Young Guns Take The Mound
By: Warren Mayes
The St. Louis Cardinals’ arsenal of youth right-handers contains promising talent that could carry the team for years to come.
Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal are the first part of a youth movement that combines experience with potential to give the Cardinals a staff that looks promising now and in the years to come.
Continued irritation in his spine and right shoulder will keep ace Chris Carpenter, 37, from pitching this season. That opens up a spot for one of these young pitchers.
“There’s certainly a void there, but there’s also an opportunity,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
Miller, Kelly and Rosenthal will be under the microscope this season and that’s as it should be, Matheny said.
“I’m excited to watch them compete. When you throw athletes into a situation like this and you put pressure on them, that’s usually when they rise to the top,” Matheny said.
“Everyone, of course, wants to start in the big leagues,” Kelly said. “That’s ultimately what my goal is to do, so I guess that’s my preference. I’m happy I’m even given a chance to get that role.”
But everything is not being turned over the youngsters. Adam Wainwright steps into the No. 1 spot in the rotation with Carpenter out. Solid veteran Jake Westbrook returns, too.
Back this year will be left-hander Jaime Garcia, who was 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA last season but was limited to just 20 starts due to shoulder fatigue. He was lost for the rest of the postseason after injuring his left shoulder in Game 2 against the Nationals.
The clean-shaven Lynn, 25, has shed 40 pounds after the Cardinals expressed concern about his conditioning level last winter. That might not translate into another 18-win season or earn him another selection to the National League All-Star team, but it is a clear indication Lynn understands there is room for improvement. He doesn’t have to be great, but he can be expected to be an above-average starter this season. He is coming off an 18-7 campaign that saw him end with a 3.78 ERA and 180 strikeouts.
However, most of the attention has turned to the three young right-handers who have a shot to round out the rotation and fill in a spot in the bullpen.
Kelly, 24, has the most experience. Miller, 22, has long been a top prospect. Rosenthal, 22, has a power arm that excites everyone in the organization.
While he’s just 21, the 6-foot-6 right-hander Michael Wacha also holds the promise of being a star down the road. He has been impressive in early spring outings in Jupiter, Fla.
So the youth movement for the Cardinals is in full swing.
Earlier this month, the Cardinals decided to put Rosenthal into the bullpen. Rosenthal, who’s been a starter in the minor leagues for the past three seasons, is happy to have a spot solidified.
“It was hard to keep a smile off my face,” Rosenthal said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity. I told them I’m excited to do whatever I can to help out the team.
“It is exciting having the role I had last year. Hopefully down the line, I’ll have an opportunity to start again.”
Possessing a fastball that’s been clocked in triple digits, Rosenthal threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs last season after going 0-2 with a 2.78 ERA during the regular season. All of those appearances came in relief.
Kelly, the most seasoned of the trio, started 16 games and also made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen last year following a midseason call-up when shoulder issues sidelined Garcia.
The development of a consistent change-up allowed Kelly to post a 5-7 record with a 3.53 ERA, and the experience boosted Kelly’s confidence heading into this spring.
“If they run me out there they know what they’re going to get,” he said. “I know what I can do.”
A 2009 first-round draft pick, Miller is also a hard thrower who went 11-10 with a 4.74 ERA at Triple-A Memphis in 2012. During the offseason, he added nearly 25 pounds to a 6-foot-3 frame with hopes that pitching at 220 will add more velocity to a 96 mph fastball while increasing his stamina.
Including the postseason, Miller appeared in seven games last season for St. Louis (one start), earning a win to go with a regular-season ERA of 1.32.
The three are good friends, but “we’re all competitors,” Miller said. “You want to win, you want to do your best, and you want to come out on top.”
The competition, Kelly said, will make them all better.
While Wacha most likely will be ticketed for the minor leagues, he is one of many young Cardinal pitchers making a rapid ascension in the organization. He was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player’s Draft.
Along with 22-year-old Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness, 24, he could be part of the next wave, which could arrive as early as 2014.
A Texas A&M product, Wacha, 21, worked in 11 games and 21 innings at three levels, advancing to Class AA Springfield, where Martinez and Maness pitched last season. Wacha allowed just eight hits, walked four and struck out 40.
Wacha then pitched in two games in Springfield’s run to the Texas League championship, allowing two hits, walking none and striking out five in three innings.
“The experience was unbelievable,” he said.
The Cardinals limited Wacha’s workload last season, using him primarily in the bullpen after he threw 113 1/3 innings for the Aggies. This year, he’ll be used as a starter.