This is the first of The Cardinal Nation's monthly two-part series as we name our Players and Pitchers of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While the Cardinals themselves recognize their top players as well, we undertake our own independent analysis unencumbered by the organization’s selection criteria.
Let’s get right to it with a look at the list of April system-wide pitching leaders.
Flaherty Aces Pitcher of Month
Deciding on TCN's April Pitcher of the Month was an absolute no-brainer. One hurler not only distinguished himself from the rest but utilized this month as a springboard to vault up the Cardinals prospect rankings in the process.
TCN's 2017 April Pitcher of the Month is Springfield right-handed ace, Jack Flaherty, who should also have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Texas League April Pitcher of the Month honor.
Flaherty, 21, was so dominant this month that over his first four starts, he led all of Minor League Baseball with a 0.33 ERA (27 1/3 innings) and entered his Sunday start on a 16 2/3 scoreless innings streak.
The Cardinals 2014 first round pick's scoreless streak was snapped against the Arkansas Travelers in the fifth inning on Sunday, as he finished with 21 1/3 consecutive shutout frames spanning three starts.
Through his first month at Double-A, Flaherty's accolades are stacking up. He already garnered a Texas League Player of the Week honor following last week's action and currently leads the Double-A circuit with a 4-0 record, 0.56 ERA, 32 1/3 innings hurled, and a 0.80 WHIP. Flaherty also ranks second in the circuit with 28 strikeouts.
"For the most part, it has just been about executing," Flaherty said last week. "I feel like I have just gone out and gotten ahead of hitters. Then when you need to execute a pitch with guys on base and you are able to do that, the results are going to be there.
"It has all been a process to understand what you need to do within every start and within every day leading up to the start."
When asked about his Player of the Week award the day it was announced, Flaherty was not even aware.
“Stuff like that will just come and go for me,” he 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
Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez spoke about the improvements he is seeing from TCN's seventh-ranked prospect.
“(Jack) is learning how to pitch,” 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. He has found a way to induce enough soft contact by mixing and spotting his fastball. Not to just throwing it by everybody.
“He is learning how to pitch and starting to have a feel for pitching," the manager said.
In his first full season, the Cardinals 2016 third round pick Zac Gallen arguably could have been the April Pitcher of the Month - had Flaherty not post a sub-1.00 ERA.
Gallen, 21, went 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA through four starts this month at High-A Palm Beach. The right-hander accomplished a 29-to-6 strikeout to walk ratio and even managed to go the distance in one outing, the only complete game in the Florida State League to date.
While he only made three starts, Gallen’s teammate Connor Jones had the second-lowest ERA among the starters in the month of April with a minuscule 1.13 mark. Not a bat misser (eight strikeouts through 16 innings) by any means, the right-hander averaged four groundouts per flyout. However, his performance wasn’t enough to match Flaherty’s incredible month of April.
Another right-hander up for consideration was Daniel Poncedeleon. In his impressive debut at Triple-A Memphis, Poncedeleon had a 1.64 ERA while posting a 20-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio over 23 innings pitched against Pacific Coast League hitters.
The only arm from Low-A Peoria to crack the honorable mention list is the mighty righty of Jordan Hicks. Hicks, a 20-year old, compiled 2.42 ERA in four starts (26 innings pitched) while punching out 20 batters to nine walks in his initial taste of the Midwest League.
The final honorable mention was another member of the Palm Beach rotation, Junior Fernandez, whose month was headlined by taking a perfect game into the seventh inning on April 19. Overall, Fernandez had a 3.33 ERA in four starts (24 1/3 innings), striking out 17 batters and holding the opposition to 10 free passes.
Update: On Wednesday, May 3, the Cardinals organization also named Flaherty their April Pitcher of the Month.
Next up will be The Cardinal Nation’s April Player of the Month announcement as well as the Cardinals organization’s choices of their top performers in the first month of the 2017 season.
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