With Winter Warm-Up in the rearview mirror and pitchers and catchers reporting next month, I’ll be taking a look at prospects (not named Jordan Walker) who could make an impact in 2023.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
An early-round Cardinals draftee from 2019 makes his way through the system as an unheralded prospect, barely cracking the organization's top 30 prospects. The canceled 2020 minor league season does him no favors but a breakthrough performance in the Arizona Fall League secures him a spot on the 40-man roster and, eventually, the Opening Day squad.
Can Connor Thomas become the next Andre Pallante?
Thomas, 24, has checked off all of those boxes except the all-important last one. For now. How he performs at spring training may determine whether he can become this year’s Pallante, a surprise rookie addition to the big club who played a pivotal role in helping the team make the postseason.
The opportunity will be there. The Cardinals have a plethora of relief options coming back this year but no team ever has enough pitching. Between injuries and inevitable regression, spots in the bullpen will open up. Especially for a lefty like Thomas.
Or, like Pallante before him, Thomas can force his way to a promotion with an impressive showing in Jupiter.
Momentum is on his side. After an unspectacular 2022 season at Triple-A (where he went 6-12 with a 5.47 ERA), Thomas, a fifth-round draft pick in 2019, added a cutter to his repertoire and dominated at the Arizona Fall League.
Over the course of 25.2 innings in Arizona, Thomas struck out 34 and walked only five, finishing with a 1.75 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. He was eventually named the league’s pitcher of the year and started in the league’s all-star game.
Those numbers have completely flipped his narrative, something Pallante can certainly appreciate.
Of course, the comparison between the two isn’t perfect. Pallante, a fourth-round pick in that same 2019 draft, pitched only five innings in Memphis before making his big-league debut. He had done well at Double-A Springfield before his brief promotion to Triple-A. You can read more about his journey in our interview with Thomas on the site.
Pallante went on to star in the Arizona Fall League two years ago, striking out 22 batters in only 21 innings and finishing with an ERA of 1.29. He followed that up with an impressive spring before becoming a key contributor for the Cardinals last year while bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation.
If Thomas can even come close to replicating that, he’ll be another in a long line of successful Cardinals pitching prospects, and will help ease the sting of the front office’s failure to add any meaningful pitching this offseason.
Most importantly? He can help add another lefty presence to the bullpen and position himself as a future starter. Don’t forget, only one member of the current rotation is under contract for next year.
A pivotal spring looms. Here’s hoping Thomas gets the chance to see the Clydesdales at the end of March.