St. Louis Cardinals prospect Jack Flaherty continued his excellent season Monday afternoon with another scoreless outing. Flaherty improved to 7-1 while lowering his ERA to 1.26. He is the first pitcher in minor league baseball to reach seven wins, and now has two more than he posted all of last year with Palm Beach. His first season in AA has been better than anyone could have imaged. Especially when considering the jump from A-ball and the hitter friendliness of the Texas League.
What is Working?
Flaherty is posting career bests in virtually every category. His current WHIP (0.92), ERA (1.26), hits per nine (6.6), and opponent batting average (.204) are all career lows. He is displaying incredible command of his pitches, while mixing and matching to keep hitters off-balance. Flaherty is also not afraid to pitch backwards, and start off a batter with an off-speed pitch. He can use both sides of the plate, and move the ball up and down as he sees fit. His ability to throw any pitch for a strike in all counts is a true weapon. His good command, and not being reliant on strikeouts allows him to pitch deep into games. Besides Monday’s outing, Flaherty has not walked more than one batter in any start. In addition to limiting walks, he has yet to hit a batter this season. For comparison, fellow top pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara has four multiple walk games, has hit five batters, and thrown 12 wild pitches through eight starts. As our Kyle Reis (@kyler416) noted, Flaherty is doing a better job of staying on top of the baseball with all of his pitches, thus making it harder to pick the pitch up out of his hand while giving his pitches more downward plane. His fastball also appears to be moving more than in years past, while reaching 96mph. Below is a video from one of his starts earlier this season.
In addition to displaying a good mix of pitches and command, Flaherty also shows incredible poise on the mound. He did not have his best stuff Monday afternoon, as evidenced by his season high of four walks. Despite battling his command, he kept the same demeanor throughout the start no matter the situation. From at-bat to at-bat, Flaherty truly seems to be in control of the game.
While Flaherty’s numbers may regress some, as evidenced by his ERA difference in April (0.56) and May (2.16), I believe he can (and eventually will) be a solid starting pitcher at the major league level. A good comparison for Flaherty is the Nationals Joe Ross. Both pitchers have a sneaky fastball with good movement that isn’t necessarily overpowering. They also heavily rely on a change-up and slider for their off-speed offerings, among a couple of other pitches. Both of their effectiveness is reliant on good command and ability to work all quadrants of the strike zone. While Ross has thus far not lived up to his ceiling of a 2-3 starter, he has shown flashes of his potential. He gave up one earned run, no walks, and scattered five hits over eight innings in his last outing. If Flaherty keeps up this current pace, I would expect him to receive a promotion to AAA Memphis sooner rather than later. He appears to be ready for the jump now, but there is no need to push him with the Memphis rotation full. Fellow prospects such as Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales are off to good starts in AAA, and would likely be the first in line to receive a call-up to St. Louis. In the event one of them is needed, Flaherty would be the logical choice to fill the spot at Memphis.
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