Austin Gomber started 11 games in 2018 while also making another 18 appearances out of the bullpen. That year, the southpaw posted a 4.44 ERA and 4.03 FIP in 75 innings. This was a solid debut season for Gomber. However, he threw just under 50 minor league innings last season and never reached the major leagues as he dealt with biceps and shoulder problems for most of the season. However, Gomber was able to avoid injuries this season, and although he missed some time due to COVID, he threw the sixth most innings of any Cardinals pitcher. Additionally, he was impressive in these innings and that has provided plenty of promise that he could be capable of stepping into the rotation next season.
There is plenty of uncertainty in the Cardinals 2021 rotation. Miles Mikolas will return from surgery next season, but he will need to prove that he will need to work on getting him arm back into pitching shape in the spring. Additionally, Dakota Hudson is likely going to miss the entire 2021 season with Tommy John surgery, and it is unclear if Adam Wainwright will continue playing next season, and if he does, if he can stay in the rotation. Due to these issues, there is at least one opening in the rotation next season, with the potential for another, as well as some some spot starts. This creates plenty of opportunity for some of the other pitchers on the Cardinals staff.
Carlos Martinez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and maybe Alex Reyes should all be competing with Gomber for a rotation spot while Kwang-Hyun Kim seems likely to retain his spot. However, Martinez struggled in 2020 and can has has some fatigue issues with his arm in the past. Additionally, Ponce de Leon can struggle to go deep into games while Reyes has a long injury history and the Cardinals may not yet be ready to turn him loose in the rotation. This leaves Gomber as a strong candidate as he has shown plenty of promise, and has pitched well in his two seasons in the majors, compiling a 3.72 ERA and 3.89 FIP.
Additionally, Gomber profiles well as a starting pitcher. The left-hander throws four quality pitches, with his fastball and curveball featuring the most. These two pitches made up nealy 77% of all the pitches that he threw this season. However, he also throws a changeup to right-handed hitters, as well as a quality slider that he throws to lefties and righties.
Gomber has a big curveball with plenty of 12-to-6 movement that seems likely to become his feature pitch while his fastball had excellent results this season (.143 batting average, .236 wOBA). Gomber even posted a 34.1% whiff rate on his slider and a 44% whiff rate on his changeup this season, demonstrating the quality of his tertiary pitches. In the future, this could allow Gomber to have a relatively even pitch mix that does not rely too heavily on one single offering. However, he certainly has the arsenal to profile as a starting pitcher, and in his first 100 or so major league innings, he has also shown that he has the ability.
In the 2020 season, Gomber struck out 8.38 batters per nine innings, and walked 4.66 batters per nine innings. Both of these numbers are a little higher than they were in 2018 (8.04 K/9, 3.84 BB/9), but Gomber also showed some improvement in his home run rate as he allowed 0.31 home runs per nine innings (0.84 HR/9 in 2018). This is a solid profile for a starting pitcher. He is someone who can record miss enough bats to be effective while he keeps the ball in the yard. Some improvement in the walk department would help him become more effective, but there is hope that he can improve. To begin with, Gomber has never really experienced control issues in the minor leagues, which could mean that he is overpitching at the major league level. He could be trying to paint the corners too precisely, causing him to miss the strike zone too much. Gomber has a solid first pitch strike percentage (58.8% in 2018) which allows him to work from ahead against most hitters. He simply needs to not lose them from that point. As Gomber gets more familiar with MLB hitters, this is something that will likely improve, because his 4.66 BB/9 does not match up with his career history, and thus seems likely to change.
Additionally, Gomber also posted a strong 48.6% groundball rate last season. For a pitcher who also posted a 22.7% strikeout rate, this is a great asset. This means that a significant amount of his at-bats end with either a strikeout or a groundball, which are the two least dangerous results. This also helps explain why Gomber is so good at keeping the ball in the yard.
All of these assets make Gomber a strong candidate for a role in the starting rotation. Even though he is nearly 27 years old, Gomber could break out next season if he is given a full season as a starting pitcher. He is not an elite top-of-the-rotation arm, but he can be a quality mid-rotation starter if he is given the chance. This could actually make him an upgrade over Dakota Hudson who seems likely to experience some bad batted luck eventually.