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Weekly Farm Recap 5/6-12: O’Neill crushing the ball in Memphis

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Tyler O’Neill is ready to get back to St. Louis.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the weekly farm recap. With some good play and a bit of luck, the division races are still in play for the Cardinals’ minor league affiliates. Some familiar faces are looking to make their way back to the big leagues, while others are making waves in the lower levels.

You can read this week’s daily farm reports from Andrew St. John at the previous links to get in-depth game-by-game recaps, as well as A.E. Schafer’s most recent 2019 draft preview.

Memphis Redbirds

Week: (3-4) | Overall: (20-17)

Division: 2nd, 4 GB

It was a tough week for the Redbirds, as they squandered a chance to make up ground on the division-leading Iowa Cubs (24-13), dropping the series 1-3 at home.

It was closer than it seems at first glance, as three of the four games in the series were decided by one run. Thursday’s 8-9 loss was an 11-inning game in which both teams combined for seven runs in the game’s final inning, with the Redbirds’ comeback attempt just falling short.

The standings picture looks much better than it could’ve, with Memphis taking the first two in their current series against the Nashville Sounds (12-24) and Iowa dropping two straight. They’ll look to continue their success against Nashville tonight and ensure a series win at the least.

Hitter of the Week: Tyler O’Neill, OF

Stats: 7 G, 29 AB, 9 R, 10 H, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 8 K, SB

Last week, it was Lane Thomas showing how he didn’t want to go back to Memphis. This week, it was Tyler O’Neill.

O’Neill hit three homers across seven games, hitting over .300 in that time. He had his usual high-strikeout approach, but there were some walks mixed in as well.

In 40 PA at Memphis this season, O’Neill has a slash line of .324/.375/.730.

There really isn’t much left to say at this point. We’ve seen him on the major league roster. He struggled in a reserve/pinch-hitter role, striking out in nearly half of his plate appearances, but O’Neill is clearly outclassing AAA pitching and needs to be on a major league roster.

The problem is, the Cardinals have quite a few outfielders who fit that description at this point. It’s a good problem to have, but one that probably needs to be figured out soon.

Pitcher of the Week: Austin Gomber, LHP

Stats: 1 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, HR, 2 BB, 7 K

It wasn’t a masterful outing or one showcasing stamina, but Gomber pitched very well in what was the Redbirds’ only win against Iowa, holding the division leaders to one run over five innings while striking out seven.

All things considered, Gomber has gotten out to a great start at Memphis in 2019. He has a 2.82 ERA across seven starts to begin the season. Though his FIP is nearly a run higher and he’s averaging just 5.1 innings per appearance, Gomber looks to be stringing together a performance that should position him highly on the list of pitching depth call-ups—something that could happen sooner rather than later.

Most interesting to me among Gomber’s performance for Memphis has been his strikeouts. He’s posted what would be a career-high 10.33 K/9 to this point. His BB/9 of 3.29 isn’t excellent, but Gomber has consistently averaged between 2.5 to 4 walks per nine innings throughout his career. If he can continue to average over a strikeout per inning while doing a decent job of limiting runs, that’s a good sign moving forward.

Springfield Cardinals

Week: (5-1) | Overall: (15-21)

Division: 3rd, 8 GB

It was a strong week for Springfield. They finished up with series wins against a tough Frisco RoughRiders (21-15) team and a rough NW Arkansas Naturals (13-22) squad, vaulting over the Naturals to escape the cellar of the Texas League North. In the final two games against the South-leading RoughRiders, the Cardinals outscored them 14-2.

Springfield will have a chance to make up some serious ground in the division and erase some of their trying start when they open a three-game series against the division leaders, the Arkansas Travelers (22-12), at home tonight. A sweep of the Travelers would position the Cardinals just five games back, quite a feat given their rocky beginning to 2019.

Hitter of the Week: Justin Williams, OF

Stats: 5 G, 20 AB, 4 R, 7 H, 2B, RBI, 3 BB, 6 K

Williams was a major part of the Tommy Pham deal with the Rays. He was struggling a bit in his first taste of AAA but had been a plus bat for most of his career to that point.

He struggled even more when coming to the Cardinals midway through the season, putting up 70 wRC+ across 76 PA to end the season. Thought to be someone who would get a long look in Spring Training, Williams was put back quite a bit when he punched a TV and fractured his hand. He did a Q&A with Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch in January where he discussed the injury, among other things.

Williams was activated from the IL on May 7 and was sent to Springfield. Since getting back to playing, he’s hit pretty well. He got on base more than 40 percent of the time in his return, with a lot of that coming from putting the ball in play.

Williams was never much of an out-of-the-park power hitter, but showed gap power potential with a decent amount of doubles. Seeing his contact and on-base ability do well in his return to action is a good sign. Of course, he’s already performed well at AA; the real test will be if/when he gets to Memphis again.

Pitcher of the Week: Williams Pérez, RHP

Stats: 2 G, 2 GS, 13 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, HR, 7 BB, 11 K

I’d venture a guess that you haven’t heard this name. Or if you have, it’s been a while.

Pérez is a 27-year-old righty who saw major league time with the Braves in 2015 and 2016 but couldn’t stick after posting a 5.18 ERA in 170.1 innings. After that, he saw minor league time with the Cubs and Mariners before finding his way to the Cardinals.

Pérez doesn’t have a ton of potential from a prospect view, but he’s showing decent strikeout stuff, averaging a strikeout per inning over his last 64 IP which includes a stint with the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s AAA affiliate.

