JUPITER, Fla. -- In a division race that went to the final days of the 2013 season, the Cardinals had an up-close look at some of the young talent the Pirates hope will make them perennial contenders. There's more coming, too -- something that the Cardinals' own young gem, Michael Wacha, knows well.
After being introduced by mutual friends, Wacha and fellow 22-year-old Jameson Taillon, the top pitching prospect in Pittsburgh's farm system, spent the offseason working out together. The two lived within minutes of each other in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston, and trained at the same facility.
Their friendship was fostered through "Call of Duty" competition, too, something that Wacha said will continue into the season. More often than not, Taillon wins those battles. It was Wacha, however, who was the first of the two 6-foot-6 right-handers to break into the big leagues.
"It doesn't surprise me he was able to take it [the Majors] by storm like that," Taillon said. "I guess I was surprised he got up there so quickly. But he has that attitude that no challenge is too big. He's a calm, real quiet guy. He made the most of his opportunity."
Both Wacha and Taillon began their professional journeys as first-round Draft picks. Taillon was taken second overall, out of high school, in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Two years later, Wacha came out of Texas A&M as a junior when the Cardinals picked him 19th.
The two could be dueling from Major League mounds as early as this season.
"He's a stud," Wacha said of Taillon. "I would watch some of his bullpens that he would throw down there. Just a big body, athletic. He can bring it. He's got some nasty stuff."
Live batting practice next on agenda in camp
JUPITER, Fla. -- With almost all of their pitchers having thrown three side sessions, the Cardinals are ready to incorporate live batting practice into their workout rotation on Thursday.
Live batting practice gives pitchers the opportunity to test their command and crispness with someone standing in the batter's box. For hitters, this is their chance to track pitches. If also marks the final step for pitchers before they are ready to make game appearances.
The Cardinals have already drawn up their pitching plans for the early slate of Grapefruit League play, but they haven't made those public yet. Starting pitchers could make as many as six spring starts (depending upon how the Cardinals use the schedule), though it has already been decided that veteran Adam Wainwright will make just five.
Wainwright pitched in six spring games a year ago in an extended schedule. He then went on to throw a Major League-most 276 2/3 innings, including the postseason. Wainwright is in line to make his second straight Opening Day start.
The Cardinals have another eight days before their first exhibition game, and manager Mike Matheny intends to guard against monotony by adding a few wrinkles into the daily schedule between now and then. That will include situational hitting and defensive "competitions." The bunting tournament that Matheny introduced last spring is also likely to reappear.
The team does not anticipate holding an intrasquad game.
"The one thing we'll be fighting more than anything is just the routine and making sure guys aren't getting bored," Matheny said. "We've thought about that well in advance, and thought about different competitions we can do to challenge them. More than anything, we just keep a pulse on how the work is going. We have a young group, so energy shouldn't be an issue this year."
Kozma using spring to implement plate adjustments
JUPITER, Fla. -- Having arrived at camp cognizant of how far he has fallen on the shortstop depth chart, Pete Kozma will spend the spring trying to fix the swing that gave him so many fits a year ago.
The work actually started in earnest late last season when Kozma was in the midst of finishing the last two months with 12 hits in 85 at-bats. He and hitting coach John Mabry identified three needed tweaks -- shorten the swing, don't let the front side fly open, keep from pulling anything -- and they remain priorities for Kozma this spring.
"I can definitely feel and see [that] the ball flight is different," Kozma said. "I can definitely feel the difference."
Improving on the offensive end is a must for Kozma, whose defensive ability is not enough to warrant him a spot on the 25-man roster. He has already lost his starting job to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals' biggest signing of the offseason. And with Daniel Descalso around and able to play short, there isn't an obvious place for Kozma as a backup either.
He knows it has everything to do with the way things went in 2013, a year that opened with him as the everyday shortstop and closed with the Cardinals desperately seeking production from the position. In between, pitchers changed how they approached Kozma; he never could adapt.
"I couldn't adjust quickly enough," Kozma said on Wednesday. "I couldn't get on base. I couldn't get hits. It was affecting everything. But now I look back on it, and it's helped me that much more."
If Kozma didn't already know his standing, it has become clear in workouts. The Cardinals have spread their infielders among two fields -- Kozma is on the field with five other Minor Leaguers. Finding a way to offer more offensively is the ticket to playing his way back into the more experienced mix.
"The thing is, and I think he realized it at the time, but sometimes in the middle of battle, it's hard to make changes," said Ozzie Smith, a guest instructor this spring who has shared advice with Kozma. "But I see that he has worked extremely hard this winter in cutting down his swing. It was one of the things that I had to work on as an offensive player.
"You have to be able to put the ball in play. If you're not a power-hitting guy, you can't be striking out as much as Pete is striking out. His talents are too good for him not to be a better offensive player. And I think he's taken heed of that, and I see him taking batting practice now and he's driving the ball the other way, which is very important for him."
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.