The trade deadline was just under a month ago and the St. Louis Cardinals were quite active, as you remember. The team brought in 10 players total, 2 of whom are now in the majors, in an effort to restock the farm system while getting rid of all their soon-to-be free agents except for Drew VerHagen.
After reviewing the performances of the Cardinals draft class on Sunday, today I’m turning my attention to the performances of the 10 players the Cardinals brought in at the deadline. And there’s a lot to cover.
For starters, if you haven’t heard about Thomas Saggese’s exploits then you live under a rock. But fear not for I’m here to bring you into the light where we can all drool over Saggese’s ascension together. And while we’re at it, we’ll look at the other 9 players for good measure.
Let’s get started.
(If you want to read my initial impressions of these prospects, I ranked them by my excitement level after the deadline. You can read that article here.)
As we get started, I just want to mention that I’ll be providing each player’s full Fangraphs page, not just their stats with the Cardinals. This can help you get a better impression of the player as a whole but I’ll mostly be referring to each player’s numbers with the Cardinals.
So with that out of the way, I can now turn to obsessing over Thomas Saggese who has done nothing but hit since joining the Cardinals system. I would argue that he’s probably a top 100 prospect in the game but the scouting community seems to be lower on Saggese than you would expect given a player with his numbers.
That’s because his metrics aren’t outstanding as he doesn’t post overwhelming exit velocities, has some swing and miss in his game, and will chase a bit. But I don’t really care about that. Okay, fine, I do care a little bit, but those things need to be considered as part of a larger picture.
Saggese is doing all this as a 21-year-old. Most 21-year-olds aren’t in Double-A yet and, honestly, Saggese deserves to be in Triple-A by now. He’s flat out dominating the Texas league despite being 3.4 years younger than the average hitter.
What really stands out to me, as I’ve mentioned before, is Saggese’s ability to hit breaking balls and the fact that pitchers are throwing him so few fastballs. Opposing pitchers clearly respect him and are trying to dance around him and avoid giving him fastballs to hit and yet that still hasn’t stopped him.
So while his chase rates and whiff rates may not be spectacular, he’s extremely young for his level and doesn’t face many fastballs. Both of those things are likely having an effect on his underlying metrics.
Saggese is an underrated prospect, at least nationally, but his bat is legit and he pairs it with a utility profile that bodes well for his future. In the article I referenced above, I listed Saggese third in my excitement rankings but he’s at least second for me now and is neck and neck with TeKoah Roby for first.
Yes I do know that the “K” in TeKoah is not actually capitalized but I don’t care. TeKoah Roby is a big K kind of guy so I’m calling him TeKoah.
The right-hander has made just one appearance with the Cardinals since coming off the injured list (which he was on when the Cardinals acquired him) and he was flat out dominant, fanning 6 in 3 innings while allowing just a single run. And that run was not deserved as it scored on an RBI double that absolutely should have been caught in right field.
If you follow me on Twitter you have probably already seen my impression of Roby’s first outing but I’ll provide a snip-it of it here.
Roby’s standout pitch is his curveball which is a true bat misser and gets whiffs in and out of the zone but especially when it’s buried underneath the zone. His fastball averaged 97 mph (and touched 99 mph) with 18 inches of induced vertical break and was effective at missing bats up in the zone while getting a lot of called strikes down in the zone. He was more effective at working the pitch up and down than he was was working it in and out as he did struggle to hit his arm side spots.
That was about the only negative though as Roby tended to have good misses when he missed the zone, meaning that he generally missed up when he was aiming up and missed down or out when he was aiming down and out. The glaring exception was when he missed over the heart of the plate and allowed the hitter to smoke an RBI double (that, again, should have been caught).
Roby throws two other pitches - a slider and a changeup - with his slider giving him a smaller, harder offering and a good second breaking ball while his changeup gets a good amount of run but doesn’t have tremendous depth.
I feel good enough about all 4 pitches (at least in terms of pure stuff) to think that Roby can have a really effective arsenal in the majors, highlighted by his fastball/curveball combination.
