photo: Matt Pearce (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
by The Cardinal Nation staff
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Link to Pearce’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2017 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 3.5, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (37): Matt Pearce, a 6’3” tall righty drafted in 2014, has been very consistently ranked by The Cardinal Nation community, finishing at #37 this year, after landing at #39 in 2016 and #40 in 2017. This time around, Pearce first received votes for the community rankings quite a bit earlier at #24 by both desmetlax12 and Wiley.
Wiley justified his vote by saying that year after year, Pearce gets zero respect and all he does is out-perform many others on his way up the system. Wiley said that when he thinks of what Matt Pearce will become, Lance Lynn comes to mind. Last year, Wiley believed Pearce to be the most underrated pitcher in the system, which Pearce seemingly managed to justify in 2017. Likewise, Brianpnoonan believes that Pearce will likely be in our major league bullpen at some point next year. Desmetlax12 echoed that thought mentioning that Pearce just keeps producing results, noting his 3.11 ERA at Double-A Springfield. Bccran liked that Pearce has such a low career WHIP at 1.16. 14NyquisT says that if Pearce can keep his home run numbers in check, he will be in line for the Memphis rotation all year after dominating in the Texas League. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (35): Not long ago, an undersized right-handed pitcher from East Carolina University reached the Texas League and was a stalwart on the mound for the Springfield Cardinals en route to their first and only championship in 2012.
This 23-year old went by the name of Seth Maness, and he wound up pacing the championship club with 11 wins and innings pitched (123 2/3 innings) on a Springfield staff that included Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons.
Oh, and Maness only issued nine walks in 20 starts that year with Springfield.
His strength on the mound was simple: consistently throwing strikes in spite of underwhelming stuff, but you know the rest of the story from this double play-inducing machine.
Enter Matt Pearce.
“Matt may not profile as an elite prospect, but he can flat out throw strikes,” St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said last summer. “He can flat out pitch. We have seen guys like the (Seth) Maness type have success in the big leagues.”
Pearce, 23, first drew prospect attention in 2015 by setting the Midwest League record for consecutive innings without a walk (54 1/3 innings) and was the league’s ERA champion (2.43) as well. The control artist opened last year with High-A Palm Beach, where he was arguably the top performer on a Beach Birds staff with Jack Flaherty and Austin Gomber, finishing the year with stints at Springfield and Triple-A Memphis.
To open his 2017 campaign, Pearce returned to the club where he ended the prior season, Springfield, and had a middling start with a 4.57 ERA in April. That changed quickly for the feel-pitcher as he warmed up with the weather and the simple flip of the calendar.
His stint in the Texas League was highlighted by a phenomenal month of May, when he compiled a 5-0 record with a 0.69 ERA that included two complete games and one shutout.
“Well, for the first two starts he is a feel pitcher,” Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “Feel guys as the season goes, they get better, so maybe early on he was too strong. He was trying to fire the ball by people. The third or fourth start he was not tired, but not getting into a rhythm or into the routine of the season.
“He has to know, ‘Ok, I don’t have to fire things by people. I can get them out just by spotting my fastball and mixing my changeup and curveball.’ Probably too strong early on and eventually got his feel.”
Pearce’s outstanding May resulted in the Texas League and Cardinals organization Pitcher of the Month awards. Overall, the righty had a 9-5 record with a 3.11 ERA, holding an impressive 1.08 WHIP in 17 Double-A starts (110 innings).
The specific hindrances early on were overthrowing and being too fine with his stuff. After his month of May, the hurler attributed his turnaround to staying within himself.
“I went back to what I have always done – throwing everything for a strike and letting them put the ball in play,” Pearce said.
“I feel good. I’m just staying with the same approach I’ve had pretty throughout my career. Just letting the defense work and throwing a lot of strikes.”
He certainly left a lasting impression on his coaches.
“He did good,” Springfield pitching coach Jason Simontacchi said. “He’s a guy that throws the ball over the plate with every pitch that he has. Good arm. Deception. Same arm slot. His game is pitching. Moving the ball in and out, changing speeds, and working ahead.”
By July 17, Pearce was promoted to Memphis, where he spent the remainder of the season, struggling to the tune of a 6.00 ERA over 10 starts. Though his 4.96 FIP suggests he pitched better than indicated, it also brings up the same question that has always lingered in the past. Scouts are concerned about his lack of overpowering stuff and strike-throwing ability that could falter at the higher levels with his high flyball tendencies.
“His biggest adjustment was not giving in,” Memphis’s manager Stubby Clapp said. “Early on, he got hit around a little bit, and you could see him being tentative when he was getting hit around. He figured out you can’t do that and you have to stay after it.
“That’s what he did. His last three outings were the most important outings for us, and he did well.”
Stuff-wise, Pearce has a classic three-pitch mix, including his bread-and-butter offering, the changeup. He also throws a high-80s to low 90s fastball and curveball along with a new pitch to his repertoire.
“I have developed a little bit of a cutter which I mix in and out,” Pearce said, who looks to sell it as a four-seam fastball out of his hand. “It makes it a little bit tougher on the hitters, knowing they have four pitches to work with.
“I’m just getting it on the hands of lefties. It’s definitely a work in progress. I only throw it about maybe five or ten times a game. It’s something I’m still trying to work on. Through time, it will get better and better.”
As the season wore on, Pearce said his curve became sharper, as threw it in games for strikes to make hitters respect the pitch. Last year, he was hoping to refine a slider to become his primary swing and miss pitch, but he said he threw that away later in the season. Pearce now classifies his change as his primary bat-missing pitch.
His Double-A manager and pitching coach commented on the improvements in his stuff.
“Everything works off his fastball command,” Rodriguez said. “As he works a lot inside on righties and lefties, it opens up the rest of his repertoire. He works in, works out, breaking ball, breaking ball, changeup, and curveball. Back in. He knows how to pitch. He has a real feel. He has a lot of pitchability.”
“He has been able to keep the ball down in the zone,” Simontacchi said. “He throws strikes with all four of his pitches. His cutter, fastball, curveball, and changeup. He can throw all four of those pitches pretty much in any count and throw them to righties and lefties.
“He is a guy that is a command guy. Keeps the ball down and elevates now and then when he needs to. Controls the game, controls the pace of the game. Goes after it and makes the defense work.”
Despite his underwhelming stuff, don’t overlook Pearce as an option to contribute in St. Louis next season – perhaps in the capacity of Seth Maness and Brad Thompson.
“He’s a darkhorse,” Rodriguez said. “He’s one of those sneaky guys like you say, ‘Well, you better watch out.’ He does have the mental aptitude and mental toughness to be a big-league starter or reliever whatever it is.”
Brian Walton (35): I am not completely sure what to make of Pearce’s placement in these rankings. It is very unusual for any prospect to remain in the same vicinity for three straight years. In the overall rankings, he was #39 in 2016 before improving a bit to #34 one year ago.
Further, all three voters this time out are very close, with Derek and I both ranking Pearce exactly 35th. (By the way, while all of Derek’s reports are well-researched and full of great information, I pay special notice to his write-ups of Springfield players, as he had watched them in person over the duration of the season.)
On one hand, Pearce has shown enough to draw consistent annual ranking attention here. However, year after year, he is not gaining ground against other pitchers in the system, as those who graduate (such as Luke Weaver, for example) are replaced in the upper ranks by faster-rising arms from below.
What is clear, however, is that Pearce continues his steady march toward the majors and has just one step remaining.
When considering Pearce’s 2017 results, I tried not to get too high or too low. On the plus side, he earned both mid-season and post-season Texas League all-star honors. The former is good, but the latter is far more impressive. At mid-season, two full rosters of pitchers are chosen for the All-Star Game. At the end of the year, however, only six hurlers are chosen from all eight teams. Even more notable was the fact that Pearce had left Double-A on July 17, toiling the final six weeks-plus at Triple-A, so he earned the full-season recognition for 3 ½ months of play only.
(Further, three of the six post-season all-stars are Cardinals, with TL Pitcher of the Year Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty the others. As you can imagine, these two will not be highlighted in this countdown for a few weeks!)
As good as Pearce’s Springfield results were, there are warnings. The table far above reminds us that his Double-A FIP was almost a run higher than his ERA, and 4.01 is a lot less interesting than 3.11. (His xFIP was a further half-run higher, at 4.51.) In fairness, as Derek noted, Pearce’s Memphis FIP was a run lower than his ERA – though both were high in his Triple-A debut stint.
I have been intrigued by the Brad Thompson and Seth Maness comparisons with Pearce. The names of the pair being repeated above led me to finally look at the actual Double-A results of the trio. I also chose to add in the 2013 Springfield line of Zack Petrick, who was the Pitcher of the Year for the entire system following his Double-A debut year. It only seems fair to look at another comparable who did not make it to the bigs.
(Unfortunately, Thompson’s numbers are incomplete as his Fangraphs data only goes back to 2005. Hat tip to them for the above data.)
We cannot draw concrete conclusions from this, but there are some notable differences. Of the four, Pearce had the lowest K rate and second-highest BB rate. He also had a very low (lucky?) BABIP and by far the least percentage of ground balls, nowhere near Maness and his speciality and definitely concerning. While Pearce’s ERA looks good, the aforementioned FIP and xFIP tell a different story.
It seems to me that a Seth Maness without the double play-inducing ground balls can’t be Seth Maness.
Pearce receives a Scouting Grade of “3.5 medium”, same as one year ago. The numeric score reflects a potential future ceiling between an up and down player and an impact reliever, with “medium” suggesting some additional work still remains ahead for him to achieve it. I think that is fair.
Given St. Louis’ 2018 is shaping up to be a year in which innings are going to be needed – perhaps from many contributors – to replace departed veteran arms like Lance Lynn and Mike Leake, Pearce may get his shot.
Our 2018 top 50 series continues
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