Minor leaguers on the rise
The best hopes for top-of-the-rotation arms within the Cardinals organization most like currently reside in the minor leagues. As with the possibilities from St. Louis’ current big-league staff, development is the key, but there’s enough upside in these young arms to at least envision them rising to the top of the rotation.
Gordon Graceffo made his professional debut in 2021 and posted a 1.73 ERA, though in just 26 innings in low-A. Last year saw Graceffo start at High-A, where he recorded a 0.99 ERA in 45-2/3 frames before a promotion to Double-A. With Springfield, he threw 93-2/3 innings and had a 3.94 ERA. Graceffo probably will begin the ’23 season back at Double-A, probably advancing to Triple-A at some point in the year. An appearance with the Cardinals wouldn’t be a surprise at some point next year.
Michael McGreevy has had a similar progression as Graceffo, with a brief showing in 2021 before logging significantly more innings in 2022. His ERA in High-A ball was 2.58 in 45-1/3 innings, following by a 4.64 ERA following a move up to Double-A, where he pitched 99 innings. Another 22-year-old pitcher, again like Graceffo, McGreevy is likely to return to Springfield to begin next season before a likely promotion to Triple-A Memphis by year’s end.
Tink Hence is another intriguing name in the Cardinal’s minor league system. While being limited to few innings per start (52-1/3 innings over 16 starts) at Low-A, Hence recorded a 1.38 ERA and struck out 13.9 batters per nine innings. He could be a five-and-dive starter in the majors, a late-inning flamethrower, or one of countless minor league flameouts in the game’s history. What he’s unlikely to be in 2024 is a major league pitcher.
Similar comments could be made about this year’s first-round draft pick, Cooper Hjerpe. Selected 22nd out of Oregon State, Hjerpe was the College Baseball Foundation’s Pitcher of the Year. He was 11-2 in 18 games for the Beavers, posting a 2.53 ERA in 103-1/3 IP with a Division I-leading 161 strikeouts, a school single-season record, while allowing only 23 walks. There’s plenty to dream on regarding Hjerpe’s future, but it most likely will be a few years before he’s pushing for a big-league promotion.
If readers take this review as any indication that the Cardinals need to look outside the organization for starting pitching help, whether via free agency or trade, it’s difficult to argue that perspective. Perhaps Mikolas and/or Montgomery would be interested in an extension, which would help alleviate some rotation concerns. (Flaherty is almost certain to be elsewhere in 2024.)
Regardless, the Cardinals should be scouring the world for starting pitching talent, and the upcoming Winter Meetings would be a good place to intensify that search.