Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook: Week 9

St. Louis' entry-level US club is fighting for a playoff berth and has clinched its first winning record. Our on-site Jupiter reporter recaps last week's play, provides details on the four most improved GCL Cards and explains how Charlie Tilson looked in his first weekend as a professional.


GCL East  W L Pct. GB
GCL Marlins 36 13 .735 -
GCL Cardinals 29 21 .580 7.5
GCL Mets 24 27 .471 13.0
GCL Nationals 18 31 .367 18.0
GCL Astros 18 33 .353 19.0
GCL Wild Card  W L Pct. GB
GCL Cardinals 29 21 .580 -
GCL Pirates 30 24 .556 1.0
GCL Blue Jays 25 28 .472 5.5
GCL Twins 25 28 .472 5.5
GCL Mets 24 27 .471 5.5
GCL Red Sox 25 29 .463 6.0
GCL Tigers 25 29 .463 6.0


With six games remaining in the GCL Cardinals' season, they hold a one-game edge over the GCL Pirates for the wild card spot. The Cardinals went 3-2 for the week, guaranteeing them a winning record for the first time in their five years in the Gulf Coast League.


Because the Cardinals and the other four East Division teams are scheduled to play fewer games than teams in the North and South divisions, which have an even number of teams, the Cardinals will have a higher win percentage than the Pirates if they finish in a tie for the wild card.


If the Cardinals win the wild card, they would play a one-game semifinal against either the Orioles or Yankees, whichever has the better record. The East Division champion Marlins would play the other team. The semifinal winners then play a best-of-three series for the GCL championship.


Comings and goings
OF Charlie Tilson, the Cardinals' second-round pick (79th overall) this year out of New Trier High School in north suburban Chicago, made his pro debut Saturday as the DH after signing Monday just before the deadline.  The 18-year-old lefty (5-for-11, 175-pounds) was 0-for-3, but drew a walk, stole second base and scored a run. On Sunday, Tilson got his first hit, a two-out RBI single to second in which his speed was a factor not only in beating out the ground ball into the hole between first and second, but also forcing the Marlins' second baseman into an overthrow.


Weekly Recap
, defeated Astros 5-4 in Jupiter: SS Kenny Peoples-Walls had a two-out, two-run single in the fourth inning to give the Cardinals a 4-1 bulge, then hit another single that was crucial to a seventh-inning insurance run that proved to be decisive. Brad Watson pitched his fifth consecutive solid outing of at least five innings.

Cardinals highlight: 1B Jem Argenal ignited the three-run rally in the fourth with a triple over the right fielder's head.


Tuesday, lost to Marlins 9-2 at Jupiter: The Marlins built a 9-0 lead, mostly off SP Ramon Ulacio, before the Cardinals got on the board with two runs in the sixth when singles by Anthony Bryant, Corderious Dodd and Kenny Peoples-Walls mixed with three Marlins throwing errors.

Cardinals highlight:  Though RP Richard Mendoza gave up two hits and a walk and threw three wild pitches, he also got four strikeouts in the fifth inning.
Wednesday, trailed Nationals 1-0 at Viera when the game was suspended because of rain in the middle of the fourth inning. The game will be completed Monday in Jupiter, followed by the regularly scheduled game, which will be shortened to seven innings.
Thursday, defeated Mets 2-1 in Jupiter:  The Marlins trailed 1-0 into the eighth, but were bailed out by CF C.J. McElroy's speed. McElroy singled to right with one out in the eighth, then stole second. SS Kenny Peoples-Walls grounded to short, but Mets SS Chin-Lung Hu made an ill-advised attempt to get McElroy going to third and both runners were safe. McElroy then scored on 2B Ildemaro Vargas' ground single through the middle. With one out in the 10th inning, McElroy struck again. He laid down a beautiful bunt toward third that he beat out for a hit. He stole second as the Mets pitcher tried to pick him off, and advanced to third on the first baseman's throwing error, then scored on a dropped third strike wild pitch to Peoples-Walls. 
Cardinals highlight: McElroy's bunt single.      


Friday, Cardinals were off.

Saturday, lost to Astros 5-4 at Kissimmee: Leandro Mateo scored two runs and drive in the other two as the Cardinals built a 4-1 lead going to the bottom of the eighth, but the bullpen could not hold the lead. Tyler Melling gave up a solo home run in the seventh and the Astros scored three more in the eighth off Bryan Martinez and Brandon Creath.
Cardinals highlight: Mateo, who entered the game hitting .194, had a triple, single, sacrifice fly and a walk in four plate appearances.
Sunday, defeated Marlins 5-0 in Jupiter: DH Luis Perez drove in the Cardinals' first run with a single in the first, the third consecutive hit by the Cardinals before they made an out. They added another run in the sixth when LF Reggie Williams led off with a double, his second hit of the game, and later scored on a ground out. Perez's second hit, a double leading off the seventh, ignited a three-run rally that included CF Charlie Tilson's first hit as a professional. SP Bradley Watson (5-1) allowed only three singles and a walk with four strikeouts over six innings for his sixth consecutive solid outing of at least five innings. 
Cardinals highlight: In the fourth inning Watson struck out the Marlins' 2-3-4 hitters in order, needing only 11 pitches, nine of them strikes. He got the first two looking and the third swinging.


