In 2015, DeJong earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and pre-med from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. He had an impressive 3.76 grade point average. In the classroom and on the field, Paul is working to be a high achiever.
In 2013, Paul hit 20 home runs in the wood bat Northwoods Collegiate summer league.
In the spring of 2015, he hit 14 homers for Illinois State to lead the Missouri Valley Conference.
In 2015, Paul got drafted by the Cardinals (see Transactions below).
In 2016, Baseball America had DeJong as the 16th-best prospect in the Cardinals organization, moving him up to #14 in 2017.
Paul may have been unavoidably late to the ballpark, but he was right on time with his first swing in the Major Leagues. DeJong made his big league debut on May 28, 2017, an 8-4 loss to the Rockies, entering as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth inning, facing closer Greg Holland, who had saved 19 games in 19 chances and boasted a 0.96 ERA coming into the game.
"I was just looking for a fastball early in the count," DeJong said. "First pitch . . . ball. I kind of tightened up and wanted a pitch right in my zone and looked for it and got it and took a swing at it."
The swing was good enough to send the ball 388 feet into the left field stands for a home run on his first swing. "I was pretty amped," DeJong said. "I couldn't really feel my legs. I just kept watching it and it kept going. It was pretty amazing."
DeJong is the ninth Cardinal to homer in his first Major League at bat, and the first since Mark Worrell did it in the second game of a June 5, 2008 doubleheader against the Nationals. "I guess it's easy, I don't know," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I'm happy for him. He got here about halfway through the game. Just an exciting player, and we see why."
DeJong got the call late the night before, and through travel complications he ended up landing at Denver International Airport in the second inning of the game. "Last night after I got back to the apartment, [Memphis manager] Stubby [Clapp] called me back to the clubhouse and told me I was going up," DeJong said. "I called my mom and dad and a few friends and old coaches who helped me get there. It's just been a crazy 24 hours. I couldn't get much sleep last night."
After a quick ride from the airport, he got to the ballpark about halfway through the game, grabbed a uniform, and came out of the clubhouse and into the dugout in the midst of his first game at a sold-out Coors Field. "Come out and see the high stands and the noises, just the show, it was amazing," DeJong marveled.
DeJong has had little experience as a pinch-hitter, so he made frequent trips from the dugout to the indoor batting cage. "I've been pretty much an everyday player in Memphis, but today was a special case," DeJong. "I had a little more in the tank, a little more edge and excitement, and came through."
He was pinch-hitting for reliever Matt Bowman to lead off the ninth, facing the game's hottest closer because the Rockies were determined not to let the Cards back in the game with the series on the line. With his parents in the stands, DeJong unwound on a 92 mph fastball and circled the bases into the history books. "It was just a dream come true," DeJong said. "I've been playing baseball since I was four years old, and to do that in my first at bat was something I'll remember forever." (Perkins - mlb.com - 5/28/17)
Even before the Cardinals drafted Paul in 2015, he was already a Redbird—an Illinois State Redbird, that is. In his first Minor League season, DeJong—coming off two red-hot seasons at Illinois State—knew his time in the big leagues could be looming closer than some expected. He was promoted to the Class A Peoria Chiefs from Rookie-level ball in his first pro season.
"That's when I kind of knew I was getting pushed a little bit," DeJong said.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny likes what he's seen in his glimpse of the versatile DeJong thus far in 2017. "He's done a nice job," Matheny said. "Everybody kind of has those days where it just doesn't work, but he's got a real nice idea of how to play the game, plays the game the right way."
That advanced know-how and the ability to fill numerous roles across the infield sticks out for Matheny, almost as if it were engrained in DeJong's DNA. As it happens, a double-helix tattoo winds across the left side of DeJong's torso, the two strands combined by the laces of a baseball. But as Paul continues to adjust to Major League action, DeJong knows he must maintain a clear mind and steady approach.
"It's been up and down; I think I'd be more consistent," DeJong said. "That's what I'm striving for every day, to be more consistent. That's just baseball—you're going to have the ups and downs, but you've got to try to be even-keeled as much as you can."
"I think he's been taught the game the right way," Matheny said. "He sees the game the way he should, makes adjustments when he has to. He just has a higher level of game sense and self-awareness than most players with as little experience as he's had."
