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A look at the starting pitchers who hopefully provide depth in 2024

We hope these guys won’t have a starting rotation spot on Opening Day, but some of them may get starts next year.

Memphis Redbirds v Lehigh Valley IronPigs Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Cardinals are in an unusual situation. Obviously as fans, as Cardinals fans specifically, we haven’t experienced losing like this in some cases, hell most cases, our entire lives. Certainly mine. But they are also in an unusual situation for most baseball teams. The Cardinals this year, both in record and at the deadline and frankly in their goals for the rest of the year, resemble a rebuilding team. Most teams that look like a rebuilding team at the deadline are still rebuilding the next season.

This leads to some awkward goals. For instance, the Cardinals have a lot of internal options to take one of the three open rotation spots, if you consider Steven Matz to be a likely member at least. So we are somewhat invested in how these options do for the rest of the year. Except, well, ideally none of them are in the rotation next year. It doesn’t even really matter how well they pitch.

So if we’re not rooting for a pitcher to prove he can be a member of the 2024 rotation, what are we rooting for? That’s probably the wrong question to ask. Because the truth of the matter is that less than two months of baseball isn’t going to be enough for any starting pitcher to prove they belong in a rotation next year. But are we just rooting for depth here? Because the amount of arms they have who could be MLB contributors is going to be a lot, and whether they pitch well or not, I don’t know if nearly two months is going to change my opinion on the depth.

That’s why I’m okay with Adam Wainwright staying in the rotation. Aside from being invested in his quest for 200 wins, nobody who takes the mound in his place has a realistic shot at making the rotation next year. Some people want Michael McGreevy or Gordon Graceffo to make starts at the end of this season, but there’s no real reason to do that - add them to the 40 man prematurely - if you don’t actually believe or want them to stick in the rotation for 2024.

Anyway, this is a long preamble that no matter what the Cardinals do, the one issue they won’t have with starting pitchers next year is depth. Depth does not mean that they can plug in a starter from the minor leagues who can be a 3 WAR pitcher. It just means they have a mess of starting pitching options, and there’s enough of them that there’s at least a couple of them who will be better than replacement options. You throw 10 options in the blender and you figure a few of them should work in your favor. That’s depth.

And I will prove that by listing players who could conceivably start games at the MLB level next year. You would not be insane either to think they could develop to the point where they exceed the value of a replacement level pitcher. All a pitcher really has to do to be good depth is match the production of a 5th starter, which is something like 1-1.5 WAR over a full season.

Why that standard? Well, any better than that and they’d be a member of the starting rotation for just about all 30 teams. Below average pitchers is still depth because well if they weren’t below average, good chance they’d be in the MLB. The bar is basically “will this guy provide clearly better production than Dallas Keuchel?” And the Cardinals don’t have a lot of guys who we know can do that, but they do have a lot of guys where it’s easy to imagine. And here’s the list:

Matthew Liberatore

Is it possible that the Matthew Liberatore we’ve seen in the majors is who he will always be. Sure. But to give you an idea of how young he is, the huge rash of pitching the Cardinals drafted in 2022 is mostly one year younger than Liberatore. Also most of them are in Low A.

The good news is that he can work out his MLB issues at the MLB level thanks to the Cardinals not caring about win-loss results this year. There’s really nothing left for him to do at AAA at this point and his main issue - in my opinion - is a confidence problem. I firmly believe that the Liberatore who struck out nearly 30% of batters in AAA is not the same guy we see in the major leagues. There’s a good chance though that he’ll suck over the next month and a half, but maybe he’ll have a couple good starts in there and he can study what went right. Or maybe he can learn something from his bad starts.

Who knows? Right now there’s no pressure for him to figure it out immediately because he’s heading to AAA next year and he has another year to figure out how to get MLB hitters out. I do not like that he’s about to face the Tampa offense the same day I’m posting this. That’s... not going to go well.

Dakota Hudson

I know what you’re thinking. I’m mentioning that depth won’t be a problem for the Cardinals and the first two names I mention are Matthew Liberatore and Dakota Hudson. I get it. While we have to hope on Liberatore’s future, Hudson does technically clear the bar of 1-1.5 WAR pitcher over a full season, as unexciting as that looks in practice.

Now granted, he might not make it to next season, I don’t know, but as of now, he gives you a floor that most prospects aren’t going to have.

Michael McGreevy

For what it’s worth McGreevy made 20 starts to finish out the AA season last year and he needed just three to get promoted to AAA. He improved his strikeouts, walked literally one guy, and rivaled Andre Pallante in groundballs. He’s made 17 starts this AAA season. He most likely won’t get the chance to make the majors after just three starts next year, but the offseason could help him figure out AAA like he figured out AA.

Right now, while I don’t ever expect him to have a good strikeout rate at the majors, I do think his K/BB needs to improve before a promotion. He has a high for him 6.4 BB% while also not striking anybody out. Either strike more hitters out or walk just about nobody.

