ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Paul DeJong’s rookie season with the St. Louis Cardinals has recently reached a comparison to Albert Pujols. That comes from a 23-year-old who didn’t receive a college baseball scholarship offer when he was in high school.
On Sunday, DeJong tied a franchise record with the sure-Hall-of-Famer, Pujols, for most extra-base hits in a 46-game stretch, with 25. And going into Monday’s game he was leading the league in extra base this month, with 15.
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His 12 home runs are the sixth most of any Cardinal this year, but he’s played in only 47 games. Combined with his numbers in AAA with the Memphis Redbirds, he’s hit 25 dingers this year, “and counting” he says. That’s the most he’s ever hit in a single season, at any level, but he says that doesn’t make this season an oddity.
“This is who I am, I’m still trying to make improvements, make adjustments,” DeJong says. “It’s just about focusing on the day-to-day and playing the game hard.”
By the end of his senior season at Antioch High School in Illinois, he says he didn’t receive a single college baseball scholarship offer. So, he went to Illinois State’s baseball coaches and told them he would walk on.
Three years seasons later, he was a preseason All-American, two-time Missouri Valley Conference First-Team selection and was drafted in the fourth round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft by St. Louis.
“I just needed any opportunity,” DeJong says. “And that’s kind of what I’m doing up here. I just need an opportunity to show what I can do and I don’t look back after that.”
DeJong says he torn his ACL in high school, causing him to miss his freshman and sophomore seasons. He says it stalled his growth as a player.
But the progression has caught up.
His .584 (as of Wednesday) slugging percentage as a rookie is only bested by Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers (among rookies with at least 100 at bats).
“It’s just about trying to get my foot through the door, and that seems to be a common theme throughout my career,” DeJong says.
DeJong batted third in Monday night’s 8-2 win over the Rockies, and homered in Tuesday’s 3-2 walk-off win. Game three of the series with Colorado is set for Wednesday at 7:15 p.m., pre game coverage begins at 6:20 on KMOX 1120AM.
KMOX’s Alex Ferrario contributed to this report