"He comes up with some big at-bats," Matheny said. "I've seen a lot of things you've got to be excited about." (Harris - mlb.com - 6/22/17)
"Paul just continues to impress us every day offensively, defensively," manager Mike Matheny said in August 2017, Paul's first year in the Major Leagues. "Paul's a good player. He's constantly learning and trying to figure out what they're going to do next. Making great adjustments from at-bat to at-bat. He's staying strong.
"We've played him a lot, and he keeps showing up ready to go. It's a lot on a young player if they allow it to be. This kid, his mindset is, 'I'm going to go out, and I've got a great opportunity to go play for the St. Louis Cardinals today,' and he's playing his game."
"I feel great up at bat right now, but it's a constant battle," DeJong said. "It's not something I can just go out there and expect to do without preparation. Just trusting in what I do before the game and trusting my ability every day, and that's going to get me where I need to go." (Getzenberg - mlb.com - 8/13/17)
DeJong says that his favorite subject in school was, "Science, my major at Illinois State. I see the world realistically, and try to understand how it is. Science fits right in with that."
Paul says that if he were not playing baseball, "I'd probably be in school getting a master's degree in chemistry. I think I could have gone to med school and become a doctor." (August, 2017)
2017 rookie season: The Cardinals receiving underwhelming production at shortstop found its answer in DeJong, who became the first member of the organization's 2015 draft class to ascend to the Majors when he was called up in May.
Within a month, he had taken over as the starting shortstop. DeJong never lost the job. His impact only grew, too, as the Cardinals eventually turned to DeJong in their search for a three-hole hitter. DeJong ended up batting third 51 times, more than any other player on the team.
DeJong's production warranted such a prominent spot in the lineup. He hit the first of his 25 home runs in his first Major League at-bat and became the first rookie to lead the Cardinals in home runs since Albert Pujols. DeJong's 25 homers in his first 108 games ranked second among all rookies in 2017, as did his 52 extra-base hits. Only Bellinger eclipsed DeJong in both categories.
"You take 25 home runs at 24 years old and then add the 13 he hit in Triple-A, that's rare air for a seasoned veteran, let alone a 24-year-old shortstop who is in his second full [professional] season," manager Mike Matheny said. "That goes beyond surprising for me. That goes to amazing. The mental toughness of handling that position, hitting third in the order, being so young in the game. I don't know if you could ask any more of a young player than what he did."
Even though DeJong did not make his debut until May 28, he co-led NL rookies in doubles (26), ranked second in slugging percentage (.532), third in total bases (222), fourth in home runs, fourth in RBIs (65), fourth in hits (119), fifth in runs (55) and eighth in game-winning RBIs (5).
DeJong further highlighted his breakout season with some unique individual accomplishments. His eight extra-base hits during a July series against the Mets were the most by a Cardinals player in a three-game set since 1900. He also became the first Cards rookie to tally four extra-base hits in one game since Terry Moore in 1935. a string of six straight games with an RBI in late July was the fourth-longest in the NL this season, and DeJong tied for the team lead with 10 three-plus hit games. (Jenifer Langosch - MLB.com -Nov. 10, 2017)
In 2017, DeJong was runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting (Cody Bellinger).
Dec 22, 2017: DeJong has hardly slowed down since wrapping up a great season. There has been time spent in the chemistry lab, several road trips around the Midwest and, of course, plenty of hours spent preparing for next season.
MLB.com caught up with DeJong to learn more about what he's been up to this offseason and what his plans are for the holidays.
MLB.com: Now that you've had additional time to reflect on your 2017 season, what stands out to you most?
DeJong: It was pretty surreal if I think about how much my life changed. But I think what I took away most is I have the confidence to play in the big leagues, ability-wise. Now it's about the nitty-gritty of everyday work and performing from here on out. It's more about setting up new challenges for me from here on forward.
MLB.com: What areas do you target for improvement in 2018?
DeJong: As a hitter, I'd definitely like to manage the zone better and get on base more. I think it's a process-based thing, not a result necessarily. A lot of that comes with experience. As little things go, I want to be a better infielder. I want to be a better baserunner. I want to be a steadier run producer. There are a lot of things that I think I can do better, so working on each of those things is on my list.
MLB.com: How did you feel your body held up going through a 162-game schedule for the first time?
DeJong: I felt great, even toward the end. What hit me was when [Cubs outfielder Leonys] Martin robbed me [of a home run], and that kicked us out of the playoff chase right before our last series. That's when it hit me, that, "162 games. Wow." But overall, I felt like I was ready to play in the playoffs and that I was ready to make a push. I felt like I prepared the way I needed to prepare to stay healthy for the full season.
MLB.com: Will you be returning to the lab again this offseason?
DeJong: Nothing planned. Talking about it is fun, but I'm more into other simple things like working with my hands off the field, working on my truck or working with my grandpa, helping him do some home-improvement projects. I stay busy in other ways like that. Science, being in the lab, is a tough thing for me to do nowadays because I don't have access anymore. (J Langosch - MLB.com - Dec 22, 2017)
The Cardinals showed how they view Paul when the club committed to DeJong with a contract extension that could keep him in St. Louis through 2025, despite the less than full year of service time to his name. Club officials have valued his intellect since convincing DeJong to hold off on medical school when they used a fourth-round Draft selection with him in 2015, their eyes widening as the former biochemistry major skyrocketed through their farm system.
"One thing that stood out about Paul was his intelligence and his ability to adapt and adjust," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "Anytime you talk about a player who moves as quickly as he did, then the success he had at the Major League level, and then the aptitude to make adjustments and learn, is something we all value and are very impressed with."
A few more minor adjustments could mean the next level for DeJong, whom the Cardinals consider their most cerebral player.
"It's more about the process and the day to day: What happened and why did it happen?" DeJong said. "Hopefully, by the end of the season we'll be saying, 'I managed the zone better, I got more walks, and in the end it was a better year."' (Trezza - mlb.com - 3/6/18)
July 2019: DeJong became a first-time NL All-Star. He earned his spot through durability at a key position and with his all-around offensive and defensive skills.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work,” DeJong said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to represent this team, this organization. Hopefully, it’s the first of many. I hold myself to a high standard, so I want to make this a regular thing for me.”
DeJong, 25, is batting .260 with 20 doubles, 13 home runs, 36 RBIs, 53 runs scored and an .803 OPS. His range factor of 4.24 is No. 1 among NL shortstops.
Also: It will be the first time since 2007 that the Cardinals will have only one representative at the All-Star Game.
July 16, 2019: DeJong received the MLB Players Alumni Association Heart and Hustle award for the Cardinals. This award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game.
Paul will not be able to fit anything in the back of his truck for the time being. He has a huge sign—the “M” from Big Mac Land at Busch Stadium—sitting there, waiting for a new home.
DeJong busted that sign with a home run off Brewers reliever Devin Williams on Aug. 19, and it had to be taken down to get repaired, turning the section into "Big ac" Land. But DeJong’s agent, Burton Rocks, and his mom, Andrea, put a plan in motion before the repairs were started. DeJong wanted to take the fun event and turn it into something special.
DeJong purchased the letter for $22,000. Half of the money will go to Cardinals Care and the other half will go to the Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis.
“I know how much good they do for the community and for families that are in need,” DeJong said. “I got the opportunity to go over there and see what they do and how they contribute. I got to meet some families and some kids. It just shows how much more there is to baseball than sometimes it may seem to me. I’m really happy to give back to this community and some families that need help.”
“I’ve been looking for ways to give back in the community, and this kind of just happened,” DeJong said. “I feel like it was meant to be, and I'm just going to continue to show my support for the Ronald McDonald House. St. Louis has given so much to me, and I feel like I definitely need to give back. Just try to work that in as much as I can from now on.”
As for the "M," it’ll sit in his truck until he can bring it to Wisconsin, where he has extended family members already planning to bring the sign on a tour around their towns.
“It’s surprisingly light with how big it is, but it’s cool to see all the dust and the dirt on it,” DeJong said. “It’s definitely the authentic one. The ball is still in there, broken plexiglass. Just a unique piece that I’m happy to have procured.
“I know all my family members up there are already planning the tour, like the Stanley Cup. We’ll have to maybe find a restoration expert or maybe one of my uncles can get it working again. It’d be cool to see it lit up again.” (Rogers - mlb.com)
In the offseason, Paul trades the crack of a baseball bat for the sound of music. He’s hoping to use his interest in classical music to help others. Over the past three years, the Cardinals’ shortstop has increased his involvement with the Palm Beach Symphony—from attending concerts to becoming more involved in the symphony’s philanthropic goals.
