C.J. McElroy (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A Texas League affiliate in Springfield, MO.

The Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate continues its hold on first place as outfielder C.J. McElroy is heating up at the plate.

Completing the month of May on a superb note, sweeping South Division power Frisco Roughriders in three games, the Springfield Cardinals finished May with an improved 17-13 mark after a pedestrian 12-10 start to the season.

On their way to a 5-1 week most recently, the Cardinals pitching staff was more consistent, holding opponents to an average of 2.5 runs per game (15 runs in six games). In support of the pitching, the offense averaged 4.3 runs per game (26 runs) over the span of this week's report.

With an overall record of 29-23, the S-Cards remain North Division leaders, but the Tulsa Drillers (27-24) are white hot, having won nine of their last ten and are within 1.5 games of first-place with the first half of play nearing its completion.

This report covers the period from Thursday, May 26th through Wednesday, June 1st.

Thursday, May 26th, Springfield 9 vs. Midland 1

Mike Mayers and the Springfield offense rolled over Midland, 9-1 to avoid the series sweep.

Mayers stifled the RockHounds’ offense, limiting them to one earned run on four hits over 7 2/3 innings. At one point, the righty had a 17-batter hitless streak. He finished with a career-high 10 strikeouts and capped the performance by not issuing a walk. In the masterful outing, Mayers was on the attack from the get-go throwing 71 strikes over his 100 pitches and inducing 11 groundouts.

Pedro Echemendia took over with two outs in the eighth. He quickly retired the final batter before dealing a perfect ninth.

Harrison Bader, Luke Voit, and Carson Kelly paced the offense with homers. Bader sent a two-run towering drive to left field for his team-leading ninth shot while Voit had a solo blast and Kelly hit his third home run. Kelly collected three hits and three RBI, including the two-run home run on the night. Alex Mejia added two hits and two driven in.

Friday, May 27th, Springfield 1 vs. Frisco 0

Harrison Bader lifted Springfield over Frisco in the series opener with the winning homer in the eighth, accounting for the game's lone run. The Cardinals improved to 26-22, increasing their lead over Tulsa to 2.5 games.

Daniel Poncedeleon navigated through 7 2/3 shutout frames, holding the Roughriders offense to just five hits. Poncedeleon walked one and struck out six in a no-decision. Ronnie Shaban earned his second win with a 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief.

The Cardinals managed one other hit besides Bader's solo blast, Carson Kelly’s single. In his first game of three games with Springfield on big-league rehab assignment, Jhonny Peralta was hitless in two at-bats and walked. Peralta played shortstop for six innings.

Saturday, May 28th, Springfield 5 vs. Frisco 4

Springfield fell behind 3-0 early, but answered back after Frisco extended it to 4-0 in the eighth to notch the score up at 4-4. The Cards capped off the comeback with another score in the ninth for the 5-4 walk-off win.

The offense plated five runs on ten hits, with Collin Radack a perfect three-for-three with an RBI. Harrison Bader led off the four-run eighth with a solo home run, his team-leading 11th home run and third in as many games. Back to back singles by Luke Voit and Anthony Garcia led to a two-run RBI double by Paul DeJong.  Radack then singled to drive DeJong home.

In the ninth, a fielding error on an Anthony Garcia ball in play brought Breyvic Valera home for the walk off.

Trey Nielsen's outing was a mixed bag performance. He pitched seven innings, striking out eight, but gave up three runs in the first two innings on two home runs.  Nielsen also walked three.  

Joey Donofrio yielded an additional run in the eighth on a solo home run.  Chris Perry pitched the ninth, striking out two and earning his first win of the season.

Sunday, May 29th, Springfield 4 vs. Frisco 1

Springfield completed the sweep of Frisco behind Andrew Morales's quality seven innings of work on Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals improved to 28-22, maintaining a 2.5 game lead over Tulsa.

Morales retired the first 10 ten Roughriders, then served up a solo homer in the fourth before blanking them over the next three frames. The righty walked one and fanned six to earn his fourth win of the season. John Brebbia and Josh Lucas closed the door with Lucas notching his fifth save with a perfect ninth.

Offensively, the Cardinals’ four runs on seven hits were plenty run support to hold off Frisco. Luke Voit clobbered a two-run shot to left field to open a 2-0 lead. Paul DeJong laced an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth for his team-leading 30th RBI. Breyvic Valera provided the insurance with a sac fly in the seventh.

Monday, May 30th, league-wide off-day

Tuesday, May 31st, Springfield 0 at Midland 5

Springfield was held to just four hits in a 5-0 blanking by Midland to open the Texas road-trip.

Paul DeJong had two of those hits with a single and double out of the six-hole. Harrison Bader's five-game hit streak ended with a 0-2 at the plate. Bader left the game early after being hit in the hand/wrist area on an attempted bunt. He finished out the top of the sixth before departing for the night.

