I’m going to make a potentially controversial statement. I don’t actually think the Cardinals have pitching depth. They certainly don’t have pitching depth in the same way they use to have pitching depth. The Cardinals, in just the last five years, have come into spring training or Opening Day with Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, and Kwang-Hyun Kim on the outside looking in. The Cardinals have nobody close to any of those guys as the presumed replacement, although admittedly part of that is because there was no minor league season last year.
No, what the Cardinals have is theoretical pitching depth. There may be a better word than theoretical, because I do think with the pure amount of arms they have in the system, a couple players will emerge by June that make this depth a reality. But in order for things to change, a few players actually have to log in minor league innings to prove themselves.
On Opening Day? I honestly don’t think any of the options to replace Miles Mikolas should be on an MLB rotation of a good team whose pitching is supposed to be a strength. And the depth situation really isn’t going to change for a good two months, thanks to the minor league season being postponed to May. Whatever is true now will be true all of April, and most of May.
It’s a very weird situation the Cardinals find themselves in, entirely due to having missed a year of minor league stats. And starting in May, finally we will get some new information on minor league players. I wrote about every conceivable starting option in my post last week, so I thought I’d talk about some of the more unlikely arms to emerge as depth. Players who had relatively promising seasons two years ago, who could surprise this year. None of them are on the 40 man, and none of them are all that likely to debut this year, but.... there’s probably at least one guy named here who will. We just don’t know which.
Evan Kruczynski (2021 Age: 26)
AA: 20 GS, 117.1 IP, 23 K%, 9.7 BB%, 5.60 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 4.28 xFIP
AAA: 6 GS, 30.1 IP, 18.8 K%, 11.4 BB%, 8.01 ERA, 5.12 FIP, 6.71 xFIP
Projection (MLB): 19.3 K%, 9.9 BB%, 4.72 ERA, 4.92 FIP
Fair warning here. Some of the minor league stats are going to be ugly, and that’s because the AAA ball made offense insane. Which can lead to things like having a better projection in the majors than you actually pitched in AAA. Like this is legitimately a better projection than Angel Rondon, Johan Oviedo, and about in line with Genesis Cabrera. Which perfectly encapsulates why I call the Cardinals pitching depth theoretical right now.
I would take the under (or over? His stats would be worse, whatever you call it) on that projection though. But you can squint and see why maybe he could surprise. He was 24 in 2019, about the right age for splitting time between AA and AAA. And he completely missed out on his age 25 season, a huge one to miss for prospects. He had a high BABIP (which was maybe deserved) and a high HR/FB% (ditto) in Springfield, with an okay xFIP in a hitter’s park. His AAA stats aren’t as bad as they look, because of an inflated ERA, but I assure you most pitchers FIP and xFIP look that bad in AAA in 2019.
Garrett Williams (2021 Age: 26)
AA: 29 G (20 GS), 110 IP, 22.2 K%, 12.6 BB%, 3.60 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 3.93 xFIP
Projections: 18.4 K%, 13.3 BB%, 4.75 ERA, 5.09 FIP
The Cardinals drafted Williams in the AAA Rule 5 draft last December and it’s not hard to see why. Just remember that the stats compiled from 2019 are always going to be whatever his 2021 age is minus two. So in AA, at 24, he was a pretty good pitcher. He clearly has control problems, with a high BB%, and he doesn’t have an especially high K% to counteract that.
But what he does have is groundballs. Lots of groundballs. Gee, he might be a good option for a team with a good infield defense. He’s also left-handed. At every level he’s pitched, he’s had at least a 55 GB% so far. He’s a pretty good rotation option if he can cut down on his walks even a little bit without sacrificing either the groundballs or the strikeouts. Like it really doesn’t have to be much.
