A group of baseball players, wearing red hats and jackets, stands in a dugout, watching a game
A first-round draft choice by the Cardinals in 2021, Michael McGreevy spent some valuable time in big-league spring training before joining the Springfield Cardinals for this week’s season opener. (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

Receiving the Springfield Cardinals’ opening-night pitching assignment is a responsibility that Michael McGreevy embraces. 

“It’s very cool. It’s definitely special,” McGreevy said on Monday during the team’s preseason media day. “I’ll try to set the tone for the season and get off to a good start for the team.”

The St. Louis Cardinals’ No. 8 ranked prospect according to MLB.com will throw Springfield’s first pitch of 2023 at 6:35 p.m. Thursday at Hammons Field, against the Wichita Wind Surge. The 22-year-old right-hander doesn’t figure to be intimidated by the challenge.

Striking out big-league batters

Not after an early assignment in spring training, when he was in the major-league Cardinals’ camp and tasked with throwing live batting practice against St. Louis’ regular starting lineup.

That included facing All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, among others. McGreevy held his own, while acknowledging that it was early in camp and not exactly normal game conditions. Still, it was an impressive and memorable experience.

“Adrenaline was definitely high,” McGreevy said. “I mean, you’re facing the Cardinals’ ‘A’ lineup. Facing those guys builds the pitch library in my mind and a good experience facing high-level bats. 

“At the same time, it’s showing the work you did in the offseason. Because it’s live BP, it’s not necessarily like a game, but you want to show the coaches how much you progressed in the offseason.”

McGreevy, the Cardinals’ first-round draft choice in 2021 out of UC-Santa Barbara, worked extensively in the offseason on improving his slider and debuting a changeup as his fourth pitch. The added variety, to compliment his fastball, should make him better prepared to navigate the Texas League in 2023. 

An eye-opening Double-A debut

After dominating at High-A Peoria the first five weeks of his first full pro season (3-1 with 41 strikeouts and four walks in 45 ⅓ innings), he was promoted to Springfield in late May. He had a 6-4 record in 20 starts, striking out 76 and allowing 109 hits and 26 walks in 99 innings.

It was an eye-opening experience at times, especially McGreevy’s debut. He was roughed up for six runs on 10 hits, including two home runs, in 4 1/3 innings at Tulsa. Asked his memories from that game, McGreevy was brutally honest.

“It was like, ‘Crap, that ball was hit a long, long way. Welcome to Double-A,’” McGreevy said of his thoughts at the time. “After the game … you have to take a step back and know what you have to work on. Luckily, I had great coaches like (manager Jose) Leger and (pitching coach) Darwin Marrero, who was universally helping me out that week saying, ‘Don’t change a thing, you were brought up here for a reason.’ That gave me confidence.

“You’re gonna have good days and bad days in your career and that was one of the bad ones. Just being able to learn from that helped the rest of the way.”

Building on a good spring

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound McGreevy said he’s eager to start putting his experience to work on Thursday. Mentally, he feels like he’s in a good place, with confidence in all four of his pitches, including a fastball that consistently clocked in the mid-90s this spring.

Manager Jose Leger wants McGreevy, who also started the season opener for High-A Peoria a year ago, to enjoy the experience of opening night while getting down to business when it’s go-time.

“Obviously he had a good spring,” Leger said. “He started the opener in Peoria last year. You think about making a jump — he had some starts here — there’s some things he needs to clean up, but he had a really good year last year in Peoria and then came here and had his share of struggles. He’s a great kid and works hard. He knows how to pitch and throws strikes. I see a future big-leaguer in the making. In Double-A, you’re not that far away.”

Feeling more self-assured

McGreevy said he feels more self-assured when walking into Hammons Field this year, with a better idea of how to attack hitters at this level. 

“When I first got to Springfield last year versus me now, I feel more present. I know where my feet are at,” he said. “You’re knocking on the door (of the big leagues), but you definitely know you have a job to do here.”

Being around the big-league pitchers this spring, and having a chance to pick their brains, was invaluable. 

A baseball player in a light blue jersey and red hat pitches the ball
Michael McGreevy will be the opening-night starting pitcher for the Springfield Cardinals on Thursday, when they take on Wichita at Hammons Field. McGreevy, the Cardinals’ No. 8 overall prospect, was 6-4 with the Springfield Cardinals last season. (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

“Being around the big leaguers in spring training was very cool. Just getting to talk to them a whole bunch was awesome,” McGreevy said. “Just hearing the stories they have and being able to talk baseball a whole bunch and talk about other things, it was just a really good time.”

Getting advice from Wainwright

Asked which veteran he soaked in advice from the most, he laughed and said, “That’s a silly question.”

Of course, it was 41-year-old Adam Wainwright, one of the sport’s universally respected pitchers. 

“I was asking him about two-strike pitches,” McGreevy said. “How you have to execute the pitch and don’t make it too big. You’re ahead, but don’t make it too big. That’s what guys get in trouble with. Slow everything down. You’re in control. You’re on the mound. Everybody’s eyes are on you.

“That’s what makes major leaguers, major leaguers. They’ve able to stay in the moment, they’re able to stay in the present. Not make any moment too big and they’re able to repeat that daily. That’s why they’re the best of the best.”

Just as everybody’s eyes were on him during that memorable live batting practice session earlier this spring. With Cardinals’ manager Oliver Marmol and his coaches watching, McGreevy struck out Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman and Andrew Knizner. Jordan Walker, his teammate last summer in Springfield, took a called third strike.

“Granted, it was their first time seeing live BP so I’m gonna take it with a grain of salt,” McGreevy said. “But those are really good hitters. It was a good day, but I’m not gonna think too much about it.”

Other top prospects

Other MLB.com top 30 Cardinals prospects on the Springfield roster are outfielder Mike Antico (No. 23), relief pitcher Ryan Loutos (No. 26) and pitcher Andre Granillo (No. 29). 

Top Twins prospect in town

Wichita is the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins’ top prospect, shortstop Brooks Lee, is listed on the Wichita opening-day roster. The 22-year-old Lee was the No. 8 overall selection of the 2022 draft, out of Cal Poly.

Springfield Cardinals homestand

Thursday — 6:35 p.m. vs. Wichita Wind Surge

Friday — 6:35 p.m. vs. Wichita Wind Surge

Saturday — 6:05 p.m. vs. Wichita Wind Surge

Ticket info: SpringfieldCardinals.com, or go to the Hammons Field box office

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton