A Role for Carlos Martinez (by Jared Simmons)

guest post by Jared Simmons. You can find him on Twitter: @McGeeTriples.

.gif credit: SB Nation

.gif credit: SB Nation

The glut of young, power arms possessed by the St. Louis Cardinals has been well documented. Some fans have called for the organization to maximize the value of their assets and relieve the rotation’s logjam through a trade. However, I have always believed the old cliché about never having too much pitching. So, how then, can the Cardinals get the most value out of all their young arms when they can’t all fit into a five-man rotation?

Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha are locks for the rotation with Jaime Garcia, if healthy and effective following shoulder surgery, destined to be in the mix as well. That leaves Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez vying for the final starting spot. There’s been talk from John Mozeliak himself about C-Mart potentially starting the year in AAA if he cannot crack the big-league rotation. This line of thinking is very pragmatic and follows the conventional wisdom. But I believe that there’s another, less conventional way for Carlos to dramatically impact the Cardinals season without 1) being in the starting rotation or 2) being the “eighth inning guy.”

The odds of Martinez beating Kelly or Lynn out for the 5th and final rotation spot appear slim and honestly, seem undesirable. Where can Martinez impact the game the most? I would argue that the gap in production between any of these three in the 5th starter role would be negligible over the long season. Further, the 5th starter is unlikely to see a start in postseason play and therefore asked to step into a role that he has not performed in all season. I want Carlos Martinez to pitch early and to pitch often when the postseason rolls around.

The late-inning relief roles are stocked with good pitchers. Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte, and Kevin Siegrist are flame-throwers and should be able to hold down the fort in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings pretty efficiently. As a result of these surpluses the Cardinals have the luxury of breaking the mold or returning to the old mold–if you prefer–and using Carlos Martinez and his electric arm as a super reliever.

Let’s define “super reliever” for the purposes of this blog post: a super reliever is a relief pitcher whose role is not tied to a particular inning. Today, closers pitch the 9th and setup men pitch the 7th or the 8th innings. If anything different is asked of these players, they lose or their agents lose their minds on their behalf. Saves and holds earn dollars.

Meanwhile, games are lost in the 5th inning when a starter loses his mojo and gets in a jam. Or the sixth with the bases loaded and a two run lead, does the manager call the bullpen for his best guy knowing that this is the confrontation that will likely determine the outcome of the game?

No.

Instead, the manager calls for Seth Manness. Or Fernando Salas. Or Maikel Cleto. When this happens, the odds of losing the game skyrockets—all because the manager is paralyzed by fear and handcuffed by convention.

The “super reliever” eliminates this scenario because his role is to put out the fire whenever the flame sparks. The super reliever is just like the closer—only more flexible, more durable, and more valuable. If the game is on the line in the 6th, this man (Carlos Martinez) will slam the door. If Trevor Rosenthal has pitched 3 straight days, Carlos Martinez will save the game without breaking a sweat. If a game goes into extra innings and all other bullpen options are exhausted, the super reliever will go 3 innings, shut the door, and send the crowd at Busch home happy.

The super reliever is also not tied to an arbitrary one-inning limit. He pitches as needed, and gives way when the situation dictates that he should. And because he’s not tied to an inning or a particular situation, he is free to do this—as tomorrow the setup men and the closer will still be there to do the overrated, overvalued, and overpriced task of coming into their predefined inning with a 3 run lead, no one on base, and retiring the opposing 7, 8, and 9 hitters for the 29th best team in baseball.

The super reliever is the leverage reliever. The man to pitch anywhere, anytime as long as the outcome hangs in the balance. The bullpen arm who can count for two roster spots and determine the difference between winning and losing.

For the Cardinals, this man is or rather should be Carlos Martinez with his electric fastball and devastating slider. A man with a reliever’s arm and a starter’s stamina. His career ahead lies in the rotation, but for now, with the excess of young arms already on the roster, his most potential impact is in this unconventional role I just described.

I believe Carlos Martinez has a rare gift in his right arm. In my view, C-Mart has the stuff to become a legendary figure in the annals of Cardinal pitching lore – if only he is able to refine his command and remain healthy. As such, I hope the Cardinals will utilize him in as many game-deciding situations as possible. With the traditional bullpen roles in good hands and the long-relief/mop-up role being handled by the odd man out of the rotation (Lynn or Kelly) the most efficient way to capitalize on C-Mart’s talent will be in the same way that old school closers were used: 100-120 innings of flame-throwing, season-defining, high-leverage relief.

Shortening the bullpen with C-Mart in this manner does a lot of things for the Cardinals:

• It allows the greatest number of the team’s bullpen innings to be pitched by the team’s best pitchers.

• Gives Manager Mike Matheny the ability to ration the workloads of Motte, Siegrist, Rosenthal, and even Seth Maness (whom Matheny loves for some reason). This is important because for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, the goal is winning a World Series. And NOT in the same way that it’s the goal for every team in the MLB. Really winning a World Series. Barring catastrophe, the regular season is just a formality the Cardinals have to wade through on their way to October. So, having your power arms fresh and peaking at playoff time is of more concern than how well they can play in April.

• Rations C-Mart’s innings. The Cardinals, like most teams, are concerned with preserving their young arms for the long-term (Note Shelby Miller’s disappearance from the playoffs). Being able to manage Carlos’ innings throughout the season will hopefully eliminate any desire to hold him back in October.

• Ensures that the bridge from the starter to the shutdown portion of the bullpen is as smooth as possible. There’s value in the middle innings. Close games are often lost in the 5th or 6th innings. Big leads are lost nearly every time Fernando Salas steps on to a major league mound. It also limits the desire of modern managers to trot every member of a bullpen into every single game until they find the one guy who is going to have a bad day. C-Mart is easily capable of going 2-4 innings at a time on any given night.

• Gives the Cardinals roster flexibility. Martinez’s ability to pitch so many innings out of the bullpen means the Cardinals don’t have to carry as many pitchers if they don’t want to. Or if they choose to carry 12 pitchers—they don’t have to use them as often.

The Cardinals have a lot of different ways they can go with Carlos Martinez in 2014. They afforded themselves this luxury because of half a decade’s worth of smart decisions in free agency, the draft, international pool, and with their own players. Carlos Martinez is a weapon they can use from the 5th inning to the 9th inning.

He should be used in tight games, and he should be able to rack up a ton of relief innings. If you make him the “eighth inning” guy, you are unnecessarily limiting him and are probably only going to get 60-80 innings out of him. More innings = more value. Pitcher’s with elite arms like Martinez have not generally been used in this manner since the 80’s, but the presence of Motte, Siegrist, and Rosenthal means that they can deploy Martinez anytime, anywhere and still be covered at the end of the ballgame.

Make sure to follow Jared on Twitter: @McGeeTriples

Jared

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For more updates from stlCupofJoe, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

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United Cardinal Bloggers’ Discussion: Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez?

Photo Credits: Associated Press

Photo Credits: Associated Press

For November 12, 2013, it was my turn to ask the question for the United Cardinal Bloggers’ Round Table Discussion.

As most of you already know, I like to consider pitching analysis one of my strong points in blogging. I also like to write about prospects, so I figured the following question would be perfect to ask the rest of the Round Table participants:

Question: Who do you believe has the brighter future, Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez? You can use whatever criteria you choose for this answer; I just wanted to get a feel of where the rest of UCB stands on this topic.

Mark TomasikRetro Simba

The pitcher who is least susceptible to injury has the brighter future. I don’t know enough about their mechanics and makeup to make that determination. Based on their ages, their 2013 performances at the big-league level, the quality of their pitches and the comments of their peers, their futures are equally bright.

Mark’s answer brought to light a whole in my question that I did not intend to be exploited. Thus, to provide the answers that I was more looking for, I changed the wording of the question:

Given that both pitchers remain 100% healthy (wishful thinking), who has the brighter future, Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez?

Ben ChambersThe View From Here

Usually, this would be a question I’d be asking you. I’m not good on evaluating pitchers well, but I’ll certainly give it a shot.
What Wacha showed in September and October just goes to show that he has ice water running through his veins and talent in that right arm. If he can continue to work on his curveball (and who better to work with than Wainwright), then I can see him becoming the ace of the staff once Wainwright retires, and the #2 until then.

Martinez is still in the “raw talent” phase to me. He has a great, lively arm. He can throw fire at times. I think he might need just a little more development in order to get his stuff right to be a starter. In his 1 start against the Dodgers in August, he gave up 4 ER in 4.2 innings on 7 hits. He did throw each of his 4 pitches (fastball, sinker, slider, change), but the Dodgers got the best of him. In his relief appearances, I felt it was a toss-up on whether he would strike out the side or he’d give up a run or two. Looking at the game log, it was about every 3rd appearance that he would give up a run. He’d pitch great, pitch great, not pitch great.

In the end, I would have to say that I think Martinez can be great with a little more refinement, but Wacha is great right now and will continue to get better. I don’t know what the future will hold, and so I may be wrong about it, but if I were asked right now to put money on who I think will have a better future, I’m placing all my money on Wacha.

Daniel SolzmanRedbird Rants

I’m not sure. They are both capable of being finalists year in and year out for Cy Young Awards. Martinez could easily be a guy that gets 200 wins or 300 saves depending on which route he goes. There’s a reason he draws comparisons to Pedro and it’s not for nothing.

John NagelCardinals Farm

Before this season, I would have told you Carlos Martinez had a brighter future, and it’s not even close. After the season, I still believe Martinez’s future is brighter but Wacha has narrowed the gap, and its nothing to do with Martinez. Wacha is performing above expectations. His fastball is a little faster than at A&M, and his changeup is a little slower.

I am going to disgree with something that Ben said. I am not sure how much better Wacha can get. As of today, Wacha is closer to his ceiling than Martinez, thus I am not sure where Wacha can go. As sick as C-Mart is now, he can get more consistent and that is scary.

In 30 years after they are both long gone from the game of baseball, I believe Martinez will have had the better career.

Daniel ShoptawC70 At The Bat

I think I’m going to swim with the stream here and say that Wacha is the better bet for 2014, Martinez for the long haul. I remember reading when Wacha was drafted that he was already close to his ceiling and would likely move rapidly due to that. Now, the evaluations have changed some given what Wacha has done, but I think that probably still holds. Both are likely to be above-average major league pitchers, which is a great thing to have on a staff, but I’m still probably leaning toward Martinez, assuming he can put it all together.

Matt WhitenerCheap.Seats.Please

I am inclined to say that Wacha will be the better prospect, for a few reasons that I’ve noticed already.

#1) He’s exceeded his scouting report already, which projected him as (and I remember this clearly because I felt like throwing up) a “3 or 4, Jon Garland type”. With all due respects to Mr. Garland, he’s already blown past him.

#2) He has shown the capacity to learn on the run. He had three separate genesis’ in 2013 alone, from lights out reliever to high potential, up and down rookie, to lights out starter, already. That takes a high IQ and short memory, which will do nothing but get sharper.

#3) While he may be close to his roof already, he’s done so while still not completely unleashing what will be his “over the top” pitch (meaning what could boost him to elite in baseball status): the curveball. Within two years, when he completely comfortable with it, he’ll be showing more looks on the mound than any pitcher in St. Louis since Chris Carpenter‘s prime.

Much like Adam Wainwright, he has taken the tools he has and made better on them than expected. Wainwright didn’t profile as being within the top 5 or so starters in baseball at any point in his career when he was rising through the system, but learned, mastered what he had and turned into one. I see that same type of package around Wacha, and for that reason alone, I think he’ll be the better product long-term.

Christine ColemanAaron Miles’ Fastball

My thought is Wacha as well and, as I was trying to come up with my reasons why, I read what Matt had to say — and he said it much better and more thoroughly than I could.

Not to say that Martinez won’t be great as well but, as several have already said, his talent is more raw and still in need of refinement. We saw such moments of brilliance, but he still needs more polish.

But what two great talents — and what a great debate we are lucky enough to have.

Mark SherrardCardinals Fan in Cubs Land

I’m no scouting expert, but the feeling I get is that Wacha is at or near his potential right now, while Martinez still has room to grow and improve.

What’s scary to think about is what Wacha might do if he could develop a curve as good and consistent as say Adam Wainwright. Combine that with his fastball and devastating change and he would be unhittable.

Martinez just needs to get more consistent with his pitches and location. He has better all around “stuff” than Wacha, but Wacha is more polished at this point.

Thus, in the near future, say the next year or two, Wacha will probably be better, but overall, I think Martinez will have the better career.

Dan BuffaDose of Buffa

With these two wicked young talents capable of all the pitching awards, choosing between them is like debating between a pair of sharp shooters.

Wacha and Martinez are each enormously talented and capable of greatness, but if I had to go with one for the long haul I would choose Wacha . He came up earlier in the year and was as raw as Carlos. He made three starts and won one of them. He spent time down in Memphis refining his changeup and working on his curveball. When he came back up and made a start in September, Wacha had transformed into a dynamic pitcher. Capable of pitching well in hostile environments and taking down great teams twice inside one week. That kind of improvement can’t be short changed.

While Martinez was nasty, he showed a tendency to be wild and inconsistent. This happened every time he made a trip up & down I-55 and hopefully in the future he can work out the raw areas of his talent. However, there are no guarantees. When JD Drew and Colby Rasmus came up they were coined as the next Mickey Mantle. Martinez is sharp but needs innings and a defined role before he can become the next Pedro.

Unlike Martinez, Wacha has a defined role and is already being groomed as Waino’s successor and a Cy Young candidate in a few years. He has taken Shelby Miller‘s spot with two months of pitching. That is based off opportunity and not skill set alone. As they say in sports you are only as good as what you’ve done in the show on the big stage. While we are talking futures here, I’d put my chips on Wacha side of the table.

Any evidence can be taken from the opening trade rumor analysis. Wacha is seen as untouchable while Carlos is slightly expendable. You can’t find great young controllable pitching anywhere these days.

Finally…if you have made it this far…MY ANSWER!

I would have to go with Carlos Martinez. I fully realize and undoubtedly appreciate the incredible postseason performance that Wacha put together, but it is impossible to look past CMart’s incredible stuff. Martinez has three pitches–a four-seamer, a two-seamer/sinker, and a hard slurve. On average, all three pitches break over six inches horizontally–with his two-seamer averaging an incredible 9.6 inches of break–that’s over half the width of home plate!

His four-seamer averaged 98 MPH and his two-seamer/sinker averaged 96 MPH this season. His slurve had a devastating drop-off in velocity, averaging just 82 MPH. Wacha has an incredible fastball-changeup combination, and he has the ability to develop an Adam Wainwright-like curveball, but I still feel like he is a lot closer to his “ceiling” than Baby Pedro.

However, in my opinion, both are untouchables, and I look forward to seeing both pitch with the “Birds on the Bat” across their chest for years to come.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe 

The Curious Case of Carlos Martinez

Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Have you enjoyed watching the 22-year-old Carlos Martinez pitch so far in the postseason? I know I have. There aren’t many other young arms with more electric stuff than Martinez–or “Baby Pedro” as many people call him.

Martinez throws two types of fastballs–the four-seamer and the two-seamer/sinker. His four-seam fastball has averaged 99.53 MPH with 5.04 inches of horizontal (tailing) movement in the playoffs. His two-seam fastball has averaged 97.06 MPH with an incredible 8.64 inches of horizontal (tailing) movement–that’s over half of the width of home plate!

Finally, the devastating slider that he broke off a couple of times in Game 2 of the World Series–83.73 MPH with 8.07 inches of snapping movement across the plate, away from right-handed hitters. This amount of movement, combined with his overpowering velocity and ability to change speeds, is almost unfair on hitters. In short, his stuff is absolutely filthy.

Well, to be frank, St. Louis is pretty lucky to even have him on the roster, and Boston fans must be cringing every single time they see him succeed on the mound–especially against their team in the World Series. Back in 2009, when Martinez was only 17 years old, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox. At that time, he was signed by the name of Carlos Matias. Rumors have it that the Red Sox signed him for less than $200,000–a steal given his supreme talent. However, just a few weeks into his professional career, an investigation transpired.

Consistent with all international signees, the MLB ran a background check and found out that Carlos Matias was actually Carlos Martinez, and because of this, his contract with the Red Sox was null and void. Martinez was suspended from baseball for one year, and it was during this time that he continued to develop his electric fastball–creating a buzz around organizations throughout the league.

When his suspension expired in 2010, the Cardinals jumped on the opportunity–signing the young right-hander for a reported $1.5 million signing bonus, and the rest is history. Just three years after his signing, Martinez is playing a key role in the success of the Cardinals.

Is Martinez’s future in the starting rotation or at the back of the bullpen? That is yet to be seen, but let’s enjoy his electric stuff in the seventh and/or eighth inning(s) for the rest of the World Series. I anticipate the remaining games to be close like Game 2. Given Matheny’s confidence in the rookie, Martinez will play a key role in determining whether or not the Cardinals can take home their 12th World Series title.

Boy, I am overjoyed that he is in the St. Louis dugout and not the Boston dugout. Both the present and future are bright with him wearing the “Birds on the Bat.”

Go Cards!

Until next time…

Joe

This was just a brief breakdown of the situation, mainly from a Cardinals perspective. If you would like a Boston perspective, the Full Count blog, part of the WEEI.com Network, has a great piece you can check out as well.

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Breaking Down the Cardinals Bullpen in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Despite scoring just four runs in two games, the St. Louis Cardinals lead the Los Angeles Dodgers two games to zero in the National League Championship Series. The starting pitching from Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha has been great, but the bullpen has been even better–recording a 0.00 ERA in nine and one-third innings pitched. I decided to break down every single pitch by the relievers to see what has been the keys to their success.

BullpenNLCS

Trevor Rosenthal has looked great so far this post-season for the Cardinals. Other than the “triple” by Mark Ellis in the 10th inning of Game 1, he has not allowed a hit while recording five strikeouts and just one walk. In Game 2, he blew the Dodgers away–striking out the side on 14 straight fastballs. He will play an integral role for the Cardinals the rest of the way. The young rookie will continue to face high pressure situations since runs have been hard to get so far this series.

Game 1:
24 fastballs: avg: 98.0 MPH, max: 99.4 MPH: 12 swings, 3 whiffs
4 changeups: avg: 88.5 MPH, avg horizontal movement: 5.36 inches
1 curveball: 82.4 MPH, horizontal movement: 2.20 inches

Game 2:
14 fastballs: average: 99.0 MPH, max: 101.2 MPH; 8 swings, 6 whiffs
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Carlos Martinez looks to be settling into his role as the “set-up” man for St. Louis. The 22-year-old rookie looked incredibly confident against the Dodgers in Game 2 striking out both batters he faced.

