Palm Beach Cardinals Notebook: 2011 Week 18

The Cardinals continue to fight for a playoff berth. Coaches' comments on seven players are included.

Standings

 

Though the Cardinals were last in the Florida State League's South Division in the first half, they are still in contention for the second-half title. At 26-22 (14-10 on the road), the Cardinals trail first-place Bradenton by three games, but are only 1/2 game behind second-place Charlotte. The Cardinals lead the FSL in one statistical category – fewest home runs allowed, 56 to Clearwater's 64.

Who's Hot/Not

There's no question that LHP Tyler Lyons' seven-inning no-hitter in the nightcap of Tuesday's doubleheader puts him at the top of the hot list, but Lyons has won his last four decisions. … 1B Xavier Scruggs is hitting .296 (8-for-27) with four home runs in his last eight games. One of those home runs was the first ever by a Palm Beach Cardinal to reach the roof of either clubhouse beyond the outfield fence. … C Luis De La Cruz is hitting .424 (14-for-33) in his last 10 games, along with two stolen bases, to push his average to .297. … 2B Greg Garcia is 11-for-33 with eight walks (.476 on-base percentage) in his last 10 games. … 2B Domnit Bolivar is 13 for his last 37 (.351) with four home runs. … RHP Keith Butler has allowed only two hits and a walk while striking out seven in 4-2/3 innings over his last five appearances. …

A Closer Look at …

After seeing the Cardinals while filling in as official scorer for their six-game home stand that ended Thursday (and featured the first no-hitter in the nine-year history of the Palm Beach team) I had conversations with Palm Beach Cardinals manager Luis Aguayo and pitching coach Dennis "El Presidente" Martinez about which players currently on the roster have made the greatest improvement this season. Here are capsules in alphabetical order summarizing their responses:

 

Kyle Conley: The Cardinals' seventh-round pick in 2009, the 24-year-old Washington state native was a big question mark this spring after injuries limited him to eight games with Quad Cities (Midwest) in 2010. Conley, a right-handed hitting outfielder, started this season back at Quad Cities and was hitting only .221 with three home runs in 68 at-bats when he was injured again.

 

After a rather unimpressive five-game rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League, Conley has blossomed since joining the Palm Beach team. Though his strikeout-to-walk ratio is still high (56-18), Conley has nine home runs, 33 RBI and a .513 slugging percentage in 50 games with the Class A-Advanced team.

 

Aguayo said he likes the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Conley's short stride and short stroke at the plate and has seen improvement lately in his plate discipline. "He hits to all fields with strength," Aguayo said, adding that like almost every player at this level, Coney needs to improve his recognition and hitting of breaking balls. "No one hits the good breaking pitches, except to foul them off, but the good hitters hit the mistakes," Aguayo said. Conley's defense and throwing is good in either corner outfield position.

 

Eric Fornataro: Selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of Miami-Dade South, the fourth-year pro not only leads the Palm Beach team in innings pitched and strikeouts, but is among the hardest workers on the team.

 

Martinez said he had heard Fornataro was hard-headed, but hasn't seen evidence of that this season. Martinez said Fornataro's record (6-11, 3.75 ERA) is not as good as his performance. "He's been more consistent with his pitches (a fastball that sits at 94 mph and touches 96, plus a curve and changeup)," Martinez said, adding that the 6-1, 185-pound Fornataro has a good mental approach this season. Martinez said Fornataro used to lose his cool after defensive misplays behind him, but this year has shaken them off and continued to pitch. "I used to be the same way when I was a kid," said Martinez, who won 245 games in 23 big-league seasons. Martinez said he likes Fornataro's intensity. "I would take players like that any time," he said.

 

Greg Garcia: Selected in the seventh round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Hawaii, the 6-foot, 175-pound lefty-hitting second baseman has been the most consistent producer on offense since moving up from Quad Cities on June 4, Aguayo said. Garcia's .399 on-base percentage couples with a .436 slugging percentage for on OPS of .835, outstanding for a middle infielder and No. 2 hitter.

 

"He has an idea of what to do at the plate and is an aggressive hitter," Aguayo said. Garcia has been solid at second base, making only two errors in 46 games. Aguayo said he is working with Garcia to get him more comfortable at shortstop, too. Garcia's arm strength is a little lacking for shortstop, but Aguayo said they can compensate for that with positioning and getting Garcia to throw from a longer throwing position rather than the short-arm style many second baseman employ. The increased versatility will make Garcia more valuable to the organization, Aguayo said, because Tony La Russa puts a higher premium on that than most major-league managers. "It's a good philosophy for an organization to have," Aguayo said.

 

Tyler Lyons: The Cardinals ninth-round pick in 2010 out of Oklahoma State, the 23-year-old lefty did not pitch after signing last season because of elbow tendinitis. Making his pro debut this season in the Florida State League might have been a lot to handle, but Lyons was brought along slowly, working out of the bullpen for 21 appearances before getting his first start. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Lyons is 4-1 in eight starts so far, including the seven-inning no-hitter on Tuesday.

 

Martinez said Lyons has good deception and is a hard worker. Lyons has gained more consistency with his pitches, especially his changeup, which Martinez described as major-league caliber. "Little by little, we've changed a few little things (in the mechanics of Lyons' delivery) and he's made the adjustments and improved," Martinez said. In the no-hitter, Lyons was "strong to the seventh inning and still had gas, so you can see him developing into a good, competitive starter."

 

Starlin Rodriguez: Signed as a free agent after his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays was voided after he failed a physical, the switch-hitting Dominican has impressed Aguayo with his play on both offense and defense. "He came here swinging well from the first day," Aguayo said. "He can hit the fastball, but like many players he still has some trouble recognizing the breaking ball." Like most players from the Caribbean, drawing walks is not high on his priority list. Rodriguez has only three in 100 FSL plate appearances.

 

Aguayo, who played 10 years in the majors as a middle infielder, said Rodriguez has become more consistent making the plays at second base since his June 27 promotion from Quad Cities. "He still has a lot to do to improve his turn and pivot, but he's willing to put in the work to get better," Aguayo said. Rodriguez, 22, is a bit shy, but does what he's told and is starting to emerge from his shell, Aguayo said.

 

Rainel Rosario: Signed by the Cardinals in 2006, the 22-year-old Dominican is a toolsy player who still struggles to avoid chasing breaking pitches, which has resulted in a strikeout in 25 percent of his at-bats. The team leader in hits, runs scored and RBI, Rosario has made progress, Aguayo said.

 

Rosario hits to all fields with power and as he matures could develop into a guy who hits 15 to 20 home runs a year, the Cardinals manager said. Aguayo said he especially likes that Rosario has been steady and ready to play every day. Rosario, at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, is a decent outfielder who has the speed and arm to play centerfield, "but he can be better if he works at it," Aguayo said.

 

Jordan Swagerty: The Cardinals' second-round pick last year out of Arizona State, Swagerty also made his pro debut this season, starting in Quad Cities before being moved up to Palm Beach on May 7. Swagerty, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander, dominated in five Midwest League starts and has continued that dominance in the Florida State League, as a starter and then a reliever.

 

Using a fastball that sits at 93 and touches 96, along with a "great changeup and a devastating curveball,' Martinez said, Swagerty has posted a 1.86 ERA in 53-1/3 innings. As a reliever, Swagerty has been even better. He's been scored on only twice in his last 10 outings, allowing seven hits and four walks, and striking out 17, in 13 innings over that stretch. "He amazes me the way he goes about his business," Martinez said. "He's hungry; he just wants to nail you, one after another." Martinez said Swagerty eventually may return to starting, but working out of the bullpen is probably how he'll get his ticket to the major leagues punched.

 

On Deck

 

The Cardinals head to Ft. Myers for a three-game weekend series and after taking Monday off, play the St. Lucie Mets for three.

 

 

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