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Handing Out Superlatives to the New Prospects

The Cardinals got some quality prospects to bolster the upper levels of the system.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you read my last article, you’ll know that the St. Louis Cardinals acquired a few prospects that I wanted. I called out Tekoah Roby and Sem Robberse specifically, and now they’re Cardinals. That means they deserve breakdowns.

But before I do that, I want to highlight some of the things that stand out to me about each player that the Cardinals acquired on Sunday. So I’m going to hand out some superlatives and I’m going to cover every player.

This is not only a good group of players but it’s also an interesting group of players. So let’s get started with the biggest prize of them all and see what stands out about each one.

Best Fastball - Tekoah Roby

This was a two horse race between Roby and Adam Kloffenstein as both have effective fastballs while Sem Robberse’s fastball seems to have less impressive shape.

None of these guys will really blow you away with velocity as Robberse and Kloffenstein sit in the low 90s while Roby gets in the mid-90s more often. According to both the eye test and other scouting reports, Roby’s fastball seems to ride more with Eric Longenhagen noting his fastball’s “riding life” and MLB Pipeline noting the pitch’s “outstanding induced vertical break”.

That’s especially important because the Cardinals simply don’t have a lot of pitchers with riding four-seamers that miss bats. So not only is Roby a good pitcher, but he also adds something that’s uncommon in the current system. I may like Kloffenstein’s fastball but I’ll argue that both the velocity and the shape of Roby’s heater is better. That seals it for me.

I can’t confirm Roby’s fastball shape with anything other than my eyes at this point, but I’ll get the numbers on the pitch as soon as Roby reaches Triple-A. One thing I will say is that from the starts of his that I’ve gone back and watched, the pitch seems to play best at the top of the zone which is common for heater with ride.

It’s pretty clearly my favorite fastball of the ones acquired by the Cardinals on Sunday and it might be my favorite fastball in the upper levels of the Cardinals system, excepting only Tink Hence.

That’s part of why Roby was the pitcher that I wanted from the Rangers system.

Best Curveball - Tekoah Roby

Another reason is because Roby has a filthy curveball. You can see that from the video above. It’s a true north/south knee-buckler that often makes hitters look silly. To make it even better, it pairs big movement and big spin with good velocity as the pitch sits in the low-80s. That’s really what makes it such a sharp offering and I’ll argue that it’s Roby’s best pitch.

With a good fastball that plays up in the zone and a nasty curveball, Roby not only has a great tunneling combination but he has the weapons to miss bats at the upper levels and into the major leagues. The curveball is at least a plus pitch and it’s probably even better than that.

It’s the highlight pitch for Roby and I could watch him throw it all day long.

Most Pitch Shapes - Adam Kloffenstein

I love Adam Kloffenstein. There. I said it. He’s the most underrated player that the Cardinals acquired and most of the scouting reports I’ve seen on him don’t do him justice.

What I love about Kloffenstein is that everything moves. He throws a bunch of different pitches and I’m fairly sure that some of them come from slight grip adjustments.

The right-hander throws both a four-seam fastball and sinker and he pairs those fastballs with a slider, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The cutter looks a bit like a cutting four-seamer to me because it doesn’t get a ton of cut and is thrown around 90 mph, which is only about 2-3 mph slower than his fastballs. It also looks like he has a slider and then something like a sweeper that’s a few ticks slower and, well, sweepier, but that could be the curveball. It’s hard to tell.

Either way, I’m pretty sure Kloffenstein throws about a million different pitches. In reality, it’s at least 6 and maybe 7. So if you read anyone who calls him a sinker/slider guy, just realize that’s wrong, and egregiously so.

Kloffenstein throws a lot of cutters but he also throws a lot of sliders. Mix that in with a sinker and the occasional curveball and then some changeups against lefties, and really nothing stays straight. It’s very much a horizontal attack for Kloffenstein and it’s really fun to watch.

When he does throw a four-seamer, it’s almost surprising to see a pitch that stays straight and has a little extra oomph and I think that really helps it play up.

Kloffenstein may not be the most highly touted pitcher the Cardinals acquired on Sunday but he’s utterly fascinating. I would rank him near Robberse and I honestly think there’s a case to be made that he’s the better prospect. If you looked at MLB Pipeline’s pre-season rankings and didn’t see Kloffenstein’s name on the list, realize that the list is outdated. In reality, he’s a whole lot better than some unranked prospect and he’s probably better than where Pipeline ranked him in the Cardinals system after the trade (#23).

Riskiest Pitcher - Tekoah Roby

This one is simple. Roby has been on the IL with a shoulder injury since early June and has a sprained elbow in 2021. It’s never great to see a pitcher have multiple arm injuries by the time he’s 21 years old so that does add an element of risk to Roby’s profile.

That’s the cost of doing business, though. The Cardinals weren’t going to get a perfectly safe pitcher with top of the rotation potential for a pair of rentals at the deadline. If they wanted a pitcher with that potential, he was always going to have to come with some element of risk. And pitchers are risky to begin with anyways.

It’s something to be aware of but it doesn’t take anything away from Roby’s ceiling, it only makes his floor lower.

Most Interesting Backstory - Sem Robberse

I wanted to find a way to incorporate Robberse into this article and since he doesn’t have the best or most interesting arsenal among the pitchers entering the organization, I wanted to talk about him a little more broadly because he’s still in interesting in his own right.

For starters, he’s from the Netherlands and it’s not often that you see a European prospect. When the Blue Jays scouted him, Robberse was sitting around 85-86 mph on his fastball but they still signed him because they loved his advanced feel for mechanics.

