Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook: Week 4

A C.J. McElroy signing update, five in-depth scouting reports, game recaps and much more in our exclusive weekly on-site report from Jupiter, Florida.

GCL East Standings

Club  W  L  PCT  GB  ELIM  Home  Away  L 10  Streak
GCL Marlins 16 6 0.727 - - 7-4 9-2 8-2 W7
GCL Mets 13 9 0.591 3 32 7-4 6-5 5-5 W2
GCL Cardinals 12 10 0.545 4 31 6-6 6-4 6-4 W1
GCL Nationals 8 15 0.348 8.5 26 4-8 4-7 2-8 L7
GCL Astros 7 16 0.304 9.5 25 3-7 4-9 4-6 L3

The Gulf Coast League Cardinals are in third place in the GCL East Division, trailing the Marlins by four games and the Mets by one. The Cardinals are 6-6 at home and 6-4 away so far this season. They lead the five-team GCL East in slugging percentage (.393) and OPS (.747), but fell behind the surging Marlins in batting average (.265) on-base percentage (.354). The Cardinals pitching staff has the best WHIP (1.30) and ERA (3.53) in the division.


Comings and goings

OF C.J. McElroy, the Cardinals' third-round pick (109th overall) in last month's draft from Clear Creek H.S. in League, Texas, was signed away from his commitment to play baseball and football at the University of Houston and is expected to report to the GCL Cardinals on Sunday. McElroy's father is former major league pitcher Chuck McElroy, a left-hander who compiled a 38-30 record with a 3.90 ERA, mostly in relief for nine teams over 13 major-league seasons. GCL Cardinals manager Steve Turco said C.J. McElroy will practice with the team for a few days before he plays in a game. … LHP Justin Wright arrived from Quad Cities for a rehab assignment. … RHP Scott Bittle was promoted to Batavia after three appearances in the GCL. … OF Shane Robinson completed his rehab assignment and returned to Memphis.


Weekly Recap

Monday, defeated Astros 8-7 at Kissimmee: Trailing 7-5 heading to the ninth inning, the Cardinals rallied against former University of Missouri left-hander Zachary Hardoin, denying the Astros' 47th-round pick in the 2011 draft his first save as a pro and instead handing him his first loss.


With one out, Victor Encarnacion walked and took second on a wild pitch with pinch-hitter Michael Knox at bat. Knox flied out for the second out, but Hector Garcia kept the Cardinals alive with a ground-ball single to left, scoring Encarnacion. Pinch-runner Reggie Williams then scored the tying run on Luis Perez's double to right, which sent Hardoin to the showers. Sam Tuivailala hit a potential inning-ending grounder, but "Tui" was safe on shortstop Jean Batista's throwing error that sent Perez home with the go-ahead run.


Brandon Creath, the Cardinals 44th-round pick in this year's draft, pitched a scoreless eighth to earn his first professional win. Willy Paulino struck out two of the three batters he faced in a perfect ninth to earn his fourth save. 


Cardinals highlight: Perez's double drove home the tie-breaking run with two outs in the top of the ninth.


Tuesday, lost 15-3 to Marlins in Jupiter: Five Cardinals errors on top of 13 Marlins hits and 10 walks by the Cardinals' first four pitchers – Victor De Leon, Richard Mendoza, Cole Brand and Angel Tapia -- resulted in 15 runs, six unearned.


Mendoza, a 19-year-old right-hander who pitched briefly for the 2010 GCL Cardinals, couldn't find the plate. Relieving De Leon with two on and one out in the Marlins' fourth, Mendoza threw a wild pitch, then walked the batter to load the bases. He threw two more wild pitches, then walked that batter. Facing his third batter, Mendoza uncorked three more wild pitches before walking that batter and the next one. At that point, mercifully, Mendoza was relieved by Cole Brand, who got the last out to end the Marlins' nine-run inning.


Cardinals highlight: OF Victor Encarnacion mopped up by pitching two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and one walk in his first outing as a professional pitcher.


Wednesday, defeated Nationals 3-2 in Jupiter: Jem Argenal's bases-loaded sacrifice fly broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth. The Cardinals added two more runs in the inning on Michael Knox's bases-loaded walk and another sacrifice fly by Hector Garcia. All the runs were needed because the Nationals scored two in the eighth.


Cardinals highlight: Willy Paulino induced three ground outs to slam the door shut in the ninth for his fifth save.