“I always loved classical music,” said DeJong, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida during the offseason. “This is just something that’s nice for me down here, when I’ve got some free time to enjoy someone else on the stage.”
DeJong’s increasing involvement included attending the symphony’s annual Holly Jolly Luncheon. The proceeds from the event—which included a silent auction that featured artwork painted by DeJong’s agent, Burton Rocks, and signed by DeJong—went to the symphony’s educational outreach. Its programs include music instruction from the symphony’s musicians, scholarships for students who hope to continue their music career and instrument donations to students in low-income areas.
The symphony also collaborates with the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium for STEAM Nights, celebrating both the sciences and the arts. As a former biochemistry student who often listened to classical music when studying, that’s right up DeJong’s alley, and he’s hoping to make more appearances as his relationship with the symphony grows.
“It was wonderful to have him [at the luncheon] to support our event,” David McClymont, the symphony’s chief executive officer, said. “Our community embraces St. Louis and the Cardinals because of Spring Training, and it’s been nice to have Paul and an extension of the team support us. We’re always thrilled to have him.”
DeJong is one of the symphony’s Music Men—ambassadors who help spread awareness of the symphony and the work it does by attending concerts and events throughout the year. The Holly Jolly Luncheon was one of those events, and it was special for DeJong because his sister, Emma, who is an art student at the University of Central Florida, designed the ties that the Music Men wore to the luncheon.
“I’m just happy she got the opportunity to have her work be put into something and worn,” DeJong said. “It’s a unique experience.” (December 2019)
Music, after all, is a family affair. DeJong remembers going to concerts with his parents when he was growing up. His younger brother, Matthew, is a student in Florida State’s Master’s program for music theory. Paul used to play the piano and has been itching to start playing again.
“Classical music has always been something that relaxes me,” DeJong said. “I have an appreciation for the art and the theory of it.”
As DeJong fine-tunes his career in the big leagues, he’s also fine-tuning his work off the field, trying to use his interests outside of baseball to fuel his philanthropic work. Rocks is a donor to the symphony and introduced DeJong to it, and he also helped DeJong come up with the idea to donate money to the Ronald McDonald House after DeJong hit the “M” in the Big Mac Land sign at Busch Stadium.
“It’s definitely a growth process,” DeJong said. “I’m still working my way into it. I’m trying to find where I best fit in and feel things out, explore organizations here and there. I feel like in my position, I should be seen in the community. I think it’s important for our communities to stick together in those ways. I enjoy giving back. Little things go a long way and turn into big things. I try to be as present as possible with things like this.”
What he hopes to accomplish by giving back to his community fits well with the Palm Beach Symphony’s mission.
“I think what it’s really about is showing my support as far as people might think you’re crazy when you write down in elementary school that you want to be a professional baseball player, but that’s what I did,” DeJong said. “Encourage them to stay with their passions. It can really uplift people and give them hope.”
The symphony’s vision is similar. McClymont wants music to be used as a vehicle to push the people it impacts toward their own goals.
“It’s about giving people the opportunity,” McClymont said. “It’s not just about the music, it’s about us trying to set them up for success, whether they want to go on to be attorneys, or scientists, or athletes, who knows what.” (A Rogers - MLB.com - Dec 22, 2019)
April 22, 2020: After Paul finished the housekeeping tasks that came with moving into his St. Louis apartment, he sat down to dive back into reading. He picked up a few architecture books, the latest subject DeJong has taken an interest in. He wants to design a cabin in the future, and the first step is learning all he can about it.
With baseball on hold and DeJong in "January mode" with his baseball activity, he is using the time in between workouts to learn as much as he can about his interests. He's hoping kids are, too.
DeJong launched an education initiative to encourage kids to keep learning at home by showing how baseball and science are connected. In his introductory video, DeJong encourages kids to submit videos with their baseball-related science questions. He'll pick some to answer on social media, and in the next few weeks, he said he will send those kids his three special Topps baseball cards that were made this year. Those cards promote academics, science and literacy and the baseball card manufacturer's "Topps of the Class" program.
