Let’s say this in no uncertain terms: Garcia’s elbow injury was the worst injury of the minor league system in 2008 in terms of what it means to the future of the Cardinals. It was a more damaging injury than Rasmus’ knee injury, Allen Craig’s back injury or even the various maladies suffered by Joe Mather. It’s less the nature of the injury since there’s probably a better than 50% chance he fully recovers than it is the position impacted. If, heaven forbid, Colby Rasmus never manages to crack a major league roster, the Cardinals could cope with that given the depth both at the major league level and in the minors (Daryl Jones, Jon Jay). The Cardinals are going to be hard pressed to replicate the ability of Jaime Garcia as a starting pitcher, much more so as a left handed starting pitcher.
That raises the question of what we can expect out of the farm system for 2009 as starting pitching. The answer? Probably not much. On Friday Morning, John Mozeliak spoke on Team 1380′s ITD Morning After show and one of the comments was with regard to who could step into the rotation if injuries are an issue. The names discussed are ones that everyone in these parts are familiar with: Mitchell Boggs, Jess Todd, Clayton Mortensen and PJ Walters. They’re four very different pitchers each having an individual strength and weakness that don’t really apply to the others.
Stats – 125.1 IP, 107 Hits, 46 BBs, 81 Ks, 49% GB, 4.51 FIP (AAA), 34 IP, 42 Hits, 22 BBs, 13 Ks, 52% GB, 6.47 FIP(MLB)
Scouting – Fastball 91-94mph w/ good movement, Curveball w/ good vertical break inducing groundballs. Profiles as a mid rotation type arm or power reliever with late inning stuff.
Strengths – Boggs fastball is his best pitch and it’s one that should play well at the major league level. He has a nice curveball to complement it. Maintaining velocity into the latter part of the game enables Boggs to stay with the same style of pitching from pitch #1 to pitch #100. He induces an above average number of groundballs.
Weaknesses – Boggs lacks a third offering. He displays a slider but it’s a well below average pitch. The lack of strikeouts is somewhat perplexing given the nature and quality of Boggs stuff.
Odds – 5-to-1: There’s no reason to think that Boggs couldn’t put it together during Spring Training to be a vialble option from day one. His struggles in the majors during 2008 aside, he’s the closest to the majors in the farm system.
Stats – 27.1 IP, 18 Hits, 7 BBs, 35 Ks, 45% GB, 1.52 FIP (A+), 103 IP, 79 Hits, 24 BBs, 81 Ks, 53% GB, 4.37 FIP (AA), 22.2 IP, 19 Hits, 11 BBs, 20 Ks, 48% GB, 5.63 FIP (AAA)
Scouting – A fastball slider combo when he was drafted has been augmented with a cut fastball that may be his best pitch. Undersized for a typical starting pitcher.
Strengths – Movement is the bread and butter here as Todd features average velocity. His slider and cut fastball offer quality breaking pitches. Todd has a bulldog mentality on the mound with good groundball numbers.
Weaknesses – His repertoire isn’t suited to retiring lefties. Looking at his cumulative stats, opposite handed hitters not only hit for a higher average but drew walks at nearly twice the rate as their right handed counterparts. Learning to effectively mitigate lefties will be an important task in 2009.
Odds – 10-to-1; The odds of Todd being called up are probably higher than this but he won’t be effective. His peripherals deteriorated moving up the ladder with the more advanced hitters showing patience that could stymie Todd. He needs a full season at AAA to increase his innings total and iron out some finer points of pitching.
Stats – 59.2 IP, 59 Hits, 22 BBs, 48 Ks, 61% GB, 4.35 FIP (AA), 80 IP, 87 Hits, 57 Ks, 42 BBs, 48% GB, 5.83 FIP (AAA)
Scouting – Primary weapon is a sinking fastball that sits in the low 90s. Average secondary offerings and inconsistent command of pitches.
Strengths – Mortensen is pitching well when he’s getting groundballs. The sinker is a plus pitch that has allowed him to advance rapidly through the organization.
Weaknesses – Mortensen’s command was spotty in college and those woes returned in 2008. He was undeniably rushed to AAA, perhaps to his detriment.
Odds – 20-to-1; Mortensen has a best chance to be a starter long term out of this quartet. That said, the command issues are concerning and offer a glimpse into his less than stunning college numbers. The chances of him being able to consistently retire major leaguers is slim.
Stats – 36 IP, 36 Hits, 8 BBs, 34 Ks, 51 GB%, 4.18 FIP (AA), 122 IP, 123 Hits, 62 BBs, 122 Ks, 44 GB%, 5.04 FIp (AAA)
Scouting – Throws 4 pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) for strikes. Below average velocity supplemented by ability to throw any pitch during any count.
Strengths – Walters feel for the game may be his greatest strength. Only the changeup grades out as a plus pitch, in and of itself.
Weaknesses – Walters can’t afford any mistakes over the heart of the plate. Hung breaking pitches are liable to wind up in the stands. Fastballs need to reside on the black to be effective.
Odds – 25-to-1; Walters has the worst odds here because he has the least margin for error. If Boggs makes a mistake pitch, he might get away with a fastball over the plate due to velocity. Walters doesn’t have that luxury.
The Cardinals may have to return to the scrap heap this season to supplement their big league rotation. By mid-2009, they should have a better idea of who among these four will be able to contribute. Don’t expect much from this group in 2009 but it’s not unreasonable to assume that at least one will be ready for 2010. Two things of note: 1) The Cardinals have moved players through the system FAST in recent years. It remains to be seen whether this is a philosophical change or merely the product of better prospects entering the system and being promoted. It may revert to a slower promotion cycle in a few years. 2) The Cardinals don’t have any strikeout artists but they’re players seem adverse to allowing hits. This is completely anecdotal but I wouldn’t be surprised if the H/9 of the Cardinals pitching prospects is considerably lower than average. Part of this is the higher than average GB rates but there may be a partially controllable skillset hidden as well. That’s puerely speculative and unfounded in any research though.
Depending on these players to be more than a supplemental, emergency role would likely be a recipe for disaster. Even assuming they can handle the majors a replacement level, the strain on the bullpen would likely be increased by their inability to go deep int games.