I would expect the Cardinals to be cautious with Roby’s arm to finish out the year but he’s a pitcher to get excited about and gives the Cardinals another high upside arm besides Tink Hence.
Shoutout to VHS on Twitter who provided us with a super-cut of Roby’s start, meaning that you can watch every pitch in just under 2 minutes.
So John King is interesting. Much more so than most people thought when the Cardinals first acquired him. I saw a lot of takes saying that he was a non-tender candidate in the winter or even a DFA candidate before then but that hasn’t been the case.
It’s easy to see where that idea came from, though. King is 28 years old with a 12.4% strikeout rate this year. That’s not too promising.
Yet King is the classic lefty groundballer out of the bullpen and he’s pitched to contact well enough to be useful so far.
He’s still not striking hitters out but he actually has a 26.4% whiff rate this month, which is 1.6% above the league average on the season. He’s been missing bats at a good clip with the Cardinals, he just doesn’t have the strikeout numbers to show for it.
What he does have is the ground ball numbers. And the walk numbers. King is a worm burning machine who doesn’t walk anybody and that’s a good combination. I do think he has more strikeouts in the tank but even if he doesn’t, he may be able to walk the tightrope to remain effective despite an extremely poor strikeout rate.
One of the things that I noted in a conversation in the comments section after the Cardinals acquired King was that he isn’t particularly good at throwing sliders because he’s such a strong pronator. It helps that he switched from a sweeper to a gyro slider but I still wanted to see him lean into his sinker/changeup combination almost exclusively. And that’s what he’s done, dropping his slider usage to just 5.2% this month, down from 10.7% in July and 12.3% in June.
With him focusing on his sinker, which gets a lot of axis deviation, and his changeup, which has a solid 9 inches of vertical separation and 9 mph of velocity separation from his fastball, King is the best version of himself.
Here comes John King! A dive for the bunt, a flip to first and just enough time for an out.— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) August 20, 2023
TV: Bally Sports Midwest
Stream: Bally Sports app pic.twitter.com/gca10PlFRV
I’ve mentioned both on Twitter and in the comments here at VEB that I don’t think Robberse should be pitching in Triple-A. And his numbers suggest that. He wasn’t exactly dominant in Double-A with Toronto and is still just 21 years old so I don’t know why the Cardinals are being so aggressive with him.
Regardless, none of Robberse’s appearances have gone well. He sandwiched a pair of 1 earned run starts between a pair of 6 earned run starters, but in the two games in which he allowed 1 earned run, Robberse combined for 8 walks in 7.2 innings. Those don’t qualify as good starts for me.
I don’t want to be too hard on Robberse, though, because I do like him as a prospect, he’s simply overmatched in Triple-A and should instead be refining his game in Springfield. I will note that I had some initial skepticism about Robberse’s changeup but I’ve really come around on the pitch as it gets a truly tremendous amount of depth considering how hard it’s thrown. I would even go so far as to say that it might be his best pitch, although Robberse’s sweeper provides some tough competition for that honor.
Sem Robberse’s sweeper is so damn good. He’s already picked up 6 whiffs on the pitch on 9 swings.— Kareem (@KareemSSN) August 12, 2023
This sweeper in particular had 18” of sweep at 84.7 mph. pic.twitter.com/k1UwSNFVKc
So, the main point here is don’t be too discouraged by Robberse’s poor numbers in the Cardinals system. His first four outings (and, honestly, the rest of his upcoming outings this year) have done nothing to make me change how I view Robberse.
If you refer to my excitement rankings (linked above), you’ll notice that I was actually more excited about Kloffenstein than Robberse after the deadline. That’s simply because Kloffenstein has a bunch of different pitch shapes and likes to pitch off his cutter, but you’ll also notice that Kloffenstein is able to both miss bats and get ground balls which is another reason for my excitement.
I’ve talked at length about Kloffenstein’s arsenal already so I won’t do that again here as nothing has really changed in that department. What I do want to call out is Kloffenstein’s walk rate. You’ll notice that it has spiked in Memphis but it’s worth pointing out that Kloffenstein likes to pitch up in the zone and that part of the zone is practically non-existent with the automated balls and strikes system in Triple-A.
