KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- After spending two weeks serving as a guest instructor, former Cardinal Willie McGee departed Jupiter on Friday with an invitation from manager Mike Matheny to return anytime he wants.
McGee offered advice and instruction in a number of areas, but he was particularly instrumental in the Cardinals' efforts to improve their baserunning. McGee, who spent 13 of his 18 Major League seasons with St. Louis, had daily post-workout baserunning tutorials before the Cardinals started Grapefruit League play.
The attention shown by a player who had 352 career steals made an impression on several of McGee's baserunning pupils.
"Willie says it's all about confidence," outfielder Adron Chambers noted. "He was talking about how times have changed where coaches use stopwatches now to time pitchers. He said when he was playing, he didn't have things like that. He just believed that he would steal a base."
The Cardinals are not fooled into believing they will be a prolific basestealing club this year. The club swiped 91 bases in 2012, a total that ranked 13th among the 16 National League teams, and returns almost all of the same position players. But the Cardinals do have a handful of players -- including Chambers, Shane Robinson, Jon Jay and Oscar Taveras -- who have been told to take chances on the basepaths this spring.
"I think as a team, we feel like we should be stealing more bags," Robinson said. "We've chatted about it this spring amongst players and coaches, just kind of trying to come up with an idea about testing the waters to see what our maximum potential could be when it comes to stealing. It will help us. I feel like we're known as a team that doesn't run a lot. That can make us more dangerous."
The work will continue without McGee for the final month of spring. But the Cardinals need not worry: Lou Brock, who ranks second on baseball's all-time stolen base leaderboard, landed in Jupiter on Thursday.
Mabry happy to be coaching gifted St. Louis hitters
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite the change in title, John Mabry insists that it has been just business as usual for him this spring.
After serving as an assistant coach for one season, Mabry became the Cardinals' head hitting coach upon Mark McGwire's departure during the offseason. McGwire is now the Dodgers' hitting coach. The transition, Mabry said, has been made easier by the fact that McGwire incorporated him into all the work he did last year.
Mabry also opted not to make too many alterations to the spring plan that McGwire had previously instituted.
"We're not reinventing any wheels," Mabry said. "These guys are good hitters. They know what they're doing. We have a lot of veteran guys who understand the game. We have some guys who are right on the verge of taking the next step to become among the elites in the game. Hopefully, they continue on that path."
And who would Mabry consider to be on that list?
"The whole core of young guys," he answered. "[David] Freese, [Jon] Jay, [Daniel] Descalso, [Allen] Craig. Those guys are ready to go to the next level. You have Matt [Holliday] and Carlos [Beltran] and Yadi [Molina] who are already superstars, and you have the next level coming who are going to be. What a great example they have to see in the guys ahead of them."
Mabry was fortunate in the players he inherited, of course, as McGwire left him with almost all the pieces from an offense that was near the top of the National League in most statistical categories last year.
• Bench coach Mike Aldrete served as the Cardinals' acting manager on Friday after Matheny had to remain in Jupiter because of an illness.
• Mitchell Boggs and Fernando Salas are among the pitchers scheduled to throw in Saturday's game against the Nationals. It will be the last Grapefruit League appearance for each before they head off to their respective World Baseball Classic teams. Boggs will pitch for Team USA, while Salas will be part of Mexico's roster.
• Saturday's game against the Nationals will mark the first meeting between Washington and St. Louis since the Cardinals stunned the Nats in Game 5 of the NL Division Series last October. As the schedule would have it, the two starters from that game -- Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez -- will face each other on Saturday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.