JUPITER, Fla. — Across the campus at Cardinals camp Tuesday, as spring training percolated, pockets of players practiced. Some pitchers pitched over here, couple outfielders ran over there. On a farther field, the infielders fielded. Big-money, big-names: Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong. They worked with a coach with a similarly big name around St. Louis — Jose Oquendo. And a fifth player was there.

Johan Oviedo.

He’s not even an infielder. He’s a 21-year-old pitcher. But he hung around, retrieving balls, helping out coach Oquendo, who hit grounders to the fellows. It was a minor thing for the minor-leaguer Oviedo, but it showed his dedication, as well as the team’s willingness to let him be a sponge.

“Even if you’re a pitcher, and they’re position players, you’re always going to learn something from those guys,” Oviedo said. “They have a lot of experience. I just like to interact and do whatever I can on the field, help with ground balls, everything. I just want to play the game. … I try to be a good teammate, I like sharing my thoughts with everyone on the team.”

This is a pivotal year for Oviedo, who can determine his trajectory with his pitch trajectory. In 2016, the Cardinals paid a $1.9-million bonus to get the 6-foot-6 Cuban. And as recently as last April, he was the Cardinals’ minor league pitcher of the month — the righthander for High-A Palm Beach went 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA. He struck out 35 batters in 33 innings. He was on to something. He was on other team’s radars for trade-deadline deals. He was on his way to Class AA … but he came back to earth.

In 23 starts for Springfield, Oviedo had a 5.65 ERA. His WHIP was 1.63. He struck out 128 guys (most of the team’s pitchers) but walked 64 (most of the team’s pitchers).

But now he’s here in big-league camp with a positive attitude and aptitude for doing the little things to get ahead.

“It’s really exciting to be part of this organization,” he said. “There’s a lot of history, a lot of talent. I just want to be part of it.”

Oviedo’s slider is his best pitch — per Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, it’s the best slider in the St. Louis Cardinals system.

“I’m working on my change-up, but my other pitches help me out a lot — fastball, curveball, slider,” Oviedo said. “So I’m trying to figure out my change-up. It’s starting to feel a little better.”

Oviedo is very comfortable speaking English, even though when he arrived in 2016, “all I could say was ‘hi.’” He first got to Miami in 2016, lived with an aunt and uncle in Jacksonville and then came to the Palm Beach/Jupiter area to begin his baseball dream.

“It was a huge change for me in my life — everything, routine, culture, food,” he said. “I had to learn how to speak, work with trainers. It was kind of tough in the beginning. With the help of these guys and my teammates and coaches, they introduced me to the minor-league world. For me, it’s been a great experience because I’ve learned so many things. It was amazing.

“Being apart from my parents is tough — it still is. They were at the fields, watching me grow up — it’s not only my dream, but it’s their dream, too. But I did this for them, too. It’s not only for myself. That’s given me a lot of strength to keep looking forward to make the dream come true.


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