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Selected 2016 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (40): During the community vote, Matt Pearce finished as the 40th highest rated player. Freshjmm and wileycard first began voting for him in the late 20’s.
Wileycard made his pitch for Pearce comparing him to elite 2016 draftee Dakota Hudson. Wileycard noted that both are 22 years old, which made Pearce the youngest pitcher on both the Memphis and Springfield pitching staffs. Wileycard believes pitching four complete games is a big deal as well. 14NyquisT believes Pearce is the most underrated player in the organization and will likely form what looks like a great rotation at Springfield in 2017. CariocaCardinal believes that if it was all about performance, Pearce would have been getting votes in the mid-teens, which he didn’t. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (29): After emerging as TCN's #39 prospect last winter, Pearce did nothing but build upon his prospect status this past summer across three levels - High-A Palm Beach, Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis.
Pearce, 22, was the top performer on the Florida State Cardinals pitching staff, topping the more heralded Jack Flaherty and Austin Gomber as well as Ian McKinney and Jacob Evans. TCN's 2016 Palm Beach Cardinals Starter of the Year anchored the rotation for five months with an FSL-best 0.94 WHIP, four complete games, and almost won his league-ERA title for the second consecutive season with his 2.37 mark in the Florida State League.
"I think going out there and being able to command my fastball," Pearce replied on what made him so effective throughout the season. "With that, my other pitches worked a lot better when I could throw my fastball for a strike pretty much where I wanted to most of the time. I was able to throw my secondary pitches for strikes as well.
"It keeps the hitters on their toes, so they don't know what's coming."
During that time, the Cardinals’ 13th-round pick in 2014 from Polk State University made 20 starts, totaling 126 2/3 innings. That's an average of over an incredible six innings per start. Despite a low strikeout rate, Pearce still topped the Beach Birds rotation with his 5.4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"I was just going out there and pounding the zone," Pearce said of his endurance. "If you are doing that, you are most likely going to get a swing early in the count. For the most part, they are going to get themselves out. It's what I want to do - go deep into games - give my team a chance to win.
"It's always nice when I'm able to go deep."
With nothing left to prove at Palm Beach by August, Pearce received a promotion to Springfield on August 7, making three starts and one playoff start in addition to briefly filling in at Memphis due to injury.
The right-hander distinguished himself in the FSL with his masterful strike-throwing ability. Pearce has a standard four-pitch mix of pitches, commanding and controlling the zone with a high 80s to low 90s four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider.
The fastball, a pitch that he commands to both sides of the plate at will, grades out as average offerings. His improving secondaries play well off his heater with an above-average curve he throws for strikes, a plus change with late fade that is his out-pitch next to his slider that he hopes will be the swing-and-miss pitch he currently lacks.
"It’s something I can throw primarily to right-handed batters and keep them off balance," Pearce added of the developing slider. "I've still got some work to do. I'd like to make it a little harder and be able to throw it consistently for strikes, so every time they see it, they'll just take it because I can't throw it in the strike zone.
"I hope to be able to move that around to both sides of the plate as well."
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Pearce has plenty of room to fill out, increase his strength, and perhaps added a few ticks to his fastball. He's obviously got the stamina and pitch efficiency to settle into the back-end of the rotation. However, there are concerns about his lack of overpowering stuff and strike-throwing ability that could falter at the higher levels with his flyball tendencies.
That said, he has enough secondary stuff to keep hitters off his fastball to induce weak fly balls. His ceiling is likely that of a back-end rotation starter with plus command and average everything else, but there have been types similar to that excel at the big-league level before.
"Matt may not profile as an elite prospect, but he can flat out throw strikes," general manager John Mozeliak said in a radio interview this summer. "He can flat out pitch. We have seen guys like the (Seth) Maness type have success in the big leagues."
Brian Walton (37): It may not be entirely fair to Pearce, but I struggle with trying to project a durable and dependable finesse pitcher into a significant role in the majors. Yes, we have seen others with a similar control-oriented profile succeed in the organization, but rarely, if ever, in the big-league rotation. The margin for error is just too small.
In fact, as recently as 2013, we saw Zach Petrick burn a very similar swath through three levels in one summer – Class-A, high-A and Double-A - on his way to being named the organization’s system-wide Pitcher of the Year. It was the year after Maness earned the same honor. Don’t get me wrong. We were part of it too, as Petrick was our top pitcher in 2013 as well, and we ranked him 16th in our 2014 top prospect list.
Yet, as the hitters became more selective and the parks got smaller, without swing and miss stuff, the road got a lot tougher. After two years of 4.92 ERA pitching in the Pacific Coast League, Petrick was off to Japan - without realizing his MLB dream.
Pearce’s 2016 greatness was primarily achieved in the pitcher-friendly confines of Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, where the wind blowing in off the ocean knocks down fly balls. And Pearce is a clearly a fly ball pitcher, with a ratio of two ground outs to three fly ball outs this past season.
As he moves up, more of those warning track catches may start flying over fences. It is a small sample to date, but certainly worth noting that in his five Double-A and Triple-A starts, Pearce served up five gopher balls.
Among his accomplishments was the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Month award and the Cardinals organization’s Pitcher of the Month, both in July. Yet, his FSL ERA was almost a complete run higher on the road compared to home. That is the difference between great and good.
Looking ahead to 2017, despite his two-game tryout with Memphis, I see Pearce’s odds of making the Triple-A rotation out of spring training camp to be very low. After all, he made just three starts with Springfield and they were far from dominating.
In fact, given the wealth of high-octane pitching on the way up from A-ball, Pearce will need to find his way at Double-A in a hurry or that bullpen move could come sooner than expected.
In addition to multiple incumbents ahead at Memphis, his Springfield teammates Austin Gomber (better 2016 plus Arizona Fall League success) and Andrew Morales (two seasons of Double-A experience) are potentially ahead in the pecking order. Two other starters already profiled in this top 50, Trey Nielsen and Daniel Poncedeleon, also have more Texas League seasoning. 2017 first rounder Dakota Hudson should be ready to roll and his 2014 first-round counterpart Jack Flaherty is knocking on the Double-A rotation door, as well.
I am not suggesting that Pearce cannot reach St. Louis someday. I just see his ceiling as perhaps approaching Seth Maness, with a more likely spot somewhat less than that, which is reflected in his scouting grade below.
TCN Scouting Grade: 3.5, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)
Our 2017 top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!
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