With how well he was playing and how well his then-parent club, the Texas Rangers, fared in the race for the American League West last summer, Cardinals prospect Thomas Saggese knew what that could mean for his future.
His former teammates consistently reminded him of it.
“People on my team would be like, ‘See you later (Thomas). You’re getting traded,’” the 21-year-old said recently at Busch Stadium during the Cardinals’ annual Winter Warm-up. “Just because the Rangers are doing well, I’m doing well, (and) there’s not really a place for me to play in the big leagues. They’re making a playoff push, so naturally, it would make sense that they would trade to get some help for their big league team.”
The possibility of getting dealt became a reality on July 30 when the Cardinals acquired Saggese, along with pitching prospect Tekoah Roby and major league reliever John King, in a move that sent left-hander Jordan Montgomery and righty Chris Stratton to the eventual 2023 World Series champions.
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The actuality of being moved sparked something inside the infield prospect.
“I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Texas, for sure, and there’s nothing but respect for them,” Saggese said. “But it’s definitely a chip on my shoulder to go out and prove that I’m going to be a capable player and a really good player. I think it motivates me a little bit.”
Dealt to a new organization in the midst of a career year, Saggese batted .331 with a 1.065 OPS and 10 home runs in his first 33 games with Class AA Springfield. He was named Cardinals minor league player of the month for August and received his first promotion to Class AAA in September for the last two weeks of Memphis’ season.
Through all the moves and changes of scenery, the 21-year-old ended his year with a .306 average, .904 OPS, 26 home runs, 111 RBIs and 170 hits in 139 games — 126 of which came at the Double-A level. His OPS, home run, double (34) and RBI totals all were career bests. His career-high 170 hits were the most across minor league baseball.
In his sample of Triple-A, the Carlsbad, California, native batted .207 with five doubles, a homer and a .615 OPS in 63 plate appearances over 13 games.
“I think it’s just the way baseball works. I didn’t feel overmatched,” Saggese said of his Triple-A experience. “I didn’t feel like it was the level that caused that. I just think that’s how baseball works. You go through stretches where you do really well and then you go through stretches where you don’t do too well.”
The strong campaign provided some self-assurance to Saggese.
“I’ve always believed that I can compete at any level, and I’ve always really believed that,” said Saggese, who was named Texas League MVP. “Since I was in high school, I believed that I’m capable of getting to the big leagues and becoming an All-Star in the big leagues. So (it is) definitely another building block (in) proving myself right, which kind of helps me build more confidence in that belief.”
And led to a starting point for his 2024 season.
When Saggese reports to Jupiter, Florida, for his first spring training as a Cardinals prospect, the 21-year-old will be a non-roster invitee to his first big league camp.
“I think it doesn’t change too much, and it just is (to) have a good time,” Saggese said when asked about his mindset going into spring training. “I really like to work, and I really want to play as hard as I can and hustle. That’s kind of what I can control. I feel like as long as I do that, then things will fall into place. That’s a big thing of mine is I want to honor the Lord and play hard.”
After spending time with three different teams and two organizations in 2023, Saggese received playing time at second base, third base and shortstop. The bulk of his innings on defense this past season, as well as over his minor league career since making his debut in 2021, came as a second baseman.
A former fifth-round pick from the pandemic-shortened draft in 2020, Saggese posted a .980 fielding percentage in 667 innings at second base between Springfield, Memphis and Frisco, the Rangers’ Double-A club. Saggese, who “profiles best” at second base, per Baseball America’s scouting report, said he had not had any conversations with the Cardinals before Winter Warm-up as to where he might be used most frequently on defense once spring training begins.
He emphasized a willingness to do “whatever they need me to do” when it comes to where he takes the infield.
He’s once again preparing to be moved around.
“I’ve never been one for change,” Saggese said when asked about the biggest lessons he learned in 2023. “I don’t like change, and I’m not very comfortable with it. … When I first got into pro ball, I really struggled being away from home and then those constant things of getting traded were hard for me for a brief time. Maybe a day or so.
“But I think it’s very beneficial to have those experiences because it helps me learn how to deal with things like that. Hopefully, when I get to the big leagues, I’ll be a little more prepared to play at the highest level because I’ve been through stuff that’s kind of (like that). I mean, I’m sure nothing can compare and prepare you for that, but just because of those experiences, I think that helps a lot.”