Jack Flaherty (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

How much should the inconsistent 2016 of right-handed pitcher Jack Flaherty lower his prospect status?

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #7 with a talented right-handed pitcher who wants to be more consistent ahead. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/179302-jack-flaherty?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
2 RHS 10 19 95 2014 1st

Selected 2016 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG G/AO BABIP
PB 5 9 3.56 3.20 24 23 0 134 129 63 8 45 126 0.254 0.98 0.316

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (5): Jack Flaherty moved down to #5 this year in the community vote although his drop was more the result of other prospects standing out than his own performance.

During the vote, I commented that Flaherty is actually ahead of fellow prospect, Dakota Hudson, at the same age since they were first drafted out of high school just a year apart. Scadder21 noted that Flaherty had looked like a future big leaguer in Spring Training.

Hoyaheel was encouraged that Flaherty passed his career high in innings pitched by almost 50% in 2016. I also posted that I was encouraged that Flaherty turned it on once again late in the season as he posted a 2.01 ERA in August and a 1.29 ERA in September. Brianpnoonan thinks that Flaherty has a really high ceiling and could get hot next year and be up in the St. Louis bullpen for a playoff run in September. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (8): Entering the 2016 season, Flaherty was the Cardinals second-ranked prospect organizationally before his stock fell considerably following an inconsistent year in what was expected to be his coming out party.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander, drafted out of Harvard-Westlake High School in California, eclipsed his previous career-high of 95 innings for Low-A Peoria in 2015, hurling 134 innings over 24 games (23 starts) for Palm Beach this past season.

The Cardinals’ 2014 first-rounder also posted a 3.56 ERA, including 45 walks to 126 strikeouts against Florida State League hitters. The key point is not how he started the season, but how he finished.

Flaherty reflects on his second full season from an educational point of view.

“It was a learning experience," he said. "It was nice to stay healthy and get through a full season healthy. I think that was big for me to be able to stay healthy and get through a full season. It had its up and downs, but it was a good learning experience for me in being able to work out some kinks and finish off the season strong.”

The now 21-year old called his first start of the year, "definitely my worst, hands down -- nothing went right that day." Flaherty attributes that start to his elevated ERA in the month of April, but he caught up to the FSL and pitched above it in June with a 1.04 ERA over four starts.

"I started off slow, but I was able to start attacking the zone better, get ahead of hitters, and that’s when I had more success," the Beach Birds hurler said.

Despite more twists and turns until July 26th, Flaherty finished the season by posting a stellar 1.88 ERA over his final five starts (38 1/3 IP, July 27 to Sept. 2), including a 10-strikeout performance against Port St. Lucie (NYM).

“I really think it was the same thing," he suggested. "I started attacking hitters more, and the walks went down. I had one start towards the end of the year where I lost my control and command. Other than that - as I finished out the year - I was just throwing more strikes, getting ahead of hitters, was able to command my secondary stuff, and throw it in multiple counts."

Flaherty elaborated on the progress of his overall stuff as well.

"I think as the season went on - for that stretch in June and August - I was able to command my fastball a lot better," Flaherty said. "During that time, I felt like I had most of my success because I was able to get ahead with my fastball and pitch off that.

"I felt like my slider got better as the season went on. It just got tighter and harder; got a little more depth to it. I felt like early in the season hitters were recognizing it and it was just kind of spinning up there. It wasn't effective. I felt as the season went on it definitely got tighter.

"Then, my changeup was more consistent with me being able to throw it for strikes more."

For the past year, the Burbank, CA native has been lauded for his sense of pitching and above-average control over three pitches - fastball, changeup, and slider he throws for quality strikes. That said, prospect writers and pro scouts alike continue to wait for him to take that next step forward, but that has yet to happen.

While he has always been young for his level with plenty of time to take that step forward, Flaherty's change, which amateur scouts projected as a future grade 70 pitch, is not even a 60 grade right now. According to Baseball America, the reports from scouts have varied from talking up his "fastball's late life and low-90s velocity" to other reports of his fastball command lacking with average secondary stuff.