Game 1:
7 fastballs: avg: 97.2 MPH, max: 98.7 MPH, avg horizontal movement: 8.92 inches
2 curveballs: avg: 84.7 MPH, avg horizontal movement: 6.66 inches

Game 2:
4 fastballs: avg: 97.8 MPH, max: 99.1 MPH, avg horizontal movement: 9.26 inches
4 curveballs: avg: 84.2 MPH, avg horizontal movement: 5.77 inches

cmart

As you can see by the above image, Martinez had a “picture-perfect” approach against Dodgers’ slugger, Adrian Gonzalez in Game 2. He has proven that he is becoming more of a “pitcher” rather than just a “thrower”–consistently mixing in a curveball to go along with his electric fastball. It is almost unfair to hitters–having two pitches with so much movement with 12-15 MPH difference.
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Lance Lynn recorded the win in Game 1, pitching two scoreless innings in the 12th and 13th. He got into a mini-jam in the 12th, but was able to get out of it when Michael Young grounded into a double play. As usual, his fastball was his go-to pitch–averaging 94.9 MPH with 5.12 inches of tailing action and topping out at 96.4 MPH on a pitch low and away to strike out Juan Uribe.

It was good to see Lynn get some successful innings under his belt. Some may think this rules him out of the Game 4 start, but with only 29 pitches, he will still likely be available. Whether Matheny chooses him over Shelby Miller? That is yet to be seen.
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Seth Maness came into the game with one out in the seventh inning. He started with one of his signature groundouts and followed it up with a strikeout of Hanley Ramirez. Eight of Maness’ 15 pitches were sinkers in Game 1. They averaged just under 92 MPH and had over 8 inches of horizontal movement to them.
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John Axford was given the 11th inning in Game 1 and started out well–striking out Puig and getting Uribe to ground out. After a two-out walk followed by a single, he struck out pinch hitter and ex-Cardinal Nick Punto on a 97.2 MPH fastball. Axford has so far proven to be a solid pickup by the Cardinals–filling a similar role to Octavio Dotel‘s in 2011–a reliable veteran presence in the bullpen.
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Kevin Siegrist has been somewhat under-utilized through two games in the NLCS, but with the success of the bullpen so far, can anyone really complain. He made the 7th inning interesting–throwing two wild pitches before getting Michael Young to fly out. This involved one of Don Mattingly‘s more controversial moves–removing the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw, after just six innings pitched. It obviously did not matter considering the Cardinals failed to score in later innings, but it was a questionable move nonetheless.
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Randy Choate has done his job so far–getting two outs–one in each game–on just four total pitches. He is getting paid $1.5 million this season and has been the definition of a “lefty specialist.” As long as he keeps getting lefties out, look for him to continue to be the first lefty out of the ‘pen for the rest of the playoffs.
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Concluding Thoughts:

The bullpen has been huge through two games in the NLCS. If they are able to keep this up, then the World Series is most definitely in the very near future for the Cardinals. However, with games being as close as they have been, they cannot afford to have many slip-ups, if any at all.

With Adam Wainwright going in Game 3, the bullpen will hopefully get some rest. However, with Hyun Jin-Ryu on the mound for the Dodgers, I don’t expect much of a difference on the scoreboard.

The 8th-9th inning combination of Martinez-Rosenthal will face some tough situations throughout the rest of the playoffs. Let’s hope the 22-year-old and 23-year-old rookies are up to the challenge.

UPDATE: It appears that Matheny has decided that Lynn will start Game 4. Though many people will disagree with the move, his performance in Game 1 may give him the confidence to have a good outing. We will see how it plays out.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

As usual, thank you, BrooksBaseball, for the pitch information used in this post.

A Look to the Future: St. Louis Cardinals Top 7 Prospects

taveras

1. Oscar Taveras, OF (AAA)

2013: .306 BA, .341 OBP, 12 2B, HR, 32 RBI, 5/6 SB’s

His nagging ankle injury that ultimately led to season-ending surgery slowed down Taveras’ development in 2013. When healthy, he proved that his bat was AAA-ready. Had he not gotten injured, he would likely be up with the big league squad by now. His future position for the Cardinals still remains unclear–though he is capable of playing centerfield, he will likely end up as a rightfielder long-term.

Also, according to Keith Law of ESPN, Taveras is the second best prospect in all of baseball, so this tells me that he deserves the top spot for the Cardinals. Because of the extent of his injury, I expect him to start 2014 in AAA, but he will likely be in St. Louis soon thereafter.
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cmart

2. Carlos Martinez, RHP (AA/AAA/MLB)
2013 Minors: 6-3, 2.49 ERA, 79.2 IP, 72 K’s, 28 BB’s
2013 Majors: 2-1, 5.27 ERA, 27.1 IP, 24 K’s, 9 BB’s

Is Martinez’s future in the starting rotation or at the back-end of the bullpen? This is yet to be seen, but the 22-year-old fireballer has a bright future. The future is now, though, because he will likely play an integral role in the playoffs this season.

