Oscar Mercado (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Florida State League affiliate in Jupiter for the period of August 3-9.

Palm Beach had its first winning week since June as new center fielder and leadoff man Oscar Mercado is sparking the offense.

The Palm Beach Cardinals won four and lost just two, for their first winning week since June. The pitching allowed just 20 runs, while the offense scored 26.

Despite that, they gained no ground in the South Division standings, sitting 10 ½ games out of first and in last place with a 15-29 record.

This report covers the period of Wednesday, August 3 through Tuesday, August 9.

Wednesday, August 3: Palm Beach 6 at Charlotte Stone Crabs 1

Recently returned from Springfield, Johnny Walter went seven scoreless innings, striking out five and walking one. Junior Fernandez pitched one inning, giving up a run on two hits and a walk and struck out one. Kyle Grana tossed a scoreless ninth.

Center fielder Oscar Mercado doubled, drew two walks and dropped down a sacrifice bunt. Dylan Tice went 2-for-3 with a walk. Andrew Sohn singled, doubled and drove in three while leadoff man Vaughn Bryan reached base three times in five tries with two singles and a walk.

Thursday, August 4: Charlotte 2, Palm Beach 1

The Cardinals’ modest win streak ended at two with a narrow road loss in which the starting pitching was good, but the relief work and hitting again fell short.

Protecting a 1-0 lead in the seventh, Robbie Rowland came on with two of starter Matt Pearce’s runners on base and after a walk to jam the sacks, allowed the tying run on an infield out for the blown save. In the eighth, Rowland walked the leadoff man, who stole second and came home on a fielders’ choice, followed by a throwing error by Andrew Sohn. Rowland took the loss as well, his first with Palm Beach.

In what turned out to be his final Beach Birds start, Pearce was charged with one run in 6 1/3 innings on eight hits, no walks and four strikeouts.

Palm Beach scored its lone run in the second inning on an RBI single by Dylan Tice, plating Oscar Mercado. The center fielder had half of his team’s hits with a single and double. Mercado also stole a base, his 28th.

Friday, August 5: Palm Beach 5, Jupiter Hammerheads 2

Starter Ian McKinney pitched five innings, giving up two runs, one earned, on five hits. Cody Schumacher added three scoreless innings, followed by a scoreless ninth from Landon Beck, who earned his fifth save.

Run support for McKinney came from the outfield, starting with a 3-for-4 performance from right fielder Thomas Spitz, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning. Left fielder Vaughn Bryan was 2-for-4 with two RBI. Center fielder Oscar Mercado was 2-for-3 with a double and run scored. Also plating runs were Dylan Tice and Steve Bean.

Saturday, August 6: Palm Beach vs. Jupiter

The game was postponed due to rain and will be played as part of a doubleheader on Thursday, August 11, beginning at 4:00 p.m. CT.

Sunday, August 7: Palm Beach 4 at Jupiter 3 (11 innings)  

Cole Lankford’s two-out RBI single was the difference maker as Palm Beach slipped past Jupiter, 4-3, in 11 innings.

Lankford’s single, his second of the day in six at bats, brought across Andrew Sohn after the latter worked a base-on-balls to open the 11th. Casey Grayson and Oscar Mercado joined Lankford with two hits each in five at bats, Grayson adding a walk and run scored. 

Starter Sandy Alcantara bounced back from a shaky Florida State League debut, holding Jupiter to one run on three hits and three free passes over six innings. Alcantara struck out six.

Alcantara left in line for his first A-Advanced win, but Jupiter scores in the eighth and ninth sent the game into extras. In his Palm Beach debut, Dakota Hudson struck out the side in the seventh but Blake McKnight was charged with a run on two hits the next inning. Robby Rowland permitted a run on four hits in two innings, taking the blown save-win combination, before Kyle Grana worked around a hit and walk for his fourth save.

Monday, August 8: Bradenton Marauders 5, Palm Beach 4 (11 innings)

In their second straight 11-inning contest, this time the Cards came up short. Starter Jack Flaherty went six innings, giving up three runs while striking out five and walking three. His season ERA is now 4.08. Michael Heesch followed with two innings of one-run ball. Landon Beck took the loss after pitching 2 2/3 innings, giving up the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.

Casey Grayson went 3-for-5, and Dylan Tice doubled twice. Center fielder Oscar Mercado also doubled. Thomas Spitz and Orlando Olivera contributed with solo home runs, but it was not enough.

Tuesday, August 9: Palm Beach 8 at Bradenton 7

The Cardinals pushed across two in the eighth to snap a 6-6 tie on the way to an 8-7 win at Bradenton. Juan Herrera’s ground rule double tied it and the lead run scored on an error.