Anthony Shew (2021 Age: 27)
AA: 14 GS, 82.1 IP, 24.9 K%, 7.1 BB%, 3.83 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 3.52 xFIP
AAA: 11 GS, 60 IP, 19.6 K%, 10.7 BB%, 5.70 ERA, 6.86 FIP, 6.39 xFIP
Projection: 18.5 K%, 8.5 BB%, 4.76 ERA, 4.96 FIP
I really wasn’t kidding when I said every pitcher’s stats are about as bad as Kruczynski in AAA. Can someone think of a nickname for him by the way? I don’t want to type his last name every time. Apologies to Evan here, but every time I see your name, I think of the Unabomber, so some clever play on that would be the best for me personally. Again, sorry for that Evan. I know you guys don’t even have the same spelling or even the same pronunciation, but I see K and then zynski and that’s enough for me to make the connection.
Back to Shew, he was on his second round at both AA and AAA in 2019. In his first round he was very bad at both levels (and didn’t have the juiced ball excuse in 2018). He was an elite pitcher at Palm Beach prior to being bad at both levels and was promoted fairly quickly, so he may have been rushed. But there’s really no way to know how good he is because he has good stats at AA, and AAA stats got broke in 2019.
Tommy Parsons (2021 Age: 25)
A: 5 GS, 35 IP, 21.3 K%, 4.1 BB%, 0.26 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 3.39 xFIP
A+: 7 GS, 42.1 IP, 22.3 K%, 4 BB%, 2.13 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 2.91 xFIP
AA: 14 GS, 83.1 IP, 22.4 K%, 3.8 BB%, 5.29 ERA, 6.13 FIP, 4.08 xFIP
AAA: 1 GS, 5 IP, 24 K%, 8 BB%, 9.00 ERA, 8.40 FIP, 5.69 xFIP
Projections: 17.3 K%, 6.6 BB%, 4.97 ERA, 5.11 FIP
Parsons wasn’t even drafted. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent following the 2018 MLB Draft and proceeded to put up umremarkable numbers at Johnson City. And then, well just look at the stats above. He was damn near unhittable in five starts at Peoria, and then was arguably even better at Palm Beach. His groundball percentage plummted in Springfield, hence the worse advanced stats despite literally the exact same K/BB numbers. He both barely ever got a groundball AND had a 21.8 HR/FB% which is a extremely deadly combination.
Not entirely sure how successful a guy can be at the MLB level whose only apparent skill is not walking literally anyone, which seems to translate just as well as a hitter in the system whose only skill is walking a lot. Sometimes those players can become something. Usually not, but they are still more interesting than your average non-prospect prospect.
Domingo Robles (2021 Age: 23)
A+: 5 Gs, 28.1 IP, 18.7 K%, 6 BB%, 2.61 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 3.51 xFIP
AA: 18 GS, 17.8 K%, 4.8 BB%, 4.02 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.73 xFIP
I’ve been combining Steamer and ZiPS projections so far but ZiPS does not have a projection. Not sure how valuable projections really are for the players I’m covering, but at least with combining them, I got two perspectives. The Cardinals traded for Robles for international bonus money late in the 2020 season. Robles is perhaps a bit more interesting than Parsons, but a very similar pitcher. Robles is both younger and gets more groundballs, making his MLB future easier to picture.
Edgar Gonzalez (2021 Age: 24)
A+: 24 GS, 115.1 IP, 20.7 K%, 12.2 BB%, 5.23 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 3.84 xFIP
Projections: 16 K%, 11.5 BB%, 5.17 ERA, 5.35 FIP
Gonzalez is notable to me primarily because the Cardinals saw something in him that made them think he could handle a jump to Palm Beach. Drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 draft, he was sent to State College and finished the year in the bullpen. He pitched pretty good there, but it was the bullpen and he an old college draftee, so it’s kind of expected. But instead of sending him to Peoria, they sent him to Palm Beach in 2019. With a 51 GB%, I’d say this is another groundball pitcher. Will be interesting to see what he can do in a less friendly pitcher environment this year.
I think that about covers it. I tried to stick to pitchers who could plausibly debut in the MLB if a lot of things broke their way. Anybody else not mentioned was either in my other post on the pitching competition for 5th starter or is someone whose parents even doubt they’ll make the MLB this year. Like I went to helpful Roster Resource on Fangraphs and I stopped at the players who they think start 2021 in Palm Beach.