In an effort to be timely, I though I’d take a quick glance at the big name relief prospects in the high minors. Before we get into the numbers, I think the major league pen is fine despite two nasty outings in a row. These things happen when you have a closer who lives on his control and a somewhat crazy-ex catcher who throws pitches into the dugout on a bad play.
There is not currently a player in the pen that I can definitively and unquestionably point to and say, “What is he doing in the majors?!?!?”. Generally, that statement is followed by an expletive but we’re a family friendly blog. Part of what brought this post to fruition was a comment from the Cardinals broadcasting pair last night with regards to Kyle McClellan’s future. There seems to be some continued curiosity about his repretoire and converting to starting pitching. It’s understandable considering that he has a full complement of pitches (FB, CH, CU, SL) but I’ve long had trepidation about Kyle McClellan.
In any event, the Cardinals continue to produce some interesting relief options in the minors. What follows is an admittedly incomplete list of players that may be ready in 2011 or 2012 for a shot at the bigs.
Sanchez remains the player with the best combination of upside and likelihood to reach it in my opinion. He’s undersized for a reliever but threw 70 innings in the minors last season and seems slated for 60+ again this year. His fastball sits mid-90s touching 97 and he has a plus slider that he’ll throw for strikes. His command is above average as is his control. He’s combining superb strikeouts with groundballs — the best recipe for dominance.
If you recall, Salas is someone we’ve had on the radar here for a couple seasons now. His 2009 efforts were derailed by a finger injury but he’s been tremendous in Memphis thus far this year. He’s more of a control pitcher than the others on this list featuring a low-90s fastball and a breaking ball that he’ll locate around the zone. His stuff is still above average but it’s not on par with Sanchez; Salas’s command and feel for pitching is more advanced though. He’s a solid middle reliever though I wouldn’t bill him as more than a setup man in part because of his predilection for flyballs.
Reifer seems to have taken a significant step forward. The perplexing stat in years past has been H/9 for Reifer who got touched up far more often than his stuff suggested he should. This year he’s show the same stuff but hitters aren’t making as much contact. A mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, it’s too early to tell if he’s turned the corner for good but he’s not far removed from the majors if he has.
King has improved but the command and control still isn’t up to par for me. He’s lingered at the tail end of prospect lists for years based on the promise in pure stuff. He started out 2010 fantastically but the control has deteriorated as the season went on. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: He’s a fastball, slider guy. He’ll work up in the zone with his fastball, which can get him in trouble. Outside of Samuel, he’s the least polished pitcher on this list.
Mulligan is an ex-catcher with a sinking fastball, a plus changeup and a questionable breaking pitch. The changeup makes him particularly effective against lefthanders. His career split (in FIP) between lefties and righties in the minors is negligible. Mulligan struggled briefly after his promotion to Springfield but he’s settled in nicely and continues to rack up big strikeouts.
Samuel makes this list out of name recognition more than anything else. With a fastball in the high 90s, he’s been troubled by shoulder injuries this season, which has impacted his already poor control. The pure stuff is the best of anyone on the list but the command is easily the worst.
The Cardinals will have some mid-level relievers transition to arbitration in the next few years and some veterans leave. Ryan Franklin likely departs after 2011. Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte will both become arbitration eligible in 2012. If you’re looking for a trade trip for the Cardinals — and it’s HIGHLY unlikely they’ll do something like this — look in the major league pen. While these are all major league caliber relievers, they aren’t irreplaceable. Fernando Salas is ready right now and Sanchez could be called up in a pinch though he’s more like a 2011 ETA. Still if the Cardinals want to make a move and retain a cheap pen, they can do it. They’ve done quite well at finding right handed relievers in their farm system.