It’s June, 2017. The River City Rascals of the Frontier League march into the clubhouse after a devastating walk off loss to the Washington Wildthings. Not soon after the loss, however, the team is smiling and happy. It is not because they don’t feel the sting of losing, but because one of their own would be joining the St. Louis Cardinals.
Rascals coach Steve Brook knew something before that game started that nobody else did. The St. Louis Cardinals had purchased the contract of that game’s starter, Austin Warner. Brook was under instruction to let his pitcher throw in that game before he would join his new organization.
The news came as a happy surprise to everyone, including Warner.
“I told everyone that Warner had been purchased by the Cardinals, and team’s sorrow turned to immediate joy,” Brook said. “It was a great way to get walked off on.”
So, Warner was on his way to start his professional baseball career. He assigned to the GCL Cardinals, one of the rookie ball affiliates of St. Louis.
After his first outing, where he struck out five batters over 2.2 innings of work, he was promoted to Palm Beach. That would also only last one appearance before he was be sent back down.
Fortunately for Warner, he was barely able to unpack back at rookie ball before things changed again. Just 13 days after rejoining the GCL Cardinals, he was promoted once more. This time to Peoria. His professional career was three days short of being a month old.
“Going from independent ball to rookie ball did not require much of an adjustment,” Warner said. “I’d say the talent level in independent ball is pretty equal to the talent level in A ball.”
After posting a sub one combined ERA in four games with GCL and Palm Beach, Warner made nine starts with the Chiefs and closed out the year with them. In 48 innings with Peoria, he struck out 51 batters on his way to a 3.00 ERA.
Entering the 2018 season Warner found himself back with Palm Beach. He once again started pitching well, including a complete game shutout in one of his 12 starts. All of a sudden, Springfield found themselves needing a starting pitcher. The St. Louis Cardinals organization decided that Warner had earned his chance.
It was not long after that when Triple A Memphis began losing arms too. Whether it be to injury, or promotion to the majors, they were running short. So, after just over a month with Springfield, Warner was once again putting on a new uniform. This one read “Memphis” across the front.
“We always follow our alumni as they progress through minor league systems.” Brook said. “This is probably the fastest climb I’ve seen in my career.”
The 2018 season brought magic to Memphis. Even after losing key players like Dakota Hudson and Tyler O’Neill, the Redbirds pulled off a Triple A Championship run after taking down the Durham Bulls of the International League.
Right in the middle of that run was Warner, who just over a year ago was playing independent baseball holding on to a dream.
“It was a lot of fun!” Warner said. “To me, it seemed like the whole team expected to win the championship with no other option. Also, a handful of walkoff wins made it extra exciting.”
Warner has played a mere two seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and he is already making an impact at a high level. Next, he needs to find his way onto the 40-man roster to get a shot at his major league debut.
One thing is certain, he has a huge support system right in the St. Louis area.
“I told him that we are all proud of him and pulling for him to make it to the Show,” Brook said.
The formula to make that happen is simple, in theory. Warner is going to be focusing on getting stronger and working on secondary pitches. But, above all, he is working to find consistency as a pitcher.
All of those things are easier said than done, but so is reaching the Triple A level by the end of year two. Warner’s work ethic shines bright through everything he has been able to accomplish so far in his career.
Although, even Warner could not anticipate the path his career has taken so far.
“Pro ball is what I thought it would be,” Warner said. “However, I am moving through the system a little quicker than I expected.”
Putting on a St. Louis Cardinals uniform is not too far away, and they could use a reliable lefty. Warner hasn’t wasted a chance yet, and that is all he may need to make that final jump.