Herrera and Thomas Spitz accounted for six of their team’s eight runs. The shortstop went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored, two knocked in and his first stolen base since rejoining Palm Beach.  Spitz went 3-for-5 with a double, crossed home twice and swiped a bag.  Oscar Mercado, the final Beach Bird with more than one of the squad’s 13 hits, singled and doubled in five at bats with two runs scored and his 29th stolen base of the season.

Reliever Cody Schumacher was the pitcher of record in the eighth and picked up his second win. Schumacher fanned five through three frames, giving up a hit and walk. Kyle Grana served up a home run ball in the ninth, but held on for his fifth save.

Starter Junior Fernandez’ struggles continue as the 19-year-old retired just two batters, surrendering five tallies on three hits and three walks. Blake McKnight limited the Marauders to a run on three hits and a free pass over 4 1/3, to give the offense time to catch up.

Who’s Hot

http://www.scout.com/player/177876-oscar-mercado?s=321

Oscar Mercado. The shortstop-turned-center fielder has taken over the leadoff spot and is performing very well. Mercado went 10-for-22 including five doubles, drew four walks, stole three bases and scored six runs. A .538 on-base mark will stand out anywhere.

Dylan Tice. The infielder had five singles and two doubles in 16 at-bats for a .438 mark. Tice plated five and scored four runs.

http://www.scout.com/player/200706-thomas-spitz?s=321

Thomas Spitz. The outfielder went 8-for-22, including two doubles and two home runs, for a .364 average this past week. Spitz plated three and crossed home plate five times.

Cody Schumacher. The reliever did not allow a run in six innings on two hits and two walks to go with seven strikeouts.

http://www.scout.com/player/209563-johnny-walter?s=321

Johnny Walter. As noted above, the right-hander yielded just an unearned run over seven innings on two hits and three walks in his lone start last week.

Who’s Not

Michael Pritchard. The outfielder moves from hot to cold based on a 3-for-21 week (.143), though he did draw three walks for a .250 OBP.

Orlando Olivera. With his continued struggles, the outfielder is playing less. Last week, Olivera went 2-for-14 (.143), though one of his hits was a solo home run.

Steve Bean. The catcher is a regular here, this time based on a 3-for-20 week (.150). Bean plated three over the six games.

Andrew Sohn. The infielder had three singles and a double in 21 at-bats, for a .190 average. Like Bean, Sohn had three RBI and drew four free passes for a .320 on-base mark.

Cole Lankford. Usually a dependable middle of the lineup batter, Lankford had a rough week with just four singles, no walks and one RBI in 20 at-bats (.200).

Junior Fernandez. The top prospect’s struggles with Palm Beach continue after he allowed six runs in 1 2/3 innings for a 32.40 ERA for the week and 11.78 ERA over his first six outings in the Florida State League.

Robby Rowland. The former Springfield hurler is still working his way back into shape, taking two blown saves and a loss while allowing two runs in three innings.

FSL Season Leaders

Matt Pearce finished his Palm Beach stint fifth in the league in ERA (2.37) and is tied for eighth with four other pitchers with eight wins. His 136 2/3 innings pitched leads both the FSL and the entire Cardinals minor league system.

Jack Flaherty is tied for fourth in Ks with 100, right behind since promoted Austin Gomber with 101.

Jacob Evans’ total of 12 home runs allowed is tied with two others for fifth-most in the circuit.

Ian McKinney has served up 10 bombs, tied with six others for the eighth-highest total.

With his on-base mark at .379 on the season, Casey Grayson is sixth in the league. (At .249, Grayson’s batting average remains the highest among qualifying Cardinals at 38th among the leaders in the FSL.)

Darren Seferina’s five triples put him in a tie with eight others for seventh-most in the circuit.

Despite not playing for almost a month, Seferina still leads the league with 32 steals and has a stellar success rate of 84.2 percent.

Oscar Mercado is tied for second in the FSL with 29 steals but has been caught 18 times for a 61.7 percent success rate. Mercado went 3-for-3 this past week.

Team Stats

The offense improved slightly across the board as did the team ERA, getting the Cards out of the league cellar in all pitching and hitting stats tracked - for the first time in weeks. As team, Palm Beach was 8-for-10 in stolen base attempts.

Offense Season/rank of 12 Last week/rank 
BA .230 / 11th .228 / last
OBP .314 / 8th .312 / 8th
SLG .305 / 11th .301 / last
OPS .619 / 11th .613 / 11th
Runs/game 3.4 / 11th 3.4 / 11th
Walks 432 / 1st 407 / 1st
Steals 124 of 178 / 2nd 116 of 168 / 2nd
     
Pitching Season/rank of 12 Last week/rank 
ERA 3.57 / 7th 3.60 / 9th
Strikeouts 781 / 11th 736 / 11th
Walks 314 / 3rd fewest 289 / 2nd fewest

Transactions

Drip, drip, drip. Another week, another set of roster moves affecting the Cardinals, occurring like the actions of a leaky faucet. I have not done the actual research, but 2016 seems the busiest season I can recall in terms of player movement across the board in the entire system. Because of its strategic location, Palm Beach is usually in the center of the action.