Thursday: lost 5-1 (makeup of June 29 rainout) to Mets, won scheduled game 7-1 in Port St. Lucie: The Mets jumped all over Brad Watson for five runs in the first inning, but Watson settled down after that to pitch two scoreless innings, followed by four more by three relievers.


In the nightcap, lefty Stalyn Lopez had his best start yet, allowing one run on three hits and four walks over five innings. Michael Knox ignited the Cardinals' five-run fourth inning by leading off with the second of his three hits. Lance Jeffries drove in one run with a bases-loaded single, Breyvic Valera followed with an RBI walk, Ildemaro Vargas drove in a run with a groundout, rehabbing Kyle Conley hit a sacrifice fly and Jem Argenal capped the rally with a ground-rule double that scored Valera.


Cardinals highlight:  Three hits for Knox.


Friday: no game.


Saturday: defeated Astros 7-0 in Jupiter: Ramon Ulacio and three relievers combined on a three-hit shutout, the Cardinals' first of the season, and Hector Garcia led the offense with three hits and four RBI in what was the Cardinals best game so far this season.


Cardinals highlight: Garcia broke the game open with a three-run home run in the seventh.

Who's Hot/Not

C Luis Perez was 5-for-12 during the week to raise his average to .320. Hector Garcia was 5-for-13 to raise his average to .300. OF Victor Encarnacion has a .465 OBP. … RHP Brandon Creath has not allowed an earned run in seven relief appearances. RHP Willy Paulino has given up three hits and one walk and no runs over eight innings in his last six appearances. … Rehabbers Shane Robinson (Memphis) and Kyle Conley (Palm Beach) haven't had much success. Robinson returned to Memphis after going 3-for-22 and Conley is 2-for-13.

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 pitching coach Dernier Orozco. This week we'll look at two position players and three pitchers.


Breyvic Valera: Signed last year, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound switch-hitting Venezuelan infielder won't turn 19 until Aug. 1. Valera "has surpassed any expectation I would have had," Turco said. Valera has shown patience at the plate beyond his years, and the plus-runner is a threat to steal when he gets on. Nine walks (to 11 strikeouts) on top of his .292 batting average give him a solid .388 OBP, a requisite for a leadoff hitter. As a 17-year-old in the Venezuelan Summer League last season, Valera hit .325. "A fairly complete player," Turco said, though his arm will probably keep him at 2B. "More headsy than I thought he was going to be," Turco said. "He just needs more reps and experience."


Gerwuins Velazco: A catcher with a "plus-plus arm," Velazco is improving in other facets of the position, Turco said. The 19-year-old Venezuelan signed in 2008 hit .270 last season in the Venezuelan Summer League and is off to a good start in the GCL, hitting .333 in his first 10 games on U.S. soil. As a hitter, Velazco has been "a little bit better than I thought he would do," Turco said. "He's had his share of soft hits, but also hard outs." The right-handed hitter has collected all of his 11 hits so far against right-handers, though he is only 0-for-3 vs. lefties.


Willy Paulino: The 21-year-old Dominican right-hander has given Turco and Orozco late-inning confidence. Unsure before the season whether to use Paulino as a starter or closer, Turco is happy with his choice so far. The 13 strikeouts to one walk is one strong indicator he has good stuff. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander has consistently commanded the strike zone with his fastball, and has enough confidence in his secondary pitches – slider and changeup – to throw them when he's behind in the count. Paulino hasn't been scored on in his last six outings, including three saves. "It's nice to know when you go to him at the end of the game, the game is over," Turco said.


Ramon Ulacio: Signed in 2009, the 20-year-old Venezuelan has a fastball that sits in the 90-92 range as well as a curve (74-79) and palm ball (71-77). In holding the Astros to three hits and two walks over six innings Saturday, Ulacio showed improved mound presence while earning his first GCL win, Turco said. On previous starts, Ulacio had become distracted and dejected after defensive lapses behind him. It also helped that he located his fastball better, missing more bats when hitting the low-inside corner.


Angel Tapia: At 21, the Dominican right-hander is older than most GCL players. At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, he is smaller than most right-handers who make it to the majors. Though Tapia has an excellent slider that is his out pitch, his fastball tops out at 90 mph, often comes in high and lacks late life. To progress up the ladder, Tapia will have to significantly improve his command of his fastball.


On deck


Sunday at Marlins; Monday at Nationals; Tuesday vs. Mets; Wednesday, off; Thursday at Astros; Friday, vs. Marlins; Saturday vs. Nationals.



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