In 2016, the Cardinals pitching and defense failed to match the normal standards of the franchise. In 2017, two left-handed pitching prospects have a chance to help turn it around.
As every true Cardinals fan knows, it was the defensive side of the ball that caused this season to fall short. Whether it was starting pitching or general play of defenders across the board, this year’s squad did not live up to the pristine standards we have become accustomed to in St. Louis. The Cardinals, through their incredible run of success starting in the mid-2000s, have prided themselves on fabulous defense, elite pitching, and timely hitting. This has been their formula, their identity. Anchored by Yadier Molina, the expectations were set, and most every player inserted by the organization has done extremely well to play to these standards. In 2016, though, things were different.
Due to this season’s deviation from the “Cardinals Way,” this offseason becomes a time of great tension. It is reasonable to have anxieties regarding the future of the club, especially as two former stars ( Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright) seemingly approach the end of their reign of dominance.
For me, however, there is simply no reason to panic. Sure, the Cardinals had a fatal flaw in 2016, as their pitching simply didn’t perform. Moving forward, though, the Cardinals have reinforcements on the way, talented prospects that should be ready to not only fill a hole, but take the organization to a new level.
As most fans will know, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes appear poised to take the next step. Inserted next to the budding star that is Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals will have a core that most franchise’s would dream about. With youth and immense talent, we could be witnessing the beginnings of the league’s next superpower. Also, fans cannot forget the imminent return of Lance Lynn, who was so desperately missed in the 2016 season.
With that being said, however, only 4 players have thus far been mentioned. While 4 starters may carry you through the playoffs, the regular season requires more, a consistent group of 5-7 pitchers. Going into to 2017, it is assumed that Adam Wainwright will maintain a role within this rotation, acting as a mentor and leader as well as a pitcher. Past that, though, nothing is set in stone. Here’s where things get interesting.
Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Adam Wainwright, Alex Reyes, Mike Leake, Luke Weaver, Tim Cooney (hopefully), and Marco Gonzales (hopefully).
— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) October 2, 2016
With sub-par performances from both Michael Wacha and Mike Leake in 2016, the back-end of the Cardinals rotation should be considered wide-open going into the offseason. Enter Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales. Both injured in 2016, these two left-handed starters have an opportunity (pending health clearance), to drastically change the make-up of the Cardinals roster. Especially considering the uncertainty regarding the return of Jaime Garcia, this offseason will be of the utmost importance for both young prospects. Paired with the return of Lance Lynn, the Cardinals rotation could be scary in 2017. Starting with Tim Cooney, I’ll go into more detail to explain why.
A left-handed starting pitcher out of Wake Forest University, the Cardinals selected Cooney with the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Cooney proceeded to follow a relatively standard path of development, eventually making his major league debut in April of 2015. After posting a solid 3.16 ERA through 6 starts at the big league level, his season was cut short by appendicitis. This year, Cooney sat out the entirety of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury. Prior to his setback, however, Cooney was a viable back-end starter, offering depth and stability. Now, after nearly a year of rest and time to regain strength, Cooney could be back and better than ever.
If that is indeed the case (it remains uncertain), the big lefty could offer a nice change of pace at the back-end of a talented, youthful rotation. Known for his stamina, fabulous strikeout-to-walk ratio, Cooney is perfectly fit to help get the Cardinals defense back on track. Using his precise location and versatile change-up, Cooney has the potential to consistently keep balls on the ground, resulting in an active, focused defensive unit behind him. Although he will most likely start the 2017 season with a brief stay in the minor league system, Cooney seemingly has just what the Cardinals need.
Much the same as Cooney, Marco Gonzales is a highly touted left-handed pitching prospect. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, having played both ways at Gonzaga University. Gonzales, unlike Cooney, flew through the Cardinals system, making his major league debut just over a year after entering the organization. Interestingly, Gonzales made his debut as a replacement for the then injured Jaime Garcia. Moving forward, Gonzales has the potential to be the permanent replacement for Garcia. Sadly, however, Garcia underwent Tommy John surgery, leading him to miss the entire 2016 season.
Moving forward, however, Marco Gonzales still has unbelievable potential. Pending no complications in the remainder of his rehab process (minor league starts included), Gonzales has a chance to come back stronger than ever. Specifically, Gonzales shows command with all 4 pitches. although he is, like Cooney, best known for his change up. Coming from the left side of the hill, Gonzales could offer a nice change of pace from the likes of Martinez, Reyes, and Weaver, keeping the ball in play and letting a (hopefully) improved defense work.
Today was a good day. 2017 ain't ready. 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/EK6jw0JKeY
— Marco Gonzales (@MarcoGonzales_) September 20, 2016
Obviously, the above possibilities hinge upon the health of both pitchers. Furthermore, one must recognize that both will likely spend time rehabbing in the minor leagues Plagued by injury thus far in their careers, it will always remain a concern for both prospects. At the very least, however, the possibility of their return will lead to an atmosphere of competition amongst the Cardinals starting pitchers. In this way, pitchers such as Leake, Wacha, and Wainwright will be pushed from beneath, forced to up their game going into next season.
If all goes well, the Cardinals could be looking at the one of the youngest, deepest rotations in all of baseball. After a 2016 season of average performances, such a change is desperately needed.