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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #9 Sandy Alcantara

He throws really hard

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

#9: Sandy Alcantara, RHP

6’4”, 170 lbs; R/R; 7 September 1995

Relevant Stats: 29.8% K/11.3% BB (Peoria), 25.4% K/10.5% BB (Palm Beach)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

We kick off the home stretch of our prospect countdown with one of the biggest risers from this time last year. Heading into 2016, Alcantara was a tall, willowy slinger with plus arm strength and not a whole lot else. He had shown an ability to spin the ball, but his breaker had yet to really define itself. Likewise, he would occasionally show an intriguing changeup, but the ratio of quality to...well, something less than quality with the pitch was not good.

The 2015 numbers for the lanky fireballer were solid; he didn’t strike out a ton of hitters, posting just a 19.1% K rate in the Gulf Coast League (it was his first season stateside), but also mostly pitching within the strike zone, as he limited walks to the tune of 7.5% free passes handed out. So relatively good control of a high-octance fastball, not much command yet, and not any really dependable offspeed pitches. That’s not at all bad in terms of raw materials with which to start.

I have to admit, given that profile, I was surprised to see the Cardinals jump Alcantara so aggressively to begin 2016, pushing him all the way up to full-season Peoria. It felt like a challenge promotion, in much the same way the organisation had challenged Magneuris Sierra with a Peoria assignment in early 2015. Fortunately, Alcantara’s challenge went much, much better than Sierra’s.

What we saw from Alcantara this past season was remarkable, as he moved up to a much, much tougher level of competition, and showed an ability to dominate. He missed bats at a much higher rate than he had before, and the stuff began to take shape into something extremely exciting. The downside of his 2016 stat line was an increase in walks — a fairly significant one, in fact — but that is perhaps unsurprising, given the change in approach. The process of beginning to develop those secondary pitches into real weapons required Alcantara to throw them more, and while he certainly missed more bats in doing so, he also worked out of the strike zone more often. It’s all just part of the process. The next step will be to move back into the zone while maintaining that ability to miss bats when he wants to.

As far as stuff goes, Alcantara doesn’t take a back seat to really anyone in the Cards’ system, including Alex Reyes, who sits atop this list for a second consecutive year. (Spoiler alert, I suppose.) The repertoire starts with pure power, in the form of a fastball that tops out in the triple digits, and sits mostly 94-98. Alcantara doesn’t have great movement on the heater, but also doesn’t necessarily need it.

In 2015, the fastball velocity was the selling point, and it was really the only selling point. He threw hard, and that was that. This season, though, the overall arsenal started to really take shape. Alcantara throws both a changeup and breaking ball, with the change flashing average potential, and probably being slightly more consistent than the breaker. What his breaking ball lacks in consistency, though, it makes up for in potential, as he’s capable of snapping off a wide slurve with two-plane break at times that grades out as a potential plus pitch at its best.

It’s more of a curveball at this point, still, but Alcantara’s slightly low, slingy arm slot makes me think he might be better off with a true slider. I generally prefer curveballs over sliders, believing the mechanics of throwing the curve are much less risky, but Alcantara’s arm slot makes it difficult for him to consistently get on top of the ball. A slider might fit him better, and the tighter break could be devastating.

It’s not hard to look at Alcantara, squint slightly, and see a future 70 fastball, 60 breaking ball (particularly if he were to go to a slider), and 45-50 changeup. With just even average command, you’d be talking about a high-end #3 sort of starter, and if things come together into anything better than average, the sky is the limit.

Player Comp: With his three-quarter delivery, premium velocity, and potential for a wipeout breaking ball, Alcantara calls to mind early-career Max Scherzer a bit. The refinements Scherzer has made to his game in becoming one of the three to five best pitchers in all of baseball are exactly the sorts of developmental steps one can dream on for the lanky Dominican.

via Nathan Graham: