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Spring Training Notebook - Volume 2

I’ve got news galore in my latest Spring Training notebook, including prospects excelling, newfound velocity, pitch mix changes, and new pitch shapes.

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Last week I wrote an article titled “Early Spring Training Observations” and, at the time, I thought it would just be a one-off piece. But now I’m realizing there is so much to cover from Spring Training that I should turn that one-off piece into a weekly notebook. So here we are, with a Spring Training Notebook Volume 2 and no piece titled Spring Training Notebook Volume 1.

Yet, how we got here doesn’t matter so let’s press on with some more observations from Spring Training.

Jordan Montgomery

We waited a long time to see Jordan Montgomery take the mound for the first time and one of the things I was waiting to see was his pitch mix. And that’s because his four-seam fastball usage ticked upward heavily last year once he joined the St. Louis Cardinals but I’m not actually sure that was the right decision for the lefty.

Jordan Montgomery Fastballs

Pitch Stuff+ Location+ Pitching+ wOBA xwOBA Whiff%
Pitch Stuff+ Location+ Pitching+ wOBA xwOBA Whiff%
Sinker 116 101 102 0.295 0.330 17.1
Four-Seam 84.7 103 91.2 0.342 0.360 13.6

After all that was made of Montgomery using his four-seamer more in St. Louis, does it surprise you to learn that his sinker was actually better in just about every metric? And after seeing the table above, let’s consider that Montgomery’s four-seam usage jumped from 4.8% in July (with the Yankees) to 32.9% in August to 30.6% in September and became his primary fastball.

If Montgomery wants to be a guy that throws both fastballs, that’s fine. But his sinker should be his primary heater, not his four-seamer. His sinker’s best asset is that it gets a whopping 17 inches of run on average, and at 93 mph, that is more than enough run to make the pitch tough to square up.

In fact, it was so tough to square up last year that hitters managed just a 4.8% barrel rate (as opposed to a 9.9% barrel rate against his four-seam fastball) and a 39.2% hard hit rate (as opposed to a 45.1% hard hit rate against his four-seam fastball).

When considering that Montgomery’s sinker did a better job of managing contact, got more groundballs, and even got more whiffs, it makes sense that the sinker should be the lefty’s primary heater.

So, what happened in his first outing of the spring? He threw more sinkers than four-seamers, of course, by a margin of 18-to-8. This is something that I will continue to watch but it’s a good sign from his first outing of the spring.

Jordan Walker

What is there to say about Jordan Walker that hasn’t already been said? He’s simply crushing the ball, and when he’s not crushing the ball, he’s beating out infield singles.

He’s simply been one of the best players in the league this spring.

Now, take that with a huge grain of salt as spring training stats aren’t exactly predictive, or even a great representation of talent, but what Walker is doing this spring aligns with the minor league production, the scouting reports, and the eye test.

I know at the beginning of the spring there was talk of him getting the chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster but I didn’t really take that seriously. I mean, in all fairness, the Cardinals have 3 solid starters penciled into the outfield and Walker isn’t going to sit the bench. But what he’s done so far is simply incredible and it’s making me question my conviction that he doesn’t have a chance at winning a job this spring.

There’s still plenty of spring training games to be played and with a bunch of Cardinals heading to the World Baseball Classic, Jordan Walker will get plenty of looks. I now believe that those looks are legitimate and that he truly does have a chance to earn his place on the roster.

I’m not saying that he will make the team but I am saying that he has made me more open minded and I’m not ready to consider the possibility of him skipping Triple-A entirely.

Adam Wainwright

This has already been covered a bunch by people who know a lot more than me so I’ll keep this section brief. As you’re all well aware, Adam Wainwright’s velocity is down to around 85 mph but he has dealt with back spasms which have reportedly affected him.

He is perhaps the biggest question mark on the roster right now. If he can find his lost velocity, I’ll have no concerns about him being a back-end starter for one more year but if he’s sitting 85 by the time the season starts, there are going to be some issues.

For more on the subject, I suggest you read Katie Woo’s piece for the Athletic or John Denton’s piece for

Masyn Winn

Masyn Winn has always been known for his speed, arm, and overall athleticism so it’s been a bit surprising to see his power standout this spring. But that’s exactly what’s happened. He simply keeps hitting the ball hard and it’s led to great results.

It feels like Masyn Winn is hitting balls at 95+ mph every game, and even though the sample size is tiny, that’s not something I expected to see. Jordan Walker may be getting most of the headlines with his unbelievable start to the spring but Masyn Winn has been impressive in his own right with his arm making headlines and his bat looking better than expected, even according to Oli Marmol.

