AFL stint in '07 pivotal in Motte's development
Right-hander reflects fondly on time with Mesa Solar Sox during ascent through Minors
JUPITER, Fla. -- The 2007 season was a pivotal one in Jason Motte's climb to St. Louis. It opened with him wondering if he could make it as a pitcher and closed with the Cardinals confident enough in Motte's development to place him in the Arizona Fall League, where he could be challenged by the best.
Tangible evidence that the Cardinals believed in Motte's potential on the mound was found in that AFL invitation.
"It was a cool experience because they must think something of you to send you there," Motte said. "You're actually playing against some of the best in the Minors. For me, it was a good sign that they felt enough of me to send me there."
By the time Motte joined the Mesa Solar Sox club, he was more than a year into his conversion from catcher to pitcher. He began the switch in 2006 and then appeared in 53 games in '07. Motte opened that year in Palm Beach (Class A Advanced) and was promoted to Double-A Springfield after allowing one earned run in nine appearances.
At the end of the season, Motte had a 1.98 ERA and rising potential. His success came mostly with the fastball, which is one of the reasons why the Cardinals selected him to play in the AFL. They hoped it would offer him the chance to develop his offspeed pitches, in particular his slider.
"You go out there trying to work on stuff, and you know other people are out there trying to work on stuff, too," Motte said. "I remember it was a good time. It's relaxed, but it's not relaxed. It had a little Spring Training feel, but you're out there trying to do well. There are scouts in the stands every single day. Everyone is watching. You want to go out there and make an impression and showcase what you have."
The Cardinals watched as Motte went on to rank second in appearances among Mesa's pitchers. He allowed six runs (four earned) on 10 hits, including two homers, in 12 innings. Motte recorded twice as many strikeouts (10) as he issued walks. The results were plenty respectable for someone so new to taking the mound.
With an improved slider in his repertoire, Motte went on to make his Major League debut the following season.
While Motte could not recall any specifics about the appearances he made in the AFL, he quickly recalled the camaraderie he enjoyed. He was joined in Mesa by Cardinals pitchers Kyle McClellan and Mitchell Boggs, both of whom won World Series rings with Motte in St. Louis four years after.
The AFL also afforded Motte the opportunity to be short-term teammates with players he now faces in the Majors.
"It was really kind of cool because you play against these guys all year on different teams and then you get to know them as teammates," Motte said. "You get to know guys and the next season, you would see them around. Even now there are guys I played against there that are now in the big leagues. It was a lot of fun."
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.