Much of the offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals has focused on improving the offense, but the strength of this year’s team is once again shaping up to be the pitching. Austin Gomber was dealt to the Rockies and the Cardinals re-signed Adam Wainwright, but otherwise they bring back a very similar group to last season. Let’s dive into the makeup of the starting rotation and bullpen for the Cardinals in 2021– as always, we’ll have an eye on the future, as well.
We can start by penciling in Jack Flaherty, Waino, Miles Mikolas, and Kwang-Hyun Kim as the top four starters. Not the flashiest group, but a very solid one nonetheless. Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, and Daniel Ponce de Leon will most likely battle it out for the fifth starting spot. For our purposes, let’s give the edge to Carlos.
Moving to the bullpen, things start to get interesting. I’ll go ahead and clear three spots for the three-headed monster of Jordan Hicks, Andrew Miller, and Giovanny Gallegos– maybe the strongest position group on the Cardinals is this late-inning trio. Even if they miss out on the rotation, Reyes and Ponce most likely make the roster as well. That’s five locks already! We only have three spots remaining…
You need another lefty, and Tyler Webb deserves the first crack at it. Now just two places remain. John Gant still has a role on the active roster, so he gets one. And it would be hard to imagine Ryan Helsley is left off, either. I’m impressed with this group, as they pitched well last season and complement each other nicely. I guess that’s it, no controversy at all.
But wait? What about Genesis Cabrera, Johan Oviedo, and Angel Rondon? Where will Kodi Whitley, Junior Fernandez, Seth Elledge, and Jake Woodford pitch? Surely each of them are worthy major leaguers. As the driver of the Genesis Cabrera bandwagon, I’m a little frustrated I couldn’t find room for him on my active roster. Honestly, this second-string bullpen could give some other professional teams a run for their money.
Maybe John Mozeliak and the front office has another shock move up their sleeve? Or maybe the Cardinals just hang onto this surplus of talent and let it develop for another year. Spring training will help clear all of this up, but for now, there is one interesting trend among this group that Cardinal fans should be aware of.
Here’s a look at the makeup of the pitching staff by age. First, the starters (once again, assuming Martinez gets the fifth spot):
Mikolas, KK- 32
Absent from this exercise is the injured Dakota Hudson, who comes in even with Flaherty at 25 years old. Now, let’s look at the ages of the 13 candidates to be in the Cardinal bullpen:
Ponce, Gallegos- 29
Reyes, Helsley- 26
Hicks, Cabrera, Elledge, Rondon, Woodford- 24
The St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen is extremely young.
Yes, the rotation has a few question marks– anyone can see that they are on the older side. Flaherty is a great building block, but how much does the rest of the group have in the tank?
Between Ponce, Gant, Reyes, Cabrera, Oviedo, Woodford, and even Helsley, there are plenty of legitimate internal alternatives. Excluding Miller and the underrated Webb, this is a group with a lot of untapped potential. The versatility that they provide is going to be a huge weapon for Mike Shildt not only in 2021, but for a long portion of this decade.
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What stands out the most, however, is that even after trading for Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals boast an absurd amount of young pitching talent. This list also doesn’t include top prospects Matthew Liberatore or Zack Thompson, who could debut as early as this season. Not to mention others in the organization like Roel Ramirez, Alvaro Seijas, and Griffin Roberts, or 2020 draft picks Ian Bedell, Tink Hence, and Masyn Winn.
The Padres made big splashes with trades for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. The Nationals still have Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler are an impressive one-two punch for the Dodgers. The Cardinals might not have the top-of-the-line names to compete with those rotations, but as far as I can tell, the talented young depth in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization is at the top of the league.
I did this exercise last season, and it was a much more hazy outlook. Now, with Flaherty in the lead and Wainwright showing them the way, you have to feel pretty good about whoever takes the mound.