Wilking Rodriguez

I’ll admit it. I’m really starting to fall hard for Wilking Rodriguez. That doesn’t mean I’m ignoring his suspect control and occasionally very up and very in fastballs, but it does mean that I’m enamored with his stuff. The 33-year-old has run his fastball up to 97.8 mph this spring and reportedly has 100 in the tank but he also has a hammer curveball and a cutter. The first two pitches I mentioned are certainly impressive, but it’s Rodriguez’s cutter that really stood out to me in his last appearance.

The pitch touched 95 and sat 94 with what looked to be a few inches of sweep. That’s comfortably a plus pitch and it’s a pitch that most hitters will struggle with, especially at that velocity.

Rodriguez still needs to reign in his control a bit but as long as he can keep his walk rate from getting too high, he looks capable of being a productive arm by racking up strikeouts out of the bullpen. It’s still early in the spring and I don’t want to jump to conclusions but Rodriguez has shown me enough for me to want him on the Opening Day roster. From there, it will be up to him to prove that he can stick.

As a side note, I do expect Rodriguez to make the roster because the Cardinals aren’t going to voluntarily sacrifice their depth at the beginning of the season by sending their Rule 5 draft selection back to New York before giving him a shot in the regular season.

Andre Pallante

I covered this in my first spring training notebook but Andre Pallante’s velocity gains looks real. In 2022, Pallante averaged 95.2 mph on his heater and in his first outing of the spring, he threw all 9 of his fastballs above 96 mph. Then, in his most recent outing, Pallante averaged 96.6 mph and touched 98.2.

This velocity increase has me excited for it’s own sake but it also further convinces me that Pallante should be a starter long term. He gets groundballs and the stuff is still ticking up and his control is fine even if it’s not outstanding.

And this is why I’m fine with the idea of Pallante not making the Opening Day roster. This might sound absurd, but hear me out. The Cardinals are only going to carry 6 right-handed relievers. 4 of those are going to be Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, and Chris Stratton. I expect the other 2 to be Wilking Rodriguez, the rule 5 draft pick, who has really intriguing stuff and also must be on the roster to avoid getting sent back to the Yankees, and Drew VerHagen, who can refuse a minor league assignment (as Katie Woo mentioned on the latest VEB podcast).

The Cardinals have depth and it is this depth that should allow Pallante to work as a starter in Triple-A and be both bullpen and rotation depth this year. In fact, I think his ideal role this year is 6th starter as that would give him innings this year and a chance to earn a starting role in 2024.

New Sliders

I saved this one for last because it’s the most intriguing storyline to me. I noticed something right away in the first few games of the spring when I was looking at the Statcast data but I wanted to see more before I wrote anything about it. And that “something” is that numerous Cardinals are using new sliders.

I don’t mean that they have added sliders to their arsenal, but rather that their sliders have a different shape and I’m going to jump the gun and attribute that to new pitching coach Dusty Blake.

I’ve noticed the new slider shape with 4 pitchers so far (and there may be more but we haven’t had Statcast data for every game) - Jordan Hicks, Jake Woodford, JoJo Romero, and Drew VerHagen.

New Sliders

Pitcher 2022 Horizontal Break (in) 2023 Horizontal Break (in) 2022 Vertical Break (in) 2023 Vertical Break (in) 2022 Velocity (mph) 2023 Velocity (mph)
Pitcher 2022 Horizontal Break (in) 2023 Horizontal Break (in) 2022 Vertical Break (in) 2023 Vertical Break (in) 2022 Velocity (mph) 2023 Velocity (mph)
Jordan Hicks 12 1 39 37 84.7 86.9
Jake Woodford 13 6 44 37 82.1 82.5
JoJo Romero 12 4 40 35 84 86.1
Drew VerHagen 16 10 44 40 81.4 83.4

I will note that the 2023 numbers come from these pitchers’ most recent spring outing but I’m not concerned about the small sample size considering the magnitude of these changes.

The main takeaway from the table above should be that each of these sliders has gained velocity and lost movement, and likely turned some active spin into gyro spin. That means the pitch is thrown harder and will break later.

And the fact that at least four pitchers have adopted the new sliders makes me sense a philosophical change orchestrated by the pitching coach.

Generally breaking balls improve when they are thrown harder and, generally, I’m a fan of the change. But there are a lot of individual aspects to consider and as I’m still getting a grasp on those things, I’m only mentioning what I’ve noticed so far. You can expect a full, in-depth article about this change when I have the time to investigate it fully.

I will say now, though, that I like that the Cardinals have a pitching coach who is willing to experiment and to help pitchers make changes in an effort to optimize their arsenals.

Yes this is interesting and it deserves more words, so consider this little section a teaser for next week.


Let me know in the comments if you guys have noticed anything that I’ve missed and expect to see more in-depth articles about some of the changes that we’re seeing so far this spring.

Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Tuesday!