PEORIA, ILL.— Never had Sandy Alcantara been so cold.
The 20-year-old righthander is from the Dominican Republic, where he said the temperature was in the 80s this time of year.
And since signing with the Cardinals for $125,000 as a 17-year-old in 2013, the long-limbed righthander pitched in the DSL in 2014 and the GCL, making 12 starts last year in the warmth of Florida.
So when he took the mound Saturday for his full-season debut in Peoria–where the temperature was in the mid-30s at game time–he knew he had to change something.
“I worked it out physically and mentally,” said Alcantara, who speaks English but was more comfortable speaking through an interpreter. “I was working on how to get the ball down in the strike zone. It was the first time I’d pitched in that bad weather. It was freezing. I had no sense in my hands.”
There was no way the Burlington Bees, the Angels’ low Class A affiliate, would have known, especially in the first four innings. Alcantara, who reached 102 mph in the GCL and routinely sat 97-98, didn’t have quite that velocity at a cold Dozer Park, but it was good enough to blank Burlington early as the Chiefs ran out to a 7-0 lead.
Alcantara sat 94-95 with the fastball in the first inning, with a smooth delivery and great extension that made it look like he was handing batters the ball, it got on them so quickly.
It was easy gas from Alcantara and he admitted he had more in the tank, but did not want to push it in the chilly temps.
“I didn’t want to throw that hard,” he said, “because I wasn’t feeling the ball that well. I thought I’d be missing (the strike zone). I wasn’t throwing everything out.”
The changeup, which showed progress last season, flashed above average with great separation as he threw it about 80-82 mph. He threw his curveball sparsely, shelving it after two innings because he had trouble with the grip in the cold, dry air. When he threw it, it flashed average, with good shape, although it got loopy at times.
After getting two quick outs in the fifth, Alcantara’s pitch count was mounting and it was clear the cold was having its way as he lost command of the zone. He walked Josh Delph, hit Angel Genao with a pitch, then threw a wild pitch–at 96 mph, which was the hardest he threw all game–walked Michael Pierson, then threw another wild pitch to bring in a run.
A two-run single by Juan Moreno made it 7-3, but manager Joe Kruzel was determined to get Alcantara through five innings and make him eligible for the win. On his 94th pitch, Alcantara got former Florida Atlantic stalwart Brendon Sanger–the Angels’ No. 15 prospect–to pop out to third on a great play by former Florida Gator Casey Turgeon, who caught the ball with his back to the infield on the run.
Alcantara was opposed by Jaime Barria, the Angels’ No. 9 prospect. Barria, who signed out of Panama in 2013 for $60,000, is a pitch-to-contact type who was sitting 88-89 early. The Chiefs made plenty of contact, but Barria’s defense let him down as Sanger made two errors that led to three runs. Known as a strike-thrower, Barria was definitely that, throwing 45 of his 64 pitches in the zone, but many were hit hard as the Chiefs put up eight hits and seven runs against him.
Barria’s changeup is his best pitch, showing good fade at 77-80 mph.
The Cardinals’ Nos. 6 and 7 prospects were also in the lineup Saturday. Center fielder Magneuris Sierra, the No. 6 prospect, was 2-for-3 with a walk and he scored a run and shortstop Edmundo Sosa was 0-for-3, but scored a run and drove in a run while turning a nice double play.