JUPITER, Fla.—Some observations from watching a pair of games between the Cardinals’ and Mets’ high minors work groups, in consultation with field staff in attendance:
On one field, righthander Jess Todd got the start for the Cardinals opposite Mets lefthander Jon Niese, the No. 77 prospect in baseball. Todd’s fastball sat at 87-88 mph, and his best pitch was a tight 82-83 mph slider with sharp bite. Facing a largely lefthanded lineup, Todd got in trouble with his changeup, which at 81-84 mph didn’t have a great difference in velocity from his fastball. After Fernando Martinez led off the game by hitting one of Todd’s changeups for a line-drive single to center field, Jose Coronado—who hit one home run in 139 Double-A games last year—pulled another Todd changeup for a home run to right field. Todd has a short arm action in the back that provides some deception by affecting the timing of some hitters, but the only swing-and-miss pitch in his repertoire today was his slider.
Niese also looked shaky, though his stuff was more impressive. Niese threw an 88-90 fastball with some sink, though his location of the pitch got him hit around today. Niese elevated his fastball too frequently, leading to several hard-hit balls off the pitch, including a wind-assisted home run to right field by Allen Craig. Niese’s secondary pitches were better than his fastball today. Niese’s curveball came in at 68-73 mph, a plus pitch with sharp break and two-plane depth. His low-80s changeup was another quality secondary pitch that caught a few hitters out front.
On the second field, Mets righthander Brad Holt got the start against a Cardinals lineup that included third baseman Brett Wallace and outfielder Daryl Jones. It was clear that Holt was there to work on his changeup as he mixed the pitch in liberally today against hitters. Holt’s fastball sat at 91-92 mph, topping out at 93 against Wallace. Holt showed an 83-86 mph changeup, a pitch he changed his grip for this summer to a modified circle grip. He threw only a few breaking balls, a 77-79 mph pitch that Holt labeled a curveball.
“I felt all right,” Holt said. “I missed my last start last Wednesday because I was sick, but I got a bullpen in before then . . . So it’ s been a week and a half since I’ve been out there. Overall, I felt all right. Location was a little off, left balls up, got behind in counts, but other than that, (I) threw a lot of changeups; only threw two breaking balls. But the changeup has come along tremendously since the summer, and my breaking ball is still there. Overall everything was coming together good.”
For the Cardinals, Wallace was impressive, showing plus power in batting practice. The body immediately stands out as atypical, which puts him on my list of favorite players to watch who don’t look the part but who just flat out get results, a group that includes Angel Salome, Pablo Sandoval and Kyle Blanks, among others. At the plate, however, his skill is undeniable. Wallace stays quiet and balanced, which coupled with his bat speed helps him stay back and let balls travel deep into the zone and leads to good plate discipline. He is a well below-average runner, and didn’t show much range on balls to his left today at third base.
Jones showed the ability to go with the pitch on a pair of hits, the first time lacing a 3-2 pitch down in the zone for a line-drive single to center field. In another at-bat, Jones drilled a pitch up in the zone on the outer half to left-center field for a double.
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