Of all the Cardinals’ pitching prospects, he has the most electric stuff. If he is able to develop a secondary pitch that he can consistently throw for strikes, he will become nearly unhittable for years to come. Considering the amount of arms competing for the rotation next season, he will likely start 2014 out of the ‘pen.
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wong

3. Kolten Wong, 2B (AAA/MLB)
2013: .286 BA, .341 OBP, 22 2B, 8 3B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 23/24 SB’s

Wong was an All-Star second baseman in AAA this season. He is the complete package–hitting for average and some pop, fielding his position, and a threat to run on the basepaths.

He was called up to be a spark-plug for the St. Louis offense during a rut but has yet to see consistent playing time. He has struggled at the plate in the big leagues, hitting just .148 in 54 at-bats. The off-season will do him well because to me, his swing looks a little out-of-whack right now. Wong is the future at second base and will likely be the team’s lead-off hitter for years to come.
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carson

4. Carson Kelly, 3B (A/SS-A)
2013: .257 BA, .322 OBP, 22 2B, 6 HR, 45 RBI

Kelly, just 18 years old at the time, started out the season on the Peoria Chiefs. He struggled mightily, hitting just .219 and was demoted to the Short-Season State College Spikes. His bat heated up for State College and helped lead the team to the championship series.

Now 19 years old, look for Kelly to get a second shot with Peoria in 2014. He may be a lot further away from the big leagues than the other members on this list, but in my opinion, only Taveras has a higher ceiling than his. He was one of the most highly touted draft picks in 2012 and has the skills to be an impact third baseman for the Cardinals someday. I look forward to seeing his sweet swing in St. Louis in the future.
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photo 2

5. James Ramsey, OF (A+/AA/AAA)

2013: .265 BA, .373 OBP, 16 2B, 4 3B, 16 HR, 51 RBI

I have been a fan of Ramsey’s since he was drafted in 2012. Yet, he only had one home run after being drafted, so I was worried that his power was not going to translate to professional baseball. He put my doubt to rest this season by clubbing 16 home runs (15 of them for Springfield).

He is an above average defender in centerfield with one of the better outfield arms in the entire organization. To top it all off, he is a great guy and will surely be a fan favorite in St. Louis someday. I think he will start 2014 in Memphis but will likely make the trip to St. Louis by the end of the season.
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piscotty

6. Stephen Piscotty, OF (A+/AA)

2013: .295 BA, .346 OBP, 23 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 11/19 SB’s

Piscotty started out with High-A Palm Beach and earned the promotion to AA Springfield half-way through the season. The 2012 first-round draft pick out of Stanford did not disappoint at either level in 2013.

He was drafted as a third baseman, but he has been able to make the transition to outfield pretty well so far in his young career. Based on his success in Springfield, I see him starting out next season with Memphis. If he continues to develop, he could possibly be a member of the 2014 September call-ups to provide bench depth for the stretch run.
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marco

7. Marco Gonzales, LHP (Rk/A+)

2013: 8 games (6 starts), 0-0 record, 2.70 ERA, 23.1 IP, 23 K’s, 8 BB’s

Gonzales is the only member of this year’s draft class to make my list. He is a polished college arm that will likely jump a few levels in 2014. I do not think it is too far-fetched to see him make it all the way to Memphis next year.

The young lefty has a bright future, and his rise throughout the minors might resemble that of Michael Wacha‘s next year. He is a name to keep an eye on because he will likely make it to St. Louis a lot sooner than many would think.
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Just Short of Making the List:

Tyrell Jenkins, RHP: He injured his shoulder multiple times in 2013, and ultimately, he needed season-ending surgery. If the rehabilitation process goes well, he should be ready for 2014. His stuff is amazing but very unpolished. Because of his inability to remain healthy and the fact that shoulder injuries can be scary, I just could not put him in my top 7.

Zach Petrick, RHP: Petrick had an amazing 2013–one that even got Keith Law’s attention. Law said that he could see him being a back-end of the rotation guy in the future. However, Petrick struggled a little bit in Springfield and at the age of 24, he fell just short of making my list.

John Gast, LHP: Gast saw time in the big leagues this season and was pretty successful. Yet, he, like Jenkins, required season-ending shoulder surgery. Unlike Jenkins, however, his surgery was on his lat muscle which is not part of the shoulder joint so he should be able to recover completely from the injury. Yet, until he can prove that he has fully recovered, I could not put him on the list either.

Rob Kaminsky, LHP: This 19-year-old lefty has a very bright future for the Cardinals. However, since he is still 19 and has a long way to go, I could not put him on my list. After a full season in 2014, we will be able to get a grasp at what he truly has to offer. I could see him starting off next season in Peoria or even Palm Beach.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Special thanks goes out to Matt Sebek and the Rookies App for providing me with a platform to make the virtual baseball cards for each player on my list. Make sure to check out the App in the AppStore!

