Gast was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2007's fifth round shortly after having undergone Tommy John surgery, but did not sign. After three years at Florida State University, St. Louis selected him in the sixth round of this June's draft.
To his benefit, Gast, a junior, signed relatively quickly compared to some of the other pitching headliners the Cardinals selected and reported in pitching shape. He joined the Muckdogs in time to make his first start on July 14.
His manager, Dann Bilardello, liked what he saw from the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from the very beginning.
"They all should be ready (to pitch)," Bilardello observed. "I think that comes down to ability. John was at a very good program at Florida State. He just came off the College World Series so he had pitched in some big games and been a part of some big games and I think that was a help to him. His overall confidence in his ability and his ability to pitch just magnifies the success he had."
Success it was. In the final six weeks of the regular season, Gast went undefeated, getting wins in six of his eight regular-season starts. He logged an impressive 36-to-8 strikeout to walk ratio over 35 innings. Gast's WHIP was 1.00 and he posted a .227 batting average and a 1.54 ERA. His ground ball outs to fly ball outs was a solid 1.73-to-1 ratio.
"John was outstanding," Bilardello said. "He has good stuff. He has a really good make up to be a good pitcher. He's got three pitches that are very good so the stuff is there. He's got a fastball with late life that can be an out pitch at times. He's got a very good changeup that goes either way. That can be an out pitch at times. And there's his breaking ball. That is a huge advantage to have a pitcher with three pitches that he can go to at any time to get somebody out."
Cardinals senior field instructor Mark DeJohn also commented on Gast's offerings.
"Gast is a real interesting guy," DeJohn observed. "He's got pretty good stuff. I like him a lot. He was throwing 90, 91, 92. His fastball is pretty darned good. An excellent changeup. He needs to improve his breaking ball. But he throws strikes and has one hellacious move to first. You go, ‘Here's a lefty with a move!' He's a guy that everyone is excited about."
In an interesting observation, his manager saw Gast more ready than some of the players behind him.
"John pitched at a more mature level than we were playing at," Bilardello said. "When he came in, he was not flustered by anything. If you really looked at him during the year, he didn't have too many bad outings."
In a bit of a surprise, Gast did struggle in the Muckdogs' post-season opener, yielding seven runs, all earned, on nine hits and a walk over five innings. He got into trouble early with six of the seven runs coming via a pair three-run first-inning home runs, but kept at it in a move that perhaps garnered as much admiration as did his previous winning.
"I felt, and (Muckdogs pitching coach) Ace (Adams) did, and I think our whole team, to give up those runs early in the first, we thought "Ok, that is it," Bilardello recalled. "They came through with another a couple of innings later but one thing about him is that his presence on the mound is mature. You can't tell whether he is in trouble or not in trouble. That is a good quality to have for a pitcher. He demonstrated that all year.
"He had a lot of success and that game really showed me a lot, even through an adverse time, it showed me a little bit about what type of person he is and what type of competitor he is. That is where he earned respect from his teammates. He certainly earned respect from the coaching staff. I'd rather have it a different way, but it was pretty impressive that he acted the way he did and still compete," the manager said.
DeJohn was also in attendance for Gast's playoff start. Like the manager, DeJohn saw a lot of good in the rough outing.
"I saw him pitch twice," De John said. "I saw him pitch really well and I saw him pitch in a playoff game when his performance was not good. I still like the kid a lot because he was just composed. You would never know he gave up like six runs or something. You wouldn't know it. He just kept pitching, kept pitching, kept battling. He ended up pitching five or six innings and it didn't affect him."
If Bilardello has anything to say about it, the organization will keep Gast in a starting berth going forward.
"I think that starting is his role," Bilardello said. "Anybody that has three pitches has got to be a starter. I would definitely keep him in that role. I think he is going to be. I think he has the chance to… he still has to keep doing it and move up at every level but with the stuff that he has, I think he has a real good chance of a very long and bright future."
The fact that Gast is an emerging left-hander in a system that is short of top-line talent in that area is an acknowledged bonus.
"Left handed pitchers and catchers, they are at a premium," the manager observed. "When you get them, you've got to hang on to them. He is one that I know the organization is very high on."
Bilardello acknowledges that Gast pitching a partial campaign in short-season ball is a relatively-brief introduction, but saw enough to be optimistic about his future.
"It wasn't like he had a huge barometer, like he had 30 starts. But what you saw of the chances he had, you've got to be very excited about him. I am looking forward to seeing him pitch at a full-season club next year," Bilardello said in closing.
Congratulations to John Gast, The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Minor League Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2010.
Note: Link to article with all previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2010 team recaps, exclusively for subscribers.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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