On two of the cards, DeJong is sporting a lab coat to promote science, and on the third, he's leaning against the dugout railing with his agent, Burton Rocks, to promote literacy. During Spring Training, DeJong passed out the cards to kids at the ballpark and other appearances he made in Jupiter, Fla. With social distancing measures in place, DeJong still wants to interact with kids and promote what's on the cards.
"I'm excited to see how it goes and the interactions of the participants, that'll be what excites me the most," DeJong said. "Just hearing the curiosity from the kids. I don't know what kind of interactions we're going to have, but I really like the Topps program to make a baseball card, to have baseball in the name, and then to have some academics in there. That's really cool, and it'll hopefully broaden the fan horizon for the sport and for hopefully my brand and people around me."
"Topps of the Class" has long offered free packs to students who present their report card at a participating hobby shop. The exclusive cards that DeJong distributes were the brainchild of Topps and Rocks, DeJong's agent. The idea is to encourage kids to follow their dreams and instill the value of education through everyone's favorite collectible.
Over his three years in the Majors, DeJong has searched for ways to merge his academic hobbies with his profession. Before becoming a Cardinal, he attended Illinois State University and majored in biochemistry, thinking he might want to pursue medical school if baseball wasn't available to him as a career. The back of one of his cards explains how his "childhood love of science came from his grandmother, Sharon Whipple, a chemist and University of Wisconsin grad, who worked at Dow Chemical."
But DeJong's science background and value in education hasn't left him on the baseball field. He and Dr. Lawrence Rocks, a renowned scientist and father of DeJong's agent, have met in the lab to run experiments on baseball-related things, such as how the elasticity of a baseball reacts to changes in air temperatures. DeJong reads a ton about the things that interest him, like architecture and magnet therapy. All of these things have been part of DeJong's journey to blend his interests with his career and role in the community.
"Discipline is discipline whether you're putting it into education or sports or yourself," DeJong said. "When you value education and put hard work into your schoolwork and learning, those skills stay with you when you want to apply it to something else. Whatever it is in life, you can go out there and get it with enough attention and willpower.
"Opportunity obviously plays into as well, but I just want to teach kids that those ways of going the extra mile will pay off," says Paul. "Just advocating as a whole for diving in 100 percent." (Anne Rogers)
Paul spent time in the 2019 offseason with well-known scientist Dr. Lawrence Rocks to study the affects of heat on a baseball. DeJong's newest #ToppsCards showcases his love for baseball and science.
It sounds like the plot to a bad 1950s sci-fi movie: Scientist teams up with hotshot baseball player to study baseballs. If this were a movie, then a horrible accident would have turned our ballplayer into some horribly disfigured human-baseball creature of the night. Instead, Paul simply helped Dr. Lawrence Rocks test the effects of heat on the baseball back in 2017, finding that, yes, there is an ideal temperature to make the ball soar.
The connection isn't as strange as it sounds, though. DeJong's agent is Dr. Rocks' son, and DeJong majored in biology at Illinois State University. (Clair - mlb.com - 5/17/2020)
2020 Season: How do you judge a player that contracted COVID-19 and then still played seemingly every day after he returned? DeJong returned on August 23. After that, it looks like he had all of two days off. Given how the talk was that Mike Shildt probably should have rested him more down the stretch in 2019, running a guy out there that is still recovering from a major illness might not have been the best move overall.
I guess DeJong was probably asymptomatic, but he still missed a week or so more than his teammates. (Eleven games, but we know how they doubled up.) Even if he’s full tilt by the stretch run, you’d think it might have been a good idea to let him ease back into things, especially with Brad Miller and Matt Carpenter able to handle third for Tommy Edman to shift over.
Then again, DeJong hit .361 in his first nine game back, so maybe Shildt knew what he was doing. However, in the his last 15 games before the postseason, he put up a .140/.182/.160 line. Maybe the work got to him. Maybe the fatigue from being off came around once the adrenaline from the return wore off. Maybe he’s always going to be a guy that struggles down the stretch, no matter when that stretch starts. I don’t know.