Joe Kelly Should Not Be Overlooked for 2014 Rotation

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Joe Kelly has been the best starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals since the All-Star break. Including a brief stint back in the bullpen, Kelly has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since mid-June.

The table below is a breakdown of his statistics since June 14th:

Date G ▴ GS Dec IP ER BB SO HR ERA BA
Jun 14 to Aug 17 12 7 4-0 53.1 11 21 34 3 1.86 0.222

Those statistics are absolutely incredible. He may not be pitching that deep into games, but he has pitched at least six innings in four of his last seven starts.  Sure, the relievers (Maness, Siegrist, Rosenthal, Mujica) cannot pitch every single day, but who can really complain if Kelly pitches six innings and allows only one or two earned runs?

If Kelly is truly the team’s best pitcher since June, then why is he not really being considered for the 2014 starting rotation?

Let’s take a look at the current state of the 2014 rotation:

2014 Rotation “Locks”:
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Shelby Miller
3. Lance Lynn
4. ??
5. ??

Thus, this effectively leaves five (maybe six) guys for the final two spots:

a. Kelly
b. Jaime Garcia
c. Michael Wacha
d. Carlos Martinez
e. Tyler Lyons
f. John Gast

Case for Kelly:

His performance thus far in 2013 as a starter has been impressive. His stuff is just nasty. His four-seam fastball can touch 98 MPH on the radar gun. His two-seam fastball comes in around 93-96 MPH and has tailing action that leaves left-handed hitters buckling at the knees. He is gaining confidence in his changeup and slurve which will only make him a better starter in the future.

I realize that we have only seen a small sample size of Kelly as a starter, but as I stated above, he has the stuff to get both righties and lefties out. His laid-back personality shows that he will be able to survive a long season of up’s and down’s. Let’s see how he does for the rest of the season before locking him into the 2014 rotation, but the purpose of this article was to bring him into that conversation in the first place.

Case for Garcia:

He is left-handed. He has proven to be a successful pitcher thus far in his career–39-25 in with a 3.45 ERA in three seasons as a starter. Also, he is under contract through 2015 with team options for 2016 and 2017.

However, there are also few knocks on Garcia. His health always seems to be in question–he has now injured both his elbow and his shoulder in his short MLB career.

Also, for whatever reason, he has not been able to bring the success he has had at home with him on the road. From 2010 through 2012, his home ERA is an impressive 2.33. However, during that same span, his road ERA is 4.46. I cannot put a finger on this issue, but given the fact that half of his starts will be on the road, this can be troubling.

Case for Wacha:

He has been a successful starter in Triple-A. Just a year after being drafted, he has shown flashes of being a dependable starter at the big league level. Against the Royals in late May, he pitched seven innings and allowed just one earned run. When was the last time a Cardinals starter had a performance like that?

His stuff is unbelievable. He is able to touch 97-98 MPH on the gun, and his 6’6″ frame allows him to throw his heaters on a downward plane–kind of like Wainwright. His curveball has been nasty when it’s on, and given time, it will only get more consistent. He also has a change that can be effective as well.

Having only thrown just over 110 innings (Memphis + St. Louis) this season, has he been groomed to pitch 175+ innings next year? Not really. However, as a polished college pitcher with solid mechanics, I really do not see this as that big a problem for him.

Case for Martinez:

He has electric stuff. In his one big league start, he touched 100 MPH multiple times, and he flashed a devastating curveball. He has proven to be a successful starter in Memphis so far this season. Yet, he needs to fine-tune his off-speed pitches and learn how to get deeper into games. Look for him to develop this more the rest of the season and into the off-season.

Case for Lyons:

He is left-handed. He has been extremely successful for Triple-A Memphis–going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts. He has not been able to translate this success to the big leagues just yet, but he has only been given seven starts so it may still be too early to tell.

His last start was actually pretty good–going 6.0 innings and allowing only three earned runs. This could have been even better had Matt Holliday caught that flyball instead of having it bounce off his glove/hand into the stands for a home run.

Case for Gast:

He is left-handed. Yet, it is tough to even make a case for Gast to be honest. Though he was 2-0 in three starts in the big leagues, he had a 5.11 ERA and was unable to pitch deep into games. Also, he is recovering from shoulder surgery and may not even be ready to return to live action until July 2014. Thus, with all the question marks, he is very unlikely to get this, but I figured I would include him in the conversation since he saw time in the starting rotation this season.

Trade Possibilities?

The Cardinals have a surplus of pitchers for just two starting spots in 2014. The organization also has some promising prospects that will look to crack the rotation sometime soon as well–Zach Petrick, Marco Gonzales, etc.

