Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook: Week 5

More scouting reports plus all the news from the back fields of Jupiter, Florida about the St. Louis Cardinals' Gulf Coast League club. Hansel De Los Santos, Rafael Medina, Ronnierd Garcia and Jacoby Almaraz are among this week's featured players.

Comings and goings

Veteran left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes, 36, signed by the Cardinals a week ago after the four-time All-Star was released by Oakland, pitched one inning in back-to-back games, then began his move up the ladder on his return to the big leagues. In his first outing in a Cardinals uniform on Friday, Fuentes threw 14 pitches, 10 for strikes, while allowing one hit. On Saturday, his inning went 1-2-3 with the third batter called out on strikes. Fuentes threw 13 pitches, 10 for strikes.

LHP Josh Renfro and RHP Chris Thomas both pitched effectively in their first outings after returning from suspension for violation of team rules.

OF Aaron Luna, 25, made his season debut Thursday on a rehab assignment from Triple-A Memphis after surgery in April to remove a piece of a broken sesamoid bone in his right foot. In his three games, Luna went 3-for-8, including a double, with two walks.

3B Danny Stienstra returned to Batavia after his three-game rehab stint in the GCL.

RHP Roberto Canache has pitched scoreless innings in two separate outings since joining the team on Tuesday.

RHP Hansel De Los Santos suffered a freak injury on July 14 and is out indefinitely. De Los Santos, 20, who pitched two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before playing this season in the U.S. for the first time, was hit in the side of the head by a throw from Marlins first-base coach Lenny Harris, who had fielded a foul ball. De Los Santos suffered a hairline fracture of a facial bone below his left Temple and will probably need surgery this week. He was 3-1 in five starts with a 2.88 ERA.

LHP Ryan Copeland, 23, made his 2012 debut in a one-inning rehab assignment from Palm Beach, and it could not have gone much better. Following Fuentes on Friday, Copeland pitched 1-2-3 inning, getting the first batter to look at a third strike, then inducing a fly out and a ground out.

On Tuesday, RHP Michael Wacha made his second professional start and gave up his first professional run, a solo shot in the second. It was the only hit given up by the right-hander in two frames. Wacha fanned three and induced three ground outs.

LHP Max Foody relieved Wacha and three of the six hits he yielded came in the fourth which produced one run. Foody struck out one.

Foody said Wednesday that he was feeling fine physically, but he was disappointed with his performance in Tuesday's game because "I'd never given up six hits in a game in my life."

Weekly Recap

The Cardinals (21-9) hold a seven-game lead over the second-place Astros in the GCL East Division. The Marlins are eight games back and the Nationals nine. Manager Steve Turco said that after the nine-game winning streak from June 30 through July 9 ended, he felt he had a .500 team now.

But they played better than that this week, splitting two close games with the Astros, trading blowouts with the Nationals but and sweeping the Marlins by large margins Friday and Saturday. The Marlins were coming off a three-pitcher perfect game a day earlier.

In winning four of six, the Cardinals outscored their opponents 35-23 and outhit them 60-47, but committed 11 errors to the opponents' six. After perhaps their worst loss of the season, an 8-0 drubbing Wednesday at the hands of the Nationals in which the Cardinals did not pitch, hit or field well, they won their next three games by scores of 9-4, 7-2 and 10-1, allowing the Marlins only one hit in that last game.

A Closer Look at …

By the end of the GCL season, we will have at least one report on every player who appears on the GCL Cardinals roster. This week, we look at three players who are new to the GCL Cardinals this season. These assessments are based on interviews with Cardinals manager Steve Turco.

Rafael Medina: A 6-foot-2, 170-pound Dominican, Medina wasn't signed until age 18, considered late for a Caribbean player. So the righty-hitting third baseman is 20 years of age, playing mostly against teenagers his first season on U.S. soil after two seasons in Caribbean summer leagues. "He needs to start making his move quickly," Turco said.

Medina has a good arm, decent hands and a strong body, Turco said. Medina started the season slowly at the plate, but has batted .350 in his last six games. Turco said Medina is more successful as a hitter when he doesn't try to pull the ball too often and hits to the middle of the field. He puts the ball in play, neither striking out nor walking very often.

Ronnierd Garcia: A 6-foot-1, 185-pound Venezuelan, Garcia is about 14 months younger than Medina, but they are similar in many other ways, Turco said. One big difference, Turco said, is that Garcia "strikes out too much," though he's been cutting down on the whiffs lately. After fanning in 11 of his first 22 at-bats this season, Garcia has struck out in only five of his last 27. Turco said Garcia needs to improve on his two-strike approach, but more importantly should be more aggressive earlier in the count. "Your batting average will suffer if you get into two-strike situations too often," Turco said.

After a slow start, Garcia has picked it up lately, with a .296 average over his last seven games. Hitting .245 overall, Garcia has his best success against lefty pitchers (.357) and in road games (.286), while Medina's home-away splits show he is hitting .375 with all three extra-base hits at home, but only .174 in away games.

Joseph "Jacoby" Almaraz: After being drafted for the third consecutive year, the son of a former minor league manager who is now a Cardinals scout finally signed this year. A third baseman in high school and college, Almaraz is probably limited to first base in the pros.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Texan can turn on a fastball and has some pop in his bat. "His biggest asset is his bat," Turco said of the lefty-swinging Almaraz. "His swing at times looks a little off balance, but all of the sudden he'll just drop the head and the ball jumps off his bat." Turco said Almaraz could improve his plate discipline because he will occasionally chase pitches out of the zone, but he seems to bear down with two strikes. "It's unusual to see that at this level," he said.

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