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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #5 Jack Flaherty

Flaherty keeps moving up the ladder.

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

#5: Jack Flaherty, RHP

6’4”, 205 lbs; R/R; 15 October 1995

Relevant Stats: 134 IP, 22.3% K, 8.0% BB, 3.20 FIP (Palm Beach)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

It’s been very strange, seeing some of the prospect lists come out this offseason with Jack Flaherty’s name considerably lower than I expected. The Baseball America list, compiled by Derrick Goold, was particularly low on the California righty, dropping him out of their top ten entirely. Following the list’s release, Goold said something to the effect of, “at some point, projection has to actually become reality,” or something like that.

I have to admit, I really don’t get what the BA people were looking for out of Flaherty, and completely disagree with that assessment. Of course, I’m also probably just reading too much into a fairly innocuous statement on Flaherty, but it makes a handy jumping-off point for my own writeup on him, so I’m going to take the opportunity.

Admittedly, 2016 did not start off the way Flaherty or the Cardinals probably would have planned it. He had one disastrous start in April, a lot of what looks like shitty batted-ball luck in general, and by the end of May he was cruising with an ERA close to 6.00. It looked like High A, pitcher-friendly league and all, was giving young Mr. Flaherty his first real taste of adversity.

And then, from about the end of May ‘til the end of the season, Jack Flaherty was really good. No more, no less. Not surprising. A talented 20 year old pitcher was really good in the Florida State League. And that’s why he’s a top five on my list.

Flaherty passed his previous high in innings pitched by nearly 40 innings this season, struck out nearly a batter per inning, and finished up with an ERA in the mid-3.00s and an FIP that suggested he was actually a little unlucky. Again, what’s not to like?

The stuff for Flaherty is good, occasionally very good, as he works in the low-90s with his fastball, and spots it to the corners well. He’s not a fireballer, but 90-93 with command is still good enough to get outs any day of the week. He features a pair of solid-average offspeed pitches in his slider and changeup, both of which he can throw for strikes or out of the zone if need be. There are no 60s on his card, but there are three potential 55s, and that’s pretty damned good.

The one really disappointing aspect of Flaherty’s development to date, for me, has been his struggle to find a consistent feel for his curveball. Coming out of high school (where he was a two-way star, remember, considered a better third base prospect until about April of his draft year), he was a legit four-pitch guy, with an ability to throw two breaking balls and keep them from bleeding together. To his credit, the curve and slider still don’t bleed together; the curve has just stagnated. He was able to work over a full 20 mph range when he had that curveball working, going from the low 70s to the low 90s, and to me refinding that curve would be a huge boon for him going forward.

Is Flaherty going to be an ace? No, probably not. He doesn’t have that kind of ceiling, unless his command ends up improving a couple grades somewhere along the way. But there’s a very solid #3 starter here, if he can continue to hone his craft and stay healthy. If he could rediscover his curveball, it would push him up even a little higher in my estimation, I think. He’s ready to move up to Double A in his age 21 season, and how he performs on that stage, which has proven to be such a great divide for so many prospects, will give us a much better idea of how close or far away he really is from contributing in St. Louis.

Player Comp: A poor man’s version of James Shields, maybe not quite as far above average, but the same kind of consistent, dependable performer who lacks real flash to his game.