Jack Flaherty (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Insider news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Texas League affiliate in Springfield for the period of April 20-26.

The first-place Springfield Cardinals had a 3-3 week on the road. Jack Flaherty and manager Johnny Rodriguez assess the Texas League Pitcher of the Week’s hot start. The top prospect's high school coach also weighs in.

On the road again, the Springfield Cardinals hit the buses for stops at Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas during Week 3 of the minor league regular season.

In North Little Rock, the Springbirds split the four-game set in their first-ever matchup against the now-Seattle Mariners Double-A affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers, and followed that up by splitting the first two games at Arvest Ballpark in NW Arkansas. The series-finale against the Naturals will be covered as part of next week’s report.

Through the third week of action, Springfield’s offense is among Texas League leaders in average (second), on-base percentage (first), slugging (third), and lead the circuit with a .745 OPS. However, they rank sixth in runs scored and have whiffed the most in the league (174 strikeouts, next closest 156).

On the pitching side, the Cardinals continue to have issues in the bullpen with the relievers logging a 4.35 ERA through 60 innings pitched. In comparison, the starters own a 3.77 ERA over 98 innings hurled with standout Jack Flaherty contributing four of the staff’s ten wins.

This report covers the period from Thursday, April 20 through Wednesday, April 26.

 

April 20: Springfield 6 at Arkansas 3

Opening up an eight-game road swing, Springfield downed Arkansas, 6-3 in the first matchup against an intra-division opponent this season.

After two shaky outings, Austin Gomber tossed six solid innings for the Cardinals, allowing one run on three hits. The big southpaw fanned five on route to his first win of 2017.

Cuban Adolis Garcia led the way, going 3-for-4 with a solo shot and two doubles, including two RBI. Nick Martini drove in three via two doubles.

 

April 21: Springfield 3 at Arkansas 5

The Springbirds fell behind early, tied it up in the fifth, only to surrender the lead as they dropped Game 2 to the Travelers by a final of 5-3.

Dakota Hudson, who suffered his first loss of 2017, was hit around to the tune of five earned runs over four innings. Ross Vance and Tyler Bray made their respective Double-A debuts with Vance tossing a scoreless frame and Bray going three shutout innings.

Oscar Mercado and Bruce Caldwell contributed two of the three RBI.

 

April 22: Springfield 4 at Arkansas 6

Like Friday night, Springfield trailed early to Arkansas and came back to notch the score at four-all in the fifth, but another late-bullpen implosion allowed the Travelers to take a 6-4 victory.

Matt Pearce yielded four runs in the first.  After he settled down, the right-hander pitched five scoreless.

Gabriel Lino produced a sac fly for his lone RBI. Blake Drake, who had two hits, doubled home a run. Bruce Caldwell slugged his third home run of 2017, a solo shot, before Jacob Wilson plated a run via a double.

 

April 23: Springfield 8 at Arkansas 1

In the series finale, Springfield claimed the four-game set as the pitching and offense clicked for an 8-1 triumph over Arkansas on Sunday.

Jack Flaherty continued his impressive trek through the Texas League, adding six frames of shutout baseball. The righty gave up six hits and allowed only one walk, striking out five.

The Springfield offense pounded out 14 hits, including three doubles and a homer.  Adolis Garcia paced the effort, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI.  Alex Mejia chipped in three hits in five at-bats. Oscar Mercado’s only hit was his second long ball.

 

April 24: Springfield 6 at NW Arkansas 4

Sandy Alcantara did not put together a flashy line, but the Cardinals were able to build upon what he did provide them to take Monday’s road series opener at the Naturals by a 6-4 score.

Catcher Gabriel Lino had three hits, including three-run bomb. Adolis Garcia plated a run with his fourth double of the season in the fifth for the remainder of the offense.

The Naturals rattled Alcantara for four runs on 12 hits in six innings and he ultimately took a no-decision. With the game tied in the ninth, Springfield scored twice on RBI hits from Oscar Mercado and Nick Martini to secure the win.

 

April 25: Springfield 1 at NW Arkansas 4

Austin Gomber tossed six strong frames before fatigue set in with the result a 4-1 loss at Northwest Arkansas, evening the series at one-all on Wednesday night.

Gomber, who had spun a three-hitter until the seventh inning, proceeded to allow a 2-run homer and solo shot before working out of the inning. He finished with no walks and eight strikeouts.

Springfield's lone run, unearned, came after Nick Martini worked a free pass and later scored on a throwing error by NW Arkansas's second baseman.

 

April 26: Springfield at NW Arkansas - postponed

Game 3 of the four-game set was postponed due to rain on Wednesday morning. The contest will be played as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday, June 7 with the first of back-to-back seven-inning games beginning at 5:05 p.m. CT.

