike zone and other people might be able to handle but aren’t necessarily my hot zones.
PD: Makes sense. You have to learn that. Who has helped you with that?
Edman: I’ve worked with (Mark) Budaska – Buddha – a good amount. He’s kind of helped me with targeting the pitches that I handle the best.
PD: Is it the type of thing where you go, OK, this is the count and this is the area I’m looking for a pitch – ahead in the count is one place, smaller, behind in the count widens out and is a larger area of the zone?
Edman: Yeah, I try to approach no-strikes and one-strike the same, and then with two strikes you have to expand a tiny bit. Still, like I would try even with two strikes to not to be like chasing pitches that are pitches that I can’t really handle or do anything with.
PD: Knowing that kind of pitch has to come from experience, only, right? You’re at this level and not used to seeing some of these pitches, or not seeing some of these pitches with that movement in this location …
Edman: I think so. Yeah, I think so. Especially with the trends in the game today and pitchers loving that high-spin fastball at the top of the zone. You don’t really see that in college. I think pitchers at the lower levels don’t really know how to make use of that pitch. So that has been the biggest adjustment – those pitches at the top of the zone.
PD: Can you describe the quality of pitches you’ve had a chance to see from the Arizona Fall League to this spring, when you’ve faced Scherzer and other pitchers who will be in the majors, and how that’s different than what you’ve seen as you’ve moved up in pro ball?
Edman: Just being in big-league camp and facing these pitchers who have tons of years of experience, they obviously have a plan in their pitching. That’s not to say that pitchers I’ve faced in the past haven’t had a plan – it’s just that they have that much more experience and they know themselves that much better. Obviously Scherzer who has had a few Cy Young awards and a couple of 300-strikeout seasons – he probably knows himself the best. It was cool to be in that box against him and really see what his plan was for attacking hitters.
PD: How do you prepare for that game? Do you watch video of him, for a spring game?
Edman: Yeah, this spring has actually been huge for me in terms of preparation for pitchers. I’ve been making use of video and kind of looking at the pitcher’s charts in terms of their sequences and what they like to throw in specific counts. And that’s something that we haven’t really done – that I haven’t really done too much in the past. I’ve watched a little bit of video. This year, obviously, with all the information that they have at the big-league level being able to track or look at video of every pitcher’s specific pitches. That has been really useful. You’re going up to the plate with more information.
PD: So how was that preparing for Scherzer? Did you have an idea how he was going to pitch to you, or a similar hitter?
Edman: Yeah, I had a pretty good idea. Just talking to all the guys around the clubhouse, I heard that Scherzer just attacks hitters. He’s going to be in the zone a lot and kind of just challenge you. He’s going to force you to beat him.
PD: Shildt made the point that the at-bats you’re getting against not just Scherzer but against all of the pitchers headed to the majors that there’s more in that one at-bat than you could cram into months of Class AA or High-A. You have a framework for the level you’re aiming for.
Edman: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And just getting a chance to face those pitchers will give me a certainly level of familiarity when I get to – hopefully – to the major-league level at some point.
PD: I imagine the results you’ve had from this work gives you confidence.
Edman: Definitely. And just having come here and being fortunate to have the success that I’ve had is definitely giving me some confidence going into the season.
PD: Alright, tell me the origin story behind switch-hitting. How did that start?
Edman: I kind of had messed around with it since my little league days. I would just randomly go up the plate in a little league game and take a lefthanded at-bat. And then in eighth grade, I was still kind of doing the same thing. Randomly batting lefthanded, that kind of thing. I had a coach who told me, “If you’re serious about being a switch-hitter, you’ve got to fully commit to it.” Which I did, my freshman year of high school. Then I started struggling lefty and that was during my sophomore year. I went back to just hitting righthanded. After I committed to Stanford, they had seen before that I was switch-hitting. “Oh, why don’t you try that again in your senior year, and see how it goes?” I had a really good senior year lefthanded, so from then on, it was, alright, I’ll switch.
PD: How many positions did you play in college?
Edman: I play second and short in college. But I played those pretty much 50/50. I played more second early in my college years and then more short in my later college years. So I was pretty comfortable with both of those when I got to pro ball. Third base has been the position that I had to learn over the past year.
PD: I apologize for not knowing, what was the reason for the move in college, was there a player ahead of you at Stanford?
Edman: Yeah, a year above was Drew Jackson, who is a Rule 5 pick with the Orioles. He’s had a really good spring with the Orioles, right now, and it looks like he’s going to break camp with that club. (Note: According to reports, Jackson will, as a utility fielder.) He was a year above me. He played shortstop when he was healthy. I think maybe both of my first two years he hurt his hand and was out for a few weeks, so I filled in at shortstop while he was out. And then my junior year, I was all shortstop. My junior, year, the second baseman was Nico Hoerner, the top prospect for the Cubs right now.
PD: So you came in with some versatility.
Edman: Yeah. Hmm-mmm.
PD: And then you spend most of spring training working with Jose Oquendo at third, obviously, and elsewhere. How do you prioritize where you want to work during drills, before games?
Edman: I kind of try to make sure I’m fresh at each position. For example, if I haven’t played in a game in a while at a certain position I’ll try to take extra groundballs there just so I’m kind of getting used to seeing the balls at me from angle.
PD: They’re probably going to move you around a lot at Memphis, so that will mean you’ll be doing a lot of that work before games to stay sharp at two or more positions. Will you do some outfield work, too?
Edman: I haven’t done any outfield stuff. That’s something that could, potentially, be in my future, but I haven’t been told or really worked at any of the outfield positions – other than just hanging out in the outfield during BP sometimes and chasing after fly balls.
PD: Is there an excitement at all to being at a different position several times a week?
Edman: Yeah, yeah, it definitely keeps me on my toes. Make sure I’m staying fresh.
by By Derrick Goold St. Louis Post-Dispatch