As pitchers get more starts under their belt they are settling into rhythms and patterns. St. Louis Cardinals RHP prospect Jack Ralston has settled into a pattern of success through his first three starts.
The Cardinals drafted Ralston in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft out of UCLA. He debuted in short season A ball collecting five saves and a sub-two ERA across 17 relief appearances. Following the COVID-shutdown season he earned an assignment in High-A with the Peoria Chiefs.
In just over 10 innings, Ralston has a 2.61 ERA and 18 strikeouts to go along with seven walks. Kind of a mixed bag, but keep in mind five of those walks came in one start.
Most recently he squared off against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, going four innings with six strikeouts while surrendering five hits and two earned runs. I dove into that start to see what Jack Ralston brings to the table.
This pitch generally sits in the low 90’s. It’s a below average, maybe fringe offering at it’s best. It would seem like that would be the end of it, but it gets heavy usage and I have thoughts. Buckle up.
Ralston’s first strikeout came on an elevated fastball, which is a theme I’ll be diving into. Stay tuned. For now, just enjoy the punchout.
One random, if irrelevant, observation. On this strikeout, the at bat started with a runner on following a Hayden Cantrelle single. After Cantrelle was thrown out attempting to steal, Ralston remained in the stretch. He was back in the windup to start inning number two, so that observation is useless other than a tiny tidbit of his game.
Anyway, there is a lot to unpack when it comes to Ralston’s fastball. With his over the top delivery he can create a pretty touch downhill angle for the hitter. That’s why it makes sense for him to work north and south as much as he does. With that being said, he works mostly north. His fastball hangs out in the upper part of the strike zone a lot.
There’s a non-zero chance I’m just seeing things. It’s subtle, tough to see, and that’s not really even that low of a pitch. If my eyes aren’t lying to me, though, then there’s something interesting there. I think this is a byproduct of trying to get the ball low rather than something he’s attempting to do. The issue is, he can have trouble working the ball to the bottom of the zone.
When Ralston starts working up, which I’m not against even a little bit, the ball becomes a lot easier to barrel up. That became an issue in the second inning of this start where he kept leaving fastballs in hittable locations up in the zone.
Again, working up is not a bad strategy. I’m all for it when it works. It just can get predictible with Ralston. That is where his curveball comes into play, sure. But without even adding that element in, if he can consistently locate his fastball low then that makes the elevated ones that more successful. Especially if I’m correct and he cuts the ball when shooting for the lower quadrants.
All this is with the fastball. Quite frankly, his fastball can play up in the zone when used correctly. That is why giving him that extra weapon to set it up will help. Either way, here’s some elevated fastballs that worked.
Ralston has other pitches so I’ll be brief in the conclusion. It’s pretty simple. I think the fastball can play up right now, but I think it’ll be more effective if he can access the bottom of the zone more.
This is pretty easily, and really not arguably, his best pitch. He will use it in any situation for any reason. It’s got a good 12-6 shape to it as you can see here.
This pitch works down, but he actually attempts a more east/west approach with it. It’s not a bad compliment to his fastball, though most of the time it can seem like his fastball is complimenting the breaker. Ralston will use it to pitch backward though, he tried to steal a strike here.
Command becomes an issue with this offering too. While he can get away with it more often than his fastball, Ralston still tends to leave this pitch over the middle.
All that being said, he can get some nice tight spin on the curveball late in counts to get swings and misses. This is Ralston’s best pitch and it is consistently showing that way regardless of how deep in his outing he is. This curveball right here is beautifully executed for the strikeout.
The reason I chose Ralston is to dive deeper into this changeup. In the few games I’d seen there always seemed to be one really nice looking changeup. The issue is he doesn’t throw it a ton. The more I saw, the more I realize why.
Changeups are hard to throw because they require a lot of feel to throw and command. When Ralston has this, I think there’s another fringe offering. However, in the small sample I’ve seen he just needs to have that feel more often.
With that in mind, the only really helpful GIF of this changeup comes on a strikeout late in the outing.
If the changeup comes along, there is a rotation future for Ralston. He generally has good control, save for a five walk outing earlier this year, and he’s been effective. There is a notion that he may be better suited for a two pitch bullpen role and that seems well suited for him as things stand right now.
Even if I’m wrong about the fastball down in the zone, and I very well could be, just utilizing that part of the zone more could be huge for how often he gives up hard contact. Working north to south is great, but just north can be an issue. He does a good job counteracting it and using the breaker down to set up the fastball up, but the fastball down can help the fastball up and even the breaker in the dirt. It’s a chess match.
Ralston may not be the highest guy on prospect lists, but there’s a skillset there that can make him interesting to keep an eye on moving forward if he can clean a few things up. Then again, that’s what the Minor Leagues are for.