Who's Hot/Not
OF-DH Corderious Dodd broke a 1-for-18 skid with a three-hit game Friday against the Nationals, including his first home run as a pro, after which his teammates greeted him briefly in the dugout with the silent treatment. … OF Anthony Bryant's eye exercises on a computer to improve his depth perception, which his prescription contact lenses could not correct, seem to be working. Bryant has hit in five consecutive games and seven of eight, the last two with his mother and two other relatives watching from the small grandstand on the back field of the Roger Dean Complex. Through his season average stands at only .193, Bryant is hitting .294 (10-for-34) in his last 10 games. … OF Lance Jeffries also has heated up, going 11-for-29 in his last eight games, with four multi-hit games in that run. … RHP Angel Tapia has not allowed an earned run in his last five outings and has walked only one batter in his last 10 innings.


A Closer Look at …
GCL Cardinals manager Steve Turco and pitching coach Dernier Orozco tell us which four players, listed in alphabetical order, made the most progress this season:


Lance Jeffries: The Cardinals' 10th-round pick from McCluer High School in St. Louis began the GCL season 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts, but a 4-for-4 game against the Nationals on July 3 built his confidence and got him going, Turco said. "There's still some correction needed on his approach at the plate," Turco said. "He comes out of his stance a little bit, and struggles to make contact when he does."


Jeffries does exciting things, though, when he does make contact, his manager said. "If he stays with the things he's been working on with hitting coach Oliver Marmol, he will have success," Turco said.


Jeffries started the season playing center field, which is what he played in high school, but the arrival of center fielders C.J. McElroy and Charlie Tilson, both higher draft picks, forced Jeffries to right field. Turco said Jeffires "has really taken to right field," which can be a difficult adjustment because fly balls tend to have more spin and slice to them.

"Jeffries has tools and it's nice to see him applying those tools," Turco said.


Stalyn Lopez: The Dominican lefty was a mystery to Turco before the season. "I didn't know what kind of command he'd have, but especially I didn't know what kind of worker he is," Turco said. The "smallish" lefty (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) impressed Turco with his hard work and coach-ability.


His walks are still little high (23 in 44 innings), but he's shown a huge improvement in his last six appearances, walking 11 in 27-1/3 innings after walking 16 in his first 16-2//3 innings.  "He works extremely quickly with a better tempo, and that has helped his control, Turco said. Lopez has a fastball that sits at 90-91 and a good curveball, but he needs to continue to improve his command and consistency.


Turco said Lopez's pickoff move to first base isn't quite where it should be, but he has batter awareness along with improved fundamentals and mechanics. With growing confidence, Lopez has matured and gained poise on the mound. "There was a game we kicked the ball all over the place and he never flinched," Turco said.


Kenny Peoples-Walls: Barely 18 years old, this year's fourth-round pick from Los Angeles "has made the biggest strides in every way," Turco said. The first change Peoples-Walls made, under direction form his coaches, was to smooth out his field and quiet his glove. Turco explained that Peoples-Walls was swinging his glove and hands around, snatching at the ball. "Now he presents his glove to the ball," Turco said. "I am surprised how far he has come defensively, but also pleased and impressed how far he's come with his bat, making the most of what he can do."


Peoples-Walls hit .222 in his first 14 games, but has gone 9-for-33 (.273) in his last 10 games, including his first extra-base hit and a current six-game hitting streak.

When Peoples-Walls arrived, he batted ninth. Now he often hits first or second and "hasn't disappointed when we've put him in that position."


Ildemaro Vargas: "He plays with such enthusiasm and energy all the time," Turco said. He loves to play and wants to be involved in every play. And when he's not playing, he still gets involved. He'll never had a letdown in his desire or intensity."
If Vargas was disappointed when he was passed over for promotion earlier this month to Johnson City in favor of Breyvic Valera, he didn't show it in his attitude. "He didn't pout," Turco said.


Vargas was hitting around .350 at the time, about 100 points higher than Valera, and his average has fallen to .309, so perhaps he is trying to do too much in an effort to impress the Cardinals staff.


Even so, with a .405 on-base percentage and more walks than strikeouts, Vargas has been the team's most consistent producer on offense this season.


At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Vargas is still "a frail-built guy," Turco said, but defensively "he probably has the quickest hands of anyone in the Cardinals minor-league organization." He doesn't have the rocket arm typical of top shortstop prospects, but he compensates with a quick release and accurate throws, Turco said. "He's been a lot of fun to watch and an asset to the team."


On deck
Monday vs. Nationals, completed of Aug. 17 game suspended in middle of fourth inning, followed by regularly scheduled game (7 innings); Tuesday at Mets in Port St. Lucie; Wednesday no game; Thursday vs. Astros; Friday at Marlins in Jupiter; Saturday at Nationals in Viera - End of regular season.



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