The fact is his last home run was September 5, which is a problem as he usually was hitting in the middle of the lineup. He batted fifth most of the time (78 of his 174 plate appearances) and thrived there, posting a .882 OPS and hitting two of his three home runs. Unlike when he hit second (40 PA), when he could only do a .397 OPS. DeJong feels like he should be hitting fifth or sixth regularly, because of his strikeout potential and his streakiness.
Defensively, the numbers seem to indicate he took a step back, but with the small sample size and the overall craziness, I’m not sure that you can read much into that. I don’t think that DeJong will ever win a Gold Glove, but if he can show that 25-30 home run power and keep an OPS around .850, the defense will be just fine. He’s not really going to hurt people too often there, though he does make the boneheaded play from time to time.
Outlook: I’m a bit more cautious on DeJong than some folks are. I guess last year’s fade and this year’s closing struggles may have influenced me there, even though they probably shouldn’t have. DeJong has three more years at very team-friendly prices, so I don’t think we’ll see any changes in that part of the infield for a while. Still, letting someone like Edmundo Sosa get some time this year would have been a smart idea and hopefully we’ll see a capable backup that will allow DeJong some more rest going forward. (Cardinal70 - November 10, 2020)
June 2015: Paul signed with the Cardinals after they chose him in the 4th round, out of Illinois State University. And he signed for $200,00, via scout Tom Lipari.
March 5, 2018: The Cardinals and Paul agreed to a multi-year contract extension that could keep DeJong under team control through 2025. The deal guarantees DeJong $26 million over six seasons, and includes club options for 2024 and 2025. The options could bring the total value of the deal to $51 million.
|DOB:||8/2/1993||Agent:||C.L. Rocks Corp.|
|Birth City:||Orlando, FL|
|Draft:||Cardinals #4 - 2015 - Out of Illinois State Univ.|
DeJong is a pure hitter. There is something special about the way the ball comes off the bat. There is obviously above-average bat speed, just like his above-average exit velocity.
"I try to use my body the best I can. I’m not going to use only one part to be able to hit for power, so I have to use everything I have. I attribute a lot of it the mechanics of the swing, but also being able to recognize what I need to do to get the pitch I want . . . The harder you swing the bat, the better chance you have of hitting for power.”
Paul has natural bat speed and a lift in his swing. He is just very strong. He grades 60 with above-average power, and his hit tool is a 50.
When you break down Paul's swing, it is as fundamentally a sound swing as you've ever seen.
DeJong has a good eye at the plate, drawing a lot of walks. And he recognizes how pitchers are working him to get him out.
"He makes really good adjustments from game to game and from at-bat to at-bat, and sometimes within the at-bat,” Peoria manager Joe Kruzel said in 2015.
And in 2016, Paul made the adjustments to reach another level on the ladder to the Show. He improved his sense for the difference between pitches to drive, and pitches to survive.
"I'm pretty confident that I belong here," he said. "It's more about consistency, and that's what people strive for in this game. I'm just trying to be as consistent as possible every day with my approach and let the results come."
He said the best advice he got while struggling through April 2016 was to not forget about fastballs, despite their decrease in frequency. At Double-A, he said, there are fewer thrown, especially with runners on base, but they'll still come, if patient.
"If I can always stay on the fastball and have good fastball timing, I'll be able to hit the off-speed when it comes," he said. "It's really just recognizing those pitches and knowing which ones I can drive."
Paul takes an aggressive cut, which leads to swings-and-misses, but it's a good trade for the power he provides.
Asked to describe that swing, DeJong answered, "Compact, efficient and powerful."
Teammate Luke Voit described his teammate's stroke as "compact and efficient. The way he uses every ounce of his body, it's like he creates a coil effect."
Jedd Gyorko: "I'd say powerful more than anything. he's got good balance, good plate vision and when he hits it, it goes a long way. He's got really good juice."
Fellow-rookie (in 2017) Harrison Bader sees another superlative. "Consistency," he said. "He has the ability to reset on every pitch, every at-bat, regardless of the prior pitch or at-bat. He can repeat the movements to get his body in a position to handle any pitch, which takes incredible consistency."
Padres bench coach Mark McGwire was asked about DeJong's presence at the plate.
"There's not a lot of movement he stay back, his head stays still and his hands always get out in front of him," McGwire says. "Anytime your hands are in front of your body you can pretty much to anything you want with the bat.
