Antioch grad DeJong better learning 'how to be a big leaguer' in 2nd season with Cardinals

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com
Updated 4/21/2018 7:36 PM
hello
  • St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong watches his solo home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in St. Louis.

    St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong watches his solo home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in St. Louis.

  • St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong runs the bases after hitting a solo home run off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Jackson Stephens in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, in Cincinnati. The Cardinals won 8-7.

    St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong runs the bases after hitting a solo home run off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Jackson Stephens in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, in Cincinnati. The Cardinals won 8-7.

  • St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong hits a solo home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Friday, June 23, 2017, in St. Louis.

    St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong hits a solo home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Friday, June 23, 2017, in St. Louis.

  • St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong handles a grounder by Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 8, 2018, in St. Louis.

    St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong handles a grounder by Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 8, 2018, in St. Louis.

  • This is a 2018 photo of Paul DeJong of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. This image reflects the Cardinals active roster as of Feb. 20, 2018 when this image was taken.

    This is a 2018 photo of Paul DeJong of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. This image reflects the Cardinals active roster as of Feb. 20, 2018 when this image was taken.

Paul DeJong connected on a 2-1 pitch in the eighth inning of what was the first of 19 scheduled games this season between the Cardinals and the Cubs.

The 24-year-old Antioch High School graduate sent the Pedro Strop fastball 372 feet into the left field bleachers on Tuesday. It was DeJong's third home run in 11 career games at Wrigley Field.

"It's always fun to come back to a place like Chicago," DeJong said.

It feels even better when home runs are flying off the bat.

Now in his second season with the Cardinals, DeJong has firmly planted his feet at the shortstop position for the club. He hit .285 with 25 home runs and 65 RBIs as a rookie in 2017, finishing second in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

This season, through Saturday, he has already hit six home runs, though his average has slipped to .250. His 31 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances are a mild cause for concern in St. Louis, but DeJong is working through it.

"I guess guys have some more info for me so they have a better plan," DeJong said. "I have to adjust in the same way to the pitchers I'm facing. On a positive note, I'm learning more about how to be a big leaguer every day and getting more experience."

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound shortstop played varsity ball at Antioch and went on the play at Illinois State.

He was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, but elected to return to Illinois State for another year. In 2015, the Cardinals selected him in the fourth round (131st overall) of the amateur draft.

Last May, the Cardinals called up DeJong, and he promptly hit a home run in his first major league at bat.

Over the offseason, DeJong signed a six-year contract extension with the Cardinals worth a guaranteed $26 million. It was the largest contract given to a player with less than one year of MLB service time.

"It made sense for me financially and to have the job security with a great organization," DeJong said. "I love being a Cardinal. I don't want to ever leave, so a long-term deal just made a lot of sense."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny primarily has used DeJong in the No. 7 or 8 spot in the lineup this season.

"I'm trying to be consistent every single day in my approach and my routine, in my performance," DeJong said. "That's what I'm constantly striving for, not trying to get too high or too low."

While DeJong doesn't call Illinois home anymore, he enjoys when the Cardinals visit Chicago. St. Louis has an extra visit this season when it plays the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 10 and 11.

At Illinois State, DeJong majored in biochemistry and was on track to go to medical school if his baseball career didn't pan out.

"I don't think I'll have to fall back on that," DeJong said with a grin inside the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field. "Things have changed quickly, but all for the better."

Paul DeJong's baseball timeline

Spring 2011: DeJong hit .430 with 4 home runs and 30 RBIs as a senior at Antioch High School, helping the team to a 21-10 record. He was an All-North Suburban Conference First-Team selection.

Spring 2012: DeJong redshirted his first season at Illinois State.

Spring 2014: In a breakout season, DeJong hit .349 for the Redbirds while starting all 54 games as a redshirt sophomore. Illinois State fell one win short of winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.

June 7, 2014: The Pittsburgh Pirates draft DeJong in the 38th round of the amateur draft. DeJong elected to return to Illinois State for another year.

Spring 2015: DeJong hit .333 with 14 home runs and 15 doubles for Illinois State as a redshirt junior.

June 9, 2015: The Cardinals selected DeJong in the fourth round of the draft. He signed on June 13.

May 28, 2017: DeJong hit a home run in his first major league at bat against Colorado's Greg Holland. He became the ninth Cardinals player to homer in his first Major League at bat.

March 5, 2018: DeJong and the Cardinals agree to a six-year contract extension worth a guaranteed $26 million. The contract is the largest given to a player with less than one year of service time. White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson had held that record with a six-year, $25 million deal in 2017.

Get articles sent to your inbox.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.