He ended strong with Seattle last season, pitching to an ERA and FIP both around 3.00 for the season and really limiting walks and hits.

This season, Pérez is limiting contact as a whole even better than he did last year, with opponents hitting .244 against him. The problem is that he’s been stung by a whopping 21.2 percent HR/FB rate and is walking nearly four batters per nine innings.

The numbers this week show the struggles Pérez has had with control, but he’s clearly getting swings and misses too. It’s worth it to see if he can cut down on the walks and home runs and offer the Cardinals yet another depth pitching option.

Palm Beach Cardinals

Week: (4-2) | Overall: (21-14)

Division: T-2nd, 1 GB

The PB Cardinals erased any memory of the rough week prior to this one with back-to-back series wins that put them once again just out of reach of first place in the Florida State League South.

After taking two of three from the Daytona Tortugas (18-17), Palm Beach did the same against the division rival Bradenton Marauders (21-14), with whom they now share 2nd place.

After an off day yesterday, Palm Beach will open a seven-game homestand with a four-game set against the Tampa Tarpons (17-18) before closing the week out with another bout with Bradenton.

Hitter of the Week: Julio Rodriguez, C

Stats: 4 G, 15 AB, 3 R, 8 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 0 K, SF

Rodriguez is one of many exciting young catching prospects in the system who can carry a bat well.

The 21-year-old catcher has been in the system since 2016 and looks to have really figured out whatever problems he had in his approach with Peoria last season that put him below league-average.

Through 94 PA, Rodriguez has 196 wRC+. His slash line is .376/.426/.565. Honestly, his total of four home runs is better than it looks, given his home park of Roger Dean Stadium, where fly balls go to die. He hasn’t walked a ton at 6.4 percent, but he’s striking out less than 15 percent of the time.

If Rodriguez continues to hit like this, it’s hard to see him staying in Palm Beach for too much longer.

Pitcher of the Week: Edgar Gonzalez, RHP

Stats: 1 G, 1 GS, 6.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, HBP, WP, 11 K

Gonzalez hasn’t been in the system long—he was a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, pitching to a 4.99 ERA (but a 2.44 FIP) in 30.2 innings at State College to end 2018.

He skipped Peoria and started with Palm Beach this season and has pitched pretty well to this point. He’s made seven starts and pitched 33.1 innings, but long outings aren’t really prioritized at this level anyway. What’s important is that he has a 3.78 ERA and a FIP close to last year’s mark at 2.49.

Gonzalez still has great numbers in terms of expected statistics, but his actual results are starting to get closer to that mark. He’s walking a few more batters this year than last, but his K/9 has gone up by roughly two, at 11.07.

His last outing was just phenomenal. Sure, there was a hit-by-pitch and a wild pitch. But he limited the opposition to one run and struck out 11 of the 26 batters he faced. The 22-year-old righty has actually seen his LOB% go down since last season, but is still seeing better results. He’s one to watch as the season moves forward.

Peoria Chiefs

Week: (2-3) | Overall: (15-17)

Divison: 5th, 6.5 GB

Peoria fell further behind in the standings as a cluster of three teams at the top of the Midwest League Western division continue to run away from the rest of the middling pack.

The Chiefs took two of three from the Western Michigan Whitecaps (16-18) to start the week but dropped the first two against the South Bend Cubs (19-15) before the third game was cancelled due to rain.

Peoria isn’t playing terribly, at 6-4 over their last ten games, but that level of play is no competition for the division-leading Quad Cities River Bandits (21-10), who are staking a strong claim to the Western crown after going 9-1 in their recent stretch. At this point, Peoria is even four games back from the third-place Kane County Cougars (21-15).

The Chiefs will see an extreme contrast in their opponents this week, starting a nine-game homestand that begins with five against the last-place Beloit Snappers (10-21) and concludes with a shot to gain ground on Quad Cities.

Hitter of the Week: Delvin Perez, SS

Stats: 5 G, 21 AB, 5 R, 8 H, 3 K, SAC

There wasn’t a ton of excellence from Peoria on the offensive side this week, barring two big games. What was nice to see was a string of solid hitting put together by Delvin Perez, including two three-hit games.

I listed Perez on the players to watch headed into this season, mainly because it was time for him to start producing or watch the bottom fall out of what little stock he had left.

Ultimately, it hasn’t been pretty.

His strikeout rate has gone up from its usual 20-ish percent to 23.1. Instead of walking around 10 percent of the time, he’s walking in just under 5 percent of his PA.

What’s gone up, though, is his contact.

Perez is hitting .284 this season, which is his highest mark since his rookie season. His BABIP is a monstrous .377.

It’s looking like Perez is never really going to fill into the frame and develop power. But he could redevelop his hit tool and begin to rework his on-base ability again. At 20 years old, any sign of improvement is a move in the right direction. He’s still below average as a hitter at this point, but his numbers are improved over 2018.

Pitcher of the Week: Evan Sisk, RHP

Stats: 2 G, 3.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, WP, 3 K

Sisk takes the honors again for Peoria, partly because the starting rotation is giving him opportunities for long appearances, but mainly because he’s capitalizing on them.

Last week’s recap went into detail about Sisk, but the thing to note is that his strikeout rate is staying pretty consistent while his ERA sits at a stunning 0.96. He’s still only made six appearances for 9.1 innings, but there’s not much to dislike from Sisk to this point in the season.