The Gulf Coast League Cardinals had won three in a row and four of their last five since July 3 before dropping both ends of a doubleheader in which they played as the home team on a Mets field in Port St. Lucie because of wet grounds at the Roger Dean Complex. The Cardinals are 4-4 both home and away so far this season.
The Cardinals lead the five-team GCL East in batting average (.271), on-base percentage (.363) and slugging percentage (.402), and league-wide are second only to the GCL Yankees. The Cardinals pitching staff has the best WHIP (1.27) in the division and is second in ERA (3.71) to the Marlins (3.50). Cardinals brass, including roving instructors and scouts, who had come to Jupiter to see recently promoted Carlos Martinez's first start at home for the FSL Palm Beach Cardinals also watched some GCL Cardinals games, making some of the players a bit skittish this week.
OF Victor Encarnacion is 10 for his last 24 plus five walks to push his on-base percentage to .474 after playing in 12 games.
1B Jem Argenal has at least one hit in eight of his last 10 games, driving his batting average to .366.
After starting the season 0-fo-r9 with seven whiffs, OF Lance Jeffries is 12 for his last 28, including a 4-for-4 against the Nationals on July 3, to bring his average up to .324.
Rehabbing Triple-A OF Shane Robinson is 0-for-8.
OF Anthony Bryant has stolen three bases in four tries, including a two-out steal of third base on Saturday. Though he hasn't been hitting his way on base much lately (.179 average), Bryant has been stealing first by drawing eight walks in his last eight games.
SS Leandro Mateo was hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance since signing with the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent and followed that with a hit in his first official at-bat, but is 0-for-12 with a walk since then, though no strikeouts.
A Closer Look at…
By the end of the GCL season, we will have at least one report on every player who appears in a GCL Cardinals game. This week, we look at three new position players and two returning relief pitchers. Most of these analyses are based on interviews with GCL Cardinals manager Steve Turco and gleaned from a couple of scouts for AL West teams. This week we'll look at three position players signed in 2008 as non-drafted free agents, all playing professionally on U.S. soil for the first time, and two pitchers selected in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft who are returning for their second season in the GCL.
Luis Perez: His teenage years will draw to a close later in July, but Perez might not be growing much more than his current 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame. After two seasons hitting over .300 without power but with more walks than strikeouts in the Dominican Summer League (where it is said, "You don't walk off the island"), the native of Santo Domingo is hitting a respectable .289 in the GCL with four walks to six strikeouts. Turco said Perez has gap power if not home run power, and became a little overaggressive at the plate after a slow start (one hit, a double, in his first 17 at-bats). Perez broke out on July 8 with a 5-for-6 day with two home runs and a double in a 17-6 win over the Nationals in Viera. Perez is an above-average runner, though he hasn't yet tried to steal a base. Behind the plate, Perez is athletic with a low center of gravity reminiscent of Benito Santiago or Tony Pena.
Jem Argenal: He has only a few months more left his teen years than Perez, but the 6-foot, 180-pound Nicaraguan native is swinging the bat like a veteran already. The left-hander has been "a pleasant surprise," Turco said. "He didn't swing the bat well in Extended Spring Training, but has been getting quality at-bats" since the GCL season began. "He's not afraid to hit to the opposite field, and has some pop in his bat," Turco said. "Right now he's got a pretty good idea of the strike zone." Turco said that encouraged him to give Argenal a green light on a 3-0 count recently. The pitch was not a strike and Argenel took it, "so it shows he's not overanxious." Defensively, Argenal is decent at both first base and corner outfield positions.
Victor Encarnacion: The 21-year-old Dominican native is hitting .417 in his last 10 games and .387 overall with six walks and eight strikeouts, though he will be prone to strike out until he improves pitch recognition. He's making progress, though, Turco said, after hitting only .142 with 36 strikeouts in 136 at-bats last season in the Dominican Summer League. "He's done a lot better job of laying off pitches outside the strike zone." Evidence of that is his 6-for-10 for nine RBI with runners in scoring position, tying him with Perez for the team RBI lead with 10. Encarnacion has decent speed and better baserunning instincts, and has decent pop in his bat. More important for a player at this level, he is good at taking instruction and putting it immediately into his game. Defensively, Encarnacion is adept at helping the other outfielders position themselves in relation to the centerfielder, whether he is playing center or right field.
Cesar Aguilar: The native of Fontana, Calif., who turned 19 in May, has struggled this season, having been scored on in each of his four appearances. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound right-hander needs to sharpen his command, especially of his fastball, which sits around 87 and occasionally touches 90. "If he throws strikes, his breaking pitch is effective enough," Turco said. After Aguilar was selected in the 14th round last June, he compiled a 3.82 ERA in 16 games, four of them starts, for the GCL Cards, allowing 23 hits and 13 walks in 30-2/3 innings while striking out 25.
Cole Brand: Four days younger than Aguilar, Brand is a 6-foot-2, 225-pound native of Cleveland, Tenn., near Chattanooga, who was the Cardinals' 42nd-round pick in 2010. In his first season, Brand was hittable (30 hits in 19-2/3 innings), but threw strikes (only five walks). Since giving up three runs in less than an inning in his first outing this season, Brand has settled down to pitch effectively, allowing only six hits and one walk in seven innings over six appearances. Brand's fastball ranges from 87 to 90 and he has an effective slider when he stays on top of it. He struggles with occasional lapses of confidence, but when he wants the ball and pitches ahead in the count, he is effective. Unlike some of his "skittish" teammates, Brand had one of his best outings with the roving instructors watching.
Monday: @ Astros; Tuesday: vs. Marlins 10 a.m.; Wednesday: vs. Nationals; Thursday: @ Mets; Friday: off; Saturday: vs. Astros; Sunday: @ Marlins. (Games at noon EDT unless otherwise noted.)
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