TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Top Story #7: The Young Guns

photo: Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

As the St. Louis Cardinals reported to Jupiter, Florida for 2017 spring training, the main question surrounding top prospect Alex Reyes was how soon the talented right-hander could pitch his way into the starting rotation.

It was not to be as the cruel hand of fate touched the then-22-year old on the very first day of camp. The club announced that Reyes would be out for the entire year due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

The Cardinals’ next two pitching prospects in the pecking order were not immediately ready to step in for Reyes, but by the end of the season, it was a different story entirely.

Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty were not only with St. Louis in the final month, both were in the rotation as the Cardinals unsuccessfully tried to fight their way to a Wild Card berth.

Here is what happened between March and October.

Weaver’s rise

Weaver had a terrible spring camp (seven runs on seven hits and eight walks in just five innings) and reported to Triple-A Memphis to open the season.

Luke Weaver/USA TODAY Sports Images

After being pulled in the second inning on opening night with lower back stiffness that would not go away without extended rest, Weaver was placed on the disabled list. He was out from April 9 through May 2, but came back strongly.

In his first month active, Weaver was selected as the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Month for May. The next month, he became a PCL All-Star, though he did not pitch in the Triple-A All-Star Game because he was called up to St. Louis.

Despite making just 15 starts with Memphis, Weaver still collected the most wins on the record-breaking 91-victory championship team with a 10-2 record. The Florida native also topped the rotation (among those with at least seven starts) in ERA at 2.55.

On August 18th, Adam Wainwright went on the disabled list with an elbow injury, essentially ending his season. In his third time up in 2017, Weaver again stepped into St. Louis’ rotation for Wainwright and performed strongly, with a 3-0 record and 1.71 ERA in three starts, four appearances, to close the month.

Overall, in 13 games (10 starts) with the Cardinals, Weaver went 7-2 with a 3.88 ERA. At one point, he won seven consecutive starts before cooling off in September (5.17 ERA). The right-hander became just the sixth rookie pitcher in the last 70 years to allow two runs or fewer over seven consecutive winning starts. Weaver’s average of 10.7 K/9 IP was fifth-highest among all National League starters (minimum 60 innings) – not just first-year pitchers.

Looking ahead, Weaver will almost certainly be again one of the 2018 starting five for St. Louis.

Flaherty follows

After performing solidly in his first big-league spring camp as a non-roster invitee (2.57 ERA with 10 strikeouts in seven innings), Flaherty began 2017 with Double-A Springfield, a promotion from year-end 2016.

Jack Flaherty (Memphis Redbirds)

During the regular season, Flaherty, now 22, went a combined 14-4 with a 2.18 ERA between Springfield and Memphis, earning system-wide minor league Pitcher of the Year honors from both the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation.

In his 10 Double-A starts, he went 7-2 with a 1.42 ERA and picked up Texas League Player of the Month honors in his first month with Springfield. Flaherty was named a Texas League mid- and post-season All-Star, one of just six pitchers chosen in the latter category.

Flaherty was promoted to Memphis on June 1, and went 7-2, 2.74 ERA in 15 starts for the Redbirds. While there, the California resident pitched an inning in the MLB All-Star Futures Game and earned his second monthly award at his second level in 2017, named Pitcher of the Month in the Pacific Coast League in August.

On August 30th, the Cardinals and Mariners announced a trade, with veteran starter Mike Leake heading to the Northwest along with $17 million of salary coverage plus international cap money. In return, St. Louis received a low-level prospect, but in reality, their primary benefit was ridding themselves of Leake and his contract.

The club immediately called up Flaherty to step into the starting five and he made his Major League debut on September 1 in San Francisco. Though Flaherty may have been rushed, posting a 6.33 ERA over five starts and one relief appearance, there is still much excitement about his future.

Oh, yeah. About Reyes.

Alex Reyes (USA TODAY Sports Images)

After his February surgery, Reyes moved ahead on schedule, beginning his throwing program in late July. By the end of the regular season, the 23-year old had graduated to throwing bullpen sessions.

However, the club plans to take it slowly with Reyes to open 2018, targeting his return for May 1 with a stated intention to initially work him out of the bullpen.

Why not be careful? After all, the Cardinals now have Weaver and Flaherty, too!

Link to The Cardinal Nation’s top 10 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at thecardinalnation@gmail.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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