A fifth-round pick by the Cardinals in 2021, Gordon Graceffo had a strong 2022, with a 2.97 ERA across High-A and Double-A, but he backslid in 2023, as his ERA inflated to 4.92. Shoulder inflammation sidelined Graceffo for two months at the start of the season, and his control wavered, as he walked 4.7 batters per nine innings, the highest mark of his career.
Graceffo's control issues were likely a result of his layoff, as control is usually slow to return after an arm injury. He possesses a wicked slider to retire right-handers, but he was ineffective when facing lefties last season, allowing them to post an .816 OPS. He didn't strike many southpaws out, either, as only 35 of the 200 left-handed batters he faced were set down on strikes.
If Graceffo can find a pitch to reliably retire left-handed hitters, he has a chance to be an effective starter. If he can't, he might fit more as a No. 4 or 5 starter in the Cardinals rotation. A healthy season will go a long way toward determining what kind of big league pitcher he can be.
Leonardo Taveras appeared to be on his way to a career season before being handed an 80-game suspension in early June for performance-enhancing substances, ruling him out for the rest of the year. In his limited, 20.1-inning sample of work, Taveras dazzled to the tune of a 3.10 ERA and a 45.2% strikeout rate.
If Taveras' breakout was real and he can sustain it when he returns to the mound in 2024, the Cardinals could have another pitcher who is capable of serving in their bullpen. He can touch triple digits with his fastball and has always racked up strikeouts at a high rate, but control problems looked to doom him to a minor league career — he walked 39 batters in 50.1 innings in 2022. However, his control improved markedly in his 2023 sample, as he walked only eight batters.
Taveras is not as well known as the other pitchers on this list given that his success last season spanned only 11 High-A games, but if he has put everything together, the 25-year-old could be a surprise pop-up prospect.
These four pitchers could be in the running to debut for the Cardinals in 2024 if injury or ineffectiveness befalls the bullpen. If the Cardinals adapt to how the rest of the league is developing pitchers, there could be more talented arms on the way.