That mechanical feel came from a combination of himself and his dad who are both students of pitching. Robberse’s father really wanted to emphasize clean, efficient mechanics that would help his son put the ball where he wanted to and minimize his risk of injury. Part of minimizing his risk for injury also meant that Robberse wasn’t allowed to throw a curveball until he reached the highest level of baseball in the Netherlands (the Honkball Hoofdklasse) at age 17.

Beyond the arm health reasons (whether you agree with them or not), Robberse’s dad also wanted to make sure that his son knew how to pitch. He argued that breaking balls lead to success when you’re young but he wanted the younger Robberse to learn how to locate and mix speeds. If you want to hear more about his development and how Robberse thinks as a pitcher, read the article linked here.

Now, at age 21, Robberse has been throwing a breaking ball for just 4 years and has morphed his curveball into a sweeper that’s his go-to swing-and-miss pitch.

After signing with the Blue Jays, Robberse pitched just 10.1 innings of rookie ball in 2019 before the minor league season was cancelled in 2020. So how did the pitcher spend his time? By working on his spin efficiency, of course.

He’s someone who likes to blend pitch data and pure feel to improve and he’s smart about the how he attacks the process of getting better. Really his makeup is off the charts, so much so that coaches in the Blue Jays organization have said that they don’t even have to coach him. Rather they just tell him to do something and he makes a tweak and does it.

I’m sure I’ll get more into more of a scouting report later but right now I wanted to focus on who he is because that plays a big role in how I view him as a prospect. Robberse is the kind of prospect who will maximize every ounce of his tools and that’s the kind of player worth betting on to exceed whatever his perceived ceiling is, or, at the very least, reach it.

Most Likely to Be Brendan Donovan - Thomas Saggese

If there’s a player who fits the Brendan Donovan archetype, it’s Thomas Saggese. Hits everything? Check. Underrated? Check. Plays a bunch of positions? You know it. Certified grinder? I mean, he hits without batting gloves so you tell me.

John Mozeliak himself even compared Saggese to Brendan Donovan.

The differences are that Saggese is a right-handed hitter and he has more power than Donovan with worse plate discipline. The skill set may be a little different but the vibes are the same. Now he just needs his helmet to fall off as he rounds the bases.

Saggese played all 4 infield positions last year but fits best at second or third base and has more than enough bat to stick in a corner. Though he doesn’t have outstanding raw power, he does a great job of elevating the ball and consistently tapping into the power that he does have.

Versatility will be key for Saggese considering the large crowd of infielders already on the major league roster or approaching it (Masyn Winn). That’s irrelevant right now, though. The Cardinals got a good and versatile bat who checks a lot of boxes from a makeup perspective and is still a young 21-year-old. Oh, and he’s crushed every single level with no less than a 127 wRC+. That’s a great player to have in the system.

Most Likely to Contribute to the Majors Right Away - John King

Okay this one is a shoe-in but I wanted to mention every player the Cardinals received on Sunday. King has spent parts of the last 4 seasons in the majors and will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason.

He’s not a bat-misser as he has a strikeout rate of just 12.3% this year and a career strikeout rate of 16.3%. Despite that, he does have pretty solid numbers with a 3.54 FIP on the year and a career 3.86 FIP in the majors.

The lefty excels at pounding the zone and keeping the ball on the ground and he’s done both well enough to somewhat overcome an incredibly low strikeout rate. He’s not really an exciting pitcher and he does have a lot of risk, as is natural for any pitcher with a near-catastrophically low strikeout rate, but the Cardinals need innings and King can provide them this year.

If he pitches well, the Cardinals can keep him around. If not, they can non-tender him in the offseason.

I don’t see a ton of upside with King as he doesn’t really have a swing-and-miss pitch and isn’t likely to ever throw a good slider. Now, I say that because he’s a textbook pronator, meaning that his natural motor preferences help him throw pitches with arm side movement but he struggles to throw glove side pitches. That’s why 90% of his arsenal is a sinker and a changeup, with both pitches getting above average run and drop. They get beat into the ground and play pretty well off each other but they don’t miss bats.

That’s where King needs some kind of breaking ball. He throws a slider about 10% of the time but it’s never been a great pitch. This year, he did the right thing in dropping his traditional slider and his sweeper and throwing a harder gyro slider instead.

To get a little more nuanced, pronators tend to struggle with throwing breaking balls hard. That means they generally aren’t all that sharp, which really limits their effectiveness. For players who are really strong pronators, it’s oftentimes better to throw a cutter or a hard gyro slider to overcome that weakness.

And that’s exactly what King has done this year. He’s only thrown 27 of them, and it doesn’t really profile as a dominant pitch, but his slider now averages 85.2 mph and has a stuff+ of 105, which is significantly higher than the pitch’s stuff+ of 71 last year. I’m wary of the small sample size but maybe the new gyro slider can help him miss some more bats in a larger sample.

I’m not overly hopeful of him ever developing a truly good breaking ball, or maybe even an average one, but I imagine he’ll get some innings with the Cardinals to close out the year so we’ll see if his slider can be effective enough to give him a viable breaking ball.

At the very least, he’ll get a lot of ground balls with his sinker/changeup combination and he won’t walk a ton of batters. For a team that needs relievers, this isn’t a bad throw-in piece.


I’ll be looking deeper into each of these players but I wanted to hit the highlights for now before I focus in on each player individually. I really like the players brought in by the Cardinals on Sunday and I think they’ll give a huge boost to the upper level depth in the system, especially the pitching depth.

One major league reliever, three young and interesting starting pitching prospects, with one that has top of the rotation potential, and a young bat that has raked at every level is a great return for a couple of rental pitchers. And only one of those rentals was a starting pitcher, making the return all the more impressive.

Let me know in the comments if there’s a player you want me to break down first. Otherwise, I’ll be back in my typical posting slots next week ready to break down a new prospect of my choosing.

Thanks for reading, VEB. Enjoy deadline day. I’m sure there’s more to come.