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 Kevin McCann on Albert Pujols

 

by Kevin McCann
posted December 20, 2000

 

Kevin McCann on Albert Pujols

read "Cardinals in the Bushes"

For Albert Pujols, the Future Could Be Sooner Than He Expected

In his first year of professional baseball, third baseman Albert Pujols' (below, photo courtesy of "Cardinals in the Bushes" (powerful bat carried him from Class A Peoria to Triple-A Memphis in the Cardinals' minor league system. If it continues to thunder during spring training, it could send him all the way to St. Louis.

The trade of third baseman Fernando Tatis with reliever Britt Reames to the Montreal Expos for pitchers Dustin Hermanson and Steve Kline last Thursday was made in part with Pujols' meteoric rise through the organization in mind. A 13th round pick in the 1999 draft, the 20-year-old Dominican native was signed too late to play that season and began his professional career at Class A Peoria in 2000. He quickly opened the eyes of the Cardinals player development staff by trouncing Midwest League hurlers with a .324 batting average, 32 doubles, 17 home runs and 84 RBI in 109 games.

"He's a big, strong guy," Cardinals director of player development Mike Jorgensen observed. "I think one of his real strengths is that he doesn't strike out very much. He's a guy with some pop in his bat, he's got some power and can hit some home runs. That's pretty remarkable and I think that's why he's able to hit for average plus the fact that he can use the whole field. He hits the ball in the gaps and he's a really nice young hitter."

Pujols is more modest about his hitting prowess. "As a hitter, I don't try to do too much. I just try to go out there and see the ball and hit the ball," he said matter-of-factly. "I just watch the pitcher [and] his timing and then go out there and have fun while at the same time trying to get my hits. I'm not trying to do too much, [just] hitting the ball. I just let it happen."

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In early August, he was promoted one level to Class A Potomac and hit a respectable .284 with two homers and 10 RBI in 21 games. When Memphis manager and former Cardinals third base coach Gaylen Pitts needed a righthanded bat for his playoff-bound Redbirds a few weeks later, Mike Jorgensen offered him Pujols.

"I was really surprised when I came from A ball to high A and then from high A to Triple-A," Pujols remarked about his rise through the Cardinals organization. "That was a big surprise to me. I mean, I just can't believe it that I'm here and in the playoffs with these guys." The rookie contributed with a 13th-inning, game-winning home run in the finale of the Pacific Coast League championship series and earned MVP honors as a result. He capped off his impressive season with a fine performance in the Arizona Fall League, hitting.323 with four homers and 21 RBI in 27 games.

"On our list of prospect players, he's at or near the top of our position players," Jorgensen remarked during the PCL playoffs. "He's swinging the bat well and it's a big jump [from Peoria to Memphis] for him, but we had confidence in him to be able to do that."

Pujols was named co-prospect of the year in the Midwest League and despite his August promotion received its Most Valuable Player award. He was also named as the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year.

According to Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, the organization was faced with the dilemma of trading either Tatis or the fast-rising Pujols at some point. Tatis' lack of desire and personal discipline after inking his multi-year contract this past spring apparently made the decision easier for them to make. When the Expos presented them with the opportunity to gain a starting pitcher and a lefthanded reliever, he was shipped to the Great White North.

The future could be now for Pujols. Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty already believes that he is a better defensive third baseman than Tatis. LaRussa has stated that infielders Craig Paquette and Placido Polanco will likely platoon there next season while Pujols returns to Memphis for more seasoning. But the Cardinals skipper will be closely watching his performance during spring training and there is a good chance that he can impress him enough to be in the Opening Day lineup in 2001.






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