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Weekly farm recap 4/29-5/5: Thomas raking in Memphis return

A pair of AAA prospects are trouncing the competition.

MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the weekly farm recap. Two affiliates remain in the fight for the division, one is climbing back toward the .500 mark, and another is struggling to find a way out of the cellar.

You can read this week’s daily farm reports from Andrew St. John and Austin Ward at the previous links to get in-depth game-by-game recaps.

Memphis Redbirds

Week: (4-3) | Overall: (17-13)

Division: 2nd, 3 GB

The Redbirds’ week might have seemed like a middling one, but it was more promising than it looks on paper.

Two of the three losses came at the beginning of the week against the New Orleans Baby Cakes (16-14), but Memphis came back to take the last two games of that series. They won the first two of a four-game set against the Nashville Sounds (9-21), one of those coupling with a loss in yesterday’s doubleheader.

The Redbirds have scored at least five runs in each of their last five games, with the highest run total coming in a 17-2 trouncing of the Sounds.

Memphis will finish up the series with Nashville tonight, looking to win three of four. They’ll then open up a set against the division-leading Iowa Cubs (20-10).

Hitter of the Week: Lane Thomas, OF

Stats: 7 G, 26 AB, 7 R, 10 H, 4 2B, 3B, 5 RBI, 2 BB, HBP, 8 K, 3 SB

It looks like Lane Thomas didn’t want to go back to AAA.

He’s absolutely mashed since returning to Memphis, going 10-for-26 this week with five extra-base hits and three stolen bases. There are two games in this AAA stint that fall outside this week, from the doubleheader on April 28. He was 3-for-7 with a home run.

Thomas was great in his limited playing time, and it was never really expected he would stay on the major league roster for the rest of the year given the Cardinals’ outfield depth. But now, he’s worked himself into that conversation.

He was a prospect with potential and excellent results since coming to the Cardinals in exchange for international bonus pool money, anywhere from 10 to 23 percent better than the average hitter at every level in that span.

Now, he’s a legitimate promotion candidate. He and Tyler O’Neill—who hit two home runs in his first game back at AAA yesterday—make for an imposing outfield in Memphis.

Pitcher of the Week: Jesus Cruz, RHP

Stats: 3 G, 3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K

Cruz has been in the Cardinals’ system since 2017, but saw an extremely rapid rise since the start of last season.

He began 2018 in Peoria and ended in Palm Beach. This season started in Springfield, but the 24-year-old reliever found his way to Memphis after just two AA appearances.

The numbers are really comical when written out. Cruz has made eight appearances, with 8.2 innings pitched as a Redbird. He’s yet to give up a run and has a FIP and xFIP of 0.71 and 1.41, respectively. He’s struck out 16 batters and walked just two.

Yes, he has nearly two strikeouts per inning in his Memphis debut.

Cruz has faced 29 batters, putting his K% at 55.2 percent.

Is he going to sustain this kind of production? Probably not. That’s beyond star prospect production.

But still, Cruz is absolutely tearing up PCL hitters to this point, and could throw himself into the bullpen discussions if he keeps it up.

Springfield Cardinals

Week: (2-4) | Overall: (10-20)

Division: 4th (last), 9.5 GB

Springfield continued what feels like a perennial slide into last place this week, going 2-4 and falling 10 games below .500. Some games are close—they lost two back-to-back one-run games against the Amarillo Sod Poodles (13-17), including a walk-off loss in the 11th inning. The others were more ugly, like a 1-10 loss against the Frisco RoughRiders (18-12).

The Cardinals will play the RoughRiders tonight in a continuation of a four-game series, which is split 1-1. Springfield won last night’s contest, 8-6.

Hitter of the Week: Conner Capel, OF

Stats: 6 G, 24 AB, 4 R, 6 H, 2B, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 5 K

Jhon Torres often gets the most coverage given his youth and frame (and the potential that comes with that combination), but Conner Capel was another piece of the trade of Oscar Mercado to Cleveland.

He hasn’t given a lot of reason to focus on him since the trade. Before that, Capel was posting a wRC+ above 113 over the course of more than 800 PA. Since coming to the Cardinals, he’s averaged around 82.

He’s started to walk a little less, but not a large amount; at this point, his contact ability hasn’t been as solid as it was for Cleveland. This week he flaunted some serious power, with three of his six hits being home runs.

That puts Capel’s homer total for the season at five, which is promising. Capel’s 2017 season in A-ball saw him hit 22 home runs. Last year, that number went down to just seven at High-A. Capel has nearly matched that total in a quarter of the plate appearance this year.

Pitcher of the Week: Evan Kruczynski, LHP

Stats: 1 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 K

Kruczynski had a solid outing on the mound this week, and he needed it. The 2017 9th-round pick has really shot through the system after coming from East Carolina, starting at Peoria in his first year and climbing through Palm Beach to Springfield last season.

Kruczysnki is now through the same number of starts that he had to end the year at AA last year, and the results have been wildly different.

