Arguably the biggest news story in the first few weeks of the St. Louis Cardinals minor league season is the fast start logged by prospect right-hander Jack Flaherty at Double-A Springfield.
The 21-year old, who was taken off Baseball America’s top 10 Cardinals prospect list this off-season after a good but not great 2016 at high-A Palm Beach, showed well in his first big-league camp this spring. From there, Flaherty earned his way into the star-studded Springfield rotation with two other members of The Cardinal Nation’s top 10, Sandy Alcantara and Dakota Hudson.
Through three starts, Flaherty is dominating Double-A hitters, having allowed just one run on nine hits in 21 1/3 innings.
Pardon me, but the storyline of a young gun Cardinals pitcher taking the Texas League by storm seems very familiar to me.
Ah, yes. Just 10 months ago, the very same thing was happening, only the name was different – Luke Weaver.
In early 2016, Weaver looked to have the Cardinals minors pitching spotlight to himself. Fellow top prospect right-hander Alex Reyes was sitting out due to suspension, leaving the door open for Weaver to strut his stuff.
However, the then-22-year old Weaver suffered a wrist injury in spring camp that forced him to open the season on the sidelines. The Cardinals placed him on the high-A Palm Beach disabled list, though he had already mastered the level in 2015.
When Weaver returned to action in early June, he was deemed ready for Double-A. Evidence quickly mounted that the organization made the right call.
Based on his Springfield debut outing, Weaver was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week. He went on to earn the circuit’s Pitcher of the Month honors for June and added the Cardinals organization Pitcher of the Month award, as well.
After just 12 stellar starts at Double-A (1.40 ERA) and a lone scoreless outing at Memphis, injuries to the St. Louis rotation meant Weaver would receive his first call to the majors. It should be remembered that the more highly-touted Reyes had actually come off his suspension to be activated before Weaver, yet it was the latter who was the first to pitch for St. Louis.
Now, I am not suggesting that Flaherty is on a trajectory to reach Busch Stadium by mid-season, what awards he may win, or that he is ahead of the more highly-touted flamethrower Alcantara. Only time will tell how that story is written.
However, what I AM saying - backed up by the raw numbers - is that Flaherty’s first three Double-A starts have been even better than Weaver’s. And that is saying an awful lot!
First three Springfield starts
Though both hurlers logged ERAs under 1.00, Weaver allowed two runs (including a home run) against just one for Flaherty. Though Weaver fanned more batters, they both just walked two and Flaherty allowed less than half the number of hits.
Further, it is worth noting that the high school-drafted Flaherty is two years and two months younger than the college product Weaver, so for comparative purposes, he is over a year ahead in the development curve.
With Flaherty scheduled to take the mound for his fourth Springfield start on Sunday, be aware that Weaver’s fourth Double-A start was his “second-worst” of his 12 at the level. He allowed all of two runs over six innings that day.
That is the kind of yardstick Flaherty is most favorably being measured against - with the accolades yet to come.
Update: On Sunday, Flaherty threw six more scoreless innings on six hits and a walk, lowering his ERA to 0.33 and picking up his fourth win. His ERA is lowest among qualifying pitchers in all of minor league baseball.
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