No matter the sport, first round draft picks always come in with high expectations to succeed. St. Louis Cardinals top prospect Jack Flaherty has performed as expected in his first three professional seasons, yet has been even better in his fourth.
It is always intriguing when an organization takes a chance on high school players in the MLB Amateur draft. In the first round every year, major league organizations take these 18-years-old based on their unlimited upside. Some aren’t primed for the spotlight while others excel with this pressure on them. Jack Flaherty has done just that for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Flaherty, drafted 34th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Harvard-Westlake High School, burst onto the scene in his time in rookie ball. He posted a sub-two ERA in six starts with an excellent eleven strikeouts per nine innings. The California native saw relatively the same success in 2015 with three times the starts (18 GS, 2.84 ERA, 9.2 SO/9).
With an even larger workload in 2016, his ERA jumped into the high-threes with less strikeouts and more walks so there was slight concern in how he would progress as he worked his way through the higher levels of the minor leagues. It is safe to say that he has done okay for himself so far at double-A Springfield.
To put this into context, Flaherty has allowed more walks (5) than runs given up (3). His 0.69 ERA is first among Texas League starting pitchers, he’s won every start that he has made, and WHIP is a career best, 0.737.
This dominance has not been seen by a Springfield Cardinals pitcher since, well, Luke Weaver last season. Weaver made twelve starts in double-A, posting a 1.40 ERA. He also found himself making his major league debut for the St. Louis Cardinals against the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs the same year.
Unlike Weaver though, Flaherty should have a chance to see plenty of time in AAA-Memphis before making the jump to “The Show.” Weaver only made one start at Memphis before making the jump to St. Louis. Barring injuries, Flaherty has plenty of talent ahead of him in both St. Louis and Memphis so there is no rush to bring him along despite his early dominance in Springfield.
The 21-year-old is ranked 8th in MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 St. Louis Cardinals prospects. Five of the seven players ahead of him have already seen time in St. Louis. The other is last year’s first round pick in Delvin Perez, and the other is fellow Springfield starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara. Flaherty has outperformed Alcantara by far this season.
I am not saying that this ranking has caused Flaherty to feel slighted in some way, but his focus this season has been off the charts and sometimes a person can wonder how prospects view these rankings. There is nothing wrong with some intra-organizational competition to light fires into the players to strive for a higher ranking.
Flaherty’s repertoire consists of a fastball, change-up, slider, and curveball. His change-up grades out the highest, but all of his pitches are considered to be above-average. He is similar to Weaver in another sense, that he does not have overpowering stuff, but knows how to use his pitches to miss bats.
He is back above the strikeout per inning mark with forty in 39.1 innings pitched and has shown elite control. In his most recent start, he hit double-digit strikeouts in a game for the first time in 2017 with twelve and saw a game-high sixteen swinging strikes. He also matched that number in strikes looking.
It should be noted that he has not given up more than one walk in any game this season. Control is the name of the game for Flaherty.
While we may not get an opportunity to see Flaherty in St. Louis this season, he may see his first in-season promotion from double-A to triple-A.
In a sad turn of events, Memphis Redbirds starting pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon took a line drive off his head that forced him to have emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. There has yet to be an announcement for his replacement on Memphis’ roster, but it doesn’t take a genius to think Flaherty is a top candidate.
In my mind, I cannot help but think that Flaherty is just 21-years-old so there is no rush in promoting him yet. Let him continue to get a feel for his game at Springfield before rushing him off to Memphis.
If I were to put a timetable on it, the all-star break seems to be a legitimate amount of time for Flaherty to spend in double-A. If this hot streak continues until the all-star break, then I wouldn’t have a problem with him being promoted.
Everyone talks about the St. Louis Cardinals plethora of outfield talent in both the major and minor leagues. Flaherty looks to put the starting pitchers on this same level of talent through his dominant performances. It will be fun watching this kid progress further into his St. Louis Cardinals career.