Acquired: Undrafted Free Agent, 2012
Player Profile & Career Summary:
Zach Petrick is one of my favorite pitching prospects in the system. Undrafted after his senior season at the University of Northwestern Ohio (an NAIA school with a new baseball program), Petrick signed with the Cardinals as a free agent. After watching Petrick carve up batters as a reliever in Rookie Ball, the Cardinals decided to keep him around and assigned him to Low A Peoria to start 2013. He made a quick impression there, striking out 46 batsmen against just 8 walks in 32 and ⅔ innings. Promoted to High A Palm Beach, Petrick replicated his success with a 32:4 K:BB ratio in 33 and ⅓ innings. Just 66 IP into his first full season, Petrick has an ERA less than 1.00 across two levels, and a K:BB ratio of 78:12 or 6.5 strikeouts per walk.
Having more than earned another promotion, Petrick finally found a challenge in AA, but held his own by striking out 22.2% and walking 7.6% for a FIP of 3.24 in 47 and ⅓ IP across 9 starts.
In college Petrick threw in the high 80s, touching 91 MPH with his fastball, with a big curveball, and a changeup. But he soon reaped the benefits of "The Cardinal Way". Farm Director John Vuch suggested that allowing Petrick to loosen up a little bit on the scale from "thrower" to "pitcher" may have helped add velocity to his fastball. FromLangosch's profile on him last July (well worth the full read):
"After throwing a fastball that sat around 88-90 mph and topped out at 91 mph in college, Petrick was reaching 94 mph on the radar gun. The spike started when Petrick was pitching in a relief role but was sustained when he later slid into the rotation.
"I would have to believe that getting on a routine just benefited him," Strom said."
That's Brent Strom, then Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Cardinals, but now with the Astros. (*grumble grumble*) Strom also helped him tighten the break on his curveball, which boosted his accuracy as well. After helping Petrick boost his fastball, and improve his curveball, the Cardinals system then taught him a new grip for his changeup for good measure.
It's hard to say how much a new grip, or a different curveball has helped Petrick (though a faster fastball is almost certainly helpful). Nonetheless, whatever is going on in the organization, it has taken Petrick from an undrafted senior from an unknown college baseball program and turned him into a pretty good pitching prospect with three solid pitches. He likely won't advance through AA and AAA as quickly or easily as he did the low minors, but he looks like a future contributor in the majors, which is just incredible value. The St. Louis rotation is pretty full right now -- heck, the bullpen looks like it's full too, and that may not have changed by the time Petrick reaches the majors. He looks like a good relieve though, with the balanced arsenal to pick up some starts as well.
The Cardinals may or may not start Petrick at AA, but he should be in Memphis sooner than later, where I expect he'll have some success without dominating. If he was in this spot in years past, he would have been called up to fix a faltering bullpen, but that doesn't look too terribly likely this year. *Knocks on wood*
Age: 24, 25 on March 3rd
Acquired: Draft, 2010: 1st round Supplemental, 46th overall
Player Profile & Career Summary:
Seth Blair was taken 29 picks prior to college teammate Jordan Swagerty, using the compensation pick from the free agent departure of Mark DeRosa. Unfortunately, his early time with the Cardinals has gone about as well as the trade for Mark DeRosa. Starting out at A-ball in 2011, he walked 15.9% of batters and had a FIP of 5.71. That's a pretty unremarkable result from a top pick out of a major baseball program. The next season didn't start off much better, as he discovered a tumor had grown in the knuckle of the middle finger on his pitching hand. Surgery was required to remove the tumor and Blair missed the first four months of the season. He made five starts for Palm Beach at the end of the season, mostly experiencing the same control problems with 14 walks in 16 and ⅔ innings. To get more innings, Blair was sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out roughly a quarter of his opponents, but still walked 15.7% of them.
Things finally got brighter for Blair in 2013, pitching for Springfield. Despite moving up to the high minors, Blair managed to trim his walk rate nearly in half while still striking out just over 20% of opposing hitters. His ERA was still a pretty ugly 5.07, but his FIP was 4.52, which is the lowest number he has posted in any stop outside of the AFL.
Blair generally sits in the low 90s, but has shown the ability to dial up toward 98 in shorter stints, leading many to see him as a future reliever. He also throws a curve and a change that can look like plus pitches, but hasn't shown much consistency with either. Command and consistency are his two biggest issues, but he has the stuff to be a successful major league pitcher.
I wouldn't call his control problems "solved", but he certainly showed great improvement last season, and if he can continue that he should be a solid middle reliever, with the potential for a
late inning high leverage role depending on how well he sorts out his secondary offerings.
Blair should start the season at AAA, probably as a starter, but his future role is in the bullpen. Even with the improvements, I don't see his control ever being good enough to allow him to start in the majors, but with a high 90s fastball as a reliever that's just fine.