THE REDBIRD REVIEW
For the 2023 Cardinals, the goal of making the playoffs is a lost cause. But the final seven weeks of the regular season will provide some entertainment value. Or, at the very least, we can monitor intriguing situations that could impact the front-office planning for 2024 season.
Here’s my 12-Deep Watch List:
1. Keep An Eye On The New Prospects: the Cardinals went for volume in their sell-off at the trade deadline. Among the 57 prospects that were moved in deals, Baseball America ranked six baby Redbirds in the top 20: pitcher Sem Robberse (9), pitcher Tekoah Roby (13), infielder Thomas Saggese (14), infielder Cesar Prieto (15), pitcher Adam Kloffenstein (16) and pitcher Drew Rom. Another pitcher, teenager Buck Showalter, was listed at No. 24.
Based on recent history the Cardinals are hoping to cash in on a few longshots. According to a study conducted by the astute staff at Baseball America, nearly 75 percent of prospects acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline from 2010 through 2017 have “failed to have any kind of sustained major-league career. And most never make it to the majors at all.”
Baseball America cut off the list at 2017 because many prospects traded after that are still making their way through the minors. But some – especially Oneil Cruz (Pirates) and Isaac Paredes (Rays) — have impressed after graduating to the majors ahead of schedule.
It’s possible to beat the odds. As Baseball America noted, talent acquired as prospects at the non-waiver trade deadline since 2010 include pitchers Corey Kluber, Zack Wheeler, Josh Hader, Dylan Cease, Patrick Corbin, Kyle Hendricks, Pablo Lopez, Joe Musgrove, Nate Eovaldi and Frankie Montas – and position players Yordan Alvarez, Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres and Jean Segura.
Some of these prospects were considered elite, and by trading rentals the Cardinals had to settle for lower-profile talent. But St. Louis received positive reviews from the prospect pundits for their trade-deadline haul. Robberse, Roby and Saggese were touted as good pickups with clear big-league potential, and others have a chance to pay off.
2. Adam Wainwright’s Pursuit Of 200 Wins: OK, this mission has lost some luster because of Waino’s decline and his MLB-worst 7.81 ERA in 14 starts this season. But if he can get career win No. 199 on Friday at Kansas City, the Waino Watch will gain momentum and more fans will get into it with warm feelings and increased enthusiasm. The chance to celebrate Waino’s career will be even more enjoyable if he secures No. 200.
3. Nolan Gorman’s Home-Run Count: The second-year slugger has 24 homers as the Cardinals go into Thursday’s game at Tampa Bay. Gorman is getting closer to hanging out with Albert Pujols on a short list of Cardinal hitters that bashed 25+ homers in a season at age 23 or younger:
* Pujols, 43 homers in 2003 at age 23.
* Pujols, 37 homers in 2001 at age 21.
* Pujols, 34 homers in 2002 at age 22.
* Paul DeJong, 25 homers in 2017 at age 23.
With two more home runs, Gorman (who is 23) will move ahead of DeJong and enter Pujols air space. It would be cool to see Gorman crank at least six more home runs to reach 30 on the season. That’s a special number that would put Gorman with Pujols among Cardinals that launched 30+ homers in a season before reaching 24 years old.
4. Make Way For Masyn Winn: It’s only a matter of time, but the Cardinals will likely promote their No. 1 prospect before the end of the season to prep him for taking over at shortstop in St. Louis in 2024. But there is a concern; Winn was pulled from Sunday’s game with a “mild glute strain” as described by Cardinal president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. We can only hope that Winn will be cleared to return to action in time to make his major-league debut, an event that will provide instant excitement and happiness for a bummed-out fan base.
This season at Triple A Memphis Winn is batting .284 with 17 homers and a .822 OPS. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. In his last 35 games Winn has surged to hit .347 with a 1.066 OPS – while ripping 10 doubles, 10 homers, and driving in 34 runs.
5. The Resurgence Of Steven Matz: No need to recap his very disappointing performance as a St. Louis starting pitcher for much of his time here after signing a four-year, $44 million free-agent contract. But after regrouping in the bullpen, Matz has a 1.65 ERA and a 26 percent strikeout in his last six starts, holding opponents to a .192 average and .534 OPS. He’s in the process of solidifying his presence in the 2024 rotation and this is an important development for a Cardinals front office that must rebuild the team’s starting pitching. A sudden downturn by Matz would raise new questions – so one way or another this is a crucial time for him.
6. The Saga Of Dakota Hudson: This is a strange but intriguing situation. Hudson has made two starts in August, pitching to a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings. But in the two starts Hudson has struck out 18.7% of batters faced, gotten roughed up for a 40 percent hard-hit rate, .452 slug, and an average of 2.25 home runs per 9 innings. Yes, the Cardinals went 2-0 in these Hudson starts, and he did some good things. But Hudson’s 6.52 fielding independent ERA over the two starts was more indicative of his performance quality. The St. Louis media should hold off on the pro-Hudson cheerleading because the front office is looking for any reason to portray him as a legit candidate for the 2024 rotation.
