Dakota Hudson is three years removed from a 16-win rookie season that saw him finish fifth in the Rookie of The Year voting. Now, in 2023, he will be critical to the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching depth and success.
The St. Louis Cardinals have extreme depth when it comes to starting pitching. With five starters already locked into the starting rotation in Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery, and Steven Matz, St. Louis will look toward Dakota Hudson and others to provide depth.
Hudson, baring a spring-training injury to one of the aforementioned starters, will not be in the starting rotation to start the 2023 season. After a disastrous 2022 campaign that saw him win eight games with a 4.45 ERA, he put himself on the outside looking in for the Cardinals' pitching plans.
Despite the struggles in 2022, Hudson's 2023 campaign is critical for the Cardinals' future success when it comes to their starting pitching. St. Louis only has Hudson and Matz signed past the 2023 season, which places pressure on the duo to perform in 2023.
Hudson can play his way back into the Cardinals' future pitching plans with a great 2023 season. However, it is likely going to have to come from the bullpen to begin the year. Despite going eight strong innings in a meaningless game in September against the Cincinnati Reds, the former first-round pick struggled mightily all year.
We saw Hudson work slower than he ever had before, and it's possible that he was still trying to recover from previous injuries that limited him to just 10 starts combined in 2020-21. New rules like the pitch clock or the limited amount of pickoff attempts could prove helpful to Hudson.
After tallying three-consecutive starts where he went seven innings to begin the month of June, Hudson worked past the fifth inning just four times the rest of the year.
What is worrisome about Hudson is his lack of experience as a relief pitcher. The Mississippi State grad tallied just one appearance in relief, going three scoreless innings against the Dodgers in late September.
Pitching well in relief is going to be his only method of rejoining the starting rotation. The Cardinals have a group of pitchers that project similarly to Hudson, like Matthew Liberatore, Zach Thompson, and even Jordan Hicks. The advantage Hudson has over his counterparts is his experience gained in 2019. When right, he works quickly and can induce groundballs better than anyone in the league.
With gold glover's spread all across the field, Hudson started the trend of the Cardinals signing pitch-to-contact arms to utilize the defense to the highest potential. This, however, proved to be an unsuccessful strategy in the postseason.
The Cardinals have not made any changes to their philosophy to start the 2023 season, it seems, as they have passed on big-name free agents like Carlos Rodon, Justin Verlander, and others. Hudson is the model pitcher for the Cardinals' front office, and his prior experience will give him an opportunity to take a spot in the starting rotation if a player gets injured in spring training.
If not, then Hudson will need to prove that he can be an effective reliever in order to jump into the rotation if a pitcher goes down in the middle of the season. He should be next in line to take a spot, even with Liberatore getting stretched out in AAA with Memphis.