Ah, the roller-coaster ride of Rookie ball can be gut-wrenching, even if the stakes are nowhere close to those in Major League Baseball.
The Gulf Coast League Cardinals (7-8) finished the week tied with the Astros for third place, 1-1/2 games behind the Nationals and Mets. After ending the prior week by scoring only one run in a doubleheader loss to the Astros, the Cardinals struggled to hit and score runs this past week as well, though they still went 3-3.
Still, every time in the early going that it looks like the Cardinals will put together a winning streak, they stumble.
The latest stumble was Sunday.
The Cardinals had won two in a row. First, they beat the Astros in Kissimmee on Friday with a walk-fueled five-run rally in the 10th inning that broke a 2-all tie. On Saturday, they defeated the Marlins 2-1 on home runs by infielders Brady Whalen and Starlin Balbuena. So, in the space of one turn through the lineup from the fifth to seventh innings, the Cardinals hit more home runs (two) than they had in the first 13 games (one).
Then Sunday, against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead, with catcher Irving Wilson’s two-run double keying the rally, but the Mets came back to tie the game. The Cardinals then added two runs in the fourth inning on productive outs by Delvin Perez and Dylan Carlson, but the Mets tied it with two runs in the fifth and went ahead 6-5 with a run in the sixth.
In the top of the eighth, though, Hunter Newman’s double ignited a three-run rally that featured RBI singles by Whalen and Perez and was capped by Andy Young’s bases-loaded hit by pitch. And in the ninth, they tacked on another run when Luis Flores singled to drive home Stefan Trosclair, who had doubled with two outs, to give the Cardinals a 9-6 lead.
To protect the lead, manager Steve Turco gave the ball to Robert Calvano, the Cardinals’ 38th-round pick out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It was Calvano’s fourth pro appearance, the first against any team other than the Nationals and the first time he had pitched when the Cardinals were leading, let alone a save opportunity.
Calvano hit the first batter with a pitch, then gave up a line single to center. He gathered himself to get a strike out, but then the bases became loaded when Perez bobbled a grounder for his fifth error of the season. Calvano then got another strikeout, but then he gave up a walk-off grand slam. All the runs were unearned, but a blown save and a loss for Calvano’s first decision must have stung.
The four unearned runs brought to 16 the total for the Cardinals so far this season, the most among the five teams in the East Division. The pitching staff has given up a league-high 135 hits and is second in the 17-team GCL in walks allowed with 63, though that is 10 less than the Astros. In fact, of the top seven teams in walks allowed, four are in the East Division. Unlike higher levels, umpiring crews in the GCL rotate to other divisions every two weeks, so it’s possible that the two crews who have worked in the division the first two weeks have tighter strike zones than the umpires who have been assigned to the other divisions. Two new crews come over to the East Division starting Monday -- not including Jennifer Pawol, the GCL umpire who is the only female currently umpiring in affiliated pro baseball -- so we’ll keep an eye on walks rates to see whether the umpires were a factor.
Lee On the Mend
Right-hander Thomas Lee, who was 1-3 in six starts for Memphis before going on the disabled list on May 12, has pitched three innings over two rehab appearances, allowing only an unearned run and three hits.
Chomping at The Bit
Right-hander Zac Gallen, one of the three early-round college pitchers who are being brought along slowly under the Cardinals’ “Wacha Plan,” said he is eager to pitch in a game after throwing 35 to 40 pitches in a bullpen session Saturday. The third-round pick from the University of North Carolina said it has been nearly six weeks since he has faced hitters in competition, so “chomping at the bit is exactly what it is.” Though he is from Gibbsboro, New Jersey, about a half-hour outside Philadelphia, Gallen said he was a fan of the Cardinals growing up, not the Phillies. Gallen, who will turn 21 next month, said he was a fan of Mark McGwire, and the Cardinals of that era (and most eras) were a better team than the Phillies.
‘I Learned the Truth at 17’
Here are capsulized reports from manager Steve Turco on three of his youngest charges this season:
Delvin Perez: The first-round pick (23rd overall) out of the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico is the youngest member of the team. The shortstop, who won’t turn 18 until November, started hitting from the first game. Tied for the GCL lead in hits with 20, Perez has hit in 11 of his 14 games and already has five multiple-hit games, including a five-hit game Friday. He has also stolen seven bases in eight attempts.
Perez “has not been disappointing with his defensive performance and offensively he has exceeded my expectations,” Turco said. “He has lots of energy, but sometimes his energy and enthusiasm has to be channeled in a constructive way.” The 6-foot-3, 165-pound Perez has high expectations for himself, and sometimes exhibits frustration when his performance does not match his expectations.
Turco said Perez is very strong in his hands and wrists, “which generates his bat speed.” Coaches are working to get him to move toward every ball that is hit, even those not hit toward him, as a way to extend his range. Of his six errors, four have been on throws. “When he misses, he misses low,” which at least gives the first baseman a chance to make a play, Turco said. Perhaps the best quality Perez possesses as a ballplayer, Turco said, is that “he loves to be in the moment of a crucial situation and he becomes more focused and confident, he will succeed.”
Dylan Carlson: The Cardinals’ second pick (33rd overall) is 32 days younger than Perez, and the Elk Grove, California, native is different from his teammate is almost every way. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound center fielder has not had the same success at the plate this far that Perez has had, but “you can never tell from his body language whether he is hitting .300 or .200,” Turco said. “He’s a constant pro at his age with demeanor and focus. He is very mature emotionally and mentally, and is single-minded to be as good as he can be.”
While Carlson has not yet had much success at the plate (8-for 51, .157, with one double and two RBI), he is making fairly consistent contact, but not consistently hard contact. Turco noted that it often takes switch-hitters longer to develop, “but I think he’s going to hit for some power down the road.”
Carlson had little, if any, experience in center field before the Cardinals decided to try him there, and so far Turco is pleased with the results – errorless play in 14 games. So far, Carlson’s style of play in center field is reminiscent of Jim Edmonds – not the greatest speed, but always under control with good route efficiency and strong, accurate throws. “I wasn’t sure he was going to be a center fielder or a corner outfielder, but he’s actually done a nice job,” Turco said. “Whether he will stay there, I don’t know, but what I see I like.”
Brady Whalen: The 12th-round pick out of Union High in Vancouver, Washington, Whalen turned 18 in January and had committed to play for the University of Oregon before signing with the Cardinals. Also a switch-hitter, Whalen is 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds with a load of raw talent who has good bloodlines. His father, Shawn, played four seasons in the San Diego Padres organization and his mother, Lisa, played college basketball and volleyball. Whalen’s older brother, Caleb, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 42nd round in 2011, but elected to play at the University of Portland. The Brewers didn’t give up, though. They drafted Caleb again this year, in the 38th round this time, and he signed.
Turco said that when he watched Brady Whalen in batting practice before the season started, “you knew there was going to be an adjustment time for him. We thought he needed to add strength to play at this level.” After going hitless in seven at-bats in his first three games, Whalen is 6-for-13 in his last four, so his totals for seven games are 6-for-20 with three walks, four strikeouts and four RBI. Turco said he has been pleasantly surprised by Whalen’s hitting ability, especially a towering home run that broke the ice in Saturday’s game. “He’s getting the barrel on the ball, “Turco said. “I didn’t know he had the strength, but he’s making the adjustment very quickly for a high school kid.” On defense, he has played second, short and third adequately, making two errors so far.
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