JUPITER, Fla. -- With proximity and championship potential serving as distinguishing factors in his decision, Pat Neshek said he accepted the Cardinals' recent Minor League offer over others from teams within the National League Central.
"This just feels right," Neshek said, speaking before he participated as a non-roster invitee in the Cardinals' first official spring workout. Exactly one week earlier, he came off the free-agent market.
The fit was right for the Cardinals, too, even though the organization was not actively seeking bullpen additions this winter. However, when general manager John Mozeliak saw Neshek still on the market in January, he decided to pursue the 33-year-old right-hander.
"It's nice to know that you have someone with Major League experience who has played on competitive clubs," Mozeliak said. "For us, we were surprised he was still out there."
Neshek, who spent the last two seasons with Oakland, welcomed the opportunity to join another perennial contender. He liked that the Cardinals envisioned utilizing him as a right-handed specialist and was undeterred by the number of other young relievers already on the roster.
"If I have to go down to Memphis, that's fine," Neshek said. "There would be no problems from me. From my past experiences, if you do well, you're going to get an opportunity. It might not be right away. It's real similar situation to Oakland as I look around. But I love it. I love being around guys who are hungry to win and just have fun."
There was also convenience to consider. After three years of spending his springs in Arizona and his summers in California, Neshek welcomed the opportunity to play closer to home. He is making a 90-minute, one-way commute from his home along Florida's east coast so that he can remain home with his wife.
"When I was in Oakland last year, it felt like I was in Japan," said Neshek. "I could never come back to Florida at all. This makes it a lot easier. Memphis is close, and St. Louis is pretty close compared to other teams."
Neshek's chances at winning a bullpen job will depend not only on his performance this spring, but also on what happens around him. The Cardinals could backfill their bullpen with the pitchers who do not break camp in the rotation. Jason Motte's status as he returns from elbow surgery is also fluid.
Excitement surrounds first spring workout
JUPITER, Fla. -- Under windy conditions and blue skies, the Cardinals officially opened Spring Training by holding their first workout on Thursday. Position players will still be trickling in over the next few days, but for the pitching staff and a group of seven catchers, preparation for the 2014 season has begun.
"It's great to be down here," general manager John Mozeliak said shortly after workouts commenced. "Obviously, this is always an exciting day getting everything going, just knowing the excitement that is surrounding this camp and the expectations. For all of us coming from St. Louis, getting a break from that weather is welcoming as well.
"Overall, we think we have all the right pieces in place to get this going. Hopefully we get off to the right start today."
Thirteen pitchers took the mound on Thursday, including four -- Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller -- who are in the crowded hunt for a rotation spot. Before taking the fields, all players underwent physicals, and manager Mike Matheny gave his first spring speech to the club.
His message was one of responsibility and opportunity. He told the group to take advantage of the chance to make a six-week impression before the regular season begins.
"I'm just anxious to watch," Matheny said. "We have so many young guys. I'm expecting a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, a lot of hopping and moving around. I know that with the veterans that we have, that's their nature anyhow."
Taveras '100 percent cleared' for baseball activity
JUPITER, Fla. -- John Mozeliak declared top prospect Oscar Taveras "100 percent cleared" for baseball activity on Thursday, though the Cardinals general manager added that running restrictions do still remain in place as Taveras works his way back from ankle surgery.
Taveras, who arrived in Florida well in advance of his required report date, took batting practice and participated in other light workouts with position players on Thursday. He has already tested his surgically-repaired right ankle by running on it, but the Cardinals are going to ease him into certain drills.
With more than six weeks remaining before Opening Day, the organization sees no necessity in pushing the 21-year-old Taveras to do too much, too soon.
"From a running standpoint, we just want to be smart and patient," Mozeliak said. "You will see him pushing himself, but you may see some of the range-type drills in the outfield, some of his might be shortened. We don't open tomorrow, so there's no reason to push him as if we were. We have six weeks, and he needs to take advantage of those six weeks. But where he is physically is very encouraging."
Taveras, who was recently ranked by MLB.com as baseball's third-best prospect, could make a push for an Opening Day roster spot if he were to have a breakout spring.
At Cards camp, it's the young leading the young
JUPITER, Fla. -- As manager Mike Matheny and his coaching staff went about forming eight groups of pitchers for Spring Training workout rotations, they quickly realized that they lacked enough veterans to have one in each group. But with that shortage, an opportunity formed.
Leadership responsibilities that recently fell on the shoulders of the experienced (think Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, etc.) are now being handed down to the lesser so. On a pitching staff that will be dominated by youth, several relatively inexperienced pitchers have been asked to take an increased responsibility in setting an example this spring.
Shelby Miller is leading a group that includes a fellow first-rounder, Marco Gonzales, who is participating in his first big league camp. Carlos Martinez is shadowing Joe Kelly. Lance Lynn and Trevor Rosenthal have also been designated as leaders. The intent is for them to show others in the group how to maximize their time on the field and set an example in comportment.
"It's weird to see us leading those groups around, but I think all of us are experienced enough to help in our own way," Miller said. "By no means am I obviously a veteran player, but I'll help them get the hang of things and maybe teach them a little something I learned along the way. It's weird how time flies by and I'm leading groups now, but I'll see if I can help them with something and at the same time, work on what I need to do and have a good spring."
The rotation projects to feature just one pitcher (Adam Wainwright) with at least three years of service time, so the youth movement that is evident in spring is not going away. The same pitchers asked to step up into greater leadership roles now will be needed to lead well after camp breaks.
"That's just kind of the club we have," Matheny said. "Typically, when we start putting those groups together, you have guys with six, seven, eight years of service who are out trying to lead a group. But we've got some younger players. They'll be ready for it."
• Right-hander Jose Almarante, a non-roster invitee, was the only absent player in Thursday's first official workout for pitchers and catchers. Almarante has been delayed in leaving the Dominican Republic due to visa issues.
• A day after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced his intentions to retire after the 2014 season, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said that he has "nothing but respect" for the future Hall of Famer.
"You look at being in that market and then being able to keep his name as clean as he has being a superstar player in that market, that's a lot to ask of anybody," Matheny added. "I think he has been just a great ambassador for the game, obviously a great ambassador for the Yankees. He's just somebody that, as you walk through the clubhouse, even for those who never met him, you have the utmost respect for him."
The Cardinals and their fans will have an opportunity to help send off Jeter when the Yankees visit Busch Stadium from May 26-28.
• Asked about the possibility of reigning in Yadier Molina's starts behind the plate, Matheny said the organization does not intend to change its handling of the veteran catcher. Molina has started 128 games in each of the last five seasons.
• On Thursday, the Cardinals released their 35-item promotional schedule, which includes bobbleheads of Michael Wacha and Jack Buck, three replica World Series rings and a replica Bob Gibson jersey. For a full listing of the 2014 promotions, visit cardinals.com/promotions.
The organization also announced that it will offer fans the opportunity to win the promotional item ahead of time via a 'Win it Wednesday' twitter initiative that will incorporate the hashtag #CardsPromo.
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.