As most already know, the St. Louis Cardinals announced a four-player trade with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, acquiring three mid-level prospects for left-handed starter Jaime Garcia. The three new Cardinal recruits are right-handed pitchers Chris Ellis and John Gant as well as second baseman Luke Dykstra.
Not having seen either of the hurlers, I reached out to the Braves Triple-A Gwinnett manager John Moses to get his first-hand impression on the pair. Moses, 58, has accumulated 35 years’ worth of baseball experience and knowledge, including 11 seasons at the major-league level and coaching stints with the Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, and Cincinnati Reds.
In the following interview, Moses discusses what he saw in both Ellis and Gant in their time at Triple-A along with a snapshot of their likely future roles within the Cardinals organization.
Derek Shore: First, what did you see in Chris Ellis this past season?
John Moses: “One thing that surprised was that Ellis got off to such a great start at Double-A. When he came to us in Gwinnett, he got off to a really shaky start. He was having trouble getting out of the third and fourth inning. As we got closer to the playoffs, he pitched well; all those games he pitched he was a whole different person. Apparently it didn’t carry over to the Fall League, but I know it’s in there for him.
“He is kind of a nervous kind of character. If he remains focused, I think he could help the Cardinals organization a lot.”
DS: What was your overall impression of Ellis after his 15 starts for Gwinnett?
JM: “Like I said, he really struggled early. He struggled in the first inning and cruised through second and third then all of sudden it was like barely getting through the fourth; rarely getting to the fifth. We really considered skipping a start or two to get him refocused with some bullpen work, but all of sudden he showed signs of staying focused and mixing up his pitches well and getting his fastball over for strikes, especially early in the count.
“The month of August and September, he was pretty much lights out. He was really good and a whole different pitcher. His temperament was a lot different. Mike Alvarez (pitching coach) and myself had to sit down with him and discuss what it takes to pitch here at Triple-A and the major-leagues. He caught on.”
DS: What did you see in terms of his overall stuff and pitchability?
JM: “His stuff is there. I think he was just so hyper going out on the mound that caused him to leave a lot of breaking balls up and out of the strike zone; got behind with the hitters. Instead of coming in 94 mph with his fastball, he had to come in 90 down the middle and that wasn’t a good thing. Once he started to get command with his breaking ball and spotting his fastball, he got pretty good.
“Triple-A and the Major Leagues are totally different with just two pitches. He is still young and has a little bit of ways to go. Will he ever be a second or third starter in the major-leagues? I don’t see that. I think he could be a fourth or fifth starter.”
DS: By his numbers, Ellis seemed to have a lot of trouble controlling and commanding the strike zone. What will he have to do to perhaps refine that aspect to limit the walks?
JM: “I think he has to concentrate. He is a nervous guy and I think it gets to him early. He just has to stay focused. If he pitches like he did the last month and half of August and September if he could stay that focused - he could be really good. At that time, he was spotting fastballs and when he had to go out of the strike zone he would go out and make hitters swing at bad pitches.
“Overall, he just loses focus. Hopefully, he can rebound and help the Cardinals organization.”
DS: How do you feel his stuff can play at the big-league level?
JM: “I think he has to really command a third pitch. His secondary pitches give him a lot of trouble and he has a nice breaking ball. His breaking ball is really good. He sometimes doesn’t finish with it and leaves it up a lot. If he gets to be a third starter in the major leagues, he has come a long way. I think he is on the verge of being that type of pitcher if he just stays focused, especially if he is around guys that can help him.
“The Cardinal organization is known for their pitching and they have helped a lot of great pitchers over the years. I think it could only help him.
DS: Could you give me your overall impression of John Gant, who appeared in 12 games (10 starts) for the Gwinnett Braves last year?
JM: “He has a different delivery, a funky delivery. He’s a guy that is a little bit like Ellis - he has better command with his fastball than Ellis does. He gets in trouble with his secondary stuff. He has a pitch called the vulcan which he splits his two middle fingers and throws it like a changeup and he was getting in a lot of trouble with that pitch at the major-league level. That pitch was kind of his out pitch and he wasn’t getting it over or he was leaving it up in the majors and he was getting hit around pretty well.
“When he pitched for us, he started for us and came out of the bullpen a couple of times. He’s a guy that can be a long man out of the bullpen or a spot-starter. I don’t foresee him going past a fifth starter spot, but if he has that vulcan pitch working, he can keep you off balance with that fastball.”
DS: What did you see in him in terms of his stuff and pitchability?
JM: “He’s a guy that wants the ball. He wants to come in for big situations when he was coming out of the bullpen. As a starter, he gave us probably three, four maybe five quality starts and after that he would have one bad inning he would give up three or four runs and we’d be behind in the game and have to pull him out for a pinch-hitter. He’s a guy that I think would be better off as a long man out of the bullpen than as a starter.
DS: You mentioned Gant has a funky delivery. How well does he repeat it?
JM: “He repeats it all the time. It’s always there. When you first see it, it’s strange. He’s a guy that really doesn’t mess around with his delivery at all. He won’t go down in a bullpen and really work on the mechanical part of working out of the windup. I don’t know how long he’s had that because he came to us this past year. I think with his delivery he’s had a lot more success and it’s all about putting the ball where you want it. A lot of times he does that.
“They’re both great kids. They’re learning the game still. They have a ways to go as far as knowing how to pitch and the hitting they’re facing. I think both of them will have an opportunity, but I think Gant will have a better opportunity to stick with the big-league club than Ellis does this next year.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2016 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.