Gulf Coast League Cards Notebook: 2014 Week 3

Luke Weaver and Gary LaRocque comment on the first-rounder’s pro debut plus three player scouting reports – Ricardo Bautista, Eliezer Alvarez and Dylan Hawkins.

Overview

Improving their record to a blistering 12-2 with a 6-0 week, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals are tied with the Yankees1 team for best record in the league.

In sweeping three-game series from the Marlins and Nationals, the Cardinals outscored their opponents 47-13. For the season so far, they have outscored their opponents 85-38.

First Round Reaction

Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals’ two first-round selections in the First-Year Player Draft last month, made their professional debuts in Saturday’s game against the Nationals in Viera, each throwing one inning.

Weaver started the game and needed only 12 pitches— 93 to 94 mph fastballs and changeups -- to complete a 1-2-3 inning. “It went well; I was happy with it,” Weaver said after the game.

The 20-year-old right-hander from Deland, Florida, threw 106 innings as Florida State’s ace this season, but had not pitched in a game since allowing one run over five innings in the Seminoles’ Regional loss to Alabama on May 31. Weaver said, “My arm felt better than it has in a while.”

He admitted to some butterflies in his pro debut. “I definitely was nervous,” he said. “There were some moments there where I had to take a deep breath and remind myself to stay within myself.”

Flaherty followed and struck out his first batter, but then gave up a double to right and a home run to left before getting the last two outs of his inning with a strikeout and a line out to center field.

Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque, who traveled to Viera to watch the debuts of his two organization’s top draft picks, said he was pleased with what he saw. “Everything was solid,” he said. “At this stage, it’s less about performance and more about the process taking them forward.”

LaRocque said the GCL squad’s strong performance in the early going is a sign that his newest players are handling well the adjustment to pro ball. “It reflects the fact that they’re focused well.”

Ward Very Relevant

After the debuts of Weaver and Flaherty, Davis Ward entered the game, making his third appearance. The 22-year-old right-hander from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas was not only the Cardinals 40th-round pick in June, but the last player selected overall in the draft.

In the NFL, they call the last draft pick “Mr. Irrelevant.”

LaRocque said draft position no longer matters.” Once they’re all drafted, they’re ours, they’re Cardinals,” he said.

Ward said he doesn’t see being the last draft pick as any additional challenge. “I’ve always been pretty self-motivating, but it’s a way for me to stand out a little bit,” he noted.

Ward picked up his first win as a pro, allowing two runs (one earned) in two innings, but also was charged with a blown save, strange considering he entered the game in the third inning.

“I judge my pitching outings on how I threw rather than the results,” Ward said. “I thought I threw well. The cutter and sinker have been working pretty well.”

What is Behind the Fast Start?

In that Saturday game, even with manager Steve Turco resting three of his top hitters – Edmundo Sosa, Magneuris Sierra and Elier Rodriguez – the Cardinals collected 14 hits, seven walks and two hit batsmen en route to scoring 12 runs. The Nationals managed 16 hits off six Cardinals pitchers, but drew only one walk.

How have the Cardinals won 12 of 14 so far? What facets of the game has the team been outstanding in the early going?

It would be easier to answer these questions if the Cardinals played more opponents, as the teams in the GCL’s other three divisions do. In the East Division, however, they can be accurately compared only with the other three teams in their division.

Walks, however, are a good place to start because the Cardinals have handed out only 23 free passes in 14 games. The next best in the league is 36 by the Pirates, but the other East Division teams have displayed much less control. The Mets and Nationals, who have played two fewer games than the Cardinals, have 46 and 47 walks, respectively. The 2-12 Marlins have yielded 60 bases on balls.

Who’s Hot & Not

Infielder Michael Massi, a non-drafted free agent out of Mercer College in Macon, Georgia, was hitless in his first 17 at-bats but struck out only once since playing in his first pro game on June 21. He got his first hit, a line single, in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game, then was a combined 5-for-6 on Friday and Saturday. … Elier Rodriguez was 8-for-19 (.421). … Magneuris Sierra was 11-for-22, including his first home run, with four stolen bases during the week. … Julian Barzilli was 8-for-26 (.308). Barzilli had nine strikeouts but 10 RBI. … After going 4-for-20 to start the season, Joshua Lopez was 7-for-18. … Michael Pritchard was 5-for-14, but also drew five walks and stole two bases. … Julio Mateo, who has pitched exactly six innings in all three of his starts, is one of 25 GCL pitchers who has started three games, but he’s the only one who has won all three. Mateo’s 18 innings leads the GCL and teammate Jorge Rodriguez is second with 17.

A Closer Look At

Ricardo Bautista: Still only 18 years old in his second GCL season, the 6-foot, 185-pound outfielder from Puerto Rico is slowly working his way back into the lineup after missing the start of the season because of a strained right quadriceps. Bautista has good arm strength to play right field, but “his bat is clearly his carry tool,” Turco said.

The Cardinals’ 12th-round selection in 2013 is still somewhat of an enigma to Turco. “Last year when he got here, he was obsessed with pulling the ball out of the park.” Toward the end of the season, when Bautista changed his approach to use more of the field, he showed flashes of success. “He needs to do that more consistently and stay focused all the way around. He’s still a work in progress.”

After the lefty hitter jacked a grand slam to break open a tie game on June 27, he went hitless in his next 11 at-bats before finishing this week 3-for-7.

Eliezer Alvarez: The 19-year-old Dominican infielder has been sidelined by an ankle injury suffered during extended spring training, but is expected to return to action soon. A plus-plus runner with good bat speed, Alvarez played mostly at third base last season, but will be used primarily in the middle infield spots this season. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound switch-hitter showed unexpected power at the plate in 2013, but needs to make more consistent contact.

Dylan Hawkins: With a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s, the lefty Hawkins tries to get by more on guile than velocity. A non-drafted signee by the Cardinals last June, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder changes speeds with a 65 to 72 mph curveball that makes his fastball seem faster. The 19-year-old from Melbourne, Florida had decent success in his first pro season last year, but has struggled this far this season, yielding seven earned runs in 8 2/3 innings.



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