A baseball player prepares to hit the ball
Noah Mendlinger has climbed from undrafted free agent in 2021 to the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in two seasons. He’s had at least one hit in eight games since a promotion to Springfield on May 10. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

One of the newest Springfield Cardinals continues to defy the odds in this day and age of size and strength, combined with exit velocity and launch angles.

Proving himself is nothing new for Noah Mendlinger. The 5-foot-8, 181-pound infielder didn’t attract college baseball recruiters from Division I schools as a teen in Alpharetta, Georgia, where he grew up a Braves fan and his favorite players were infielders Martin Prado and Omar Infante.

“They were guys who could move around a little bit, play different positions and get into the lineup any way they can,” Mendlinger said before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Wichita Wind Surge at Hammons Field.

Mendlinger wound up at Division II Georgia College after the in-state Division I programs passed him by. He made the most of the situation and is glad he wound up going to a small school. 

“I had a couple of offers, but nothing too crazy,” Mendlinger said. “I kind of use that as a little bit of a chip. Sure, I was passed up by some of those bigger schools in Georgia and it would have been nice to go to some of those schools, but everything worked out the way it was supposed to.

“I have lifelong memories and good friends from Georgia College. I really enjoyed my time there and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Getting on the Cardinals’ radar

The old adage that pro scouts will find you, no matter the level if you’re good enough, proved true. After hitting .331 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 38 RBIs in 37 games in 2021 — he also pitched in seven games that season — Mendlinger appeared on the St. Louis Cardinals’ radar.

He was invited to a pre-draft camp at Busch Stadium in June of 2021, where he got to take batting practice and infield in front of the team’s scouts and decision-makers. Though Mendlinger was bypassed in the 20-round draft, despair soon disappeared when the Cardinals called to offer him a free-agent contract.

“Oh my God, it was an unreal phone call. It was all an unreal experience,” Mendlinger recalled. “I got to go to the pre-draft workout at Busch Stadium and that was an awesome experience as it was. I tried to keep the mindset that anything beyond that was icing on the cake.

“Now here we are a couple of years later, playing in some pretty cool parks and hopefully on the way to Busch. But I really enjoyed that whole process.”

Hitting his way to Double-A

Mendlinger hit .275 in just 80 at-bats in 2021 at Class-A Palm Beach before spending the entire 2022 season at High-A Peoria, hitting .246 with 12 extra-base hits in 224 at-bats.

After beginning this season at Peoria, hitting .250 over the first five weeks, he was promoted to Springfield near the end of the last homestand. He’s made a quick impact, with hits in six of his first eight Double-A games. 

Mendlinger collected his first Double-A home run in a Sunday victory at Northwest Arkansas, with eight RBIs and a .379 average in eight games. 

“He can swing it and he’s been able to put together good at-bats,” Springfield manager Jose Leger said. “He’s done the job with runners in scoring position and has been able to put the ball in play and spray it around the field.

“He’s also provided decent defense at second base and third base. He’s athletic and might be a guy who could be a utility player like that.”

Taking advantage of his opportunity

Leger said Mendlinger is proof that you don’t need to be 6-foot-2 or have a blue-blood college pedigree to get your shot in the pros.

“You see it a lot,” Leger said. “Guys come from programs some people don’t know of, but they get the opportunity and they grind. They don’t take it for granted. They take advantage of the opportunity they are given.”

Mendlinger said understanding his limitations is a part of being successful. He doesn’t try to slug like teammate Chandler Redmond, the Texas League’s home run leader with 16. There are plenty of other ways to help the team and advance his opportunities in the organization.

“I’m trying to hit line drives and spray the field,” Mendlinger said. “Baseball has kind of gone the direction of guys trying to hit the ball out of the yard. If you look at my frame, I’m not really meant for that. I’m just going up there and trying to find my hits and get on base any way I can. 

“Whether it’s a back-side single, a walk or a hit by pitch, if I’m getting on base then I’m happy.”

A baseball player throws the ball across the infield
After a single in Tuesday’s victory over Wichita, Noah Mendlinger is hitting .379 through eight Double-A games, seeing playing time at third base and second base. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Using analytics to improve his game

Not that he ignores the technology and data that is available to players nowadays.

“Every player is looking for where they can get an edge and how they can improve their game,” he said. “If I get my bat speed up, and get some of those exit velos up, I can find even more holes. I definitely try to look at some of the analytics and stuff like that and see where I can improve my game.

“Also, just understanding that if I hit a home run, great, but that’s not necessarily what we’re trying to do every single day and repeat it. I’m not gonna go out there and hit it like Redmond or a few other guys on this team. If the park plays in my favor, great. If a few balls leave the park that normally wouldn’t, that’s great. But I’m just trying to use some of those analytics to get more hits and refine what I do already.”

Eager to play anywhere on the field

He takes the same approach defensively, eager to play anywhere the Cardinals ask. He’s primarily been a third baseman, but also has taken turns at second base and started a slick double play on Tuesday. He’s even willing to play in the outfield if asked.

“I don’t like DH-ing,” he said with a laugh. “I like to be out on defense. I like the mental break from the offensive side. But if I’m in the lineup, anywhere, I’m happy. I’ve played a lot of third base in my career and in college. But I’m just trying to get comfortable anywhere out there, really.

“I know the Cardinals have had a few guys, like (Brendan) Donovan, who have gone through the system and did well as utility players. If that’s something that I can do, I’d love to do that.”

Cardinals open series with 8-3 victory

Chandler Redmond hit two home runs, extending his Texas League-leading total to 16 this season, as Springfield defeated the Wichita Wind Surge 8-3 in Tuesday’s series opener. Irving Lopez had three hits for the Cardinals, who improved to 18-21 with their third straight victory.

Springfield Cardinals homestand

  • Tuesday, May 23 — Springfield 8, Wichita 3
  • Wednesday, May 24 — 6:35 p.m. vs. Wichita
  • Thursday, May 25 — 7:05 p.m. vs. Wichita
  • Friday, May 26 — 7:05 p.m. vs. Wichita
  • Saturday, May 27 — 6:35 p.m. vs. Wichita
  • Sunday, May 28 — 6:05 p.m. vs. Wichita

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