Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Three Young Cardinals Stand out against Marlins

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Three Young Cardinals Stand out against Marlins

Article excerpt

JUPITER, Fla. * The loudest statement, by far, was St. Louisan Scott Van Slyle's two-homer, five RBI performance for the Miami Marlins, who beat the Cardinals 6-4 in the baseball exhibition opener Friday. But there were some intriguing talking points created by several young players from the Cardinals' side.

It isn't likely that many, or any, of the players will be with the club on opening day, but very likely that two or all will be in St. Louis before the year is over. The players in question are Jack Flaherty, Oscar Mercado and Jordan Hicks.

Flaherty, 22, is the closest to wearing a St. Louis uniform and, in fact, already has, working six games last season. His two scoreless innings as a starter were spotless Friday, but it isn't as if the Cardinals' big-league staff hadn't seen him excel before.

With 23-year-old outfielder Oscar Mercado, a converted shortstop, and 21-year-old righthanded fireballer Jordan Hicks, the impressions made were their first ones. And eye-opening ones.

Mercado had been brought over from minor league camp a few times before but never had started an exhibition for the Cardinals. A standout at Class AA Springfield last year, the Tampa, Fla., native singled twice, walked once, scored a run and made a strong, over-the-shoulder, running catch as he fought the wind in right field. This is a position he said he had played only once before in professional ball at the end of last season when manager John Rodriguez "knew I couldn't mess anything up," said Mercado, laughing.

On his third-inning play against Marlins lefthanded slugger Justin Bour, "Roger Dean (Stadium) held that ball in pretty well," said Mercado. "The wind brought it back in a lot. Off the bat, you think you're going to have to run for days."

Hicks, 21, fanned two, allowing one single, in an overpowering eighth inning as he returned to the field where he pitched in Class A last year.

Mercado, who hit .287 with 14 homers (he had had only eight in his first three-plus seasons) and had 38 steals at Springfield, played the whole game.

"Great defensive play. Good at-bats," said manager Mike Matheny.

"He's been very highly talked about by the staff through our development system. He goes back and makes a play like that, with only a year under his belt in the outfield. It looked like he knew what he was doing at the plate."

Flaherty, who started his season at Springfield last year, had pitched in front of Mercado and center fielder Adolis Garcia, who also made a good play Friday, and Magneuris Sierra, who started for Miami in right field.

"You know that if a ball is put in play, there's a real good chance that the play is going to be made," said Flaherty, who also commended the rest of his defense Friday, notably catcher Yadier Molina.

Matheny, who had summoned Mercado mostly as a pinch runner, backup outfielder or even an extra shortstop on spring training trips in other years, said the first-day start was "a big deal. …

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