St. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny remembers a different generation in baseball when young guys would come to the big leagues from the minors and the veteran players wouldn't pay attention to them.
"It was always the veterans who would suppress the young players and beat them down, and kind of make a mockery of them until they've earned their stripes," Matheny said before a recent game in St. Louis. "We don't have time for that around here; we need these guys to jump in and be as good as they can be."
Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinals' 24-year-old rookie outfielder who made his major league debut on July 21, has done just what Matheny needed. Piscotty jumped heart and soul into a division race, and the Cardinals' top hitting prospect is helping the team maintain the best record in baseball by batting .310 with five home runs in 54 games.
The Cardinals seem to have exceptional good luck at turning prospects into exactly what they need at just the right time. Part of their formula to ensure success stories like Piscotty is getting everyone on the team to look at the bigger picture.
"[The younger players] know their place as far as time goes and what the veterans mean to this club," Matheny said. "But they also realize when all that is left in the locker room, we come out here and play. They are just one of the most important pieces we have."
When looking at all rookies in the majors this season with 200 or more plate appearances, Piscotty is a separate piece all to himself: No other rookies have hit equal or better than Piscotty's .310/.364/.490 slash line.
"The kid is getting better," Matheny said of Piscotty. "He's a talented player, first. He's taking in all the information the right way. He's doing a nice job of making adjustments on the go, even at-bat to at-bat. I think he's the kind of player you are going to see that has that rare ability to make adjustments in the middle of the at-bat."
Piscotty's love for baseball, which started when he was 3 years old, carried him all the way to the majors.
"My grandpa was a good player back in the day," said Piscotty, a Stanford graduate who majored in atmosphere and energy engineering. "I've got two younger brothers. When we were kids, we'd just go out in the backyard and throw to each other. We'd play little games that we'd make up; that's kind of where the love for the game started."
The Cardinals drafted Piscotty in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft. Matheny said as he's watched Piscotty in the majors, he's noticed how he respectfully takes instruction and figures out a way on his own to implement the valuable lessons from the veteran players and the coaching staff.
One of Piscotty's biggest changes, which was one he initiated on his own and didn't come from the Cardinals, was to his batting mechanics this past offseason.
"I tried to adjust some things to be able to drive the ball a little better," Piscotty said. "It was a pretty drastic change for me, and it took some time. I struggled a little bit in spring training and also the first couple of months at Triple-A. I knew that was destined to happen, when you make an adjustment like that, but as the season went on I got more and more comfortable. I just developed how I wanted it to be. So, it's come a long way and I feel very happy about that."
Piscotty, who is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, said the adjustment he made was to his swing plane because he was trying to use his long arms to his advantage: "I was trying to get a little flatter path so I could get more extension through the ball," Piscotty said.
The daily routine of the majors has helped Piscotty develop a sense of comfort. Having success at the plate has helped as well. He said his good start has taken the pressure off of what he expects of himself. Now he just focuses on his approach and staying within what he knows he can do.
"In the offseason, when I was trying to develop a little more power, I realized that you have to give up something to get something," Piscotty said. "You may not get on base as much. I'm seeing the ball well right now. I don't expect to hit .350 -- that's unrealistic to expect that for a month. I'm not striving to do that. I'd drive myself crazy. The sample size is kind of small, but it's been good to see that I can do it."
In just 54 games, Piscotty has proved that he is a talented player. But he's not in the majors to just live out his dream of making it to the big leagues. Riding the wave of the Cardinals' magical season, he's ready to make an even bigger impact.
"Now it's focusing on the next thing -- which is just winning a championship here," Piscotty said. "This is a fun clubhouse. Everyone is pulling for each other. I'm just trying to soak all of that up as much as I can. It takes the pressure off playing out there. I don't have to worry about trying to play for me. I'm trying to do something for all of us here."