St. Louis Cardinals: Who’s the next man up if Miles Mikolas misses time?

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - OCTOBER 11: Miles Mikolas #39 and Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals in game one of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - OCTOBER 11: Miles Mikolas #39 and Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals in game one of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be without Miles Mikolas for any time this season, someone will have to jump in the rotation. Who’s the best option?

It’s always someone, isn’t it? Very rarely do the St. Louis Cardinals make it through the entirety of spring training without suffering at least one injury to a pitcher. This year, the first worry has been with Miles Mikolas.

Mikolas was supposed to be one of the pillars of consistency in the starting rotation but that may be in question after soreness began for the starter in just the first week of spring.

Mikolas would’ve come into the year right in the middle of the rotation for the Cardinals and days after the initial soreness was reported, there still isn’t an encouraging update yet.

If Miles Mikolas does end up missing time, who are the best options to replace him in the starting rotation?

Kwang-Hyun Kim

Initially, I would think everyone’s mind went straight to the lefty the Cardinals signed out of Korea over the offseason. Kim immediately expressed that he had the desire to start in the MLB but was open to any role. With Mikolas healthy, Kim would certainly be in the bullpen but he may get the first look in the rotation if Mikolas misses time.

There is a huge question mark around how Kim’s talents will translate from Korea to the MLB which is probably the biggest detraction from him at the moment, but he will certainly be near the top of the depth chart for starting pitching replacements.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Forever the forgotten arm, Ponce de Leon has never gotten a fair shake in the starting rotation. Last season, he jumped in for Michael Wacha a couple of times but has really been good in his time in the MLB. In just under 50 innings last season, Ponce had a 3.70 ERA but a 4.41 FIP, suggesting he may not be as good as his ERA suggests.

Still, his efforts put him at 16% above average in his eight starts. Coming into his age 28 season, Ponce may finally get his chance to pitch regularly if he can win Mikolas’ spot in the rotation. If not, it may be back to the Memphis shuttle/bullpen for him.

Alex Reyes

The Cardinals have already come out and said that Reyes is being prepped as a reliever for 2020 but with just a little more conditioning, he could jump right into the starting rotation. That may be running before Reyes can walk, as Reyes has yet to prove that he can stay healthy enough to pitch a full season at the MLB.

Reyes’ talent is still there and we shouldn’t forget that he was a top 10 prospect in baseball for a reason, and while 2020 may be later than we expected Reyes to breakout, this year could be his year.

John Gant

Many people have already penciled Gant in for a similar role that he had in 2019, but at Winter Warmup earlier this year, Gant offered that he wished he would get another chance to start.

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If you’ve forgotten, Gant was in competition for a starting role with Dakota Hudson last spring when Carlos Martinez‘s spot opened up due to injury. Gant has proved he can start as well as pitch out of the bullpen and while he excelled out of the bullpen last year, he is a dark horse candidate.

Ryan Helsley

Helsley is another dark horse candidate as the young fireballer was a surprise success last season in his appearances out of the bullpen. At the age of 25, Helsley had almost universally started games in the minors before being transitioned to the bullpen last season in preparation for the role they new he would fill at the MLB.

Helsley has a dynamic four-pitch repertoire and would be my favorite pick for a starter long term, even if it doesn’t happen for this particular opening.

Austin Gomber

Gomber was another player who lost most of his 2019 season to injury after spending some time in the MLB in 2018. The tall left-hander is in his age 26 season and has been named the Cardinals Minor league pitcher of the year before. In his ~50 innings at AAA in 2019, Gomber was having a very solid year with a 3.26 ERA over 11 starts.

Gomber began having issues with his biceps and shoulder which led him to be out until the end of August. Gomber was never projected as a top-end talent but had the ceiling of a number three starter. If he stays healthy, it’d be hard to think that he doesn’t help the big club in at least some capacity this season.

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Hopefully, this whole article is rendered useless when news comes out that Mikolas will be just fine. Sadly, pitching injuries of this nature rarely are that simple. Soreness this early is a bad sign and if it was an issue that popped up last season too, Mikolas may be headed to more injuries down the line. In case of that, the Cardinals clearly have lots of options that could jump in, even if they are unproven.