Acquired: Draft, 2008: 6th round, 185th overall
Player Profile & Career Summary
Former Future-Redbirds editor Erik Manning landed an interview with Fornataro after the draft in 2008 (bonus: Amaury Marti coverage!!!) when he was the latest rising phenom out of baseball factory Miami-Dade CC. Since then he's struggled through the low minors, logging 285 innings as a starter in 2010 and 2011 between the Quad Cities and Palm Beach with mixed results. An unspectacular K% (17.1%) combined with a lack of command of his secondary pitches that led to an above average BB% (7.2%) and a lot of undesirable baserunners.
Transitioned to the bullpen prior to the 2012 season, Fornataro seemed to find a solid home: Setting up for
Eddie Keith Butler at Springfield, the Florida native had the best season of his short career. Able to shuttle his change-up and dial up his fastball in limited innings, Fornataro became a power-sinker/curveball pitcher and seemed to relish the change in role, as he noted in an interview with Derrick Goold during spring training last March. Unfortunately, it was mostly a mirage of BABIP luck: While striking out fewer than 6 batters per nine innings and improving his ground ball rate to 55%, Fornataro's BABIP-against fell to an unsustainable .266. Still, a 96-97 mph sinker and a 60 grade curveball coupled with his ability to induce weak contact were enough for the Cardinals to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The 2013 was a setback, struggling much of the year with various nagging injuries, and logging only 55 innings in AAA sporting a 4.42 FIP and 4.26 SIERA -- nothing much to write home about.
As a starter, Fornataro featured a mid-90's sinker with a 50 grade change-up and a 60 grade curveball and utilizing a slider as an occasional show me pitch to hitters after his first time through the order. After moving to the bullpen, he gained 2-3 mph on his fastball, while featuring the curveball more and throwing fewer change-ups.
Fornataro induces quite a few ground balls -- not quite as many as Seth Maness does, but a considerable amount nonetheless: 54% of his balls in play were on the ground since moving to the bullpen. He still gives up far too many free passes for a guy with a below average strikeout rate and also allows too many hits to be an effective reliever -- Triple A hitters batted an even .300 against him in 256 PA's in 2013.
Fornataro would be a long shot to make the Cardinal bullpen out of spring training and will probably find himself in a middle innings role in Memphis for most of 2013, looking to prove that his 2012 wasn't a total fluke. Relievers with higher potential (Keith Butler, Jorge Rondon, Lee Stoppelman), will see most of the high leverage innings as the organization grooms them for the big leagues, and Fornataro will really have to impress to get his stock to move back up where it was at the end of 2012. Perhaps he transitions back to a starting role and sops up innings on the back-end of the Memphis rotation as he did for three starts near the end of last year.
Fungible commodity. While the Cardinal organization likes hard throwing sinkerball pitchers more than most (Joe Kelly, come on down!), it's hard to see how a guy with a K-rate lower than 6 batters per 9 innings as a reliever is going to see much of any time in the big leagues. Especially one that gives up more hits than innings pitched throughout his minor league career. I'm sure he's a nice fellow, however.
Filling out the Memphis pitching staff in some capacity, searching for whatever made him so effective in 2012.