In the big moves this past week, the club lost its second top starter in two weeks, adding a Midwest League first-half all-star who has slumped in the second half. The Beach Birds welcomed St. Louis’ top college pitcher drafted in June, but apparently in a relief role. Finally, Palm Beach lost its new shortstop, and received its 2015 one back.

8/3: Shortstop Edmundo Sosa to seven-day disabled list

8/5: Shortstop Juan Herrera from Springfield to Palm Beach

Sosa, a Midwest League All-Star, only played in nine games with Palm Beach after his promotion from Peoria. In that time, his line was .294/.314/.412/.726. The 20-year-old is The Cardinal Nation’s ninth-ranked prospect.

Herrera, a defense-first shortstop, hit a wall at the Double-A level, struggling to the tune of a .167/.197/.200 with no homers and nine RBI through 46 games after missing nearly three months in 2016. Herrera was Palm Beach’s regular starter in 2015 before missing the final two months due to a shoulder injury.

8/5: RHS Brennan Leitao from Peoria to Palm Beach

8/5: RHR Davis Ward from Palm Beach to Peoria

Leitao, St. Louis’ 2015 36th rounder, posted a 6-7 record with 4.08 ERA in 18 games (17 starts), including a complete game shutout for Peoria. The 23-year old struck out 90 batters against 21 walks over 110 1/3 innings pitched.

Ward compiled a 2-0 record with 1.74 ERA in just ten games this season after recovering from May 2015 Tommy John surgery conducted in May of 2015. The Little Rock, Arkansas native fanned nine batters to three walks through 20 2/3 innings at Palm Beach. Ward will be making his Midwest League debut.

8/7: RHS Matt Pearce from Palm Beach to Springfield

8/7: RHP Dakota Hudson from Gulf Coast League to Palm Beach

Pearce, a 22-year-old right-hander had pitched exceptionally well for the Beach Birds this season, posting a 2.42 ERA and a team-record and 2016 MiLB-best four complete games. Yet, Pearce has eight losses and four no-decisions in 20 starts due to lack of offensive support. Pearce struck out 81 and issued just 15 walks over his organization-high 136 2/3 innings pitched.

In his time in the GCL since signing, the 21-year-old Hudson threw one inning in four separate outings. In all, the Cardinals’ first-rounder fanned nine, allowed four hits, no walks and an unearned run against competition the former Mississippi State star should dominate.

8/8: C Chris Rivera to seven-day DL

8/8: C Stephen Zavala from Johnson City to Palm Beach

Rivera had to leave Sunday’s game during an opponent at-bat in the eighth inning immediately after a baserunner successfully stole second base and he went on the DL the next day. In multiple stints with Palm Beach this season totaling 94 at-bats over 28 games, the 21-year-old’s slash line is a modest .170/.269/.213/.481.

Zavala, 23, St. Louis’ 37th round draft pick in 2015, appeared in 17 Appalachian League games, with a very odd slash line of .184/.365/.306/.671. That is a result of the right-handed hitter having more walks, 11, than hits, nine. Zavala also struck out in 12 of 49 at-bats. He will likely play sparingly behind Steve Bean.

8/9: OF Vaughn Bryan from Palm Beach to Springfield

8/9: IF Matt Davis from Peoria to Palm Beach

Bryan, 23, has been hot recently, with his eight-game hitting streak broken on Monday. During his last nine games with Palm Beach, the switch-hitter went 12-for-33 (.364) with three walks, three steals and four runs scored. In multiple stints at both Peoria and Palm Beach this season, Bryan has compiled a line of .228/.295/.312/.607 and stole 19 bases in 25 attempts.

Davis, a free agent signee last month, played in eight games with the Chiefs after nine with State College. The infielder did not hit at either prior level, with a combined line of .172/.254/.172/.425.

Injuries

The Beach Birds’ infirmary list swelled to eight with the additions of Sosa and Rivera this past week. Three pitchers are on shelf: Jacob Evans, Silfredo Garcia and Will Anderson (60-day DL) with the other injured position players infielder Danny Diekroeger (60-day), Darren Seferina and Andrew Brodbeck.

Up Next

The Cardinals complete their three-game set at first-half winner Bradenton (PIT) on Wednesday with Johnny Walter on the mound. The Cardinals then head back home for another “Fins and Feathers” four-game series against Jupiter (MIA). Brennan Leitao makes his Palm Beach debut Thursday. Palm Beach remains at Roger Dean through the 21st with Charlotte (TB, two games), Bradenton (PIT, three) and St. Lucie (NYM, three) coming in next. The next scheduled day off is August 22.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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