After a dominant career at Harvard Westlake, a high school baseball powerhouse in Southern California, Jack Flaherty has faced both highs and lows in the minor league gauntlet. Going forward, 2016 struggles could be a catalyst in the maturation process of the talented prospect.
The minor leagues are a tough place, filled with grown men from every background imaginable. Despite differences in heritage and education, however, all players play with one goal: make it to the bigs. While the ultimate goal is the same, though, every player takes their own unique path of development.
For example, college prospects usually burst onto the scene with a more polished play-style, relying on the coaching points and skill refinement from their collegiate careers. In a different manner, high-school and foreign prospects usually boast more “raw” talent, making scouts drool with their seemingly limitless potential.
Such a group would include the likes of Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw, “can’t miss” prospects that have the ability to turn a franchise around. In the college prospect group, which includes men like Harrison Bader, players have less of a window for development, hoping to take advantage of the talent projects of the minor leagues.
Enter Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals first-round pick in the 2014 draft. Flaherty obviously elected to defer a collegiate career at North Carolina, leaving for the minors with only his experience at Harvard Westlake High School, a baseball powerhouse in Southern California. Standing at 6’4″, 210 pounds, Flaherty is an impressive athlete, possessing the physical tools to overpower hitters at the major league level.
Flaherty routinely throws 4 pitches for strikes, with a fastball that sits at about 94 MPH. Of all his off-speed pitches, his change up is probably the strongest, although a hard slider sometimes competes to be the most dominant out pitch. With 2-3 more years of solid work in the minors, Flaherty looks to have the potential of an All-Star starter for years to come.
— Austin Gomber (@AustinGomber) June 4, 2016
In his first year as a full-time pitcher (he was a two-way player in high school), Flaherty flourished, posting a a 9-3 record, with a 2.84 ERA. Just a year after the 2014 draft, the Cardinals front-office had no reasons for concern with Flaherty, showing great polish and consistency for a 19 year old prospect.
2016 has started in a completely different fashion of Flaherty, as his promotion to advanced A has proved to be difficult one. Through his first 10 starts of 2016, he is 1-4, with a 4.38 ERA. Furthermore, opponents average has increased significantly, going from .251 in 2015 to .273 in 2016. Also, Flaherty has already given up more home runs than he did all of last season, with the number currently standing at 3.
For the average fan, such numbers would induce some sort of concern, as Flaherty simply hasn’t performed to his potential thus far in 2016. In the grand scheme of his development, however, such struggles should be welcomed. After relying on raw talent all the way through 2015, Flaherty will be forced to adjust, learning to truly pitch like a professional. In a game that is built around failure, it is a positive thing that Flaherty will be forced to overcome adversity at such an early point in his development.
Already in 2016 have we seen the results of such a learning process. Flaherty has made adjustments, posting back-to-back scoreless starts in Palm Beach. If he can continue to learn at such a rapid pace, the Cardinals will have a mentally strong, consistent ace for years to come. In a game of adjustments, Flaherty has passed his first true test.
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