Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook: Week 8

More scouting reports plus all the news from the back fields of Jupiter, Florida about the St. Louis Cardinals' Gulf Coast League club. Kenny Peoples-Walls, Javier Machuca, Burny Mitchem and Josh Renfro are among this week's featured players.

Comings and goings

RHP Luis Perdomo made his debut on American soil after making nine starts in the Dominican Summer League. He is the 29th different pitcher to appear this season for the GCL team, though 11 of them appeared in two games or less.

UT Colin Walsh, who hadn't played since July 11 because of a hairline fracture in his forearm, went 1-for-8 with a run scored and an RBI in his first-ever GCL action. The 22-year-old Walsh, drafted in 2010 out of Stanford, started his career in Johnson City that season and had played for Quad Cities ever since.

Weekly Recap

Despite going 2-4 for their first losing week, with two weeks left in the season the Cardinals (30-18) still hold a commanding eight-game lead in the GCL East over the rest of the division, who are all tied at 22-26. The Cardinals outscored their opponents 32-30 and outhit them 53-45. The opponents made nine errors, while the Cardinals committed 15, including six on Tuesday in the 7-6 loss to the Nationals. Of the 30 runs Cardinals pitchers allowed during the week, 10 were unearned.

RHP Hansel de los Santos pitched seven no-hit innings Thursday against the Astros in Kissimmee before he was lifted due to pitch count. After walking the second batter he faced, No. 1 overall draft pick Carlos Correa, de los Santos retired 16 in a row before another walk. He then struck out Correa to finish the sixth inning. RHP Juan Caballero gave up a single to the second batter he faced in the eighth, and the Astros added two more hits and an unearned run off Josh Renfro in the ninth, but a five-run rally in the top of the ninth had blown the game open by then.

A two-run double by C Steve Bean was the key hit in that rally. Bean, who hit only .125 in 24 games at Johnson City after the Cardinals drafted him in the first round out of Rockwall (Texas) High School, is finding his stroke in the GCL.

A big late-inning rally also helped the Cardinals win their other game Saturday over the Marlins. They led the Marlins 3-2 going to the top of the ninth. Anthony Bryant started the inning with a walk. After Luiz Perez flied out, Jem Argenal, Brett Wiley, Kenny Peoples-Walls and Bean hit consecutive singles. Jhohan Acevedo's triple cleared the bases, then he scored the sixth run of the inning when Yoenny Gonzalez reached on an error.

After not allowing an earned run in his first 11 outings (13.1 innings) for the GCL Cardinals, RHP Anderson Gerdel yielded three earned runs Wednesday while taking the loss to the Astros. The big hit off Gerdel was a two-run triple by Correa, who was promoted a day later to the Appalachian League. Gerdel came back with a scoreless inning Saturday against the Marlins.

Player spotlight

Kenny Peoples-Walls' batting average of .238 might not draw anyone's raves, but the 18-year-old shortstop from Los Angeles, the Cardinals' 4th-round pick in 2011, has made a remarkable turnaround in the past few weeks.

In the Cardinals' 8-0 loss to the Nationals on July 18, Peoples-Walls was 0-for-3 to drop his average to .160. When a big guy like 285-pound Adam Dunn isn't hitting his weight, it's no big deal. When a 6-foot-1, 185-pound shortstop isn't hitting his weight it's a problem.

And on July 18, his 19th game of the season, Peoples-Walls also committed his eighth error, his sixth in a six-game stretch. Manager Steve Turco was mystified because Peoples-Walls had been his most improved player last season and "he'd had a decent extended spring training, so I was expecting more improvement at the start of the season."

Instead, Turco said, Peoples-Walls seemed to have regressed from the progress he had made last season, even though his mental toughness is above average for an 18-year-old.

Peoples-Walls said he knew what he had to do. "I just really slowed everything down, slowed my body down and now the pitch is looking a lot slower," he said. He said the changes he made were all in his mental approach, not mechanical. "It was just a matter of being more selective and taking advantage of the pitcher's mistakes and not missing the pitches."

In the 15 games he has played since that low point on July 18, Peoples-Walls has hit .362 (17 for 47) and has cut his strikeout rate from 31 percent of his at-bats to 13 percent. "I know the pitcher has to throw me a strike and I don't have to chase his pitches," Peoples-Walls said.

Turco said he's also noticed Peoples-Walls taking better batting practice lately, "and you play what you practice."

"His point of contact has gotten much better and he's using the whole field," Turco said. "Once he learns how to use his lower half better, the strength in his body is going to translate to extra-base hits."

Perhaps that translation has already begun. Last Saturday, Aug. 4, in a home game against the Marlins, Peoples-Walls hit his first career home run, in his 194th career at-bat.

Then, as if to prove it was no fluke, Peoples-Walls homered again on Monday against the Nationals in Viera.

The turnaround has affected every part of his game. Peoples-Walls also stole three bases in four attempts after getting thrown out on three of his first four tries. And he's made four errors in 15 games after errors in his first 19 games.

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 pitching coach Tim Leveque.


Burny Mitchem: At 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, Mitchem presents an imposing presence on the mound. Signed in June as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Dayton, the Michigan native has a fastball in the 88-to-91 mph range. "His stuff is getting better," Leveque said. "He's definitely pitching better and throwing harder than he was at the beginning of the season."

In addition to the fastball, Mitchem features a sinker, slider and splitter, the latter of which is still the most inconsistent. "His sinker has a good run," Leveque said. "He's become a lot more reliable with his stuff. He's really helped our bullpen the last couple of weeks."

Javier Machuca: The 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-hander was the Cardinals' 38th-round pick in this year's draft from Puerto Rico. The 19-year-old's best pitch is his two-seam fastball when he keeps it down in the zone, but he still needs to develop better command of that and his secondary pitches, Leveque said. Machuca is working on a slurve.

He has been used mostly in middle relief with moderate success, yielding runs in five of his eight most recent outings. "He's young and learning," Leveque said. "He doesn't have any plus pitches, but he's still developing and needs to develop better command and secondary pitches."

Josh Renfro: A 6-foot, 182-pound lefty signed this summer as a non-drafted free agent out of the College of Charleston (S.C.), the 22-year-old Florida native hasn't allowed an earned run since he gave one up in his first professional appearance on June 19. That's 15 consecutive outings. Using a fastball in the 86-88 mph range and a slider, Renfro has struck out 23 in 20 innings thus far this season, while allowing 15 hits and three walks. Renfro is working on a changeup, but rarely trows it in games.

"He has done a nice job," said Leveque. "It's great to have a left-hander out of the bullpen who can spin the ball and throw strikes." Renfro has been almost unhittable by lefty batters and tough on right-handed hitters, though Leveque said it remains to be seen whether he will be as effective against right-handers at higher levels. Even if not, he would not be the first lefty pitcher to build a long career out of being able to consistently get lefties out.

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