The 29-year-old shortstop has been with the Cardinals since 2017, in that time span, there have been quite a few ups, alongside a fair share of downs. It feels like every year DeJong makes his ‘great return’ only to disappoint behind the plate. This time around, DeJong finds himself in the lineup of a Cardinals team that seems lost in more ways than one. Although many of the Redbird’s woes have come from the pitcher’s mound, you can’t simply shake off being fourth in the NL Central and blame it all on the pitching staff. However, the presence of Paul DeJong in Sunday’s game against Seattle proved to pay dividends, as the Cardinals picked up a win on the back of a three-for-four, home run performance from ‘Pauly-D.’ With that being said, we’ve seen this kind of thing before. So, is this just another early-season specious performance from the infielder, or is DeJong back to what he once was?
DeJong signed with St. Louis in 2015 and made his minor league debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. After a few games of hitting the ball like it was a grapefruit, he was promoted to the Peoria Chiefs. Throughout the season (with both teams), he slashed .316/.394/.516 with 41 RBIs. In 2016 he made the jump up to Springfield and was later selected as a Texas League All-Star. To begin the 2017 campaign, the Cardinals assigned DeJong to AAA Memphis. He would eventually get the call-up to the big leagues, however. As on May 28th, 2017 the Cards would promote DeJong onto the roster and designate Kolten Wong to the disabled list. DeJong would make his big league debut that very same day against Colorado. He would hit a home run on his very first major league swing.
Throughout the rest of the 2017 season, DeJong would continue to light up the league as a rookie. Slashing .285/.325/.532 with 25 home runs and 65 RBIs. He would finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind then-Dodger Cody Bellinger. In March of 2018, the Cardinals and DeJong agreed on a six-year contract extension (including two option years) worth up to 52 million dollars. Overall, his 2018 campaign was solid, as he finished slashing .241/.313/.433 and showing off a terrific glove throughout. 2019, however, was the peak of DeJong’s career up to this point as he would be selected to the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field in Cleveland. He finished the 2019 season slashing .233/.318/.444, hitting 30 home runs. Alongside this, DeJong was an absolute master with the glove from the six position, posting a 3.3 defensive WAR (leading all NL shortstops) and a .989 fielding percentage, leading all big league shortstops. He was also nominated for a Gold Glove, which he probably should have won. On August 4th of 2020, DeJong tested positive for COVID-19, and he was subsequently placed in the IL. He would return a few weeks later and finish the shortened 2020 season with a .250/.322/.349 slash line, hitting just three home runs and 25 RBIs in 45 games.
The 2021 season was really the beginning of the problems for the infielder. DeJong would struggle mightily, especially at bat. Edmundo Sosa would slowly take over the primary shortstop duties for the Redbirds as the summer of the 2021 season moved along. But, when Sosa moved to the IL in September, DeJong would be given his starting job back. However, his final stat line was rather disappointing, batting .197/.284/.390. The 2022 season would begin with DeJong as the starting shortstop for St. Louis. As the season began, he seemed stuck. He struggled heavily through the first month of the season, he seemed really wrapped up in his issues of the prior year. It looked, at times, like he was in his own head. After posting a .130 batting average and getting on base in just over 20% of his at-bats through the first month of the 2022 campaign, the Cardinals would send DeJong back down to AAA. In a somewhat surprising move later that summer, St. Louis would flip Edmundo Sosa to the Phillies, recalling DeJong from the Memphis Redbirds and thrusting him back into the everyday shortstop role. In his first game back, he hit a two-run home run in the 5th inning of a 7-6 loss to the Nationals. His season would show improvement towards its tail end, but he still finished with a (much) less than stellar slash line of .157/.245/.286.
That brings us to the current St. Louis Cardinals season, in which DeJong would start on the IL. On April 23rd, however, he would make yet another return to the Cardinals starting lineup against the Seattle Mariners. DeJong would, impressively, go three for four with a homer and two singles. However, it seems like this is something DeJong is great at; he makes a return to the majors, and absolutely kills it, he rides on the excitement of being back in a big-league ballpark. But; ultimately, he ends up being a disappointment. Time and time again, he has been given chances to prove he can provide a big bat at a consistent level, and time and time again, he has struggled under the pressure. If the 2023 campaign is yet another negative offensive WAR season with a sub-200 batting average for DeJong, it may be time for Mozeliak and the Cardinals to pick up the tab. Paul DeJong was an electric player early on in his career, and I truly hope he breaks free from the cycle he’s developed and returns to the player all of Cardinal nation knows he can be, All-Star Pauly-D.