 

Who’s Hot

http://www.scout.com/player/215506-adolis-garcia?s=321

Adolis Garcia - Garcia continued his torrid stretch with a RBI double on Monday and a base hit with two walks on Tuesday. He had a terrific three games to start the road trip, going 7-for-12 with one home run, three RBI, two doubles and four runs against the Travelers.

http://www.scout.com/player/157706-nick-martini?s=321

Nick Martini - With two more hits on Monday, Martini put together his sixth two-hit night of the young 2017 season and third of the current Natural State road trip. Over his past ten games, the lefty hitter has homered twice with eight driven in out of the two-hole.

http://www.scout.com/player/167708-gabriel-lino?s=321

Gabriel Lino - Despite sporadic playing time to start the season, Lino seems to have seized the full-time catching role with his hot bat. The 6-foot-3 right-handed hitter, who is only 23-years old and joined the Cardinals from the Phillies, is hitting .333 (10-for-30) over nine games this season. The backstop made his biggest mark on Monday, blasting a three-run homer, his first with the organization.

Jack Flaherty – You have been following him. Flaherty has allowed a whopping one earned run over his first 27 1/3 innings to open 2017 with a spotless and league-leading 0.33 ERA through four starts for Springfield. The righty is off to a louder start than TCN’s #2 prospect Luke Weaver, who posted a 1.37 ERA over his first four starts in the Texas League last summer.

 

Who’s Not

Eliezer Alvarez - To no surprise, Alvarez is going through a tough spell, facling the most advanced arms he has faced in his lifetime. While the second baseman has shown signs of breaking out, the left-handed hitter is hitting .220 on the season with 19 strikeouts in his first 50 at-bats at the Double-A level, including eight strikeouts in his last 16 at-bats. Alvarez also hasn’t shown the extra-base ability he was proficient at last year with nine singles among his 11 hits.

Bruce Caldwell - After a quick start out of the gates, Caldwell has tailed off, the same theme of his first campaign with the club last year. The 2016 mid-season all-star leads the club with 14 RBI, but also paces the offense with 24 strikeouts and is currently batting .200 (7-for-35) over his past ten games.

Dakota Hudson - Hudson’s third Double-A start was his first clunker of the season, lasting only four innings while he gave up five earned runs on seven hits.

 

Flaherty Named TL Player of Week

The Texas League announced on Monday that Springfield Cardinals right-handed pitcher Jack Flaherty was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week for the period of April 17 - 23.

In two starts, the 21-year old allowed just eight hits and two walks over 13 2/3 scoreless innings. Flaherty fanned 14 on the way to the lowest ERA among qualifying pitchers in all of the minor league baseball at 0.33.

When asked about the honor later that evening, TCN’s seventh-ranked prospect was not even aware.

“Stuff like that will just come and go for me,” Flaherty said. “It’s not something I’m too worried about. For me, I’m just trying to go out every day to give the team the best chance to win. So far, it’s been good, and I go out and put us in the best position we can in order to win the game.

“As long as I go out attack the zone and pitch deep into games, that’s what I’m looking to do,” he concluded

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

TCN’s seventh-ranked prospect could easily win the Cardinals and Texas League April Pitcher of the Month awards as well.

“(Jack) is learning how to pitch,” Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “Knowing how to spot his fastball; work both edges. Learning what he has to mix. Learning when he doesn’t have his best fastball like he didn’t on Monday. Found a way to induce enough soft contact by mixing and spotting his fastball. Not to just throwing it by everybody.

“He’s learning how to pitch and starting to have a feel for pitching,” the manager said.

First-half standings - Texas League Northern Division

Currently, Springfield maintains their hold on first-place in the division with a 10-8 overall record, but Arkansas and NW Arkansas (both 9-9) trail by only one game. The Tulsa Drillers (LAD, 7-11) sit three games back in the cellar.

 

Team Transactions

4/20: LHP Ross Vance to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

4/21: RHP Daniel Bard to temporarily inactive list

4/24: RHP Daniel Bard activated from the temporarily inactive list - On Monday, Bard returned to the club after a three-day hiatus. When asked about his status, a Cardinals official said, “It’s nothing newsworthy.”

 

Injury Updates

Andrew Morales - Morales remains at the Jupiter complex rehabbing an injury. Whether it is his shoulder is unconfirmed.

C.J. McElroy – McElroy is reportedly at the Jupiter complex rehabbing his still injured ACL.

Jimmy Reed - As reported last week, there was talk of Reed aggravating the prior condition that required Tommy John surgery, rather than a new injury. His DL stint may be a result of overwork. The lefty taking his rehab to Jupiter indicates he may be sidelined for a lengthy amount of time.

A Cardinals official said, “In Jupiter, he will have more supervision to what he needs to build up. The main thing for him is he will have more people paying attention to his needs there than here.”

 

The Cardinal Nation Top 50 Prospects

#6 Sandy Alcantara - With his standout spring in his first big-league camp, Alcantara moved up two spots and now ranks as TCN Springfield’s top starting pitching prospect in a loaded rotation. In his only start this past week, the Dominican-born righty allowed a lot of solid contact, with NW Arkansas banging out 12 hits. However, a lot of the hits were ones that snuck through the infield which found holes and he suffered a few bloop knocks as well.

