TOWER GROVE • For a few pitchers who were expected to go out to Arizona and get needed innings in exchange for bloated ERAs, three Cardinals starters have turned their appearances in baseball's "finishing school" into early auditions for 2013.
Kevin Siegrist, a lefty with all the trappings of a prospect, struck out eight in four innings on Monday to take over the Arizona Fall League lead in the statistic. Siegrist has a 2-1 record with a 2.37 ERA in six games (five starts) and 19 innings out in Arizona. He leads the league with 27 strikeouts, and on Monday he received no decision after allowing one run on four hits and a walk for the Surprise Saguaros, the AFL team that the Cardinals share with other major-league clubs. Siegrist has yet to allow a homer this fall.
The strikeout leader board for AFL has a Show-Me feel:
- Kevin Siegrist, Cardinals ... 27 Ks, 19 IP (six walks)
- Robbie Erlin, Padres ... 25 Ks, 18 2/3 IP (five walks)
- Boone Whiting, Cardinals ... 25 Ks, 21 1/3 IP (seven walks)
- Kyle Gibson*, Twins ... 24 Ks, 20 IP (six walks)
- Andre Rienzo, ChiSox ... 24 Ks, 24 2/3 IP (15 walks)
* Gibson, one of the Twins' top prospects, is the former Mizzou ace.
Like Siegrist, Whiting is out in Arizona to make up for lost innings. Ditto with Seth Blair. All three had their season interrupted or truncated by injuries, and all three suddenly find themselves in a crowded field when it comes to 2013 assignments. Siegrist finished the year in Class AA, Whiting reached the S-Cards this past season, and Blair had his ascent slowed by two frustrating years -- one for performance, the other for health.
Siegrist, who is set to be added to the 40-man roster so that he is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, could speed ahead to Class AAA if the Cardinals decide to look at him as a reliever, a needed lefty specialist. He has struck out seven of the 21 lefthanded hitters he's faced in the AFL and has that classic combination of pitches for a LOOGY. He has the low 3/4 delivery and a fastball that moves at 91-93 mph. But he also has enough of a third pitch that he could stick as a starter, a possibility that he's affirmed in Arizona.
Whiting, a righty who appeared in only nine games during the regular season, is 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA in six starts for Surprise. He has allowed three homers in his 21 1/3 innings.
Blair, a righty who dealt with a tumor in his finger this past season, has a 2.25 ERA in Arizona. That is the third-lowest of any pitcher with at least six starts in the fall league, which is an invitation-only league meant to challenge and refine the top prospects. Blair is 2-1 overall with 22 strikeouts and 14 walks in his 20 innings. Blair needed a strong turn in Arizona to gain traction in the organization. The 46th overall selection in the 2010 draft, Blair has been surpassed in the system by younger pitchers and pitchers drafted after him or in later rounds (see: Rosenthal, Trevor; Kelly, Joe; and even newcomer Wacha, Michael). Command remains an area for improvement from the righty. He walked five in 2 2/3 innings during his start this past Saturday.
In Siegrist's start Monday, Cardinals outfielder Mike O'Neill had two hits and raised his average to .367. That is the third-highest in the league, though it is far off the leader (Minnesota's Nate Roberts is batting .472). O'Neill has five multi-hit games in his previous nine games with at least one at-bat. And his turn in the AFL has only underscored his standing as a prospect: he's an on-base machine with little power but an ability to play the outfield and not enough speed to be a threat on the bases. O'Neill's on-base percentage (.457) is higher than his slugging percentage (.400).
By many measures, O'Neill had a remarkable 2012, and the AFL success is just a continuation. The lefthanded-hitting Souther Cal alum hit .359 overall in 2012, and he finished the regular season with a .563 average in limited Class AA appearances. He had two of the more remarkable counting stats of the season, in my opinion: He walked 78 times in 2012 and struck out only 26, and he was caught stealing 10 times in his 25 attempts.
As in Arizona, his on-base percentage (.458) was higher than his slugging percentage (.440) in 520 plate appearances.
Quick aside: If you add O'Neill's walk totals to his total bases -- essentially giving him credit for the base he got via walk as if he got it with a single (a walks as good as a hit, here we go!) -- his slugging percentage jumps from .440 to .528. Allow me to explain:
184 total bases plus 78 walks = 262
418 at-bats plus the 78 walks = 496
262/496 = .528
I am open to the argument that O'Neill's offensive contribution is better viewed through that modified (OK, entirely made up) filter than just the raw rates that show the lack of power.
The other hitters out in Arizona for the Cardinals are:
Kolten Wong, 2B -- .324/.342/.392, 1 HR, 12 runs, 12 RBIs
17 games, 74 at-bats
Colin Walsh, UT* -- .280/.419/.440, 1 HR, 11 runs, 13 RBIs
14 games, 50 at-bats
Cody Stanley, C -- .244/.311/.488, 3 HR, seven runs, five RBIs
11 games, 41 at-bats
* Walsh continues to be classified as a DH on MiLB.com. This is a relic from early appearances. He started in right field on Monday, for example. O'Neill was the leadoff hitter and DH.
Lefty Sam Freeman, you'll remember, is not longer pitching in Arizona after experiencing some soreness in the biceps of his left arm. He's been shut down for the season and told to get ready for spring training.
The Arizona Fall League's "regular" season ends this week and the playoffs start this coming weekend.