School: Harvard-Westlake High School, Studio City, California
Selected 2015 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (2): During the community vote, Jack Flaherty overtook Marco Gonzales at #2 after getting voted #6 on last year’s list and seeing three graduations or trades ahead of him (Grichuk, Kaminsky and Piscotty).
Many of the comments on Flaherty were comparing his high ceiling to that of the high floor Gonzales. Forsch31 said that, according to some scouting reports he has read, Flaherty has a lot better stuff than just about every pitcher in our system, other than a certain likely top prospect. Jhp21 wrote that he watched Flaherty pitch this year and the first thing that sticks out to you is his presence on the mound. He also noted that Flaherty has good size, showed a lot of confidence, and was surprisingly calm for his age to boot. I posted that I liked how Flaherty was getting into the seventh inning on a few of his final stats in the season, which is always a good sign of future long-term progress. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (2): Of anyone in line to succeed Alex Reyes one day as the organization's top overall prospect -- Flaherty would be the guy. Despite a limited amount of oomph as a high-round draft pick currently, the former two-way player flashes four solid or better pitches. He showcases above-average command and present advanced control for a prep draftee only a year into exclusive pitching and a workhorse-like build (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) that leaves scouts dreaming of velocity spike and a chance at a front-line starters upside.
“He showed above-average command, deceptive velocity and movement on his pitches," Low-A Peoria Chiefs manager Joe Kruzel told Peoria Journal Star. "He had three pitches for quality strikes.”
Flaherty, 20, a third baseman for Harvard-Westlake, California High School, had a verbal commit to play the hot corner and pitch at the University of North Carolina. The Cardinals swayed Flaherty with their fifth-highest signing bonus ($2-million) in franchise history and assigned him to Gulf Coast League affiliate. The right-hander was carefully eased into action but struck out 28 batters in 22 innings in his draft year.
To start his first full season not only as a professional but full-time pitcher, Flaherty's progression was delayed two months by 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 Peoria in 2015, with 12 of those starts going for more than five innings with two earned runs or less allowed.
“I felt like it was a huge learning process from my first full time just dedicated to pitching," said Flaherty of his 2015. "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.”
Flaherty relies more on polish than pure stuff with an outstanding strike-throwing ability and feel for the craft of pitching. What separated him from the Midwest League circuit was an ability to attack all four quadrants of the strike zone with a decent low 90s fastball, particularly down in the zone. By manipulating the movement of this pitch -- sinking it, running it or cutting it on hitters, Flaherty felt with fastball command helped his stuff play up even further.
“I felt that my fastball command got better as the season went on; I was able to pitch off that a lot better," said Flaherty. "With that, my secondary stuff just got better.
"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.”
Flaherty's best secondary offering is a changeup that was said to grade out as a double-plus pitch as an amateur but has tailed off as an above-average pitch in his first season against professional hitters. His weakest pitch is a "slurvy" breaking ball that he mentioned as a slider, which means that pitch will need tightening up.
It is not unusual for pitchers to see a sudden velocity tick, but if Flaherty’s velocity improves with the limited amount of miles on his arm, there is front-of-the-rotation upside. If not, he's polished enough and has the assortment of pitches and command to fall back as a durable back-end starter, who can log innings.
Without an invite to Instructs this fall, Flaherty said he has taken advantage of the time given to him to spend time with family. His goals remain simple and concise for spring training.
“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," he concluded.
I anticipate he will thrive in the pitcher haven Florida State League in 2016. Should he net successful results, I think he would then be in consideration as a top 100 overall prospect in baseball, if not already.
Brian Walton (2): Among our three voters here, there is consensus that Flaherty is the second-ranked pitcher and as well as player in the Cardinals system. I don’t want to take away from that very significant accomplishment, but I also need to be clear about what I see is a gap in the rankings.
Specifically, in my personal vote, there is a considerable gulf between number one and two through five. In my eyes, Flaherty and the three who follow him – Marco Gonzales, Luke Weaver and Tim Cooney – come from a similar mold. They are more command and control guys without high-octane velocity, strikeout arms.
Though I ranked the four in the order listed just above and the same way the overall rankings worked out, I would not argue vehemently with others who see them differently. In fact, as I mentioned in the Gonzales write up, Marco would be my number two if fully healthy and effective. When all is taken into account, Flaherty ranks above them now because he has a more projectable body and arm than the other three. Of course, he is also the furthest away from St. Louis.
Expectations for Flaherty remain high. One scout who saw the right-hander in the Midwest League feels that Flaherty did not improve as much over the course of the summer as he had expected. The now 20-year-old spent the entire season with Class-A Peoria, though it should be noted that his “entire 2015” was actually closer to a short-season one in duration.
Over promising rotation mates including Austin Gomber, Luis Perdomo and Daniel Poncedeleon, Flaherty was given the honor of being Peoria’s opening day starter. However, he lasted just three innings before exiting with an injury. What followed was some unnecessary intrigue about the nature of his problem.
Though the period that Flaherty was initially expected to be out was just two starts, the Cardinals shipped him back to Florida. Instead of a quick return, his time away dragged out almost two months before Flaherty finally made his second Chiefs start on the final day of May.
Once back into action, Flaherty was durable over the final three months, including going at least six innings in eight of his final 10 starts. He was also quite efficient in his outings, never reaching 100 pitches in any of his games in which pitch counts were logged. Yet it was Gomber who received all the accolades among the members of the Chiefs’ rotation and Poncedeleon and Perdomo were promoted to Palm Beach.
The scout I quoted earlier went on to explain that one reason behind his muted evaluation is that he sees Flaherty’s breaking ball as “not very good.” His projected ceiling for Flaherty is “three or four starter at best.” Of course, this is just one man’s opinion.
I think Flaherty has more upside, though he clearly remains a work in progress. His expected 2016 opening assignment at Palm Beach should be an ideal environment for him to ramp up his game further - as it proved to be for Weaver this past season.
Flaherty’s moderate 2015 workload of just 95 innings coupled with no fall ball suggest that he should be rested and ready to roll out of the gates. Especially with Reyes on suspension early, 2016 is lined up to be Flaherty’s breakout year among Cardinals prospects.
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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