The Cardinals’ most surprising unit so far in spring training

jbuchheit
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 29: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 29, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 29: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 29, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /
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While the pitching staff was widely considered a weak spot on the team, Spring Training has shown some reasons for optimism.

While the Milwaukee Brewers hum along with three pitchers who could be aces on many other teams, the St. Louis Cardinals have found themselves in a tougher situation. The Cardinals’ ace, Jack Flaherty, is out for an undetermined length of time, and on first glance, the rest of the rotation doesn’t inspire much confidence. But the results of Spring Training have been eye-opening so far.

The Cardinals snapped up two former MLB pitchers who had spent time in Asia: Aaron Brooks and Drew VerHagen. In the admittedly tiny sample sizes, they’ve both shown promise. Brooks’ velocity increased by about 2 mph since he last played in the major leagues in 2019, and his first Spring Training outing was a solid one.

VerHagen has only appeared in one game to this point, but if Statcast is to be trusted, he has some crazy spin rates: One of his sinkers was 3,115 rpm, which would be far and away the highest spin rate of any pitcher in the league. It’s difficult to believe Statcast in this instance, but if it’s true, the team could be in possession of a menace. VerHagen did look very sharp in that outing, though, striking out three of six hitters and not allowing a baserunner.

Matthew Liberatore will likely start the season in the minor leagues, but he also looked promising in a two-inning appearance despite giving up two hits and a run. He flashed a nasty arsenal with a good slider and a fastball around 95 mph. He will likely be among the first to be promoted should further injuries occur.

It’s an open battle to acquire the fifth spot in the team’s rotation, and my thought is that it’s likely going to come down to VerHagen, Jake Woodford and Johan Oviedo. If VerHagen continues to perform in Spring Training like this, I can see him grabbing the role. Otherwise, Woodford or Oviedo seem to be the most logical choices since Liberatore is not on the 40-man roster.

With the performances of some of these guys in spring as well as usual stalwarts Adam Wainwright, Giovanny Gallegos, T.J. McFarland and a healthy Jordan Hicks, this could be a sneaky-good team on the mound, and it would receive a further boost if Flaherty is able to return fairly soon.

We know the offense shouldn’t be an issue, and while opposing batters might not tremble in their cleats at the names of some of the Cardinals’ pitchers, the hurlers have shown themselves to be capable of exceeding expectations before. If this spring is any indication, it could happen again.

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