Gulf Coast League Cards Notebook: 2014 Week 7

The 1st place GCL Cards pitchers have the lowest walk rate in all of baseball. Jake Gronsky, Frankie Rodriguez and Tyler Dunnington are profiled.

Weekly Overview

After taking two of three from the Mets early in the week and two wins over the Marlins on Thursday, GCL Cardinals manager Steve Turco said his team “was hitting on all cylinders right now.”

His comment was certainly justified. The team was 24-11 with a five-game lead in the GCL East Division. Furthermore, the Cardinals had taken over the league lead in team batting average and on-base percentage, an indication that the offense had caught up with the team’s stingy pitching and defense.

Turco had six batters hitting over .300 in the lineup he used Thursday against Marlins’ fireballer Francis Martes, who was traded later that day to Houston in the Jarred Cosart deal.

Through that point in the week, the Cardinals had won four of five decisions, outscoring their opponents 33 to 12, outhitting them 51 to 28 and making four errors to their opponents’ 11.

Ah, but the vagaries of baseball. Whether it was the baseball gods or the Law of Competitive Balance or some other unforeseen factor, the worm turned quickly.

First, possibly taking the Cardinals out of their rhythm, rain Friday forced postponement of a doubleheader against the hapless Marlins, who were 11-24. One of those two scheduled games had already been postponed from July 23.

On Saturday, the Cardinals endured their worst day of the season thus far. In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, which began at 9 a.m., the Marlins no-hit the Cardinals, who didn’t even get a sniff of a hit or a well-stroked ball.

Then the Cardinals kicked away the second game, committing six errors that led to all five Marlins runs, including the walk-off game-winner on a late overthrow to first on a bunt single with runners on first and second and no outs. Undone by the errors, Andrew Reidt, the 12th different starting pitcher Turco has used this season, deserved a better fate.

The good news is -- if that one day is a minor aberration and doesn’t become a trend -- the Cardinals still hold a 4.5-game lead in their division, they still lead the 16-team GCL with a .285 team batting average and .374 on-base percentage, and are second in slugging and OPS. Their pitching staff not only has the lowest walks-per-inning ratio in the GCL, but in the entire minor leagues. And despite the five unearned runs in Saturday’s second game, their 19 unearned runs allowed is still second-lowest in the GCL.

Last week we reported that the GCL Cardinals had allowed by far the fewest walks and free passes (walks and hits batsmen) in the league. After reading that, Turco did some additional research midweek that found his pitching staff had the lowest walks-per-nine innings in all of affiliated professional baseball.

Updating Turco’s research through Sunday morning, the 67 walks GCL Cardinals pitchers have allowed in 301-1/3 innings is 2.00 per 9 innings. The next-best rate in the GCL is 2.72 by the Red Sox.

The best team rate in the National League is the Washington Nationals’ 2.36 and the American League’s best is 2.49 by the Minnesota Twins.

In the rest of the minor leagues, the next lowest rates are 2.08 by Princeton of the Appalachian League and 2.35 by Jacksonville of the Southern League.

Transactions & Injuries

The Cardinals top two 2014 draft picks, Luke Weaver and Andrew Morales, had a short walk to their new locker room after they were promoted Friday to High-A Palm Beach. Following the pattern the Cardinals first established with Michael Wacha in 2012 and repeated with Marco Gonzales last season, Weaver and Morales each pitched a about five or six innings over three or four appearances through the first half of the GCL season before moving to Palm Beach.

Highlights of the Week

In the first inning of their first game of the week, the Cardinals batted around, scoring four runs. Edmundo Sosa led off by getting hit with a pitch. Derek Gibson reached on an error and Michael Pritchard singled to load the bases. Malik Collymore, now third in the league in RBI, drove in the first run with a single to center. Jake Gronsky then doubled to drive home two more before Collymore scored the fourth run in an eventual 5-3 win on Julian Barzilli’s sacrifice fly.

Who’s Hot & Not

Magneuris Sierra was 5-for-8, including his second home run, to raise his league-leading average to .390 and was named the July Player of the Month by both the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation. … Michael Pritchard was 10-for-17, pushing his average to .349. … Malik Collymore was 9-for-16 with nine RBI, raising his season total to 27 in 32 games. … Frankie Rodriguez and Ricardo Bautista showed improvement this past week. Rodriguez was 4-for-8 and Bautista 4-for-9.

A Closer Look At

These capsules are based on interviews with GCL Cardinals manager Steve Turco.

Jake Gronsky: Even his caveman-like nickname – Gronk – makes the 22-year-old infielder sound like a throwback. Gronsky, a native of Danville, Pennsylvania, said he frequently made the 90-minute drive to see the Cardinals’ team in State College. He was an undrafted free agent out of Monmouth College in New Jersey who had a brief stint in independent ball with the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League. There, he hit .385 in seven games before the Cardinals bought out the contract of the 6-foot-0, 210-pound right-handed hitter.

Gronsky disdains batting gloves and wears his socks high, but the throwback image is more than cosmetic.

Gronsky is a hard-nosed ballplayer who said he tries to emulate the playing style of Pete Rose. He said the approach to the game he learned from his father is PHD – “perseverance, hard work, dedication.”

“He’s getting his opportunity and wants to impress,” Turco said. Gronsky has, in fact, impressed the Cardinals so far, going 8-for-24 with five extra-base hits and nine RBI while striking out only twice in his first 24 at-bats. “Gronsky is a smart player, a more heady player and he has a feel for the game,” Turco said.

Gronsky also has developed his own way of taping his bat to “give my palm something to hold onto and one for my index finger, to make it feel even in my hands” as he wraps his left pinkie around the knob.

Frankie Rodriguez: The 18-year-old native of Puerto Rico spent his first pro season last year with Johnson City, where he hit only .121. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound right-handed hitter has shown significant improvement lately, with seven hits in his last 15 at-bats to push his season average to .279.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Turco said. “I didn’t know what to expect.” Rodriguez raised some eyebrows around the division last month when he threw out eight of 10 runners trying to steal second base in a series against the Mets, a very aggressive running team that is second in the GCL in steals.

“The next time we played the Mets they were more reluctant to run on him,” Turco noted.

Tyler Dunnington: The 22-year-old native of Shelton, Washington, was the Cardinals’ 28th-round pick in June out of Colorado Mesa University. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander has been used exclusively in relief so far.

“Dunnington and Kevin Alexander have come to the forefront as guys I can use in the late innings,” Turco said. Dunnington’s fastball sits at 88 to 90 mph, but has good movement. He has a good slider, and a changeup that is a work in progress. “Everything with him is very quick,” Turco said. Early on he had trouble slowing things down in his mind and he was forcing his slider, but lately he has been exceptional.” Dunnington has not allowed a run in his last four appearances or issued a walk in his last five.

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