Starter Corey Baker didn't make it out of the first inning. The righty exited after retiring just one batter, allowing five runs (three earned) on four hits. The bullpen picked up the slack, tossing a combined 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Pedro Echemendia fanned four in 4 2/3 innings before Joey Donofrio notched four strikeouts in three innings.

Wednesday, June 1st, Springfield 6 at Midland 4

Springfield held off a late-surging Midland rally for a 6-4 victory, evening the series at one-all. The rubber game match on Thursday will be covered in next week's report.

Following a four-run burst in the fourth, the Cardinals added much-needed insurance with tallies in the seventh and eighth. The long ball provided the majority of the offense, taking advantage of the short right-field porch in Midland. Paul DeJong and Carson Kelly blasted homers, a two-run shot, and solo, respectively.

Harrison Bader and Anthony Garcia added RBI doubles while C.J McElroy had an RBI single.

Though not as dominant as last Friday, Daniel Poncedeleon gutted through five innings of one-run ball. Poncedeleon walked three and struck out four on his way to his third win of the season. The Springfield bullpen had a few hiccups, but John Brebbia preserved the lead in the ninth for his second save of 2016.

Who's Hot

http://www.scout.com/player/130147-c-j-mcelroy?s=321

C.J. McElroy - Hitting in the bottom part of the order, McElroy’s bat has come alive, especially over his past ten games at the plate. Since May 22nd, the switch-hitter has boosted his average 44 points from .214 to .258 capped by a recent 11-for-29 stretch (.379 average).

The burner surpassed Harrison Bader for the team-lead in stolen bases with two thefts on Wednesday night, giving him nine steals overall. To put it into perspective, McElroy currently sits in a three-way tie for eighth place among Texas League leaders in that category.

http://www.scout.com/player/161612-carson-kelly?s=321

Carson Kelly - Kelly is hitting .361 with two homers and 5 RBI over his past ten games. For the month of May, the former second round pick batted .333 with an impressive .846 on-base plus slugging for a catcher. More analysis on Kelly bellow.

http://www.scout.com/player/180084-daniel-poncedeleon?s=321

Daniel Poncedeleon - Even though he earned a no-decision on Friday, Poncedeleon spun arguably his best outing of the season to date. He allowed five hits in 7 2/3 shutout innings against a talented Frisco lineup. The righty capped his week by pulling out a solid start against a disciplined Midland offense.

http://www.scout.com/player/191409-andrew-morales?s=321

Andrew Morales - Since coughing up a season-high 11 hits on six earned runs May 19th, Morales has given up just two earned runs over his past 14 innings (two starts), lowering his earned run average from 4.06 to 3.39. He fanned 14 and walked just one during that stretch.

Who's Not

Breyvic Valera - Valera's development has simply stalled and hit a proverbial wall at the Double-A level. The super-utility player offers an empty package of tools as he's batting .179 (7-for-39) in his past ten games.

Corey Baker - Baker's season has been a tale of two months thus far, with a spotless April followed by a rocky month of May. He finished the month with a 6.84 earned run average in six starts. The righty's downfall was the home run ball and the big inning.

Springbirds batting order

Harrison Bader led off in half of the games this week as Dann Bilardello was searching for a spark and then inserted him at the three-hole. Bruce Caldwell moved up to the two-spot and hit there in all six games. In his only game before suffering a cut finger, rehabbing Jhonny Peralta slotted in the three-spot while Jonathan Rodriguez took the reins in the latter part of the week.

Luke Voit continued the clean-up duties. Anthony Garcia returned to Springfield, providing protection behind Voit with his experienced Double-A bat. Garcia's arrival forced Paul DeJong to move down to sixth in the order with Carson Kelly to follow.

At eight, Breyvic Valera and Collin Radack shared time with C.J. McElroy penciled in at the final spot.

Team Transactions

It was a busy week of roster shuffling as Springfield received three key parts from its 2015 squad demoted from Triple-A Memphis, plus a long-time side-winding reliever. There was also a retirement announced, and Mike Mayers earned his second promotion to Memphis in the last three weeks.

Currently, Springfield has reached its active roster limit. However, it is hard to envision them carrying three catchers for an extended stretch given two of the three are accustomed to playing regularly. Perhaps the plan is to get Michael Ohlman, who is still on the 40 man roster, acclimated to part-time duties in preparation of a big-league nod.

5/27: OF Anthony Garcia assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis

The signing of Michael McKenry pushed Anthony Garcia back down to Double-A on Friday. At the time, Springfield had an open roster spot, so a corresponding move was not necessary to accommodate Garcia, who repeated High-A Palm Beach in 2014 before moving up to Springfield last year.

More details on these moves here.

Garcia has a .294 average (5-for-17) in his first five games with Springfield.

5/27: SS Jhonny Peralta sent on rehab assignment to Springfield

St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta began the Springfield part of his rehab on Friday, but the next day it was put on hold after he cut his right thumb opening a box. Three stitches were required, putting the right-handed hitter out of action.

