This article was originally published at the Redbird Daily by Colin Garner, and is now proud to call the Cards Conclave home. Throughout July, we’ll be re-running all 30 Prospect articles as we lead up to Colin’s Mid-Season Prospect Update later in the month.
In Collaboration with Kyle Reis and Birds On The Black, Colin Garner presents you with The Cardinals Top 30 Prospects! Today, we have #2, Jack Flaherty.
2. Jack Flaherty – RHP
1st Round – 2014 Draft
Entering age-22 season
AA FIP: 2.29; AAA FIP: 4.10
What I Like
What separates Jack Flaherty from every other pitcher on this list is the depth of his repertoire. Think about some of the better pitchers in the system. Hicks is a fastball-curveball guy. Hudson is best known for his slider and mid to upper 90’s fastball. Flaherty, on the other hand, threw five different pitches while in the majors last year: fastball, sinker, curve, slider, and a changeup.
While his repertoire is deep, his slider is among the games best according to Joe Schwarz of The Athletic and Birds on the Black. Joe isn’t the only one, either. Eno Sarris, formerly of Fangraphs and now of The Athletic, pointed out the similarities between Flaherty’s slider and Clayton Kershaw’s. In terms of whiff rate, they’re absolutely right: hitters swung and missed at 28.7% of the sliders Flaherty threw last year.
While in Springfield, Flaherty was as in control as a pitcher could possibly be. In 63 innings he had a 1.42 ERA and stuck out 25.6 percent of the hitters he faced. At the start of the season, he shared a rotation with Sandy Alcantara, Austin Gomber, and the aforementioned Hudson. Last April, in my opinion, Flaherty was the least exciting of the four. He proved me wrong when, in the first Springfield game I attended, he went 7 2/3 shutout innings while striking out nine.
My scorecard from the night shows how dominant he was and precisely how few baserunners he allowed. (Notice Max Schrock batting seventh and playing second base. He actually hit one of the harder balls off Flaherty when he lined out to left in the 5th.)
His final strikeout, which came against Paz, was classic Flaherty. He used his slider and breaking ball to get ahead, and attacked with his fastball with two strikes until, eventually, he got one by the hitter. His velocity, which at one time was only projected, became reality last season and is why he’s made an enormous jump up lists this year.
What I Don’t Like
There’s little that I don’t like about Flaherty. Most of it has to do with his struggles in five starts covering 21 1/3 innings in the majors last year. To briefly recap, he had a 6.33 ERA and walked over 10 percent of the hitters he faced while his strikeout rate dipped from his minor league norm. Remember, though, that Luke Weaver really struggled in 2016 before being dominant for a stretch last year.
What separates Flaherty from where Weaver is now is fastball command. Go back and watch the video of the at-bat against Paz. Flaherty gets ahead 1-2 and throws a fastball down the middle, but it’s fouled back. In the majors, those pitches aren’t fouled off. They get hit, and hard. After his promotion to St. Louis, opponents hit .333 with a .455 slugging percentage against his four-seam fastball, and .400 with a .700 slugging percentage against the sinker.
Flaherty’s stuff is undeniable, but he has to be more precise with where he puts his fastball. After all, opponents hit .250 or below against his slider or curve. That’s a really good place to start, and if he pairs that with a more effective fastball, especially one that can get easy outs early in counts, I wouldn’t be surprised if he holds on to a rotation spot all season long.
Thanks for reading! Tomorrow is Opening Day and we’re revealing the number one prospect on the list (I bet you can’t guess who it is). Thanks to Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball for the content they contributed, and don’t forget to check out Kyle’s reports at Birds on the Black.