In his first big league start, Jack Flaherty struggled. While some young pitchers may have been discouraged mightily, this was certainly not the case for the young righty.

Introduction

Most of the time, elite high-school pitching prospects can be described in a few simple words. For me, the descriptions of “raw,” “high-ceiling,” and “unpolished” immediately pop into my head. Quite frankly, this makes good sense. These pitchers are young, inexperienced. In most cases, these  men are not even done growing. How, then, could we expect them to be polished and professional?

For young Jack Flaherty back in the spring of 2014, it was a bit of a different case. While Flaherty certainly had the physical attributes of a first-round pick, the Harvard-Westlake product separated himself in a different way. He possessed abnormal polish for such a young-ball player, great feel for his pitches and instinct for how and when to use them. His overall persona was calm and mature.While most young players can appear to be “out of control,” Flaherty seemed the exact opposite.

For the Cardinals, Flaherty seemed like the best of both worlds, a perfect package of potential and polish. More specifically, it seemed that he had the up-side of a high school prospect, yet came with the maturity and knowledge of a three-year college guy. If you follow the minor leagues even a little bit, you’ll know this is a rare combination.

From that point on, when the Cardinals selected Flaherty in the first round of the 2014 draft, this combination has been on full display. No matter the level, he has shown maturity and patience, developing smoothly as a result. Before jumping to analysis of his first couple starts, I’d like to track the early days of his Minor league career.

The Minors

In his first full season of Minor League ball, Flaherty performed as expected. A first round pick playing for the single A Peoria Chiefs, he posted a commanding 9-3 record and 2.84 ERA. This first season was impressive, yet expected.

Moving forward to 2016, things became a little more interesting for Flaherty. From my point of view, this year became a defining moment in his developmental trajectory. To start that season in high-A ball, Flaherty struggled. In fact, after his first ten starts, he was an underwhelming 1-4, with a 4.38 ERA. He was giving up more home runs that before, along with more hits in general. In his second full professional season, Flaherty hit his first bump in the road.

At this juncture, Flaherty shined in a way that some fans may not have appreciated, or even noticed. In his eleventh and twelfth starts, Flaherty bounced back in a big way. He produced back-to-back scoreless starts, putting Palm Beach on his back and getting himself back on track. More importantly, though, he clearly demonstrated his ability to handle adversity, process it, and adjust. For many young players, this ability comes much later down the road.

From that point forward, Flaherty cruised through the minor league ranks, posting 7-2 records in both AA Springfield and AAA Memphis. He was under control, throwing with poise, creativity, and perhaps most importantly, consistency. For majority of this stretch, he looked like a man amongst boys. The scariest part, though, was that he was just 20 years of age.

The Majors

Fast forward to 2017, in which Flaherty finally broke through to the big league squad. While I expected him to thrive, he struggled in his first start against the San Francisco Giants. Specifically, he lasted just four innings, allowing eight hits and five earned runs. While this was, in a way, disappointing, Flaherty showed no signs of panic.

Once again showcasing his phenomenal maturity and mental toughness, Flaherty looked forward to his next start. Unsurprisingly, he turned the page and thrived. While he did not receive the official win for the game, he pitched very well, allowing just three hits and one earned run over five innings of work. While 4 walked-batters could be perceived as a negative aspect of this start, I find it to be the opposite. As I saw it, Flaherty pitched with more maturity and patience, nibbling more and understanding the constant threat of major league hitters. He left fewer pitches over the plate, and seemed to “pitch” like a more of a veteran.

Most importantly, at 21 years of age, Flaherty has once again demonstrated his ability to adjust and improve on the fly. In a game dominated by sabermetrics and in-depth pre-game preparation, this ability is truly priceless. While I would like to see him perform well against more elite competition, he is seemingly on the right track.

Looking forward to the future, it seems as if the Cardinals received exactly what they anticipated in Flaherty. Paired with Luke Weaver, Carlos Martinez, and Alex Reyes in the near future, the Cardinals pitching staff could become elite. While the current season is still the most important, pressing matter, one cannot help but look forward.

The organization is in good hands. With any luck, Flaherty will continue to improve, using his mind and talent in lethal combination for years to come.