Everything seemed perfect for the Sharks with Rapoport having a solid day, going 2-for-4. His single was to the opposite field and helped the Sharks take an early lead that lasted until the top of the ninth.
Unfortunately the Sharks could not hold the lead and found themselves trailing by one run heading into the bottom of the ninth. As a pinch-hitter, Cruz helped the rally by getting a clutch single to put two men on and Rapoport moved them up with a nice sacrifice bunt.
Both continued to show strong efforts but unfortunately the comeback was ended. Rapoport and Cruz each had an outstanding game and in a way it illustrates their efforts in the winter league.
Tony Cruz evolved into a surprise offensive threat for the Sharks and did well defensively. He was among the leaders in batting average in a league that featured high draft picks such as Yonder Alonso, Buster Posey and Jason Castro. Although he often played designated hitter or first base, he also caught fairly regularly splitting time with Jordan Abruzzo.
Cruz showed good doubles power and had an excellent average. He seemed able to hit fastballs, recognize breaking stuff and seemed to do well adjusting to pitchers' timing. He needs to cut down on strikeouts and that can partially be accomplished through better plate discipline. Cruz seemed to do well laying off chase pitches and ones outside but seems prone to chasing balls up and out of the zone, especially fastballs. This needs to improve as he gets to higher levels since his OBP was based exclusively on a high batting average.
Cruz' lack of home runs is not too concerning, considering both parks in Hawaii are notoriously hard to hit in and the league lead in home runs was a paltry six. Clearly his strength is going to be gap power rather than home runs. Cruz seemed to have a good swing and if he can lay off the high stuff, he may be able to cut down on strikeouts and get more walks. He seems to be pretty mobile for a catcher as well.
Cruz will need to continually improve in order get to majors, but this winter was a good sign.
Jim Rapoport came in needing to improve his plate discipline and try to adjust to Double-A or near-Double-A pitching. After doing well in the Florida State League, he had a rough time in Springfield.
In Hawaii, Rapoport increased his walk rate fairly significantly, walking 12 times in 27 games. He also showed excellent hustle and poise. Although he struggled at the plate, it was a good start for him since he will likely be going back to Springfield.
Unfortunately Rapoport only seems to have power when he pulls the ball and can be fooled by tough pitches up and in ad well as sharp breaking stuff in and outside. He seems versatile and can strike singles to all fields. However, Rapoport lacks power to all fields and although he hit two home runs, most of them were dead pull shots. He only had four extra base hits in the winter league and he'll need to improve on that. Rapoport's improved plate discipline will help him, but he will need to deal with power stuff as he moves forward.
Rapoport started well but will need to continue to improve at the plate and projects more as a defensive player. He showed good range in the outfield and an accurate arm and is in general an above-average runner. The league tends to be conservative concerning stolen bases due to worries about injury.
While I don't think Rapoport is going to dazzle anyone, he has the making of a versatile utility player if he can improve the stick. He projects as a hard scrappy player who could grit his way to the majors.
Blake King started off strongly but struggled with control issues. He continues to be inconsistent with command and control. He has a bad tendency to throw up-high around the chest and shoulders and while out of the zone has a good enough fastball to blow by batters. King becomes a lot more hittable when he is forced to bring it into the upper part of the strike zone.
King needs more command of his pitches and be able to throw his fastball down low to keep the hitters off balance. He also has to get consistency with his curveball. In general, he has decent command of the curve but it can sometimes come out flat. King is extremely inconsistent when he has to move the ball around and either throws too high or hits the dirt. He needs to improve his control, as he issued numerous walks.
King showed that his four seam fastball is excellent, even low in the zone, and most of his strikeouts play off times where he can get his ball down in the zone. Stuff wise he is solid; his 91-93 MPH fastball has good movement and he has a sharp bender with a reasonable chance of catching the corner.
The righty is well built and has excellent stamina. I think King has the stuff to make it as a reliever but he needs to get control and learn to get much better command of his fastball. It was basically a mirror image of his previous minor league season in the FSL. He probably needs to stay in the FSL to work on his control and command before moving on. But once he does, he could be a good reliever.
I think King would benefit starting more since when relieving it is easier to get away with sloppy control and good stuff. He is going to struggle, but he needs to take his lumps if he wants to improve.
Tyler Herron had a long layoff and was rusty, as we reported earlier. He was generally in the high 80s which is different from the low 90s he is reported to throw. Herron's sinking fastball is an extremely effective pitch and he pounds the zone constantly with it. He was inconsistent with the breaking ball and seemed rusty, though when working it, he showed a big looping curve that was tough to hit. Herron seemed to have a good off-speed pitch that kept hitters off-balance. I could be wrong though.
Despite the stats which show he had a miniscule 0.69 ERA, Herron struggled at times. He has difficulty when his fastball isn't called low in the zone and couldn't get a lot of rhythm with the breaking pitch. Herron looked rusty and it showed. He messed up a couple of defense plays that contributed to some of his jams but he also was the victim of errors committed by his defense. He allowed seven runs compared to one earned.
When forced to move the ball around, Herron was more erratic and had a hard time setting up his pitches. His lower velocity made it easier for hitters to stay with him and harder to strike them out in my opinion. Herron also showed less control than normal.
Really, this assignment was more about getting in work in preparation for next season, so I don't think the Cardinals need to be concerned. It is obvious to me that Herron has excellent stuff and even with his layoff, he showed he could hold his own.
He stayed very poised and often refused to give in to the hitter. Herron can throw the ball inside and out on the lower part of the zone very well. With the layoff, it is hard to say what he should work on. He probably needs to focus on commanding the ball more and not rely on only pounding the low zone. Being able to move up and in or outside consistently will help him go far.
If Herron returns to form and throws in the 91 to 94 range next season, I think he may make excellent progress and could become a solid starter later on. However, he will need a lot more seasoning before that happens.
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