Here are two other conflicting reports on Flaherty:

"Better stuff than performance on the day I saw him," said one pro scout. "I didn't get back to see him again like I wanted; a legit prospect regardless."

“I’ve seen a lot of good, but I’ve seen some stuff that really makes me wonder what kind of upside we’re talking about here," the second pro scout told Baseball Prospectus. "Most of the starts I have he’s been just a tick above average with the stuff, and even though there haven’t been a ton of walks, it’s not like he’s just painting out there. I think he’s going to be a nice back-end starter, but I think some people think he’s the next great Cardinals pitcher. I don’t see that happening.”

At his best, Flaherty can manipulate a 90-93 fastball by cutting it, running it, or sinking it even. It's a 55-grade pitch, but it's his 60-grade changeup that's the separator. His arm speed coupled with the late fade allow it to play up and become a swing-and-miss offering. The slider, which grades as a 50 pitch, isn't as consistent with a slurvy-like break, but he can locate it with bite.

An aspect of Flaherty’s game that he is currently trying to master is mixing and matching pitches.

"For me, it's pitching off the fastball, and if I'm able to command that, then everything will build off that for me,” the pitcher said. “So, we try to establish the fastball early in the game and if we pitch off that - the secondary stuff comes naturally. Whatever is working that day, we try to stick with it and execute the game plan we have."

With more projection left in his frame, Flaherty has room to fill out and perhaps add a tick or two on his fastball, but he projects as a mid-to-back rotation starter regardless with one of the highest floors in the system.

Flaherty should open 2017 with Double-A Springfield as he hopes to piece things together and move back up the prospect rankings.

"For me, it's to try to be more prepared for that start of the season to start off strong and be more consistent this next year. Not have so many ups and downs and have a consistent year."

 

Brian Walton (9): If I ever believed in “prospect fatigue,” I could cite Flaherty in a case study.

Less than year ago, not only was the right-hander considered the organization’s next-best prospect after Alex Reyes, he made multiple national top 100 lists. They included MLB.com at #80, ESPN (Keith Law) at #83, and Scout.com, with his best showing at #64 nationally.

Perhaps more than any other Cardinals prospect, Flaherty has been penalized for his 2016 being very good, but not great. One prime example is Baseball America. In their recent organization top 10 list, BA left Flaherty out entirely, after having placed him third in the spring. Their feeling is that his future is still based on projection rather than performance, and others passed him by in 2016.

Speaking for the publication, Derrick Goold explained. “He easily projects as a top five prospect, in this system, but as we started doing the top 10 and looking through the reports and opinions of him that's all it was -- projections. Others had performance, too…”

Not everyone agrees. Two other very recently updated Cardinals prospect lists from national sources both have Flaherty ranked #4 in the Cardinals system heading into 2017. One is MLB Pipeline (the MLB.com minor league experts) and the other is John Sickels, who runs MinorLeagueBall.com. The former calls Flaherty “more polished than you'd think,” while the latter calls him “very efficient for his age”.

The issue of performance versus projection is a balancing act for which there is no clear answer, but my take on Flaherty is closer to the latter two experts than it is to BA’s view.

Here at The Cardinal Nation, we recognize top performers for the prior season by level and roll them up to the system as a whole. In that process for the 2016 season, Flaherty did not rise to the top. However, he still seems on track for the majors. Even with the ups and downs, Flaherty still struck out 126 against 45 walks in 134 innings at age 21, with a lower ERA at the same level than BA’s #6 Cardinals prospect, Sandy Alcantara.

To offer another example, it would be hard for anyone to assert that BA’s #9 prospect Dakota Hudson - while pitching in a very low number of innings in a highly controlled manner at lower levels of competition than his skills would indicate is appropriate - showed more in his actual 2016 performance than Flaherty. At this very early stage, I like Hudson’s upside a bit more, too, but at just 13 1/3 innings into his professional career, he is still way more projection than performance. Yet he is ranked ahead of Flaherty.

Stepping into the more hitter-friendly Texas League in 2017 should create an opportunity for Flaherty to either re-state his top prospect case with emphasis or perhaps reinforce the slightly less-optimistic view of his future.

TCN Scouting Grade: 6.5, 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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