Basically, my point here is that Kloffenstein’s control hasn’t been as bad as you might expect from his walk rate which is why I’m not too worried about it. Kloffenstein has seen his strikeout rate dip a little bit but he’s still getting ground balls and hasn’t been home run prone so I’m really not concerned about his first few Triple-A starts at all.
I like Kloffenstein a lot and even if he may be a bit upside-limited, he’s still a really fun prospect who is definitely underrated.
Super-cut of Adam Kloffenstein's 7/6/23 start against AA Hartford (COL)— VHS (@VanHicklestein) July 31, 2023
6.0 IP, 4 ER, 8 H, 10 K, 2 BB, 1 HR pic.twitter.com/B9nerloz2w
I’ll be honest here. I’m really not that excited about Prieto. And that has nothing to do with how well he has performed in the Cardinals system as he’s been a 15% above league average hitter with Memphis.
Instead, it has everything to do with his profile.
Prieto makes a ton of contact but he doesn’t have a good eye and he doesn’t have much power to speak of. On top of that, he’s not a particularly adept defender. That seems like a harsh scouting report for a player who’s been so effective but the numbers support this.
With the Norfolk Tides this season, Prieto had a 40% chase rate (!!!) and a 105 mph max exit velocity. Basically that tells us that he’s not going to take walks and he’s not going to hit for much power and that’s been his profile this year. I’m not going to bet on someone like that to hit .320 or better in the majors, even though he does have a good hit tool, and that’s just about the only way he’s going to be an above average hitter in the majors.
I will say that Prieto does make a lot of contact and has shown the ability to hit for a high average in the minors. I’m simply skeptical of his batting average translating when he combines a sky-high chase rate and minimal raw power with big league pitching.
I would love to be wrong because Prieto is a fun player with a cool story. And I will say that I very well could be wrong. Prieto does chase a lot but he rarely looks foolish. Typically when he chases it’s on pitches that are just outside the zone, not pitches that are way outside it. He could also make improvements to his chase rate by simply taking a more passive mindset instead of swinging at everything because he knows that he can hit everything.
Still, I’m going to make a comparison here (which I hate doing) to help get my point across. Prieto seems a bit like Nick Dunn to me but with much worse discipline. Or perhaps he’s more like Alec Burleson but with much less raw power.
Either way, that’s not too exciting of a player. It’s a contact first bat without any other real tools. So while it’s been great to see Prieto have success, I’m not buying into him being more than a backup infielder in the majors.
I was willing to overlook Saggese’s unspectacular metrics but I’m not yet willing to do the same with Prieto (and that may change in the future). Saggese has more average or better tools to work with, is much younger for his level, and is dealing with a much different pitching approach.
PRIETO(HHHH) YEAHHHHH! pic.twitter.com/fl0TacAxtr— Memphis Redbirds (@memphisredbirds) August 25, 2023
I’m on record saying that Rom feels to me like a tweener who likely ends up in the bullpen but does have the upside to potentially slot into the back of the rotation. I’m sticking with that assessment after his first two major league starts.
Rom showed much better control and a more diverse pitch mix in his second start which helped him miss more bats and have more success overall. It was a good performance and a perfect illustration as to the kind of pitcher that he is - someone with poor velocity who misses more bats than you would expect.
Drew Rom’s pitch mix changes from his debut to yesterday:— Blake Newberry (@bt_newberry) August 28, 2023
Four-seam: 64.4% ➡️ 39.6%
Sweeper: 11.1% ➡️ 26.0%
Sinker: 12.2% ➡️ 19.8%
Splitter: 12.2% ➡️ 14.6%
Rom showed a more diverse arsenal yesterday and that helped him have a nice bounce back performance. pic.twitter.com/H7J9QbNtbG
I’m excited to see more of Rom in the majors because he’s probably the pitcher I have the most questions about. And I don’t mean questions in a negative way; rather I mean it more with genuine curiosity.
