SURPRISE, Ariz. — Spike Owen spent 13 seasons in the big leagues and saw thousands of different pitchers. Yet when asked how many he can recall with fastballs like the one Cardinals righthander Sandy Alcantara showed off on Monday afternoon, he didn’t hesitate.
“Five, tops,” he said.
In his second start of the fall, Alcantara, a 22-year-old who made his major league debut late this past season, sat between 96-99 with his fastball and touched 101 mph twice. He coupled the pitch with an improved curveball and a swing-and-miss changeup over the course of three hitless innings against visiting Scottsdale.
Alcantara is the second Fall League pitcher in as many days to touch triple-digits after Baltimore lefty Tanner Scott lit up the radar gun on Saturday against Peoria.
“He was outstanding,” Owen said. “He had the good sinker going, but in the first couple of innings he was going a little more offspeed and working on his offspeed stuff, which looked good, but then came out and established the fastball. And he’s got a live arm and has really good stuff. It was impressive.”
Alcantara allowed just a walk over his three innings while striking out one batter. He threw 24 of his 40 pitches for strikes before yielding to Rays righthander Spencer Jones in the fourth.
The velocity on Alcantara’s fastball is special on its own, but the ease with which he brings it sets him apart.
“It’s so smooth. It’s an easy 101,” Owen said. “It’s an electric arm. He’s fun to watch pitch.”
Owen also marveled at just how often you see upper-90s or triple-digit fastballs these days.
“It’s just the way the game is right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of power arms, a lot of good arms coming out of the pen. Then you get a guy like Sandy who’s starting and bringing it up there. It is amazing how many guys are throwing that hard. …
“We talk about it all the time ‘How do guys hit that? They just see it more consistently now. It still doesn’t make it easy to hit, but it’s like every guy coming out of the pen is 96-98. And then you get guys like Sandy and some other guys get it up there at 100.”
Alcantara’s success on Monday was a turnaround from his first start, when he allowed three runs on four hits and two walks in two innings without striking out a batter.
“I think today his command was a lot better,” Owen said. “Like I said, these hitters see that type of velocity more and more on a consistent basis, so good location is always important. He kept the ball down good today and threw some good breaking balls so guys couldn’t sit on one thing. He mixed it up well and threw a really good game.”
If he keeps commanding the ball like he did on Monday, Alcantara’s next trip to the majors will be for good.
Sheffield Keeps Dealing
Although he wasn’t quite as sharp as he was on Tuesday in his AFL debut, Yankees lefthander Justus Sheffield showed excellent stuff once again opposite Alcantara. The 21-year-old sat between 94-97 mph with his fastball for most of his 4.1 inning out and touched 98 once.
Just like he did on Tuesday, he also showed two potential plus offerings in his mid-80s slider and high-80s slider. If there was a nit to pick, it was that he had a tendency to leave his fastball up and away to righthanders throughout his outing. He allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk before exiting. He threw 52 of his 80 pitches for strikes.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his outing came in the fourth inning. After allowing a run in a prolonged third inning, Sheffield came back out in the fourth and made quick work of Surprise. He struck out Oscar Mercado to begin the frame, then sheared the bat of Chris Paul on a groundout back to the mound before coaxing a fly to right from first baseman Andrew Knizner to end the frame.
- DH Taylor Sparks (Reds) continued his strong start to the AFL with an opposite-field home run off of Jones. The 2014 second-rounder out of UC Irvine is 7-for-16 this Fall League with a triple, the homer and five RBIs in four games.
- Paul’s single in the bottom of the ninth off of Scottsdale reliever Andrew Schwaab (Yankees) gave Surprise a walk-off win.