Through six Springfield starts last year, the lefty had an ERA and FIP of 2.50 and 2.95, had pitched 39.2 innings and was walking just over two batters per nine innings.

This year, his ERA is a whopping 8.89. His FIP shows it may not be as bad as it seems at 4.84, but that’s still much worse than his AA debut. He’s pitched 13.1 fewer innings in that time, and is walking nearly six batters per nine.

The most promising thing of Kruczynski’s last start was that he didn’t walk a single batter. His strikeout numbers might have suffered because of it, but he was able to hold the opposition to three hits and an unearned run. After the potential he showed in 2018, let’s hope this is a sign of what’s to come.

Palm Beach Cardinals

Week: (1-4) | Overall: (17-12)

Division: 3rd, 2.5 GB

Palm Beach has slid quite a bit after their excellent start that had them fighting for first place, but they’re still contending and can remain in the conversation if they don’t continue the spiral.

This week saw them go 1-4, with all four losses coming in a row in their most recent games. The PB Cardinals were cruising on a four-game win streak before their current skid began, which is largely thanks to the division-leading Fort Myers Miracle (20-10). Palm Beach has played the Miracle six times in the last eight games and lost all of them.

Next, they’ll take on the Daytona Tortugas (14-15) in a three-game series, starting today.

Hitter of the Week: Justin Toerner, OF

Stats: 5 G, 19 AB, 2 R, 5 H, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 10 K, SAC

Even in a week where he struck out over 40 percent of the time, Toerner had the best overall offensive output of his peers at Palm Beach. A.E. Schafer wrote about Toerner last week and also covered him a bit this morning, so head there to read more about the prospect, if you haven’t. Through 114 PA, the 22-year-old lefty has 196 wRC+, an OBP just under .500 and a walk rate nearing 20 percent.

Pitcher of the Week: Johan Oviedo, RHP

Stats: 1 G, 1 GS, 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, HBP, 7 K

Yes, Oviedo just earned a call-up to Springfield and has already made his first AA start. But his final start for Palm Beach is a great example of why he was called up. Oviedo had a 1.60 ERA and 2.90 FIP in 33.2 innings to start the year at High-A. A.E. Schafer also covers Oviedo pretty extensively in his piece from this morning (linked above), so head there for much better analysis than I could give here in the recap.

Peoria Chiefs

Week: (5-1) | Overall: (13-14)

Divison: 5th, 4.5 GB

Peoria got on a roll this week, drawing closer to the .500 mark. After starting with two rainouts, the Chiefs swept the Dayton Dragons and took two of three from the Bowling Green Hot Rods. They outscored opponents 30-13 over those six games.

Peoria will start the week with a three-game set against the Western Michigan Whitecaps (13-15).

Hitter of the Week: Wadye Ynfante, OF

Stats: 5 G, 13 AB, 5 R, 5 H, 2B, HR, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 5 K, HBP, SB

Ynfante feels like he’s been around in the Cardinals system for a long time, and he has, in terms of prospects. His first season of rookie ball was 2014.

Still, he’s only 21 years old.

Ynfante spent four years at the various rookie level affiliates before playing at short-season State College last year, where he posted a subpar batting line. This season, the results have been better, with 108 wRC+ in 21 games.

Ynfante flashed some rare out-of-the-park power this week, hitting his second home run of the year. More impressive than that were the four walks drawn in 18 PA.

Ynfante has never drawn walks at a great clip. He’s had two seasons where he’s walked more than 9.1 percent of the time. That’s combining with a climbing strikeout rate for some rough results. Last season, Ynfante struck out in 35.3 percent of his plate appearances. This year that number is still over the 30 mark, at 32.1 percent.

He doesn’t have the power to help compensate for poor on-base skills, so if Ynfante can make a habit of walking like he did this week, it would be a huge boon to his development.

Pitcher of the Week: Evan Sisk, RHP

Stats: 2 G, 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Evan Sisk was drafted in the 16th round last summer and pitched 30.2 innings with a 1.76 ERA in rookie ball.

The Cardinals are either debating stretching him out as a starter or trying to groom him as a multi-inning reliever. He pitched mainly out of the bullpen in 2018, aside from a three-inning start, but he averaged about 1.1 IP per appearance.

That was also the length of Sisk’s two appearances this week, where he didn’t show his usual strikeout numbers but really excelled at keeping offenses quiet. He finished the game in both outings. None of Sisk’s four appearances this season have been shorter than an inning, going two in his first shot of the season.

Sisk’s numbers this year look better than last in terms of ERA/FIP/xFIP. His ERA is even lower at 1.59, though in a limited sample. His FIP and xFIP, which were 3.40 and 3.81 in 2018, now sit at 2.06 and 2.53.

That’s come with a major decrease in groundball rate. Last season Sisk was getting balls on the ground more than half of the time; this year, it’s more like one-third. His strikeout numbers have gone up, though, with 11.12 K/9 to this point. He’s struck out seven of 23 batters faced, good for a K% around 30 percent.