As we all know, shortstop is a weakness for the Cardinals. Though Pete Kozma has been good defensively in his rookie season, his bat has just been ice cold–.223 batting average, .273 on-base percentage, and .281 slugging percentage. He has not hit a home run since the second game of the season. The Cardinals already had Brendan Ryan at shortstop and dealt him for Maikel Cleto (haha!). Thus, they don’t need another one and need to make a move to improve at the position during the off-season.

It is likely at least three to five years before any of the team’s recent draft picks at the position will make it to the big leagues. Thus, wouldn’t it be smart to trade part a surplus to improve a glaring weakness?

Well, in my humble opinion, I really do not want to trade Wacha or Martinez. Both project to be top-end of the rotation guys and have shown flashes of brilliance in brief appearances in the big leagues.

The only other player on the above list that could bring a solid return would be Garcia. I realize that potential trade partners will be worried about his health, but he claims that he is on track to be ready by October so hopefully that is not an issue. Also, compared to other starters in the league, he has a relatively cheap contract–$7.75 million in 2014 and $9.25 million in 2015.

I realize that most people believe that every rotation needs at least one left-handed pitcher. This makes a lot of sense, especially if you face an opponent that has a lot of left-handed hitters. However, Kelly has been more successful against lefties than he has against righties this season. Also, Wainwright and Lynn have shown to be successful against lefties as well. Thus, does it really matter if the pitcher throws left-handed or not? In my opinion, as long as the pitcher is able to get lefties and righties out, then that is all that matters.

My Picks for the 2014 Rotation:
4. Kelly
5. Wacha/Martinez

  • I think Wacha is better suited for the spot at this time, but it is still hard to rule out Martinez

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez Makes First Major League Start

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Carlos Martinez did not have the best debut as a starting pitcher, but at the same time, it could have been much worse. Though the team lost, he flashed signs of being a top-end of the rotation guy in the future. In four and two-thirds innings pitched against the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, Martinez allowed seven hits, three walks, and four earned runs.

Breaking Down the Outing:

Martinez was able to get out of the first inning unscathed, but it did not come easy. It took him 24 pitches and a few 100 MPH heaters to get three outs against some of the hottest hitters in the league. The main highlight of the first inning was his strikeout of Adrian Gonzalez on a 100 MPH fastball up in the zone.

He followed with two more 20+ pitch innings in the second and third–raising his pitch count to 67. He had some relief in the fourth, setting down the Dodgers in order on just five pitches.

He ended up throwing first pitch strikes to 16 of the 24 batters (66.67%) he faced. However, by my count (and I could be wrong), he only threw one first pitch strike to the five batters (20%) he faced in the fifth.

This is where the trouble started for Martinez. He was constantly working from behind in the count in the fifth, and by this point, nearing 100 pitches, his fastball was not nearly as live as it was at the beginning of the outing. Instead of him throwing 99-100 MPH fastballs, he was throwing 94-95 MPH fastballs. Veteran catcher, AJ Ellis, took advantage of this, clobbering a 94 MPH get-me-over fastball over the left-center field wall for a three-run home run–Dodgers 4, Cardinals 1.

Just one pitch after the home run, Mike Matheny and the trainer came out to check on Martinez who appeared to be favoring his throwing hand. What was at the time speculated to be a blister ended up being just a finger cramp, so it should not affect his next start–likely back down in Triple-A.

Another thing to note was that of his 80 fastballs thrown, he only had five swings and misses (6.25%). This was definitely a new experience for him, and this likely played a key role in his inefficiency (98 pitches in just four and two-thirds innings). Unlike the minors, big league hitters were fouling off his good pitches instead of missing them altogether. This is something he will have to get used to if he wants to succeed as a starting pitcher in the majors. Yet, as he continues to develop his off-speed pitches, the swings and misses will rise.

Lastly, for those who care, here is a table of his pitches and speeds courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:

CMart

Concluding Thoughts:

It was nice to see Martinez finally get a chance to start for the Cardinals. It did not end in the result the team would have wanted, but he still had flashes of brilliance throughout the outing. He will likely be sent back down again to work on his efficiency–something that will come as he gains confidence and control in his off-speed pitches.

On a Personal Note…

I was at the game last night with three of my long-time buddies, John Merlo (@supajam8), BJ Byland (@LetitBeej), and Andrew Bieg (@bieg131). We sat 11 rows from the field in between home and first base. Within a couple minutes of sitting down, Yasiel Puig fouled off a Martinez fastball that ricocheted off the facade of the suites behind us. In what seemed like a blur, Merlo, while still sitting down, turned around and snagged the ball on a fly like a pro (SportsCenter messed up not putting it in the Top 10). After posing for the cheering crowd, he sat down for the rest of the game. See the picture below for proof.

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Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network