Finishing off the three part series, let’s take a look at nine pitchers who will make a difference for the Cardinals in 2017.

Before advancing any further, I’d like to make two introductory notes.

First, if you have interest in Cardinals prospects and an overall outlook for 2017, be sure to check out the previous installments of this series. In the past few weeks, I have covered 18 promising prospects, both outfielders and infielders. As I see it, the Minor Leagues need more coverage and appreciation. Hopefully these three articles help to contribute towards that goal.

Second, I want to make a note about the list that will follow. The Cardinals stable of Minor League pitchers is incredibly deep at the moment. As such, there will be several pitchers who don’t make this list who have the qualifications and promise.

I would cover them all, but the article would be far too long, defeating the purpose of the “quick overview” I wish to provide. Long story short, there are more than 9 pitchers to cover in the system.

Luke Weaver

This inclusion is more of a formality. At this point, we all know about Luke Weaver. Poised to start the season in AAA, don’t expect him to remain there all season. The lanky right-hander is polished and poised, prepared to dominate Minor League competition. Notably, Weaver has added a one-seamed fastball to his repertoire, hoping to get a little more movement in certain situations.

Assuming this inclusion enhances his performance, expect him to improve upon his impressive 2016 campaign, in which he posted a 1.4o ERA in 12 AA starts. Also, Weaver saw action at both the AAA and MLB levels. As such, there really should not be any surprises for him this year. At this point, its about focus and polish as he waits for his formal, sustained call-up.

Jack Flaherty 

Another well-known name, Flaherty looks to really take a big-step forward in 2017. Although his surface level statistics may suggest otherwise, he actually did improve in 2016 from his previous campaign.

However, considering his hype and overall potential, we all hope to see him begin to dominate this year. Luckily, it seems that Flaherty is ready to make that step. After a productive offseason, his Spring Training performance was extremely encouraging.

For example, in a ST victory over the Marlins, Flaherty pitched a near flawless two innings, striking out 3 and allowing just one hit. Although I hate to extrapolate from Spring training statistics, I think that this experience, along with mentorship from veteran players, will bode well against lesser competition.

Sandy Alcantara 

A 21 year-old out of the Dominican Republic, Sandy Alcantara has overpowering stuff. With a fastball that ranges anywhere from 96-100 MPH, he is electric. As for 2017, his main storyline will be control. With all three pitches (fastball, curve, change), Alcantara will need to show consistent control in his starts.

If he does so, look for his name to climb up the prospect list, as his potential is truly absurd. If all goes according to plan, I fully expect Alcantara to burst onto the scene for the Cardinals in an Alex Reyes type of way, improving upon his already impressive 153/59 k/BB ratio.

Austin Gomber

A 23 year old college arm heiling from Florida Atlantic University, Gomber is perhaps the best left-handed arm in the farm system. Posting a solid 2.69 ERA in 21 2016 starts, Gomber is not overpowering, however he is very solid in all aspects.

Different from someone like Alcantara, Gomber is a quintessential “crafty lefty,” relying on a sturdy frame and solid command to put out quality efforts. Despite projecting as a back-end starter in the MLB rotation somewhere down the line, Gomber’s rise could be quicker than his talent suggests.

Currently, the Cardinals are extremely right-handed at the big league level (Wainwright, Martinez, Wacha, Reyes, Leake). With that being said, Gomber is perhaps the best in-house option should a crisis present itself somewhere down the line.

Junior Fernandez 

Similar to Alcantara, Fernandez is a Dominican signee. A right-handed flame thrower, his fastball tops out around 100 MPH. Also, his change-up is both effective and accurate, a good sign from a pitcher just 20 years of age.

In terms of improvement, Fernandez must develop his breaking ball into a true “out pitch.” As it stands currently, this pitch is his clear weakness, as he shows very little consistency with feel and location. Furthermore, look for Fernandez to continue filling out his frame.

At 6’2″, 180 pounds, a little extra beef could really help Fernandez in terms of even more velocity and overall stamina. Due to age, look for Fernandez to improve drastically in 2017, hopefully finding a filthy breaking ball, thus completing what potentially could be a truly great repertoire of pitches.

Dakota Hudson 

A 2016 first-round selection out Mississippi State, Hudson mostly came out of the bullpen in his first season. To be exact, he made 8 appearances in high A ball, posting a .96 ERA and 10 strikeouts. Obviously operating with a small sample size at the professional level, the jury is still out here.

As for 2017, then, we will gain tons of knowledge regarding Hudson’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall career projection. With a solid four pitch arsenal consisting of fastball, curve, cutter, and change, Hudson seems to ready to make a statement.

With good velocity and seemingly solid command, hopefully Hudson turns some heads this upcoming season. For me, what becomes most interesting is his role. Will he be a reliever or starter? As it stands currently, only time will tell.

Jake Woodford 

Jake Woodford, a 20 year old healing from Tampa, Florida, is a promising right-handed starter. For him, what really jumps out is his impressive frame. At 6’4″, 210, Woodford has the potential to grow into his body, therefore possessing a prototypical body for the position. As such, my conversation here will be mostly revolving around potential rather than statistics or projections.

With a solid 4 pitches, Woodford must focus on using his body to the maximum potential, throwing downhill and pumping up the velocity. If he is able to do so, Woodford could turn into a stud sooner than most would probably predict. With hard work and patience, he could go from wiry and raw to sturdy and polished. Luckily, he has both time and resources at his disposal.

Connor Jones 

A second round pick out of the University of Virginia back in 2016, Jones is a ground ball pitcher. Throwing a low-90s sinker ball, Jones throws downhill and pitches efficiently. On top of that, he throws slider, change, and curve, although these pitches are not nearly as developed. Much like with Hudson, Jones’s role moving forward is unclear.

Depending on the focus of his development, as decided by both him and the Cardinals, he could project as either a reliever or middle-rotation starter. So far in his Minor League career, he has come out of the pen, posting a 4.22 ERA in 10.2 innings pitched at the short season A.

On the bright side, he only walked two batters in those innings. Moving forward to 2017, look for Jones to continue developing his changeup and curveball, two pitches that will be integral in any hopes of sustained success in the Cardinals organization.

Ronnie Williams

With a shorter, athletic build, Ronnie Williams is quick and explosive on the hill. A high-school product out of Florida, Williams pitched well last season in short-season A. Specifically, he posted a 4-2 record in 7 starts, boasting a solid 2.72 ERA and 33 strikeouts.

Like many of the young pitchers on this list, Williams will need to sure up his command moving forward, focusing primarily on his off speed stuff. If the consistency is there, though, Williams is a fiery competitor who works fast. If all goes well, look for him to build off his past success as he transitions into high A ball, hopefully climbing up the ranks a little bit as the season progresses.