St. Louis Cardinals: Springfield to bolster strong pitching staff
As the season nears and the St. Louis Cardinals Major League roster is set, the minor league prospects are finding out where they will be starting the 2017 season. Springfield looks to have a strong chance to compete with their reported pitching staff.
In 2016, the Springfield Cardinals (the AA-affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) won the first-half Texas League North championship to qualify for the playoffs behind a strong offense and good pitching. This season, Springfield will rely more on the quality starters that will start the season in AA.
As reported by Derek Shore of The Cardinal Nation (see tweet below), the St. Louis Cardinals double-A affiliate looks to open the season with four of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Cardinal prospects in the rotation. Three of them are ranked inside the top ten, the fourth is ranked 14th. Sandy Alcantara (6th), Jack Flaherty (8th), Dakota Hudson (9th), and Austin Gomber (14th) is a solid rotation, if I say so myself.
Two of the four have AA experience for Springfield last season. Hudson worked out of the bullpen in two playoff appearances while Gomber started four games. Alcantara and Flaherty are only 21-years-old so they are right on track in their development.
Sandy Alcantara was signed in July 2013 to a minor league contract at age 17 out of the Dominican Republic. After spending two years in rookie ball, he found himself in Palm Beach and Peoria in 2016. Looking at his statistics, he will not jump out at you, but there is reason to be excited about his future.
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His fastball sits in the mid-90s with the capability of maxing it out in the triple digits as it received a 70 grade from scouts and is his number one pitch. He possesses two off-speed pitches: a change-up and curveball. According to MLB.com, his change-up is his second best pitch while his curveball is above-average. Some believe his curve will transform into a slider as he continues to develop as a starter.
Through his three seasons in the minor leagues, he has thrown over 240 innings with a 3.77 ERA with 259 strikeouts. He has also started every game he’s appeared in, except one. I imagine that most of his 2017 season will be spent in Springfield, unless he has a dominant stretch similar to Luke Weaver‘s last season. His ETA for St. Louis currently sits at 2019.
Transitioning to the other 21-year-old, Jack Flaherty‘s statistics are better than Alcantara’s as he dominated rookie ball. The numbers in single-A are slightly closer. Flaherty is ranked number eight in MLB Pipeline’s list of St. Louis Cardinals prospects and has a little more in his repertoire than Alcantara.
He does not rely as much on velocity as his fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s mixing in a nice change-up and a slider and curveball to keep hitters off-balance. He attacks the strike zone consistently averaging about a strikeout per inning with 251 Ks in 251.2 innings pitched. His walks numbers are about average with three per nine innings.
Similar to Alcantara, Flaherty should be looking at spending most of his season in double-A Springfield. However, he is expected to arrive onto the big league scene a year ahead of Alcantara in 2018.
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Last year’s first round pick Dakota Hudson is an interesting choice to enter the Springfield rotation this season as he has had limited starting experience in the lower levels. Appearing in sixteen total games last season, Hudson was mainly utilized as a bullpen arm to save his arm from any fatigue as he threw a lot of innings while at Mississippi State.
Hudson sports a nice four-pitch combination in his tool belt with the ability to mix and match speeds. His fastball is an interesting one as it has sinker movement, but can hit up to 97 mph. In the regular season last year, he had a 12.8 K/9 with a 4.7 BB/9 in his limited appearances so it is tough to project where he will be at as a starter.
The organization hopes he can work deep into games, but will need to show improvement in his control to see any kind of promotion this season. He is 22-years-old so he could get the nod over Flaherty and Alcantara if the organization wants to get them more time developing at lower levels, however it will be unlikely to see Hudson make the jump to triple-A. He has the same ETA as Flaherty of 2018.
Austin Gomber is the most experienced pitcher of the bunch so I would not be surprised to see him slotted as the number one starter. He’s the only one with any starting experience at this level, but has not seen a surplus of time: only starting four games. He was one of the more decorated pitchers of the entire organization last season. He led all pitchers in wins, WHIP, and batting average against.
He only has three pitches. He has average fastballs and changeups, but does sport a nice curveball that he has developed well in the minor leagues. He has yet to have an ERA >3.00 in the minors, and even posted a sub-2.00 ERA in his four starts last season in Springfield.
What really piques my interest about Gomber is how he dominated the Arizona Fall League in 2016. In seven starts, he pitched 33.2 innings to a 5-1 record and a 2.14 ERA. Like Flaherty, he averaged around a strikeout per inning, posting a 9.1 K/9 in his AFL starts and 8.5 in his three minor league seasons.
Workhorse is the best word to describe him. He already knows how to pitch at a high level and reminds me of a Lance-Lynn-type of guy. His ceiling is probably as a middle-of-the-rotation guy contributing at high impact.
There are some rumblings that he could be on the shortlist of names who might make an appearance or two in St. Louis if players are struggling or injury occurs. MLB Pipeline puts his ETA at 2017 so get ready for Gomber, folks!
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The 2017 Springfield Cardinals season is going to be a fun one with these big names appearing in the rotation. The amount of talent here gives me a feeling that Luke Weaver can be expendable. With these guys waiting in the wings continuing to develop, the Cardinals have an abundance of talent. The future is certainly bright when it comes to pitching.