2014 Cardinals Draft Preview, Farm Inventory: Starting Pitchers

Joel Auerbach

Another strong, deep group of prospects for the Cardinals with plenty of both upside and ready-to-contribute arms. This is one area where the current scouting department and talent evaluation group has shone as of late, not to mention the player development people who've done a great job turning middle round pitchers into viable major league arms.

From the top to the bottom of the full season leagues the Cardinals are loaded with pitching talent, but especially from the left hand side, a relative rarity for the Cardinals organization.  Especially so if you look at the pitchers who've graduated the farm in the last couple of seasons: All right handed with the exception of Kevin Siegrist.

The asterisk denotes left handed pitchers.

One thing to note is that, currently, there's no stand out arm that screams "top-of-the-rotation starter" in this bunch, but a ton of guys who either have the potential to get to that level as well as quite a few others who could be valuable as back end of the rotation material, which, as Jonah Keri and Neil Paine pointed out over at FiveThirtyEight the other day, might have more value than we give them credit for.

Of the three B+ guys, Gonzalez, the first round pick from Gonzaga a year ago, is the closest to making MLB impact. He started the year in Palm Beach, dominated the Florida State League, and got promoted to Springfield where he's made his last three starts dominating the Texas League. The combination of his pinpoint command and his 80 grade changeup (one of the best I've ever seen from a lefty -- it's Tom Glavine good) has been overwhelming for minor league hitters thus far. Add to that a developing curveball with good depth and you have a potential front line starter in the big leagues. The questions surround his velocity and his penchant for hanging breaking balls in the strike zone, but with his focus now 100% on pitching (he played the field in college when not on the mound) there's been good improvement in both of those areas.

The other B+ pitchers are both Jersey Boys: Kaminsky coming by way of the supplemental round of the 2013 draft and Reyes via an international signing from the Dominican after spending a couple of years there "visiting family". Both throw really hard (95+), both have hammer curve balls, both probably hate the fact that I keep calling them a name associated with a musical about Frankie Valli  and The Four Seasons.  Or maybe they like Broadway and future Clint Eastwood movies. Who knows.

Of the two, Reyes is your more prototypical pitching prospect with the tall frame (6'4"), wiry strong body, and easy velocity. Kaminsky is a bit shorter, but is still able to get good downward plane due to a high arm slot, which also helps him gain depth on his excellent curveball. If either of these guys develops a good changeup, the sky is really the limit, although both could use some work with their command as well. They're 19 years old, so that will come, hopefully, but it's easy to see these two as the next Miller/Martinez duo that moves through the minors together.

Tim Cooney and Zach Petrick battled a year ago for Cardinal Minor League Pitcher of the Year and are now teammates with Memphis trying to build on those solid seasons. Cooney's been a bit up and down this season, with his unsustainable walk rate from 2013 ballooning considerably while also watching his K-rate come back to earth at the same time. He's been a bit less hittable than he was last year but has been more susceptible to the home run, surrendering 10 so far this season in just 66 innings after giving up only 8 all of last year. Most of the damage against him has come in three bad starts, however, with the other 7 being of the quality start variety including one complete game shutout in which he was one out away from a no hitter. There's just a lot to like about Cooney: Four usable pitches (although none trend to plus), good command, and plus pitchability -- he mixes things up and changes speeds really, really well, which is what allows his less-than-plus stuff to play up.

Petrick dominated AA and got the call up to Memphis when Tyler Lyons was promoted and has struggled since, posting a 4.40 ERA and a 5.02 FIP so far in 8 starts. While his command across all levels of his pro career has been excellent (he's never posted a BB rate above 8% anywhere), his strikeouts have dropped considerably with each promotion and he's striking out just under 6 per 9 innings in Memphis after being around 8.5 in his award winning year in 2013. He's an interesting back end starter prospect, but his real value to the Cardinals might be in the bullpen, where he cal play up his two average/plus pitches and use his funky delivery in shorter stretches.

The rest of the B grades are a real mix:

  • Nick Petree is the uber-pitchability guy, "Maddux from Missouri" as he was known in college: No above average offerings but changes speeds on a whim and just knows how to pitch. I quite like him in the little I've seen of his starts, but the question is how his stuff is going to play at the higher levels. One thing to note is his insane ability to keep guys from scoring when they reach base: His career strand rate in 20 pro games is over 90%. That can't possibly continue...or can it?
  • Tyrell Jenkins had just started to show some of the promise that made him a supplemental pick of the Cardinals in 2010, then got hurt and hasn't pitched since mid-summer of last year. He's on the mend, turns 22 in July, and still has an excellent fastball and developing secondary pitches. Still talented, but I'd like to see him throw some this year before making any definitive declarations. Shoulder stuff is scary, whether it's inside the joint or on the periphery.
  • John Gast is the one guy here with some big league service time, getting a three game stint for the Cardinals a year ago before getting hurt. He made his first start on Monday, pitching 5 innings and surrendering just one run -- hopefully he can add some depth to a scuffling AAA staff fairly soon.
  • Cory Jones was coming off a good year in the Midwest League, struggled a bit with Palm Beach to start 2014 before undergoing season ending surgery. See you in 2015 Cory.
  • Ian McKinney is another one of my guys: I like him more than most given his age, lack of pro experience, and his currently middling stuff, but I feel like he's got a lot of potential. He pitched very well at age 18 in the GCL last year, has pitchability beyond his years and his stuff has some room to develop: Fastball sits 90-92 with good movement, an average change up that could be refined, and a good breaking ball with depth. There's no reason he can't be Cooney or Marco Gonzales in 2-3 year's time, he's certainly got the makeup for it.
The C+ group all have significant flaws: Whiting can't consistently get good hitters out at AAA, and now looks like he might be out significant time. Reyes has been a bit of a wunderkind this year for Peoria, but he doesn't throw hard, doesn't strike guys out, and has gotten by with what seems to be a real lack of any plus offerings. Heyer's pitchability prowess seems to have run out at AAA Memphis, although he's been able to turn things around at every level thus far so you can't count him out just yet.

Seth Blair was a college standout who's been hampered by injury throughout his pro career. He looked to have turned it around a bit late last season, but he's regressed again this year. I still maintain that he could be an asset in the bullpen, but the Cardinals have refused to move him there just yet.

Hald and Mayers have both been slight surprises this year and have pitched well, Mayers for Palm Beach and Hald for both Palm Beach and Springfield. Will be interesting to see how these two finish the season, especially Mayers, who's combination of command and strikeout stuff has been impressive and he's just 22 in High-A.

I don't really see any sleepers in that group of C prospects, although Jimmy Reed has pitched well for Peoria so far this year so far, so he might be one to keep an eye on.

We'll wrap up this series tomorrow with a look at relievers.


Previous Inventory Posts:

Catchers

First Base

Third Base

Second Base

Shortstop

Outfield

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