7. Matthew Liberatore’s Big Test: Thursday night he’ll go against the Tampa Bay team that traded him for young St. Louis outfielder Randy Arozarena. This was a heist in broad daylight, committed on the afternoon of Jan. 9, 2020. Arozarena is an All-Star. Liberatore has burn marks with a 6.47 ERA in 72 and ⅓ innings as a Cardinal. I keep saying that Libby is young and still has time on his side, but it’s never too soon for him to start showing that Mozeliak wasn’t insane for making the Arozarena trade. This is an underrated subplot, and much is at stake for the Cardinals. Liberatore can’t be a bust when he was acquired at a steep price to develop into an asset for a downward-trending rotation.
8. Tyler O’Neill, Injured List All-Star: Since making his Cardinals debut in 2018, O’Neill has been on the IL 10 different times, missing 227 in-season days because of various episodes of pain and suffering. He missed the first two games of the Tampa Bay series because of “knee tightness,” running his count to in-season days missed to 77 in 2023. Will the Cardinals ever run out of patience with O’Neill? Do they still believe he can enhance his trade value? Is the front office really fired up about keeping him as a starting outfielder for ’24? O’Neill went into Arozarena’s house, withdrew from the lineup with the knee thingy, and reminded everyone of Mozeliak’s shaky results in evaluating outfield talent. After blasting 34 homers in 482 at-bats in 2021, O’Neill has just 19 homers in 479 at-bats over the last two seasons. His slugging percentage was .560 in 2021 but is only .397 since then.
9. Dylan Carlson. Is There A Pulse? Since the start of the 2022 season, 197 major-league hitters have made at least 500 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. Among the 197 hitters, Carlson ranks 191st in batting average (.204), 184th in slugging (.327), 184th in OPS (.620) and 176th in onbase percentage (.292.)
To focus on more recent times, Carlson is batting .151 with a .449 OPS against all pitchers since the All-Star break and is a staggering 70 percent below league average offensively in wRC+. Are Carlson’s days numbered in St. Louis? Are any teams willing to give the Cardinals a good return for Carlson in an offseason trade? Can anyone explain why Carlson – once the darling of the player-development system – has disappeared into a giant crater offensively? Did Mozeliak miss the window for trading Carlson for a significant roster addition or two? So many questions, and this is why Carlson stands as one of the most compelling Cardinals over the final seven weeks.
10. Watching Jordan Walker: A popular preseason choice in the predictions for NL Rookie of the Year, Walker has a .210 average and .321 slug since the All-Star break. He’s certainly a notable presence on the Cardinals’ Watch List as the season winds down. For the season, among 30 MLB rookies with at least 250 plate appearances, Walker ranks 14th with a 104 wRC+ that makes him four percent above league average offensively. Can Walker kick it up for a strong finish at the plate? And how much can Walker improve his corner-outfield defense under the tutelage of coach Willie McGee? Walker is 21 and experience is valuable. I’m curious to see if he can adjust, improve, and set himself up for a rip-roaring 2024.
11. Luken Baker, Stuck In Triple A: Baker the Home Run Maker walloped another big fly for Memphis on Wednesday as part of his five-RBI rampage on the night. In 31 at-bats in August Larrupin’ Luken has seven home runs and a 1.161 slugging percentage, and his 34 homers are the most in the minors this season. But he is more than just a grip-rip guy; Baker’s 2023 power (.700 slug) comes with an impressive .334 batting average and .439 OBP. I think Cardinal fans would like to see Baker return to St. Louis and have a go at the DH spot. That definitely would be worth watching.
12. Sorting Through The Bullpen: I know; this isn’t exactly a riveting topic. But the Cardinals are taking a look at relievers that can best fill a bullpen spot in 2024, and we all know that it’s important to upgrade their set of relievers.
— Lefty JoJo Romero has been a beast, striking out 33.3 percent of batters faced in 13 appearances since being promoted from Memphis on July 4. In his last four relief gigs, all scoreless, Romero has bagged 16 outs while allowing only three hits and no walks. And during this stretch that began July 30, Romero has struck out 58 percent of his 19 batters faced. This season (in the majors) Romero’s wicked slider has generated 12 strikeouts in 18 at-bats that ended with that pitch. That sure is compelling to me.
— It’s only been three appearances for the Cardinals so far, but lefty John King has been virtually flawless in his three innings of work. I shrugged when the Cardinals got him from Texas in the trade that sent pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton to the Rangers – but obviously the STL front office saw something positive about King.
— Lefty Zack Thompson – drafted 19th overall in 2019 – definitely qualifies as “intriguing,” and he’s talented. But for a team that desperately needs pitching and lots of it, the Cardinals don’t know what to do with Thompson and that’s absolutely daffy.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at 590thefan.com, the 590 the fan app or your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.