Dejong's swing is virtually the same he showed as a youth leaguer in Orlando, Florida, where he lived until he was 11 before his family moved to the Chicago suburbs. He learned the basic of his swing—such as footwork and setup—from his dad, Keith, who helped hone his son's skills with countless hour of batting practice.
"I pitched to him all the time—tens of thousands of balls," Keith recalled.
"I couldn't ever rely on my size to be good at this game so I learned how not to use my size," Paul explained. "I maximize my body in the way I uses my legs, my hips and my hands. I lift a lot (of weights) too, and I think I'm pretty strong." (Stan McNeal - Cardinals Magazine - October, 2017)
May 10, 2019: While the Cardinals continue to wait for their top two hitters, Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt, to begin producing nearer their career norms, they’ve watched the player batting behind them emerge as one of the National League’s top offensive performers.
That would be Paul DeJong, whose fit as a No. 3 hitter has proven to be ideal. He has reached base safely in 15 of his last 27 plate appearances, as well as in all 20 games the team has played at Busch Stadium. DeJong also ranks among the league’s top five in batting average (.329), hits (48), runs (32), doubles (14), extra-base hits (22) and total bases (85).
DeJong’s ability to cut down on his strikeouts while also increasing his walk rate has been one of the keys to his strong start. After posting a strikeout rate of 28 percent as a rookie and following that up with a 25-percent strikeout rate in 2018, DeJong has dropped percentage to 17 through the season’s first six weeks.
How has he done it?
“I cleaned up my mechanics a little bit,” DeJong said. “That’s allowing me to see the ball better. But also trusting myself to see the ball better, knowing the pitches better and not trying to do too much [have helped]. [I’m] not getting myself out early in the counts and [I’m] just waiting for that mistake and not missing it.”
That patience and pickiness has paid off in a few ways. His walk rate is up from 7 percent to 11 percent in a year’s span. He’s also making better contact on the pitches he does put in play. DeJong’s hard-hit percentage (43) and barrel percentage (11) are also career bests.
The third-year Cardinals shortstop credited assistant coach Mark Budaska with helping him unlock this approach and better understand his swing.
“It’s just about trying to create a relaxed, tension-free setup, and the setup allows me to see the ball right,” DeJong said. “And obviously, the practice over so many years is taking over with the hand-eye coordination. I’m just trying to trust it, and not trying to create the results that I want. Just get in the setup and trust that if I get the pitch I can handle, then I’m going to handle it.”
All this has helped DeJong rise to the leaderboard in all sorts of offensive categories. In addition to ranking high in the more traditional statistics noted above, DeJong also falls in the top six percent of all NL hitters with a wOBA of .422 and xBA of .312. (J Langosch - MLB.com - May 10, 2019)
- July 24, 2019: DeJong became the 12th Cardinal in franchise history to record a three-homer game as he batted around the Pirates at will on a 4-for-4 night.
“Just barrel it,” DeJong said of his mentality at the plate. “Today was just one of those days where three of them went.”
Sept. 5, 2019: DeJong's two-run homer to dead center field in the first inning gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead. It was DeJong’s 26th home run of the season—a career high and the most in a single season by a Cardinals shortstop, breaking his own record from 2017.
- As of the start of the 2021 season, Paul had a career batting average of .251 with 398 hits, 77 home runs and 236 RBI in 1,588 at-bats.
- April 19, 2021: No player may be more indicative of the Cardinals’ offense as a whole than DeJong, who owns 10 hits through his first 53 at-bats. Half of them have gone for homers.
“I saw something earlier today that home runs are pitched and not hit,” DeJong said.
What does that mean? It’s along the lines of what made Ted Williams a baseball legend.
“Getting a good pitch to hit is the No. 1 rule of hitting,” DeJong said.
That means taking the balls when they give them to you, fouling off those close pitches when you can and not going outside your mechanics.
“The more pitches [a pitcher] throws, the more pitches that are going to be in the middle -- and better chance you can hit one hard,” DeJong said. (Z Silver - MLB.com - April 20, 2021)
At Illinois State, Paul mostly was used as a catcher, but the Cardinals’ have primarily used him at third, because serious knee and leg injuries have unfortunately ended his career as a catcher.
