The Cardinals pitching this year has not been bad—the team ranks 8th in ERA (4.01). If you refuse to use ERA because you believe it is not an accurate representation of pitching success, the team also ranks 8th in FIP (4.10) and xFIP (4.13) (Fangraphs). This is not to say there have not been struggles. As fans we know better. One only has to look at the recent implosion of Mike Leake or whatever it was Adam Wainwright was trying to do, topping out at 85 for a couple starts before going on the DL. Even the relative inconsistency of Carlos Martinez has been somewhat of a disappointment.
Although the overall numbers stack up reasonably well, very few people, if any, would say they are pleased with the pithing so far this year. In what seems to be a hybrid move, giving the Cardinals offseason flexibility and perhaps improving the still small playoff chances of a .500 team, Jack Flaherty has been added to the 40 man roster. While many had been calling for the promotion of Flaherty for some time, it was not until the Mike Leake trade on Wednesday that the Cardinals finally opened up a roster spot for the young pitcher.
Flaherty was the 34th pick in the 2014 draft, started this season in AA Springfield, and was moved to AAA Memphis in June. Between these two levels, he has been consistent—giving up more than 3 earned runs only once in 25 starts (Fangraphs).
Rising from high A ball in 2016 to the MLB less than a year later is no small feat. Fangraphs rated him as one of the most improved pitching prospects in May. By the time the midseason prospect rankings were released by Baseball America, Flaherty had earned a spot in the top 60. Although his participation in the Futures Game might suggest otherwise, Flaherty has never been a super dominant pitcher. He has simply gotten the job done at each level.
According to MLB.com, he has a very good changeup, a plus slider and fastball (hitting the mid 90s), and a developing curve. As he continues to grow, he is expected to add velocity to his already solid fastball.
It will be important to remember that Flaherty is just 21. And, as mentioned above, was pitching in A ball just last year. He is far from a finished product. That said, he is certainly talented enough to contribute now—he would not have been given a roster spot otherwise. Especially since he did not need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft.
As John J. Fleming writes in this article, Flaherty is unlikely to become a mainstay in the rotation for a couple years, but his debut is still reason for excitement. There is not a large amount of data for analyzing a minor league player, but Flaherty has consistently missed bats. His K% this year in Memphis was 25.1%, which is slightly less than one batter per inning.
Watching a new prospect debut is always exciting. Dreams of future dominance sit at the forefront of our minds. To his benefit, expectations aren’t sky high either. After all, Flaherty was never supposed to pitch at this level so soon. It’s almost as if he is playing with house money. Is he the kind of player who can single-handedly provide the spark the Cardinals need to get back in the hunt? No. But he is an exciting prospect with a bright future that begins tonight.