School: Polk State College
Selected 2015 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (33): During the community vote, Matt Pearce finished as the 33rd highest rated player. Pearce leapt into the voting in the mid 20’s as BobReed, Wileycard, and desmetlax12 were impressed with him early.
BobReed was most intrigued by Pearce breaking the Midwest League record for consecutive innings pitched without issuing a walk. Meanwhile, desmetlax12 liked the fact that Pearce led Peoria with 144 total innings and was able to post a better ERA than all the starters at Palm Beach. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (NR): Pearce drew attention from prospect enthusiasts by setting the Midwest League record for consecutive innings without a walk (46 2/3 innings) and was also the league's ERA champion (2.43) as his spectacular strike-throwing ability was too much for Midwest League level hitters.
Said to pound the strike zone with a fastball in the high 80s mixed with a changeup, curveball, and the newest pitch to his arsenal - a slider – which the Cardinals are working with him to develop further. The changeup is his best pitch, a late-moving one, while his curveball lacked the consistency to be an effective pitch for him this past season.
"A good slider will make my stuff that much better,” Pearce told Naples Daily News in early August. “It will allow me to pitch deeper into games and get those strikeouts when I need them.”
Peoria Chiefs skipper Joe Kruzel recently gave me an impression of Pearce’s overall stuff.
"I saw a guy with really good command and control," said Kruzel. "He was able to spot his fastball to both sides of the plate. For the most part, he kept the ball down in the zone and induced a lot of ground balls.
"I think his changeup was a good pitch for him, an effective pitch and then I think as time went on his breaking ball got better as the season went on. For a kid of his age, he had a three-pitch mix that he could throw at any time for strikes. I think that helped him keep hitters off balance."
A 6-foot-3 205-pound frame suggests Pearce has room to bulk up for increased stamina with additional experience under a professional workout program and to perhaps gain a tick or two on a non-blistering fastball. In hindsight, a major question I have with Pearce is that despite having impeccable control, does he have enough command to conquer deficiencies in stuff?
"He will answer that for us as he goes from level to level," said Kruzel. "It'd be tough for you to say 'yay or nay.' but when goes out there and gets hit he makes adjustments, and I am sure he will have success at that level he will be at."
"You are hoping he's going to be able to make those adjustments, and he show that he was able to make those adjustments this year."
After an impressive first full season with 144 2/3 innings to build upon from 2015, Pearce's next assignment will be based on what impression he leaves in his tune-ups this spring to determine his initial placement for 2016. I expect a conservative approach and to see him open with Palm Beach with a promotion to Springfield looming, barring injury or ineffectiveness.
Brian Walton (41): As noted by the others, Pearce was a durable standout right-handed co-leader of the Peoria rotation with lefty Austin Gomber. Interestingly, the two, both drafted in 2014, were kept in the Midwest League for the entire schedule, even as early season rotation mates such as Will Anderson, Daniel Poncedeleon and Luis Perdomo were moved up to Palm Beach.
That consistency in assignment showed in Pearce's results.
When I asked Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator Tim Leveque this fall which pitchers across the system stood out this season, Pearce was one of three names he mentioned.
“He (Pearce) was a guy that just threw a lot of strikes,” Leveque said. “He was one of guys that start in and start out, especially as the season went on. At one point, he had a 52-inning streak where he did not walk a hitter. He was able to pound the strike zone down in the zone and pitch to his strength and have confidence that his pitch is in the zone. As the season went on, he got better, which is always a positive thing.
“At any level, when you go that many innings without walking a hitter, that says something. It was really impressive to see that,” Leveque said.
Looking at Pearce’s stat line, a few things stand out as potentially concerning, however. First of all, his strikeout rate was under six per nine innings, a very low mark. That underwhelming number was down by about a strikeout per nine from his rookie year in 2014.
Pearce’s low ERA has been noted. In addition to being the lowest in the MWL, it was third-best in the Cardinals system. Yet his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) mark was 8/10 of a run higher at 3.24. Still respectable, but up from Gomber’s 3.06 FIP, for example.
Finally, Pearce’s ground out to air out ratio (G/AO in the table above) was 0.77 to 1. Despite all the talk about him keeping the ball down, this indicates he is one of the more fly-ball prone pitchers in the system. Given Pearce lacks knockout stuff, it signals potential caution instead.
On the other hand, with the bigger ballparks of the A-Advanced Florida State League immediately ahead, continued near-term success is quite possible. The next step, the Double-A Texas League, could be a lot more challenging, though.
Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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