JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Free agent second baseman Mark Ellis signed with St. Louis during the offseason reasoning that the Cardinals offered the best shot at a World Series title.
Now he’s prepared to show what kind of a contribution he can make toward achieving that goal.
The 11-year veteran arrived at Roger Dean Stadium on Monday — the date for Cardinals position players to report. On Tuesday, he’ll jump into what manager Mike Matheny emphatically declared to be an open competition at second base with rookie Kolten Wong.
“I’ve tried to be real careful about how we’ve explained that to anybody,” Matheny said. “Once again with everybody we have – it sounds like I’m just giving you a line – but I want them going out there like they are competing for a job regardless of how solid their spot is.”
An offseason trade that sent David Freese to the Angels allowed the Cardinals to move natural corner infielder Matt Carpenter from second to third. That created an opening for prospect Kolten Wong to take over at second.
When Ellis signed his one year, $5.25 million deal with the Cardinals, popular wisdom held that Ellis, whose .270 average with the Dodgers last season is five points better than his career mark, would provide an insurance policy should Wong struggle.
Matheny insists he views Ellis as potentially more than just a reserve.
“I’ve talked relentlessly with this staff about, let’s not commit to what we think this has to look like,” Matheny said. “Let’s let these guys go play the game and that will make it obvious for itself. But there are going to be opportunities for Kolten and there going to be opportunities for Mark as well.”
Wong’s potent bat makes his inclusion in the everyday lineup attractive. The Cardinals first round selection in the 2011 amateur draft, Wong hit .301 and stole 50 bases over the course of three minor league seasons. That success didn’t translate to last year’s major league call-up, when he hit .153 in 59 at-bats.
“Everything is quicker, everything is faster,” Wong said of the experience. “Even though I succeeded at the minor league level, that’s the minor leagues. This is the big leagues. I have to make sure that everything is short, quicker and that I put good wood on the ball.”
Should Wong win the everyday second base job, the Cardinals could ask Ellis to take on a utility role, potentially backing up Matt Carpenter at third or playing some outfield.
Ellis hasn’t played more than two games in a season at a position other than second base since playing seven at shortstop in 2005 with Oakland. He brought only one glove to Jupiter, but is willing to adjust if the Cardinals want him to try something new.
“They didn’t promise anything,” Ellis said. “They didn’t tell me anything except that they wanted me on the team. That’s kind of my expectations – just go out there and play. Where ever they put my name in the lineup, that’s where I’ll be.”
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