In a farm system littered with injured starting pitching prospects, long-shot RHP Trey Nielsen could realize his big league dream sooner than expected.
At this point in the season, Cardinals fans and experts are starting to sound like a broken record. Complaints and analysis about mediocre starting pitching are both common and justified. In a season where the offense has been consistently explosive, such sentiments of frustration are even more understandable.
Moving past the stage of frustration, the Cardinals must take action, making efforts to support their thriving bats on a regular basis. The way I see it, there are three courses of action. First, the Cardinals stick with what they have, hoping for improvement either mechanically or mentally from the current staff of 5.
Second, the club could venture into the trade market, giving up heralded prospects to win right now through improved starting pitching. Personally, I believe this approach to be unnecessary, for the Cardinals certainly don’t lack talent in their rotation, but rather consistency. I still have hope in improvement as the season progresses.
— STL Cardinals Fans (@SLCardinalsChat) May 23, 2016
Finally, the club can turn to the minor league system, perhaps speeding up the development process of certain heralded prospects in order to bolster the Cardinals 2016 starting pitching. Of course, Alex Reyes comes to mind with this option, as the top-prospect has looked sharp since coming off his drug-related suspension. Past Reyes, one might struggle to find MLB ready pitching, as prospects Luke Weaver, Tim Cooney, and Marco Gonzales have yet to pitch in 2016.
With the debut of Reyes (hopefully) coming soon, and several top prospects on the shelf, quick fixes do not appear to be abundant in the Cardinals farm system. Still, however, it is interesting to take a peak into the future of the organization, aiming to learn more about prospects who show great promise moving forward.
One interesting case is Trey Nielsen, a right-handed pitcher for the Springfield Cardinals. A product of the University of Utah, Nielsen has taken an unorthodox path to his emergence as a top 25 prospect in the Cardinals organization.
A successful pitcher at Skyline High School, Nielsen chose to play college ball at the University of Utah, spending the grand majority of his time as a third-basemen. As a junior, Nielsen had planned to return to the hill, however nagging elbow soreness prevented such a plan from becoming a consistent reality (he made a few starts, with marginal results). Even so, the Cardinals chose to draft Nielsen as a pitcher, selecting him in the 30th round of the 2013 draft.
After undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2013, Nielsen was, to put it lightly, a long-shot to quickly climb the ranks of the St. Louis farm system. Against the odds, however, Nielsen has had surprising success, posting a 2.59 ERA during his 18 2015 starts.
Moving into 2016, Nielsen has continued to improve, consistently working to polish his off-speed arsenal. Though a raw talent, Nielsen is known for his hard, sinking fastball, constantly inducing ground-ball outs from his opponents. To really take the next step, Nielsen will need build up both his change up and curve, pushing to offer 3 accurate, effective pitches.
After essentially not pitching for 4 years of his baseball career, Nielsen is an intriguing case within the Cardinals farm system. His arm, in comparison to those around him, is fresh. Furthermore, Nielsen still has enormous room to grow, as he refines his skill set and gains comfort in his starting role. Finally, Nielsen has Major League blood, as his father Scott played for the Yankees as well as the White Sox. As such, Nielsen has constant and smart support through his navigation of a minor league system, perhaps gaining an edge in his development as a starting pitcher.
Nielsen may not be a pitcher ready to contribute in 2016 (or even 2017 for that matter), but his story and quick development says wonders about his character and willingness to persevere through the struggles of professional baseball. Should he continue to improve upon his natural sinking action, Nielsen could offer the stability and consistency that the Cardinals rotation desperately needs.