Drew Rom

Coming off the heels of a 10 K performance, he sure came off the right performance for me to write this article. With Rom, you sort of have to take into account the offensive environment of AAA, which is just bananas. He has a respectable 25.1 K%, walks a bit too many at 11.5% and gets his fair share of groundballs (47.7%), but he has a .391 BABIP against and thus a 5.34 ERA despite a 4.22 FIP and 4.66 xFIP. The league average ERA is 5.28. (Liberatore’s stats look way more impressive in that context)

If he keeps up what he did yesterday, the Cardinals really do need to get him starts this year though. He’s already on the 40 man so no issues there. And he’s got 26 AAA starts under his belt now.

Gordon Graceffo

Primarily due to an injury, but a little bit performance-related, but Graceffo has been a mild disappointment this year. But he is a top 100 prospect for a reason. It is a bummer that he hasn’t seen his strikeout rate approach when he did in Low A and High A, but hopefully he can have a healthy year next year, because he only made five starts before he missed nearly two months and I have to wonder if that has made it hard for him to find his mojo.

Connor Thomas

I’m definitely lower on Thomas than I was entering the season and again maybe the Cardinals non-tender him, but he’s another pitcher whose stats don’t look quite as bad in the context of knowing the league average ERA is 5.28. I wonder if he can show flashes of what he showed in AFL for the rest of the season. He’s another pitcher though who has almost had a lost year.

The Not Technically 2024 Depth Group

What distinguishes the above six from this group? It’s quite simple. A little too much has to go right for this group. If you’re relying on close to the best case scenario, it’s not real depth. But most of this group could actually contribute to the 2024 squad. This is the “not counting on it, but maybe” group.

Sem Robberse

Sorry, I’m a little afraid he’ll have the sem issues as Liberatore, being the sem age. I don’t mean he’s the sem type of pitcher, just that (will be) 22-year-olds debuting typically are not good. Each of the guys we have a rough idea of what the floor is, but it’s not the sem with Robberse. At least not right now.

Adam Kloffenstein

I’m actually pretty high on the Kloff, and I don’t know if when you read that to yourself, it sounded like man of the cloth, but believe me when I say I tried to write a clever sentence playing off that, but anything I could come up with would be incomprehensible if you don’t read that as man of the cloth, which I assume is most people.

I’m actually pretty sure Kloffenstein can be considered actual depth, but I still feel weird about including a guy with a single AAA start as depth who isn’t considered much of a prospect (wrongly so, but still). In this version, Adam isn’t tempted by the apple, he is the apple.

Because Mo will be tempted to promote him.... listen I am working with a small brain, do not judge me for this.

The Relievers

Zach Thompson

We’ll see how the Cardinals behave with a great 4 innings against a terrible Rockies offense, but it seems like they’re committed to Thompson in the bullpen. Maybe they try to start him before the year is out and he does as good as can be expected and plans change. But if the Cardinals actually do what they say they will do and acquire three new starters, Thompson can’t really be considered starting pitching depth because he will make the bullpen.

Andre Pallante

I had hope for Pallante in the rotation, but he hasn’t taken that next step in the bullpen that might make one inclined to believe he can transition to full-time. And perhaps more importantly, the Cardinals seem to have zero intention to get him to start games again. Kind of an important part in this process.

Bullpen late in year is probably best case

Tink Hence

Even if Tink Hence dominates in AAA, there’s still the matter of his innings workload. He threw about 60 innings last year, and he’s at 66 so far this year. I don’t know where he’ll end up, but he’ll be well short of an MLB workload. The best course of action I think is to start him with no restrictions - batters faced or innings, just pitch him until 90ish pitches every 5th or 6th day - and when he reaches a certain inning for the season, promote him to the MLB and put him in the bullpen.

So for instance, let’s say the Cardinals have a innings idea of 120 innings for next year. When he reaches 90 innings in July, have him throw 30 innings out of the bullpen for the Cardinals to both limit his innings and also help the MLB squad.

Of course this is the good outcome. Hence seems about a year away from a workload perspective, even if his performance seems ready sooner.

Tekoah Roby

Roby shouldn’t probably count as actual depth, much the same as Kloffenstein, but it still feels like a bit too much has to go right. Roby doesn’t quite have the same workload problem - he does have injury issues - but he has thrown over 100 innings as a professional, which he did last year. He obviously won’t exceed that this year, he’ll fall well short, so I’m curious if they put some innings limit on him next year.

Ian Bedell

Bedell will likely be added to the 40 man, and will likely begin next year at AA. Considering how the 2023 season started, he could be really good in the bullpen. But yeah no chance he starts at the MLB level unless things go catastrophically wrong. (I guess there’s a situation where he is so dominant it happens and it does help that he’ll be on the 40 for this hypothetical

And there you have it. Lots and lots and lots of names, if none of these guys are a part of the starting 5 and all remain in the organization, there’s a good chance the Cardinals have good replacements for any injuries that will occur throughout the season.