These days, when you think of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, you think pitching. At the major league level, their 2015 rotation had the lowest ERA by a full quarter of a run at 2.99. When pitchers go down to injury, the Cardinals seem to be able to find another to cover those innings and succeed. The farm system’s strength is in its arms. And a good portion of that has been the Cardinals’ selection of college pitchers in the draft.
In 2015, 40 percent of their rotation was made up of college pitchers they drafted in the first round: Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. Their two starting pitching prospects nearest the majors, Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney, were first- and third-round college picks, respectively. Another first-rounder, Luke Weaver, turned in an impressive first full professional season and should move quickly through the system. Lesser-heralded prospects such as Daniel Poncedeleon, Austin Gomber, Arturo Reyes and Trey Nielsen have impressed in various ways and could provide value to the big league club in the future.
As the 2016 Draft approaches, here are three college right-handed pitchers who could be fits for the Cardinals’ first-round selection.
Burdi is the younger brother of Minnesota Twins’ prospect Nick Burdi, who looks to become the Twins’ future closer thanks to his cannon arm. The younger Burdi has similar arm strength and looks like he will be able to stick in a future rotation. He possesses a 75-grade fastball that has touched 101 mph and routinely sits in the upper-90s. Although he spent the last two years in the bullpen, his delivery and athleticism are smooth enough that he should be able to handle the transition into the rotation this spring.
Along with his elite fastball, Burdi throws an impressive slider that still needs some work as it can get slurvy, but when it is on, it is a plus pitch. He has not had to use it much pitching from the pen, but his changeup flashes at least average and could become a strong offering with more refinement. If Burdi can consistently throw his fastball and slider for strikes and his changeup develops, he has the ability to turn into a #2 starter similar to Carlos Martinez with high velocity and a wipeout breaking ball.
If it turns out that Burdi cannot handle the innings of the rotation or his offspeed offerings don’t develop, he can still become an elite weapon in the bullpen that could take over for Trevor Rosenthal once he hits free agency.
Burdi videos from Scout.com
Tyler’s fastball grades out as a plus-plus pitch, but that grade is based more on his ability to use it than the pure velocity of Burdi. Tyler sits 92-95 mph and has hit the upper-90s, and he is able to get a good downward plane on his fastball that allows him to sink and run his pitch in on right-handed hitters. His ability to command his fastball down in the zone with mid-90s velocity should allow him to induce weak contact consistently.
Tyler’s two offspeed offerings are definitely behind his fastball, but they have shown some impressive ability. His curveball has good depth and power to it, and his changeup features some sink. But, his mechanics need to be smoothed out, and the Cardinals’ organization has worked well with fixing mechanics. If the Cardinals could improve his consistency, his secondary pitches should refine as a result. Tyler has, however, missed time each of the last three seasons due to injury, which may be a result of rushing his pitches and his mechanics falling apart.
With development on his mechanics, Tyler could turn into a solid #3 starter in the mold of Lynn, who relies on his fastball over 85% of the time. If not, he would certainly be able to slot into a late-inning relief role, assuming he stays healthy.
Tyler pitching in 2015
Some call it a slider, others call it a cutter. Either way, Hudson has a dangerous weapon in his arsenal against batters. The 6-foot-5 Bulldog’s best pitch has cutter velocity in the upper-80s that has touched 92 with slider break that cuts sharply in and under the hands of a left-handed batter. Hudson doesn’t have just one pitch though; his arm strength lets him consistently sit 92-94 mph, and he has touched 97. He spent last season as a reliever for Mississippi State, so he relied mainly on those two pitches. Transitioning into the rotation this spring, Hudson has worked with teammate Austin Sexton on adding a changeup, a pitch Hudson claims he threw at most three times last season. Hudson is now throwing his changeup at 82 mph, a significant change of speeds from his fastball.
Hudson’s issue the last two seasons has been his command; he issued 19 walks in 34 innings over two seasons for a 5.03 BB/9. However, that appears to have been fixed. Mississippi State pitching coach Wes Johnson noticed how Hudson was throwing his fastball, changeup, and slider from three different arm slots. To refine his approach, Hudson started with his slider arm slot and moved his fastball and changeup to match. With his arm slot figured out, Hudson had a breakout campaign in the Cape Cod League, where he threw 42 2/3 innings with 41 strikeouts, eight walks, and a 1.69 ERA.
If his mechanics have indeed been synchronized, Hudson has the ability to develop into a poor man’s Chris Archer. Hudson should become a strong mid-rotation starter, but continued development of his command with his fastball/slider combination could become devastating to opposing batters.
Hudson interview from 2013
Next: Check back at The Cardinal Nation for Scott Schook’s next article in his series of previews leading up to the 2016 First-Year Player Draft, all exclusively for TCN members!
Related article for TCN members: 2016 Cardinals Draft Preview #1: Third Base
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