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VOL. 129 | NO. 170 | Monday, September 1, 2014

Redbirds’ Easley, Scruggs Enjoy Stellar Season

By Don Wade

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Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. Those were the St. Louis Cardinals’ hot outfield prospects stashed in Memphis at season’s start.

Redbirds catcher Ed Easley, a graduate of Olive Branch High School, has been one of the Redbirds’ top hitters in the season’s second half and has been “solid” behind the plate, Redbirds manager Pop Warner said.

Taveras and Grichuk have shuttled between the Cardinals and Redbirds and both are with the big club as the Redbirds’ regular season winds down. Piscotty has stayed with the Redbirds, but throughout the year Cardinals general John Mozeliak openly has talked about having playing time in St. Louis for Piscotty in the near future.

Meanwhile, first baseman Xavier Scruggs and catcher Ed Easley quietly are having seasons worthy of September call-ups when the roster expands to 40 players. Neither is currently on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, but with the Cardinals in a pennant race and the way Easley and Scruggs have played, they figure to get consideration.

“I’m happy for them,” Memphis manager Pop Warner said. “They go about it the right way, grind every year.”

Easley (Olive Branch High School and Mississippi State University) came up through the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization. He has been sharing catching duties with Audrey Perez this season but has made the most of his opportunities, and through 267 at-bats heading into a Labor Day weekend series in New Orleans was batting .292 with 10 home runs and 41 runs batted in.

After a lukewarm start to the season, Easley has had a hot second half. “He’s making a push,” Warner said. “He’s one of our better hitters. He started a little slow but kept his head above water.”

Said Easley: “Me and a few other guys were talking during batting practice in the outfield about how catchers, for the most part, if you look around the league, don’t usually hit for high average. And you’d think being a catcher, seeing the pitches coming in on such a regular basis, that you’d have a little advantage.

Memphis first baseman Xavier Scruggs leads the team with 85 runs batted in and has belted 20 homers.

(Allison Rhoades)

“For me, I try to separate my defense from my hitting,” he said. “As a catcher, defense is first. I think I just got some hits in a few consecutive games and got confident and things have just been falling my way.”

Scruggs had 20 home runs with a team-leading 85 RBI on a .281 batting average through 456 at-bats. Although his 112 strikeouts also led the team, it’s a noticeable reduction from the 177 strikeouts he had last season at Double-A Springfield when he slammed 29 home runs.

His approach at the plate is maturing, and he passes much credit for that to Redbirds hitting coach Mark Budaska.

“With two strikes this year, I’m trying to stay up the middle and not try and do too much,” Scruggs said. “Actually, that starts at the beginning of the count. I’ve been trying to cut down (my swing). That’s helped me put ball in play a lot more.”

He’s also made a happy discovery. Sometimes when trying to just get a base hit through the middle with two strikes, he’s still hit the ball out of the park.

“And that’s given me confidence that I can still generate power with two strikes with just a smooth quick swing through the zone,” he said.

The Redbirds carried a three-game lead over second-place Nashville into the weekend, so they were in good position to lock up a playoff berth and extend the season. But however that plays out, a player in Memphis is always looking to that opportunity.

With Matt Adams having a strong year for the Cardinals, Scruggs’ path to full-time play would seem to be blocked.

“It’s something I try not to think too much about. I’m happy for Matt,” Scruggs said. “Me and him are friends. I just have to worry about myself, put myself in the best position where I’m ready if they need me.”

Warner believes Scruggs has a good mindset for a role player in the big leagues, should that opportunity come.

“He’s got the right temperament to do whatever you ask him to do,” Warner said.

Warner believes Easley is also ready.

“He carries out a game plan really nice,” the manager said. “He has a good feel for a pitcher’s strengths and pitching to a hitter’s weaknesses. He does a solid job behind the plate.”

Easley has enjoyed having his wife and parents at all the Redbirds games, saying, “It’s been a dream come true to be able to play in my hometown. But the goal is not to continue to play here, but to play in St. Louis.”

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