DeJong impressed evaluators with a stronger-than-average arm, solid hands, and enough range to be adequate at the hot corner. And they looked at Paul at shortstop in the Arizona Fall League after the 2016 season.
He has a 45 grade for his fielding, and a 50 arm.
Paul can also play the outfield and second base. But his strong arm and good hands might fit best at shortstop, if not third base.
DeJong fits a pattern that has been successful for the Cardinals for many years: college players who can hit but face defensive questions. Their logic is that dedicated, intense instruction can fix a lot of defensive issues.
Paul had similar questions coming out of Illinois State, where he caught, played second and third base and the outfield corners. The Cardinals have put him at one spot, third base. DeJong has always hit and he has significant power potential that profiles well if he can handle the hot corner.
After the 2016 season, DeJong began playing mostly shortstop in the Arizona Fall League. He spent a few games with the Springfield Cardinals at short earlier in 2016 when he was pressed into service, and he did well. His arm stayed true. His reads were solid. The Cardinals decided to keep him at shortstop, with the idea that if he can become proficient at enough positions, he will be more capable of helping the big league team.
“I’ll do anything to get myself on the field,” DeJong said. “If shortstop is going to get me there quicker, then by all means.”
“I feel like I can let my feet and my arm play better,” Paul said of shortstop. “Honestly, I feel more in rhythm there. I don’t know if it’s the angle or more time to read the ball.”
Paul expands his range with proper positioning at shortstop.
DeJong asks lots of questions, so he obtains a wealth of knowledge.
“The way he learns—he’s got an interesting mind,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said in 2017. “He thinks a lot more mature than his experience. I think here’s a guy who has actual raw talent, but he’s learning the right things on the fly, like he should be. It’s pretty unique.”
Drafted as a third baseman after playing multiple positions in college, DeJong drew comparisons with Allen Craig for his power and variety of gloves. The Cardinals tested him at shortstop at the Arizona Fall League. He came to big league camp at the position, and when he crossed paths with Ozzie Smith, he had questions.
“He’s talking a lot about the ‘flow of energy,’” DeJong said. “It’s always best to keep your momentum going forward or going toward first base. You don’t want to get stuck in the dirt and lose all that momentum.”
DeJong said playing the middle infield gave him a chance to use his feet and his arm more than at third. He also modified his offseason workouts to improve his agility. (Derrick Goold - St.Louis Post Dispatch - June 2017)
In 2017, Paul worked extensively with Memphis manager Stubby Clapp on his form at shortstop.
“His aptitude is outstanding,” Clapp said. “He just needed to learn how to use his feet to get his momentum through the ball, to help his arm get it across the infield. He’s average in terms of range, but if he gets to the ball, he’s going to catch it.”
At shortstop, DeJong showed the ability to turn both highlight and routine plays, and a strong enough arm to make a long, accurate throw from deep in the hole at short. (Oct. 2017)
- Paul has below-average speed. He grades out at 40.
2008: DeJong was a redshirt because of a right knee injury (torn ACL) from when he played basketball.
Within weeks, disaster struck once more. Paul tore the same right ACL; again, while playing basketball.
Left with plenty of time during his year of healing, DeJong displayed unusual maturity. He started watching the Food Network, went into the kitchen, and learned to cook well enough to prepare dinners for his parents and two siblings.
2014: Paul broke the thumb on his glove hand less than a month before the draft, which ended his college career before his final conference tournament.
May 18-July 6, 2018: Paul was on the DL with a fractured left hand.
- May 14, 2021: Paul was on the IL left rib-nondisplaced fracture.
Aug 23, 2020: Paul was activated from the IL.
May 12, 2021: St. Louis shortstop Paul DeJong was removed from the 4-1 loss to the Brewers at American Family Field in the bottom of the fifth inning with left side tightness. He felt something grab when he made a tag on Lorenzo Cain, who stole second base in the third inning. It’s also the same area where DeJong was hit by a 88.1 mph changeup by Brewers starter Freddy Peralta in the seventh inning of the game the day before.
May 13-June 10, 2021: Shortstop Paul DeJong was placed on the IL, before the Cardinals’ series opener against the Padres at Petco Park, with a non-displaced left rib fracture. MRI results showed a blip in DeJong’s left side, which was a positive considering it ruled out any sort of oblique ailment that can be known to linger.