How's this headline for a sop to the hyperventilating prospect-geek fraternity—Cardinals cut six, including Pagnozzi and Salas. Just as it sinks in the Matt Pagnozzi is gone, condemned to take still more at-bats from Bryan Anderson in Memphis, you see that Fernando Salas, erstwhile Spring Training relief ace and long-time Future Redbirds favorite, will be throwing to him.
It won't be the last we see of Salas, and while I'd have liked to see him playing the role of Kyle McClellan in 2010 he is still, like Kyle McClellan in 2008, no sure thing; injuries kept him from a full season in 2009, so 2008 still remains the only thing we have that separates him from such VEB favorites as Kelvin Jimenez. Given reliever attrition he'll probably make the team by June, if he's as good as we hope he is.
He did just about all he could to fit into the role of Spring Training surprise, but the Cardinals have other plans for the amorphous back of the bullpen, and they appear to look a lot like Adam Ottavino.
I'm getting the impression, in this brave, post-Braden-Looper world, that Tony La Russa, the man widely credited with (or blamed for) pulling baseball in the direction of single-inning, single-batter relief specialists, cares a lot less about the distinction than he's given credit for (or accused of.) Having created these roles he feels a need to keep them in place—it was mentioned in passing in a recent P-D article that Dave Duncan's ideal bullpen has three left-handers in it—but passage between the bullpen and the rotation seems no more difficult than... say, passage from the outfield to second base.
Should Ottavino make the team in 2010—this still seems unlikely, here on March 23—he'd join Mitchell Boggs in the back of the pen as an ex-starter who made it all the way to Memphis, and for all the concern about his command, his career walk rate as a starter in the minors is a full walk lower than Ottavino's. Ottavino's strikeout rate is nearly one higher, as well, for what that's worth; big starters with sinking fastballs come with no guarantees as to what happens when you tell them to rear back and throw as hard as they can, but Boggs dialed up one notch seems like the kind of pitcher who could stand to start his first season in the Memphis bullpen. Ottavino's 24, the same age as Boggs was when he first sneaked into St. Louis.
The comparisons get vaguer after that, but I can't decide which of the following propositions I'm more surprised about—Kyle McClellan's only a year and a half older than Adam Ottavino; Adam Ottavino's a year and a half younger than Kyle McClellan. It seems like I've been hearing about Ottavino forever, but McClellan is a Veteran Reliever who was drafted all the way back in 2002. McClellan last started a full season in low-A Peoria, and upon moving to the bullpen he converted his plain-old starter stats (5.9 K/9; 2.4 BB/9) into plain-old setup man stats, boosting his strikeout rate and improving his command.
(I just checked Baseball Reference and have added one more surprise to my lede—McClellan and Ottavino are just one inch and 25 listed pounds apart. Without a strikeout pitch, and reliant, in the minors, on his command to post gaudy K:BB ratios, McClellan has just always struck me as a Small Pitcher. The back of Adam Ottavino's figurative baseball card makes him look a foot taller.)
My concern about Ottavino right now—should it even be necessary, at this early stage, to have one—is that he has yet to even succeed in Memphis. Boggs was a fair starter in Memphis whose strikeout rate, in 2008, foretold some difficulty in missing bats as a Major League starter. McClellan was a successful reliever in Springfield and Palm Beach and had a reasonable, if anonymous, season in Peoria as a starter. Ottavino was just a mess. It is one thing to hope he can turn the fastball up and get still more groundballs and strikeouts, but I would wait, at least, until he proves he can stay in the strike zone in the high minors.