5/28: OF Nick Thompson retires

5/28: INF Alex Mejia assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

Nick Thompson called it a career after three professional seasons on Saturday night. The former 8th round selection out of William & Mary has long sought a career in the medical field.

Alex Mejia was shipped to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield for already the third time this season, joining a crowded middle infield that includes Dean Anna and Matt Williams.

More details on these moves here.

5/29: 1B Jonathan Rodriguez assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis

5/29: RHP Heath Wyatt assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis

On Sunday, Jonathan Rodriguez returned to Double-A Springfield with the promotion of Alex Mejia to reshape the offense at Memphis. In his first two games with Springfield, Rodriguez has gone hitless in eight at-bats.

With the activation of Justin Wright at Memphis, the Cardinals bumped sidearming reliever Heath Wyatt down to Springfield. Wyatt had a bumpy season-debut with the S-Cards, retiring one batter as he gave up a hit and walked two.

More details on these moves here.

5/31: C Michael Ohlman assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis

5/31: RHP Mike Mayers assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

Catcher Michael Ohlman returned to the Texas League, following former Memphis teammates, corner infielder Jonathan Rodriguez and outfielder Anthony Garcia as Memphis welcomed back outfielder Carlos Peguero. Ohlman has yet to make his season-debut with Springfield.

The move to replace injured Jeremy Hefner in Memphis’ rotation was the return of Mike Mayers from Springfield.

More details on these moves here.

The Cardinal Nation Prospect Watch

#12 Carson Kelly - A pro scout told me that Kelly is still learning as a catcher but has made strides and projects as a solid defender behind the plate. In the box, the scout wasn't excited about his hit tool but said he has raw power and expects to see him grow into real in-game power as he matures. As far as his power, the former third baseman slugged two homers this past week, one to left the center field and the other the opposite way.

In addition, Kelly leads all Texas League catchers with four dingers, edging Tulsa's backstop Kyle Farmer, who is four years older. The former has certainly put himself into All-Star conversation at the end of this month.

#13 Harrison Bader - Bader faded a bit last week at the plate. He started a five-game hitting streak from May 25th into this week with three homers in as many games. His streak was snapped on Tuesday night after being pulled from the contest early due to getting plucked in the hand/wrist area on an attempted bunt. It ended up being a move out of precaution as Bader was back in the Springfield lineup on Wednesday night.

In the same game, Bader went 1-for-5 with an RBI double and two punchouts. Also, the Cardinals are advocating Bader expand his game with use of the small ball, meaning bunts in games to better employ his wheels.

#16 Paul DeJong - The third baseman scuffled with a .197 average and .560 OPS in his first month of acclimating to Double-A. But, DeJong adjusted quickly and bounced back to the tune of a .270 average and .892 OPS in his second month. With an opposite-field homer Wednesday night, he has eight on the season and leads the Cardinals with 32 RBI.

#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon has performed well over his last two outings, showing a good feel for his slider and having quality life on his 87-91 mph fastball. While his control continues to waver at times, he made a slight delivery adjustment, utilizing an over the head windup in his most recent start rather than a semi-side windup, previously.  

#25 Anthony Garcia - The notoriously streaky hitter returns to Double-A after a slow trial through two months of the Pacific Coast League. Hopefully the familiar scenery will help ignite his bat. Nonetheless, Garcia’s presence lengthens a Springfield lineup full of punch.

#28 Trey Nielsen - On Saturday night, Nielsen notched a season-high with eight strikeouts in seven innings of three-run ball. The sinkerballer surrendered just seven earned runs over 40 innings pitched through the month of May. He had a 1.58 ERA with his first career complete game over that stretch. That is enough to put him in serious contention for the Pitcher of the Month honor.

Nielsen's stuff has improved from fringy in the eyes of scouts. He flashed average stuff in his recent outing.

#30 Mike Ohlman - Ohlman returns to Springfield after middling results over two months in the Pacific Coast League. One of his glaring issues was his inability to make consistent contact, but it is hard to see how he can get the necessary work with top prospect Carson Kelly taking up the regular playing time behind the dish. Ohlman also has first base experience, but there is already three other first base-only types splitting time at that position.

#37 Andrew Morales - As mentioned, Morales has given up just one earned run over his last 14 innings pitched. While the scouting industry didn't see a starter in his first go-around of Double-A last year, the Cardinals have maintained belief that he can hold up as a starting pitcher. After his start against Midland last Tuesday, I was told by an impressed observer he is not too far off from a major league rotation.

What's Next

The Cardinals have split the first two games against Midland to open the six-game Texas road-trip. They look to secure the series Thursday night at 7:00 PM CT with RHP Trey Nielsen slated to start.

Springfield will conclude the road trip around Texas with a three-game set against Frisco, starting Friday night and ending Sunday. After an off-day on Monday, the Cardinals open up a pivotal stretch of inner-division action with an eight-game homestand against the Travelers and Drillers next week.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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