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Cardinals Braves Spring Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals' Magneuris Sierra bats against the Atlanta Braves in a spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo)

At the major league level, the Cardinals have struggled on defense to open the 2017 season. Through their first 22 games, the Cardinals have committed 21 errors, good for the worst mark in the MLB.

Down at advanced Single-A Palm Beach, however, Magneuris Sierra is developing into a very capable center fielder. The 21-year old, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, made waves in spring training with his defense and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was quoted saying he had to remind himself that Sierra is still just in Palm Beach.

The Cardinals’ No. 6 prospect according to ESPN prospect guru Keith Law, Sierra, who has acquired the nickname “Maggie,” is hoping he can continue to improve his already stellar glove.

“I want to get better every day,” Sierra said through translator and Palm Beach hitting coach Erick Almonte. “I’ve been working on getting good angles on all the balls to the sides and throwing to the cut-off man, that’s really what I need to be working on. I know that and that’s why I’m making a lot of emphasis on that.”

Nearly a month into his first stint at Palm Beach, Sierra admitted that the level of play is more challenging than the lower levels and he is still working to adapt. One of the ways Sierra is doing this, he says, is creating pressure on the defense when he gets on base.

“That’s my game, more speed than power,” Sierra said. “I just want to get a lot of runs. Every time I get on first I’m thinking (I want to) score. It doesn’t matter how I score, with a stolen base or score from first with a double.”

Sierra has played mostly center field in the minor leagues and has not played in a corner spot so far in 2017. Palm Beach manager Dann Bilardello said although it has been a small sample size, there’s “no question” the young outfielder is a “true center fielder.”

“The potential in his ability, I can tell you, it’s there,” Bilardello said. “The possibility of him being a really, really good player is there, and he shows signs of it. It’s just a matter of now being more consistent and learning the game and … that’s what a young player has to do anyway.”

Sierra and his manager will admit that defense is already pretty good, but now he needs to get better at working counts and drawing more walks in order for his bat to catch up. Entering Friday, Sierra has seven walks against eight strikeouts along with a .320/.414/.420 slash line.

Weaver on the mend

Former first-round draft pick Luke Weaver got his first taste of the big leagues toward the end of last season, and started this year at Triple-A Memphis. However, the righthander has dealt with some back stiffness recently that has limited his total work to two innings.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, Weaver tossed a live batting practice session Tuesday and a simulated game in Florida on Wednesday, and could be pitching again early next week. Once he’s back, he likely will continue making starts and build up his innings.

Last year, Weaver pitched 119 1/3 innings between the minors and majors combined. Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque said that Weaver felt good after his simulated game.

“The thing he’ll continue to do is gain that consistency at the Triple-A level,” LaRocque said. “He has a real good picture of who he is, and it will be good to have him back in Triple-A and doing his thing and getting the quality innings in.”

According to Law, Weaver is the Cardinals’ No. 11 prospect entering the 2017 season. His 36 1/3 major league innings last season will keep his rookie status intact should he reach the Cardinals later this year.

Alcantara is adjusting

With Alex Reyes’ injury sidelining him for all of 2017, the Cardinals’ farm system took a huge hit before the season even started. The flamethrowing righthander, the No. 10 prospect in all of baseball according to Law, had a legitimate chance to break camp as a member of the Cardinals’ rotation.

The Cardinals have another power pitcher moving up the ranks, though, in Sandy Alcantara. Pitching at Double-A Springfield for the first time, Alcantara is still adjusting to pitching against better hitters, but the organization likes what it sees.

Alcantara has made four starts in Springfield so far and reached the sixth inning in three of them. In the other start on April 13, he ran into trouble and allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, keeping his ERA at an inflated 5.91.

“We’re all patient with him, and we want to get him the innings he needs, and that’s where you see the adjustments come,” LaRocque said. “He’s done it before, and he’s come through the system that way.”

Alcantara likely will make his next start Sunday against the Seattle Mariners’ Double-A affiliate. Law ranked Alcantara as the Cardinals’ No. 7 prospect before the 2017 season.

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Max Gelman

@MaxGelman on Twitter