Liberatore is our third interesting young starter. He's been consistently praised throughout his minor league career and comes with much more pedigree than the other two. Liberatore throws multiple strong pitches, though he relies primarily on his elite curveball. He also touches 98 MPH on the gun. He does all of this from the left side. Liberatore is immensely talented and should continue to receive chances. Even with disappointing results across his first two seasons, Liberatore remains a tantalizing prospect.
Liberatore's career has suffered for two key reasons. Firstly, the results are somewhat dismal. Liberatore inexplicably doesn't generate strikeouts at even an average clip. His strikeout rate is actually down this season. While he's decreased his walk rate slightly, it's still higher than it ought to be. While he limits home runs, Liberatore struggles to limit line drive contact, and the hits stack up. Throw in a disappointing Cardinal defense and it's easy to see why he's had such a rough year.
The second factor has little to do with Liberatore himself. It has everything to do with Randy Arozarena. Following the 2019 season, the Cardinals traded Arozarena to Tampa Bay in exchange for Liberatore. At the time, it seemed like a fine move. The Cardinals had a glut of young outfielders and lacked exciting young pitching. Unfortunately, Arozarena powered the Rays to the 2020 World Series before capturing the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year award.
The success of Adolis Garcia in Texas merely compounded this issue. Liberatore found himself in the line of fire, and many Cardinal fans held nothing back. Frustration may have reached an all-time high in 2023, with the Cardinals underachieving across the board. No matter how he performs, he will be judged based on that deal. This is unfair, but it is unlikely to change.
Between now and October, Liberatore must prove that he belongs at the major league level. Even if he proves he's valuable to the bullpen, it is critical for him that he opens with the team in 2024. The best way to do that is to prove that they need you. He likely needs to continue having outings like he had against Cincinnati on September 9, when he made arguably the game's most important pitch, securing an inning-ending strikeout to escape a jam.
I believe that he needs to receive more starts, but the Cardinals clearly disagree, evidenced by Hudson's position in the rotation and Liberatore's new bullpen role. Hopefully, that changes in the near future, as Liberatore may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher discussed in this article. Earlier this season, Liberatore went eight scoreless in Tampa Bay. He could someday be an ace, but the Cardinals need to unlock that potential. For now, he has to prove he deserves more opportunities.