Phillies in town for three games against Cardinals at Busch

Paul DeJong watches his homer in a game last season against the Phillies at Busch Stadium. (Post-Dispatch photo by Robert Cohen)

HUMMEL ON EXPECTATIONS AT SHORTSTOP:

Paul DeJong reached the 30-homer plateau for the first time last season, his second full year in the big leagues. But where he perhaps has made his biggest mark recently is his defense, which merited him Gold Glove consideration in 2019. It had been thought that DeJong was just passing through as a shortstop before he would wind up at third base, but it seems shortstop will be his address for the foreseeable future.

He has worked hard to improve his range and his ability to backhand the ball in the hole. Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, a 13-time Gold Glover, offered advice that DeJong would be even better if he regularly moved his feet before the pitch is made to the batter. Playing a whopping 156 games at the position last season, DeJong had the best fielding percentage for shortstops in the National League at .989 and was first in assists, putouts and double plays (119).

He might be better offensively, though, if he would get a couple of games off from shortstop — he still could DH in that time — and that is why Tommy Edman will get more of a look in the field.

It is asking a lot of a shortstop to play virtually every day and be a productive middle-of-the-lineup hitter. DeJong has done that, hitting 74 home runs in his first 2½ big-league seasons. But his average has dropped from .285 to .241 to .233 in the three seasons, and his OPS was only .762 last year, which isn’t very high for someone who had 30 homers.

The 78 RBIs DeJong had last year represented a career high, but he hit just .193 with men in scoring position. If DeJong can hike that mark by even 50 points, he could knock in 45 to 50 runs in a shortened season as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter.

His strike zone discipline has improved. DeJong had 62 walks, which was more than he had the first two seasons combined, but he swung at too many non-strikes early in counts and was punched out 149 times last season.

Though not a fast runner, DeJong has learned to be a better one and even stole nine bases last year after having only one in each of his first two seasons.

The Illinois State graduate is a sharp, eager student. His desire to improve is easy to discern.

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