Cardinals Have a Neftali Feliz of Their Own

Justin HulseyCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2009

View this entire article, along with breaking news from the Cardinals entire organization and new prospect information daily by checking out!

Watching the late innings of a Springfield Cardinal game can be exciting these days.

Depending on the score, you’ll get to see two of the top relief pitching prospects in the Nation. Eduardo Sanchez and Francisco Samuel are the fourth and eighth top prospects in the Cardinals system.

Before this month, Samuel was Springfield’s pride and joy when it came to closing out games. Samuel, not Sanchez, played in the Futures Game in St. Louis. Samuel, not Sanchez, was the one getting all of the National attention and hype.

Nevertheless, Sanchez was promoted to the closer position recently.

Springfield Manager Pop Warner said, “It hasn’t been for lack of stuff. He has big league stuff. He just has to be able to harness it and be able to command the strike zone. The big thing is just trying to get him to become more consistent. When you’re getting the pressure of trying to finish a game and you’re having trouble with your command, it just makes sense to try and elevate something. You want him to be working in high-leverage situations, and some of that can still be used in the seventh or eighth.”

Well, Francisco may have “big league stuff”, but it really doesn’t matter when he walks nine batters per nine innings. He has a real control problem, despite the electric stuff.

Samuel started turning heads last year in Palm Beach when he struck out 85 batters in 54 appearances while only allowing 38 hits. He made his Double-A debut on April 11th when he walked three and allowed three. He has struggled ever since.

The guy labeled as the “closer of the future” gave up at least one walk in 18 of his first 22 appearances. Until last week, he had more walks than innings pitched.

Samuel did not give it up easily, but the closing duties finally went to the pitching prospect who could actually throw strikes.

“He didn’t like it,” Warner said. “He didn’t like it at all. We talked to him and said, ‘Hey, at the end of the day, you have to pitch better. You have to throw strikes. You can’t walk guys, especially if you are going to be out there closing games. You can’t go out there and walk three guys an inning. You’re asking for disaster.’”

Since the switch on July 27th, they have had zero problems in the ninth inning.

Sanchez has dominated the opposition. So far this season, Eduardo rocks a 2.43 ERA with six saves and 44 strikeouts in only 37 innings. Better yet, he has only walked 13.

And there is no mistake about it, Sanchez’s “stuff” is no consolation, In fact, it may be even better than Samuel’s. His fastball tops out over 100 mph, but is usually 98. Just earlier this month, the stadium gun down at Hammons field clocked him at 103.

It’s not just his fastball either. A Springfield scout actually compared Samuel to the Texas Rangers’ phenom relief pitcher Neftali Feliz and said, “Eduardo has very similar stuff. Neftali’s fastball may have more tail, but I would say Sanchez’s breaking pitchers are a notch better.”

John Mozeliak was interviewed today on 101 ESPN in St. Louis and told the crew that he “wouldn’t be afraid to bring him up” if he thought he could help the club out.

With the demise of flame-throwing reliever Jason Motte, the Cardinals are searching for bullpen help. The options include John Smoltz, Justin Speier, and good ole 20-year-old Eduardo Sanchez.

If we don’t land Smoltz or Speier, look for Mo to ponder the thought of a Sanchez September call-up.

Sanchez really broke out last year in Single-A ball with a 1.44 ERA. All anybody heard was about this 19 year old pitcher who could hit 100 on the radar gun. Well we now know a little more…and I think everybody likes what they’re seeing.

- Jay -