That said, Alcantara, who has been erratic over his past two starts, was much more under control and a great foundation to build on while working on his secondary stuff. Case in point, the 21-year old induced nine groundouts off his 95 mph sinker mixing in a curveball with considerable depth that had more than 20-mph separation off his heater at 77 mph.

A pro scout in attendance at this outing chimes in with his thoughts.

“Threw the ball well,” the scout said. ”Fastball had good life. Breaking ball and sinker were sharp. Good feel for being a power arm.”

Alcantara is scheduled to make his next start on Sunday, barring weather issues.

#7 Jack Flaherty - Flaherty had a typical outing on Sunday, extending his scoreless innings pitched streak to 16 2/3 after posting six shutout frames against the Arkansas Travelers. The right-hander, who attended Harvard-Westlake High School in California, had a familiar spectator watching him.

That spectator was his former pitching coach, Ethan Katz, now serving as the Seattle Mariners Double-A pitching coach, who offered up this impression of his former pupil.

“I would really say he hasn’t changed much,” Katz said, who added Flaherty was sitting 90-94 mph on his heater. “He is throwing a little harder now. He was doing everything he did Sunday as a freshman in high school. Can make big pitches and slow the game down with command of four pitches. His curveball is better than in high school. He always could locate his fastball and finish hitters with his slider.”

#8 Dakota Hudson - See Who’s Not above. Hudson looks to redeem himself with his Thursday start in the series finale against NW Arkansas.

#14 Eliezer Alvarez - See Who’s Not above.

#15 Austin Gomber - Gomber has reverted to doing Gomber things over his past two outings for Springfield, allowing a combined four earned runs over 13 innings pitched with a 3.25 ERA. The key to the big lefty is getting ahead in counts and challenging hitters by elevating his fastball for punchouts or utilizing his secondary stuff to put away hitters.

#20 Adolis Garcia - See Who’s Hot Above. As of right now, the Cuban import leads the club and ranks fourth in the Texas League with a .985 OPS. In addition, seven of his 17 hits have gone for extra-bases, and he is flashing surprising patience for a prospect with a free-swinging approach at the plate. There is a lot to like with this tools-up guy, especially if he continues to control the strike zone well.

#40 Matt Pearce - Pearce had another so-so start this past week, throwing six innings while allowing four earned runs on five hits with three walks through six innings. Shockingly, the right-hander, who set a Midwest League record two years ago by going 54 1/3 consecutive innings without issuing a walk over a nine-start stretch for Low-A Peoria, has struggled with free passes this season. Minimizing the base-on-balls could be the turn of the tide for the control artist.

#50 Trey Nielsen - Nielsen repeats Double-A after dealing with a spring injury that cost a little over a week of the 2017 regular season. The righty transitioned to the bullpen in the postseason last year, and it will be interesting to see how his lively sinker and fringy secondary stuff play in relief.

Sleepers: Oscar Mercado - With a reworked swing that included changing his stance and hand position, Mercado is off to the best start of his professional career. Thriving as the club’s leadoff man, he has reached base in all 16 of his games with hits in 15 of the 16, including a current 12-game hitting streak.

“He’s hitting,” Rodriguez said. “His swing is shorter now. It was longer. Now he’s learning, ‘Don’t miss that pitch.’ He’s shorter to the ball. Instead of fouling it off, he’s putting it in play. Now he’s got to learn that guys are making adjustments on him and they will start mixing some more. He’s going to have to lay off some of those breaking balls and sliders away to get his pitch. Don’t get himself out. Make that pitcher work.”

The center fielder has also swiped a bag in four of his last six games, leading the club and he is tied for second in the league with five steals.

“He’s maturing,” Rodriguez said. “He understanding the game. He’s a good base stealer. He can run the bases. He’s actually ahead of schedule in center field. He’s got plenty of range and closing speed. He gets good jumps. The more he learns the routes and angles that come with experience of playing out there. He’s way ahead of schedule.”

Rodriguez commented on Mercado’s diving catches in the outfield.

“Got about five or six web gems,” his manager said. “He’s very good diving. He’s got great body control. He really knows how to get to a ball and diving, and he doesn’t lose a lot of ground doing it. He jumps right into the ball.”

Blake Drake - With Mercado stationed in center, Drake has been a designated hitter and played right field for Springfield. The 23-year old is slashing .220/.304/.390 (9-for-41) with two homers and four RBI over 12 games.

 

What’s Next

Along with a rainout, Springfield went 3-3 over this past and conclude the eight-game road trip through the Natural State with Thursday’s series-finale against NW Arkansas. They return to Hammons Field on Friday for a pair of four-game series versus Arkansas and the Naturals, respectively.

 

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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