St. Louis Cardinals: Who will step up for John Brebbia’s role in 2020?

The St. Louis Cardinals lost John Brebbia for the year due to Tommy John surgery. In his absence, which young relievers have the best chance of filling his role?

As St. Louis Cardinals fans, we know John Brebbia well. However, across the league, Brebbia’s talents go vastly underappreciated.

In 2020, Brebbia threw in a career-high 66 games, producing a 3.13 FIP and just a 1.183 WHIP. By fWAR, he was the 8th-best reliever in the NL last season and was easily second-best on the Cardinals behind only Giovanny Gallegos.

Sadly though, the Cardinals will be without Brebbia for the foreseeable future after he quietly underwent Tommy John surgery in late June. The bulk of Brebbia’s appearances came in the 7th or 8th inning, meaning the Cardinals have some big innings they need to fill.

In 2020, pitching is going to be the biggest wildcard for each team, especially at the beginning of the year when starters won’t be going deep into games. By my own estimations, the team could use as many as 16 of their initial 30 roster spots for pitchers, meaning the team will have plenty of options to replace Brebbia’s spot. Who do I believe has the best chance to though? Let’s look at my top three.

Alex Reyes

For the first time in a long time, Alex Reyes has almost zero expectations coming into a season. After debuting in 2016 with a ton of success, Reyes has thrown 7.0 MLB innings in the past three seasons.

Reyes came into the year in the classic “best shape of his life,” and through 4.1 innings this spring, he allowed eight hits and four earned runs. This wasn’t a great return, but he himself said that he had “butterflies” after getting on the mound again. Reyes still has the stuff that landed him in the top 10 of MLB prospects, it all just comes down to health and the mental side of things.

Seeing him be a mentor to the younger prospects this spring was a great sign for his leadership and that mental side, we just need to see how he does when he gets on the mound again.

Back in 2016, Reyes threw 46 innings as a reliever and allowed just eight runs (1.57 ERA). He struck out 10.2 batters per nine and only gave up one home run. He’s still going to need to work to bring down his walks as his 4.5 BB/9 then and his three walks in 4.1 innings this spring don’t scream “control artist,” but when he’s on, Reyes has the stuff to not only be a fantastic reliever but a top starter.

I don’t see Reyes getting stretched out into a starting pitching role when the season resumes, but getting 60 healthy games under his belt would be huge for his longterm outlook with the club. If he’s healthy, there is no question he’d fit Brebbia’s role well.

Kwang-Hyun Kim

I do believe that Kim will be in the conversation for a piggyback role with the starters after being in competition for Miles Mikolas’ spot in the rotation before spring training ended. However, history points to this season being Kim’s best.

When you look at Miles Mikolas and Seung-Hwan Oh, both of them had the best half-season of their careers the first half that they pitched in the MLB after returning from overseas. With Kim, I’d expect these 60 games to be his best 60.

If that means he’s throwing as a piggyback, great. It could also mean that he fits Brebbia’s role well. If he’s going to be the best he’s ever going to be, you might as well use him in high-leverage/late-game situations.

Junior Fernandez

One name I feel we will all know very well at the end of 2020 is Junior Fernandez. While the 22-year-old had some experience in 2019, 2020 could be his coming-out party.

2019 was an admittedly bad time for Fernandez at the MLB level though. In 13 games, he let up seven runs and two homers, walking 4.6 batters per nine.

However, there is plenty to be excited about with the flamethrower. First off, Fernandez’s walks came with a lot of strikeouts. His 12.3 strikeouts per nine were second only to Daniel Ponce de Leon’s 13.50. Couple that with his 50% groundball rate and 1.52 ERA over 65.0 minor league innings and you see a guy who could mean serious business this year.

It will take Fernandez some time to build up trust before he goes straight into Brebbia’s role, but he is one of my favorite young guys to get excited about for 2020.

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The team is going to miss Brebbia in 2020 but it isn’t the end of the world for this bullpen. There are a lot of guys to get excited about and the Cardinals should have plenty of options to fill the void.