fter a solid season and now a dominant performance in the Arizona Fall League, Gomber has bursted onto the scene, challenging to crack the Majors in 2017.
The Cardinals are loaded with elite pitching prospects. Between Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, and the younger Jack Flaherty, St. Louis should be a pitching powerhouse for years to come. With such a stacked deck, it can become easy for fans and executives to rest all their confidence and attention in these immense talents, failing to scour the system for other viable options. As every baseball fan knows, however, such an approach ignores many of the unfair, random aspects that come along with the (primarily) great American pastime. With injuries, trades, and the mental hurdles every baseball player encounters, it should be widely accepted that NO player is a sure thing. Things happen, whether we like it or not.
Frankly, at the beginning of the 2016 season, it was difficult to avoid placing the majority of attention upon the above mentioned prospects. Even though Weaver and Reyes had delayed premiers to the season, all three right-handers have head turning talent, talent that can drown out the performances of other pitchers in the system. Seemingly, they were (and still are) the future of our Cardinals, capable of great things on the mound in Busch Stadium. It began to seem as if this was it, these three, and these three only, are the future.
Austin Gomber refused to accept this assumption. Previously thought to be (at best) a back-end starter somewhere down the line, Gomber bursted onto the scene in 2016, complicating the future image in St. Louis. A big, sturdy left-hander, Gomber showed phenomenal consistency and poise throughout the 2016 season. Specifically, he posted a 2.93 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP in 127 innings pitched. Giving a solid performance in both High A and Double A, Gomber became more well known, but did he elevate himself to the level of an elite prospect?
To be honest, the answer to this question was probably no. Sure, Gomber pitched well, and he pitched consistently. With that being said, though, he was not dominant, as many elite prospects are in the lower levels of Minor League Ball. For example, in his 2015 campaign, Luke Weaver posted a minuscule 1.62 ERA in 19 starts for the Palm Beach Cardinals. Beyond statistics, and more importantly, Reyes, Weaver, and Flaherty all have nasty stuff, coupled with tremendous up-side. Put simply, their ceilings are higher than Gomber’s, perhaps explaining the lack of attention he received despite his solid season.
In summary, Gomber raised his stock in the 2016 regular season, but failed to elevate himself to an elite level. Though following a solid track of development, it appeared that Gomber was only a little better than he originally appeared to be.
Moving forward to the fall, Gomber has once again pitched above expectations. This time, however, Gomber is dominating, making a serious statement regarding his talent and role within the organization. To be precise, Gomber currently holds a 2.12 ERA, best for second in the AFL amongst pitchers with at least 14 innings under their belts. Beyond his ERA, Gomber has a WHIP of .94, and has fanned 19 batters. Against the best competition the Minor Leagues has to offer, Gomber is thriving. Just yesterday, he was named AFL pitcher of the week. To be honest, such a performance is a great surprise. While we know Gomber is solid, it was hard to see this coming.
— SpringfieldCardinals (@Sgf_Cardinals) November 2, 2016
When evaluating, Gomber’s success, one must also consider the impressive stamina shown in his AFL performance. As a primarily single A player in 2016, he was stretched to pitch 127 innings over the course of the 2016 season. In the fall, then, it becomes important to note that Gomber has shown no signs of fatigue, instead gaining strength, pitching at levels he had previously been unable to attain. Extrapolating this point, Gomber has suggested that he is a sturdy, strong lefty, capable of handling the MLB workload somewhere down the line. In terms of postseason performance and dog-day outings, this could be huge for the organization.
Aside from stamina, Gomber’s performance is important for another reason. Specifically, the Cardinals need a left-handed pitcher to step up. With primarily right-handers projecting into next year’s lineup, a Gomber debut could be integral to beating lefty-heavy teams such as the Cubs or Dodgers. After such an impressive showing in the AFL, Gomber’s development could possibly be expedited, an occurrence that could drastically change the depth and overall makeup of the 2017 Cardinals.
Overall, Gomber still has strides to make, continuing to improve his pitch arsenal and consistency. What we can for certain, though, is that Gomber has made himself a household name within the Cardinals Minor League system. Pending injury or catastrophic collapse, it appears that Gomber could possibly give more to St. Louis than ever expected.