TCN 2016 Cardinals Prospect #4: Luke Weaver

St. Louis’ 2014 first-rounder passed his High-A and Arizona Fall League tests and seems ready for Double-A.

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

School: Florida State University

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
9 RHS 08,21,93 6-2 175 R R 2014 1st

Selected 2015 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG G/AO BABIP
PB 8 5 1.62 2.28 19 19 0 105.1 98 19 2 19 88 0.247 0.92 0.303
                                 
AFL 2 1 3.72 4.67 7 2 0 19.1 12 8 3 4 18 0.171 1.00 0.184

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (4): During the community vote, Luke Weaver finished as the 4th highest rated player as well, just ahead of left-handed pitcher Tim Cooney. Forsch31 posted that when comparing Weaver with a pitcher like Jack Flaherty, Flaherty certainly has the higher ceiling, but Weaver has a higher floor. SoonerinNC countered saying he thinks the potential for either pitcher is about the same.

MagnoliaCardFan chimed in noting that an opinion he has heard of Weaver is that his frame is not one that will add many more pounds, which could be detrimental to his development. Last year, there was a lot of disagreement about Weaver after his disastrous three innings in Palm Beach. I noted last year that Weaver may take a similar path to the majors as Marco Gonzales, but may do so with a little more seasoning at each level, which seemed to be the plan this year since he wasn’t promoted to Class AA Springfield. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (4): Weaver's heavy workload before his draft from Florida State University preempted an initial impression in his initial year with the Cardinals. Then, the former first-round pick didn't make his 2015 debut until May 14th because of continued fatigue with questions surrounding his physicality and durability.

However, Weaver answered the bell and made every start after missing the first month and half of 2015. The right-hander had some low-pitch games early but built up stamina and he erased doubts by posting sub-1.00 ERA marks in July and August. Overall he went 8-5 W-L, with 1.62 in 19 starts with an 88-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 98 hits allowed. The Deland, Florida native made up for lost time with an additional 19 1/3 innings pitched in the Arizona Fall League and gained more supporters as a result.

"Luke Weaver was one of the best pitchers in the league, in my honest opinion," said former pro scout and MLBPipeline prospect writer Bernie Pleskoff. "He throws up to 97 with a fabulous change-up as an out pitch. His slider is his third best pitch. Weaver keeps the ball down in the zone; he's a flyball pitcher but from weak contact. The hitters just don't center the ball on him. He's a stud, and he'll be a rotation starter someday.”

One question is whether Weaver can develop his slider into a serviceable pitch. Pleskoff offers his perspective.

"I think the slider is the pitch that has to be perfect before he's considered for the rotation,” the former scout said. “He can work in relief with his fastball and changeup combination, but he has work to do on his slider. Much has to do with gaining confidence in using the pitch at any count and having that third pitch in his arsenal. I think he doesn't have faith in the slider yet; he will."

While scouts are skeptical about Weaver's thin frame as a starting pitcher, he is athletic which allows him to repeat his delivery well. He also has plus arm speed with a loose arm that helps him generate easy mid-90s velocity at peak as he pitches aggressively off a deceptive changeup that receives grades as a plus offering as well. Also, Weaver improved his curveball that has 12-6 action, and it is supposedly more consistent than his slider. Ultimately, he can throw both of them for strikes.

I am glad Weaver got a taste of better competition in the Arizona Fall League after spending his regular season as a polished pitcher against High-A hitters. Had he showed up to spring training at full health, he probably would have pitched at Double-A Springfield in 2015. But, he has a strong one-two punch in his fastball/changeup combo and once he refines a more reliable breaking ball, then it will be off to the races as far his ascent.

The consensus seems to place him as an excellent back-end starter, but Weaver could also profile as a three-starter with effectiveness of breaking ball and fastball dictating his ceiling and development. If worse comes to worse, he has a relatively high floor and could be a super useful swingman out of the bullpen or spot-starter. Weaver is poised to open in the Double-A Springfield rotation next year.

Brian Walton (4): For the first time in this top 40 countdown, we all agree on the placement of a prospect.

That Weaver suffered shoulder discomfort and opened the season on the disabled list turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By missing that first month and a half, he went on to toss just 105 1/3 innings during the Florida State League schedule, from where he earned The Cardinal Nation’s nod as Palm Beach Starting Pitcher of the Year.

As a result of the lower than expected workload, the Cardinals assigned Weaver to the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase. There, he performed well against advanced competition, both starting and relieving.

Weaver made two starts in seven fall league appearances, holding opposing batters to a .171 batting average overall. His 3.72 ERA was due in part to two inopportune home runs and hit batsmen. Overall, the right-hander was ranked 17th on the top 20 Post-AFL Top Prospect list from MLB.com.

As the inset photo above hints, I share the concerns with others about Weaver’s slender build. At age 22, though a listed 6-foot-2 in height, Weaver weighs just 170 pounds. Yet the larger action photo indicates his gangly stature can be an advantage, too.

I spoke with a scout who likes Weaver for a number of good reasons - his pitchability, repeatability, command and make up. His primary concern seemed to be unsureness about whether Weaver could pitch effectively up in the zone when needed.

Though velocity was specifically not mentioned as a strength of Weaver by the talent evaluator, the right-hander seems to have found his lost gas from his sophomore year in college. During the regular season, Weaver was pitching in the low 90’s, topping out at 95 mph, but hit 97 regularly in Arizona.

In November, I asked him what was behind the increased velocity. It turns out that his AFL role played into it.

“You never know what you are going to get every day,” Weaver said. “This situation out here – and especially in coming out of the pen – is a little different. As a starter, you come out with a game plan. You look to establish your pitches and not try to waste it in an inning or so.

“Coming out of the pen, throwing maybe three (innings) at max, I get a little giddy that first inning, coming out firing. The next couple of innings, it kind of slows down for me and I’ve got to pitch.

“It is definitely a different atmosphere coming out of the bullpen. It is all a part of being versatile and finding that middle ground – to try to get all the pitches working the same for multiple innings.”

(Note: A link to the full interview, an exclusive for The Cardinal Nation members, is listed below.)

The decision to have Weaver work from the bullpen initially in Arizona was based on each organization getting just one starter, with that berth going to Alex Reyes. Weaver both starting and relieving effectively is something to definitely file away for the future.

Gary LaRocque, St. Louis director of player development, liked Weaver’s deployment in the AFL.

“They always like to have pitchers who are capable of spot starting where needed,” LaRocque said. “This fits very well for Luke because if you look at where he was back in April and early May in the extended program, because we wanted to ensure we built his arm up first. So he didn’t have all those innings logged in. It is just right for him to add and supplement with the fall league innings.”

Having spent the entire 2015 season with Palm Beach followed by the successful AFL stint would seem to position Weaver perfectly to step into the Double-A Springfield rotation this April. Anything less would be a disappointment.

Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.



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