While this is the first season the two are teammates, watching Marcell Ozuna blast a deep, line drive over the fence is nothing new for Paul DeJong.

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As a rookie in camp last year, he didn’t start as many games and was often called over in the dugout by hitting coach John Mabry to study Ozuna during the numerous Grapefruit League matchups between the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins.

“Just watching how good his mechanics are,” said DeJong. “Really kind of try to imitate some of the same things with his legs. That’s my big focus with him, just how balanced he stays and keeps his weight back even on tough, off-speed pitches.”

The duo could provide some serious power in the middle of the lineup for the Cardinals this season as Ozuna launched 37 homers last year and DeJong hit 25–plus another 13 in Memphis (AAA).

“To me last year didn’t seem like I was super hot and then super cold, it felt like I was consistent the whole year through,” said DeJong. “So last year really felt like something I could do again. Moving forward, I’m going to try and get on base a little bit more. I think I had enough hits to hit .300 but I didn’t get enough walks. I hit .285 but you throw in 10 more walks and 10 less at-bats and who knows where my average is from there?”

A finalist for the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year Award, DeJong enters this spring having answered the question if he belongs in the big leagues. Now it’s a matter of where and how he can improve.

“Getting last year’s experience and then going through this off-season, being able to look back and kind of analyze and see what I did–it’s given me a lot more confidence now,” said DeJong. “Moving to shortstop was kind of a quick move for me. I went to the big leagues as a second baseman, so I definitely have some room to grow at short but moving forward I think my preparation is going to pay off just because of the work I’ve done with Oquendo and the confidence that I’m feeling to play shortstop in the big leagues.”

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That work with Jose Oquendo began in early January, as DeJong was one of several players who came down to Jupiter early to begin their preparations for 2018.

“This year, I’ve been working with (Oquendo) everyday,” said DeJong. “Really getting a better relationship. He definitely is helping us out and I think moving forward will continue to help us.”

Besides with the work with Oquendo, second baseman Kolten Wong was also an early arrival so the trio was able to work on double plays and more. There has also been additional guidance from Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

“It’s more the subtleties,” explained DeJong. “I’m just trying to clean up my game. I thought I did a pretty good job last year with routine balls, making plays I should’ve made. But I also thought I made a few mental mistakes that could’ve been cleaned up.

“So I think right now, it’s just for me focusing on little things and communication. Then once the game starts, trusting my preparation will take me where I need to go.”

The work was balanced with some fun as DeJong’s agent, Burton Rocks, helped line him up as a celebrity guest at the Palm Beach Polo Club and later the Palm Beach Symphony.

“Just checking off all of my Palm Beach society boxes,” laughed DeJong. “I used to play the piano when I was in elementary school-middle school. My brother is actually the musician–he plays the piano. He’s studying for the Masters program at Florida State for piano. It’s always been a part of our family, the classical music.”

photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com

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