If Rom can stick in the rotation, I would expect his pitch usage to look more like it did in his second start, but perhaps with even more sweeper usage. If he can’t stick in the rotation and moves to the bullpen instead (which I think is most likely long term), I would expect to see him rely heavily on his fastball/sweeper combination with only a sprinkling of sinkers and splitters.
Regardless, I like that Rom is getting major league exposure right now when the games don’t matter that much as that experience can be really beneficial for him. Plus it gives me a reason to tune into the games so it’s a win-win.
Drew Rom final line tonight:— Adam Akbani (@AdamAkbani) August 27, 2023
-20 HardHit% against
He got off to a shaky start after allowing a leadoff HR but rebounded very nicely, striking out Bryce Harper on his final pitch#STLCards pic.twitter.com/iLkIL1Am1N
Zack Showaler made exactly one appearance with the Palm Beach Cardinals before landing on the injured list with an undisclosed injury. Since Showalter ranked second on my excitement list, you can understand my disappointment.
I don’t have anything else to say about Showalter that I haven’t already said so I’ll keep this section brief. If you’re curious as to why I’m so high on Showalter, you can read why in my excitement ranking article.
Zack Showalter through his first seven career starts (FCL/Delmarva):— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) July 17, 2023
33 K/8 BB
0 HR allowed
All four of his strikeouts from last night- pic.twitter.com/09TnQReD7n
There has been one big development since the Cardinals acquired Matt Svanson - The Blue Jays cut Paul DeJong. That means this trade is already a win as the Blue Jays got -0.9 fWAR in exchange for Svanson, a relief prospect that I like a lot.
The ERA with the Cardinals is ugly as you can see but you can also see why Svanson is promising: he misses bats and gets ground balls. And he limits his walks for good measure.
From an arsenal perspective, I like Svanson a lot as a sinker/slider guy who can pitch effectively both up in the zone and down, though I actually like his stuff better up in the zone.
When the first batter you face as a Springfield Cardinal is also your first strikeout as a Cardinal.— Springfield Cardinals (@Sgf_Cardinals) August 6, 2023
Welcome to Hammons Field, Matt Svanson‼️ pic.twitter.com/eg0jD39BzU
You just saw the sinker, which gets over 16 inches of run and has been clocked as high as 98 mph, but Svanson pairs that with a slider that darts in the opposite direction and gets a lot of whiffs. It’s a simple two-pitch arsenal but both pitches are good and come out of a lowish arm slot from a 6’5” pitcher.
Svanson was moved a little too slow for my liking with the Blue Jays so I loved to see the Cardinals push him to Double-A immediately and I hope they continue to be aggressive with him.
It’s been great to see Sammy Hernandez hitting the ball well in the Cardinals system, especially in Single-A as he really struggled at the level with Toronto. It’s too early to make any far-reaching conclusions with Hernandez at this point so I’ll keep it brief and say that I’m higher on Hernandez’s glove than I am on his bat right now.
I do have some questions about Hernandez’s lack of high end exit velocities, an approach that needs some refinement, and some in zone swing and miss and but he’s still only 19 years old and hasn’t played that many games above rookie ball. I’ll withhold any strong judgement for now and simply wait and see as I am excited to see what Hernandez can do as he continues to develop.
As a whole, he’s a good dart throw prospect and a really solid return for a DFA’d reliever.
Sammy Hernandez was acquired today from the Blue Jays for Genesis Cabrera— Adam Akbani (@AdamAkbani) July 21, 2023
He's a 19-year-old catching prospect with plus framing and blocking skills for his age
Offensively, he's still raw with a 102.2 max EV and poor bat-to-ball skills, but has time to develop#STLCards pic.twitter.com/onMCVBLkjm
In case you haven’t gotten the impression by now, I really like what the Cardinals did at the deadline. I liked it at the time and I may like it even more now after watching Saggese go ballistic in the last month. The Cardinals really did a great job of extracting value from their free-agents-to-be and stocked the farm system with talented prospects.
I can’t wait to watch all of these players the rest of season and I’ll probably defer to watching minor league games for the rest of the season given the state of the major league team so don’t be surprised if I have more minor league content coming your way.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Tuesday.