Palm Beach Cardinals Notebook: 2011 Week 21

As the 2011 season has come to a close, manager Luis Aguayo discusses his Florida State League club.

Though the Palm Beach Cardinals fell short of the Florida State League playoffs, they went 39-30 in the second half for a season total of 68-70.

It was an up-and-down season for Palm Beach, but they finished on a high note, taking four of five from first-half South Division winner St. Lucie.

In the finale, manager Luis Aguayo surprised 1B Xavier Scruggs by batting him leadoff. Thinking that might give Scruggs an extra at-bat for his attempt to tie the Palm Beach record for home runs in a season, Aguayo was rewarding Scruggs for his hard work in the cage with hitting coach Jeff Albert.

As it turned out, Scruggs didn't need any extra at-bats. The right-handed slugger hit his 21st homer of the season, to the opposite field, in his first at-bat leading off the game.

For Aguayo, though, the most important statistic from this season is 17, the number of players promoted to Double-A.

"We always get happy when we send someone to Double-A," Aguayo said.

Nearly all of those promoted players stuck with the Springfield team and one, right-handed pitcher Maikel Cleto, continued to move up, to Triple-A Memphis and then the major-league Cardinals.

Cleto was 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA in five starts with Palm Beach, but has held his own in the upper levels with a 7-5 record so far.

Aguayo talked about the season following Palm Beach's season finale, a 4-1 win over the Mets in Port St. Lucie on Sunday. In that game, the manager mentioned Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, John Gast and Jordan Swagerty as other key pitchers who were successfully promoted.

"It was nice to see them do well, and they're still doing well," Aguayo said.

Among position players promoted, last year's first-round pick Zack Cox has had the best season, hitting .294 so far in Springfield after posting a .335 average in 34 games for Palm Beach. Cox has hit fairly consistently since his first game in a Cardinals uniform last August in the Gulf Coast League.

Unlike Cox, the Palm Beach was inconsistent all season. They started 5-14 en route to a 29-40 first half.

"With a young team, it took us a little while to get on track," Aguayo said.

They rallied, however, winning nine of 10 at one point in mid-August, including seven in a row, to thrust themselves into the second-half pennant race. At their high-water mark after winning 2 of 3 from the Jupiter Hammerheads, they had pulled to within two games of first-place Bradenton in the South Division with 14 games remaining.

"When we got into that streak, we were executing everything," Aguayo said.

No sooner were they in the race, though, they fell back out with a 2-7 stretch against Bradenton and Jupiter, which at that time was bolstered by four rehabbing major-leaguers, including Hanley Ramirez (4-for-11 against Palm Beach).

Aguayo said as well as his team was executing in the previous win streak, they stopped. "We eliminated ourselves from the race because we didn't execute," he said.

"For our staff, it was a little tougher than last year," Aguayo said. "We had more talent (this season), but younger players, who require more time, more education and more coaching. Some of them took it, and some didn't."

He added, "When you have young players, it's going to take longer."

Aguayo said he and his staff had to be more patient this year, but he said that patience will pay off.

"In the long run, these kids are going to be better players," Aguayo said. "We sacrificed some wins, but we showed patience in player development by letting them fail, then teaching them."

Carlos Martinez, the 19-year-old fireballer, is a prime example.

Despite showing flashes of brilliance with great stuff, including a fastball that can touch 100 mph, Martinez was the epitome of inconsistency, striking out the side one inning and walking in runs the next.

"He's young with a powerful arm, but he needs to grow up and learn how to pitch," Aguayo said. "Right now, he's learning to control his body. He needs to repeat his delivery and release."

Among the other pitchers who finished the season with Palm Beach, Aguayo named starter Tyler Lyons and relievers Keith Butler and Justin Wright as those with the best chances to reach the big leagues.

And he added one more. "My sleeper is Jesse Simpson," he said. Simpson was a 40th-round pick in 2009 who started the season in Springfield, but was sent to Palm Beach on June 4. He struggled at first with Palm Beach, but his numbers improved significantly as the season wore on, as he finished with a 6-1 record and 1.54 ERA in the FSL. Simpson, who throws a sinker and slider with a lot of movement, allowed 40 hits and 18 walks while fanning 40 in 46-2/3 relief innings with Palm Beach.

"They all played hard," Aguayo said. "They gave me their best and that's all I can ask for."

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