The Situation: The Cardinals have fallen back to .500, 5.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. While they’re not totally throwing in the towel for 2017, they did salary dump part of Mike Leake’s contract on the Mariners. That opens a rotation spot for their most MLB-ready starting pitching prospect, right-hander Jack Flaherty.
Background: Flaherty burst onto the national scene as a high school sophomore in 2012, rounding out a pitching staff at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake prep school in Los Angeles that included Lucas Giolito and Max Fried. Two years later, the Cardinals made him the 34th overall pick in the draft and signed him for a cool $2 million. After stout years at both full-season A-ball levels, he sliced and diced the upper minors this year, posting a 2.18 ERA and 147/35 K/BB ratio. Flaherty has ranked as high as second in the Cardinals' organization on our pre-2016 rankings, and just missed making the midseason top 50 this year.
Scouting: It's a sign of the times that a player like Flaherty isn’t a top global prospect any more, because in many ways the guy is off the assembly line. He’s listed at a prototypically projectable 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, and he’s started filling out that big frame. He’s a polished arm with plus-or-better command and gets marks for pitchability and ability to manipulate his fastball. Flaherty can now run it up into the mid-90s, up a tick or two as that frame has filled out, but often sits a little lower. He fairly consistently shows an above-average changeup and average slider, and sometimes flashes a notable curve. There is no real health red flag, and he’s thrown as many innings as any org would’ve thrown him given his age.
Yet Flaherty isn’t up there ranked with the top pitching prospects in the game. There’s a lot of numbers starting with five on this scouting report, and maybe a few sixes. That projects to a mid-rotation starter now, to the extent that there’s such a thing as a mid-rotation starter prospect. It's perhaps unfair that Flaherty gets docked points because he doesn’t flirt with 100 mph like many of his peers in the Cardinals' system, and this profile can certainly play up to greater than the sum of its parts.
Immediate Big-League Future: Flaherty should take a month’s worth of turns in the MLB rotation. He’s a strong candidate for the 2018 rotation and beyond, although as they seemingly always do, the Cardinals have impressive pitching depth in the majors and upper minors. His median near-term outcome might look an awful lot like Leake, actually. — Jarrett Seidler
Fantasy Impact: Flaherty hasn’t received much attention as a fantasy prospect around these parts, and it’s not by accident. Entering the year he profiled as your basic deep-arsenal, no-out-pitch mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starting pitching prospect coming off a good, not great season at High-A. He was young for the level, of course, but the profile is a dime a dozen, at least insofar as there are plenty of options in that mold floating around the depth at which most dynasty leagues operate. Flash forward a few months, and we’ve got ourselves a legitimately interesting arm to consider for the homestretch.
Consider that he’s still just 21, he’s got pedigree as a former first-round pick, he’s performed consistently well against far older competition at every stop, and perhaps most importantly of all, the stuff ticked up a bit this season. By midseason reports started consistently putting him in the mid-90s, with his package of three secondaries playing up a tick with additional velocity of their own. And he’s pitched quite impressively of late, yielding more than two runs in just one of his last 10 starts at Triple-A en route to a 2.01 ERA over that stretch.
The early scheduling returns are appealing, too. Dates against the Giants (27th in team TAv) and Padres (20th) at Petco Park loom out of the gate. Things turn ugly in a hurry after that, however: if he manages to hang on to a rotation spot he’ll run a gauntlet of Reds (fifth) and Cubs (all of the runs lately) for at least three starts, and probably four. All of this is to say, as a short-term stream Flaherty certainly warrants investment in the range that your league typically values solid short-term streaming targets. In keeper formats, Flaherty’s worth a pretty aggressive investment if you’re non-competitive at this stage of things. There isn’t a ton left on the landscape, and there are worse things to do with your reserve capital than take a flier on some good ol’ fashioned Cardinal Devil Magic. —Wilson Karaman