Drafted as a two-way prep player from at Harvard Westlake in University City, California, as the 34th overall selection by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2014 draft, was pitching prospect Jack Flaherty. The compensation pick for the loss of free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran signed for a robust $2 million dollar signing bonus shortly after being taken.
Flaherty was initially assigned to the Cardinals Gulf Coast League rookie level affiliate to get his professional career underway. The right-hander was eased into action, but struck out 28 batters in his first 22 innings.
Last fall, The Cardinal Nation ranked Flaherty as the sixth-best overall prospect in the Cardinals organization in primarily a potential-based view. In MLB.com’s recent release of their Cardinals top 30 prospects, after a promising first full season, Flaherty comes in as the organization’s second overall prospect behind Alex Reyes.
Flaherty opened the year with a challenging assignment as a 19-year old pitching in the Midwest League for Peoria. He was removed from his opening day start and sat out for a period of nearly two months due to a “dead arm,”, a move that he called “precautionary.”
After building arm strength back at the Cardinals complex in Florida, Flaherty returned to start 17 games for the Chiefs in 2015, with 12 of those starts going for more than five innings with two earned runs or less allowed.
Of his most notable outings was on August 6, in which he opposed his former USA teammate Justus Sheffield, also a former high round pick and highly thought of pitching prospect in the Cleveland Indians system. Flaherty fanned a career-high 12 over six strong innings in that start, outdueling Sheffield.
Flashing four solid or better pitches, Flaherty offers improved command to go with athleticism and a frame that implies there is plenty of velocity left in the tank as he progresses.
The following interview details Flaherty’s 2015 season.
Derek Shore: How would you describe this season - not only your first full season as a professional but also as a pitcher exclusively?
Jack Flaherty: “I felt like it was definitely a huge learning process from my first full time just dedicated towards pitching. It was a learning process of a lot of things that went on that I felt like I made a lot of strides in that direction. I was able to figure some things out whether it was reading hitters, fixing mechanics, and just developing pitches.”
DS: You made your regular season debut in early April for Peoria, then you were slowed until the end of May by what was reported as a dead arm. What was the reason behind that injury, typically an end of season injury for a pitcher?
JF: “It was precautionary, I felt during that start things didn’t feel right, and I had to feel healthy in order to come back. That part just slowed down the first part of my season; it was just a very minor setback.”
DS: What particular improvements did you feel with your mix of four pitches - fastball, curveball, changeup and slider - over the course of the season?
JF: “I felt that my fastball command got better as the season went on; I was able to pitch off that a lot better. With that, my secondary stuff just got better.”
DS: You were around the high 80s to low 90s mark last spring. Were you able to tick above that at any point this year?
JF: “Yeah, I was pretty much right around there. I was more working the low 90s as the season went on and I felt that I got stronger. I worked around a few things with my mechanics and I was able to be successful commanding my fastball a little bit better.”
DS: Your numbers got stronger and stronger as the season went on, in addition to the strikeouts. On what was this improvement based?
JF: “Getting ahead in counts. I got ahead and once I got ahead, I was very focused on pitching in a certain way. I didn’t always pitch well early, but once I was able to pitch ahead I got more early contact outs. When I got ahead, threw strikes - it was just, ‘get the guy out.’ When I was able to locate my fastball then my slider got better as the season went on and that helped out my strength.”
DS: What was your take the second time around the Midwest League? Obviously, your performance didn’t fall off despite one clunker there at the end.
JF: “I thought the whole season went well. I felt strong and there was one outing I wasn’t very happy about. I feel like that outing helped grow for the future and be able to work from that. I was able to bounce back from that which was a big thing, but it was good, it was fun and I felt stronger as the season wore on.”
DS: Arguably your best outing was a 12-strikeout performance over six innings against your former USA teammate Justus Sheffield. How was that like?
JF: “That was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to go out there and pitch against Justus. He pitched a really good ballgame. I pitched well, and it was just one of those games where strikeouts were a common. I had an outpitch going there and things just went well through the game.”
DS: Without an invite to Cardinals instructional league, what have you done this offseason so far?
JF: “Spending time with family.”
DS: Do you have any goals set for this off-season, as far as conditioning or tinkering with a complimentary pitch?
JF: “I would just say improving my pitches and go to spring training in the best shape I can be in for the season. Hopefully no setbacks again going into next year.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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