Hello, all. If you haven’t heard or read yet, I will be covering the Memphis Redbirds this year for The Cardinal Nation. And if you had already heard or read that, hello again.
Last Friday night, the Redbirds and the St. Louis Cardinals met up in the newly-renovated AutoZone Park for an exhibition game, and seeing that it was my first exposure to a few players, I abstained from studying The Cardinal Nation’s ranking of top prospects until after the game because I did not want to be biased by on a number that was already assigned. I pride myself on my own evaluations, and with that, here are a few impressions, observations, and evaluations from watching the Cardinals hammer the Redbirds, 8-1.
First things first, the work that has been put into AutoZone Park is pretty remarkable. There are now shallow bluff areas in right and left field, and there are more extravagant food options as well. From my walk around the various areas of the stadium, I saw the average Redbirds fan being able to enjoy a craft beer while eating a Belgian waffle. There is an LED board hugging the left field wall, and it certainly pops out at you; it is bright, vibrant, and easily pulls the fan’s eye away from the video board in right center field. The Cardinals taking ownership of the stadium is definitely paying off already.
- Yadier Molina looks slimmed down. Not sure how that will translate to his power yet, but he seemed more nimble and quick behind the plate while in gear. Also, Yadi received the loudest applause of anyone at The Battle of the Birds.
- I was not all that impressed with Tim Cooney. The lefty has a firm grasp of the mound and likes to mix in his off-speed pitches with his fastball, but he had major control issues Friday night. A lot of his pitches were hanging over the plate, and Matt Holliday took advantage of one such pitch for a two-run homer in the first inning. At one point, out of 11 outs, eight were flyouts in the outfield. Just a personal preference, but if a pitcher isn’t hitting 94 or higher on the gun consistently, I’d like to see him be a groundball pitcher. Overall, it was just an average outing from Cooney, though I understand he was throwing against the very best.
- Marco Gonzales is big-time. I was sitting next to scouts from a rival National League club, and they were infatuated with Gonzales. One of them compared him to Tom Glavine, stating that “he just knows how to pitch,” and that was evident Friday night. Gonzales was adeptly mixing off-speed with his four-seam, and he had tremendous control of his pitches. One thing that stood out to me was his knack for throwing off-speed when he was in trouble. Most pitchers try to overpower the batter in that circumstance, but he showed his belief in his second and third pitches. Marco also singled in a run to pad his lead even more off Zach Petrick. The left-hander definitely deserves the #1 ranking among Cardinals prospects, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him called up by the trade deadline.
- I didn’t get to see much of Petrick due to him throwing just a little more than an inning, but he did complete a very nice double play after a line drive was smacked right at him.
- Anthony Garcia had his issues in right field with tracking the ball in the air. He seemed to lose sight of one pop fly, while another went over his head after he took a few missteps. Granted, the grass was still wet after some light showers earlier in the day. You’re too young to be pulling a Manny Ramirez, Anthony. (Editor’s note: Garcia was a lower-level minor leaguer promoted to Memphis just for this game. He should make his Double-A debut this week.)
- Xavier Scruggs shows some good instincts at first base. He has nice length and really stretches out when trying to snare a groundball or block off the base. Scruggs had one of the few hits for the ‘Birds Friday night when he singled off Marco Gonzales. Later in the game, he hit a ball just about as far as you could hit it to left-center field without it being a home run. The right-handed hitter definitely has some pop in his bat.
- Sam Tuivailala, the power-throwing Polynesian, has some juice in his right arm. He was regularly topping out at 99 on the gun. He has good size for a pitcher, and in the future, I foresee him as a good eighth inning option. The 22-year-old could be an effective closer in the vein of Armando Benitez if he can gain a little more control on his stuff and stay on top of his fastball and not let it ride. Tui’s second pitch, his changeup, has almost the exact same trajectory and arm slot as his fastball, and they both look similar leaving his hand. He had a couple Cardinals batters look Benny Hill-silly after he buttered them up with a few fastballs only to then throw his changeup.
- Mitch Harris is also one to watch. Another flamethrower for the Redbirds coming out of the pen, the right-hander was nailing 97 on the gun consistently and got as high as 99 in the ninth inning. There is no beating around the bush with the military vet; he is coming at you with fastballs and fastballs only. An imposing presence on the mound, Harris struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth.
So there you have it. It is tough to make too many meaningful observations during an exhibition, and it is further complicated when one pitcher is dominating the opposing side and players are being subbed in and out faster than dancing partners at senior year prom.
This much is self-evident: The Cardinals continue to have one of the better farm systems in MLB and based on what I saw last Friday night, the Redbirds should not only defend their division title but contend for the Pacific Coast League crown in 2015.
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