Just minutes after the Cardinals filed off the field following the end of their 2017 season, Tommy Pham had already shifted his attention toward what was ahead. He paused while packing up his Busch Stadium locker, and with the same candidness with which he conducts most of his interviews, made a promise.

"I have," Pham said, "very big plans for myself in this game."

Those plans start with preparation. Pham vowed to return faster, stronger and better in 2018, and his active Instagram profile provides proof of that purpose.

Take his Thanksgiving week post, for instance, one in which Pham offered a peek into his offseason training. Buckled into a harness, the 29-year-old outfielder runs sprints on a treadmill programmed at 21.5 mph. He doesn't fall off.

The intensely self-motivated outfielder hopes to parlay a breakout 2017 season into an even bigger one in '18. For the first time in his career, he'll report to Spring Training knowing that the Cardinals have a place for him on their big league roster.

Pham projects to hit third in the lineup and open the year as the team's starting center fielder. Both are bold responsibilities for a player who began last season in the Minors and who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.

This coming opportunity, though, has been every bit earned.