The St. Louis Cardinals have had a remarkable run of success over the past decade. Seven playoff appearances, two World Series rings, and another two trips to the League Championship Series can attest to that. However, the best may be yet to come.
2013 is the continuation of a new era for Cardinal nation. With Tony LaRussa hanging up his fungo after 16 seasons at the helm and Albert Pujols absconding with the hearts of the city for greener pastures in Anaheim , 2012 was supposed to be a year of transition for the most decorated club in National League history. That transition produced a division title, and nearly a return trip to the fall classic. However, the Cardinals were not exempt from their share of bumps in the road along the way. Injuries to the pitching staff, namely staff ace Chris Carpenter, left-handed starter Jaime Garcia and swing man Kyle McClellan, pushed the timetable for the Bird’s young arms up a year. The vacancies on the staff gave the Cardinals a chance to get a look at a few of the young arms the organization is seemingly hoarding in the minor leagues.
Lance Lynn benefited from a practice that the Cardinals have been applying since early in the LaRussa tenure, bringing heralded young starters up from triple A to pitch out of the back end of the bullpen before making the switch to a full time starter the following season, as was the case with other young studs like Rick Ankiel in 1999 and Adam Wainwright in 2006. After appearing in 18 games, mostly as a reliever in 2012, Lynn busted out in 2013, making the all-star team while pitching 179 innings and winning 18 games to the tune of a 3.78 ERA. Usually numbers like that would make you a shoe-in for a rotation spot the following season. However, the big right-hander’s role might be clouded at this point due to the litany of young arms the Cardinals employ.
One of those arms belongs to Joe Kelly, the self assured, fearless former college closer who has a moving fastball that sits in the 93-95mph range as a starter but can be ratcheted up to 100mph in short relief stints. Kelly’s 5-7 record and nearly 1.40 WHIP might look pedestrian from an outside perspective, but the 24 year-old impressed Cardinals brass not only with his arsenal, but also his unshakable go-right-at-em demeanor . His ability to stabilize an injury plagued starting rotation after Garcia went down for 60 days in June with a left shoulder sprain impressed management as well. Without Kelly, it’s arguable that the Redbirds don’t make the postseason in 2012. He appears to be a more natural fit in the back end of the bullpen, but he will be given every opportunity to make the rotation come spring.
A pleasant surprise was the development and maturation of 22-year-old flame throwing right-hander Trevor Rosenthal. My eyes just about popped out of my skull the first time I saw Rosenthal pitch out of the bullpen, sporting an effortless 100mph heater with a knee-buckling 12-6 curveball. The right hander has made strides in his progress over the last two seasons and although he will be given a shot at the rotation, Cardinal fans will most likely spend 2013 watching him set up the 8th inning for another flame-throwing-right-hander, Jason Motte. Rosenthal could easily become a staff anchor down the road.
The golden goose out of the bunch is 22-year-old Texan Shelby Miller, the number one pitching prospect in the organization. The tall right-hander has a quiet, repeatable delivery and showcased his pinpoint control in his only start last season, a six-inning-one-hit performance against the division champion Cincinnati Reds on October 3rd. Miller has a fastball that sits in the low to mid 90’s, a sweeping curveball that is a swing-and-miss pitch to right handers, and a changeup that he continues to refine. The former first round pick struggled early on in triple A Memphis before leveling out and posting a 1.32 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 13.2 major league innings. Miller and Rosenthal could be the National League’s most fearsome two headed monster come 2015.
This doesn’t even begin to address the positional depth the Cardinals have in guys like first baseman Matt Adams, second baseman Kolten Wong and the Vladimir Guerrero-esque Oscar Tavares in the minor leagues. We should see every one of these arms in the big leagues in 2013. Cardinal fans hope they’ll be seeing them a lot longer than that.