Gulf Coast League Cards Notebook: 2013 Week 3

Kender Villegas: Scoreless relief in early going

All the news from the back fields of Jupiter, Fla. about the St. Louis Cardinals' Gulf Coast League club includes detailed reports on Fidencio Flores, Kender Villegas and Juan Caballero.

Overview

The GCL Cardinals (6-7) split a doubleheader Saturday with the Marlins to complete a 3-2 week. As is normal in Florida this time of year, rain had its effect. The postponement of Friday's game against the Marlins led to Saturday's twin-bill and Tuesday's game against the Mets was suspended until this Wednesday, when it will be completed before a rare night game at Tradition Field. General managers Luis Morales of the GCL Cardinals and Ronnie Reyes of the GCL Mets said they like to schedule at least a couple games every season in the stadium to help these young players adjust to playing under the lights.

The Cardinals erupted for 18 runs Wednesday against the Nationals at Viera, more than their total offensive output in their other five games this week.

Comings and Goings

With the arrival this week of lefty pitchers Marco Gonzales and Rob Kaminsky (both 1st-round picks), right-hander Steven Farinaro (11th round) and 2B Malik Collymore (10th), 12 of the Cardinals' top 17 picks last month in the First-Year Player Draft are now on the GCL roster. That doesn't include the Cardinals' 27th-round pick, 1B Jake Stone, their 36th-rounder, OF Anthony Ray, or their 33rd-rounder, Nick Frey, who is on the 60-day disabled list.…

After three solid appearances in the GCL, lefty reliever Ismael Brito's locker was moved to the Palm Beach team's clubhouse in Jupiter. …Right-hander Brandon Lee also made three solid GCL appearances before heading up to Johnson City. … LHP Iden Nazario was sent from Palm Beach to the GCL squad on a rehab assignment before being activated by the Florida State League club on Saturday....

Hot and Not

3B Rafael Medina hit .353 for the week and drove in five runs in that 18-3 win at Viera. Jake Stone and Oscar Mercado each contributed three hits in that game. … The team's three catchers – Elier Rodriguez, Jose Gomez and Jose Godoy – are hitting a combined .349 so far this season, but hit .240 for the week. … SS Leobaldo Pina was 8-for-18 (.444) to raise his season's average to .359. …

RHP Fidencio Flores (more on him further down) picked up victories in both of his appearances this week, allowing six hits in eight scoreless innings while striking out nine and walking two. … Right-handed relievers Jonathan Escudero, Kyle Grana and Kender Villegas (more on him also below) have thrown a combined 21-2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, yielding 12 hits and two walks while whiffing 24….

OF Carlos Torres was 2-for-22 during the week, but both hits were home runs in that blowout win. Struggling INF Jacoby Almaraz was 0-for-6 in that Viera game and struck out three times Saturday vs. the Marlins, but also got his first hit of the season, a two-run single Monday against the Mets. Almaraz, however, is 1-for-26 with 14 strikeouts so far this season, though his did make a couple of nice defensive plays in his first start at third base on Saturday.

A Closer Look

This week we look at three returning position players, with the primary question to Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator Brent Strom being, "What does he have to improve to get promoted?"

Flores
Fidencio Flores: A starter in the first half of last season, the 20-year-old right-hander will most likely pitch out of the bullpen this season, in part because of arm issues during spring training, Strom said. He said the Cardinals are concerned about every pitcher on the GCL team wearing down because of the midday games in the Florida heat, but especially smaller pitchers like Flores, who is listed at 160 pounds and a generous 6-feet tall.

Flores "could be up quite easily in Johnson City," Strom said, but because Flores can start or pitch long relief, "we felt we needed the depth here." Flores is a good competitor and with good control who features a sinker and slurve along with a fastball that touches 92.

Kender Villegas: The 20-year-old Venezuelan right-hander has a fastball that touches 91 mph and is making progress to refine his curve, but his changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch, Strom said.

Villegas is aggressive and "competes really well," Strom said, explaining that he doesn't change his body language when things aren't going so well. Strom said Villlegas has a better arm than RHP Anderson Gerdel, but Gerdel was promoted to Johnson City ahead of Villegas because he has better control.

Juan Caballero: The 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander from Puerto Rico, signed last year out of Universidad de Turabo as a non-drafted free agent, has emerged as the team's closer in the early going. Though the 20-year-old hurler gave up runs in two of his three appearances this week, he earned the team's only two saves.

Since last season, Caballero has improved his fastball and his changeup, but still needs to work on his breaking ball, Strom said. He studies the game and his mechanics and is meticulous in his work habits, Strom said.



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