1. Zack Thompson
What a whirlwind of a season it has been for Zack Thompson. He started off the year as the Cardinals' top left-handed relief option. He wasn't great to start the year, but he wasn't bad either. In a surprise move by the front office, they optioned him down the Memphis to "prepare to be a starter" with the thought that he would not be back with St. Louis until 2024.
There's no sugarcoating it for Thompson, he was awful in Memphis. In 11 games (9 starts), he posted an 8.65 ERA and was only able to amass 34.1 innings of work. This looked like a massive mistake by the front office, and he was later called up by the club again to join the bullpen.
Something unexpected happened though on August 6th. Needing a bullpen game against the Rockies, Thompson got the "start" but was so good that they let him go 4 innings, striking out 8 batters while just giving up 1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk. Thompson looked like a completely different pitcher. Since then, he's made the most of his opportunities in the rotation.
Sub-4.00 ERA? Check. High strikeout-rate? Check. Keeping walks to a minimum? Check. Thompson has looked legit at times on the mound, and it seems like his cutter may be the key to his breakout.
Everyone knows that Thompson has an awesome curveball, but in order to be an effective starter in this league, you really need more than just two pitches in your arsenal. Thompson's fastball and curveball have never been in question, but the addition of this cutter (or some call it a slider) may have opened him up to being a meaningful starter going forward.
He has not gone past five innings in a start yet, but that is really by design. He's been yanked around as a reliever and starter this year, so they have to build him back up so he can have a higher pitch count. Wednesday's start saw him hit the 90-pitch threshold though.
If Thompson keeps this up down the stretch, he's easily my number one internal option to be the Cardinals' number five starter in 2024. The Cardinals need more guys like Thompson who can miss bats, so I am very encouraged by what we have seen thus far.