(Baseball StL) -- The 2014 starting pitcher derby has begun.
Or at least the preliminaries.
With Jake Westbrook on a one year, $8 million contract and the Cardinals with a wealth of young arms, it is clear Westbrook will not be re-signed. That means one of the many Cardinal youngsters will get a chance to become the fifth starter in 2014.
With Westbrook currently on the 15-day disabled list, it gives the Birds a chance to look at a couple of youngsters who may compete for a starting role if they so choose. They just promoted John Gast from AAA Memphis where he started the year with 29 innings with no earned runs. He is set to get his first taste of the major leagues with a start Tuesday.
Expect the Cardinals to use this opportunity and similar opportunities to further evaluate their young talent and position themselves for the future.
Let’s handicap the contestants.
Even money for the fifth starter (at least right now) would be Joe Kelly, who filled in admirably last year during Cardinal injuries. He has a plus fastball at about 97 mph but tends to get too much of the plate, at least coming out of the bullpen. Batters hit him hard during the Pittsburgh series and he’s had trouble staying out of trouble. But starting is a whole different story and Kelly could develop into a very solid middle of the rotation guy.
About a 3-1 shot is Trevor Rosenthal, a power pitcher who has had mixed success as a set-up man. A quick examination of his minor league stats would seem to discount him as a serious possibility. He was about .500 as a starter and although he had a ton of strikeouts, he also gave up a lot of hits and hit a lot of batters, at least early. But remember something; he was in single A ball two years ago. Last year, he was promoted to AA, then AAA, then the big club. This guy has been getting remarkably better every year. I like him as a starter in another year or two. He prefers starting, has the strength and is gaining enough command of his pitches to win that spot. But a guy who can hit 100 mph is a powerful weapon in the bullpen.
At 7-1 is Gast, a promising youngster (only 24 this season) who was drafted by Texas in 2007 and did not sign until the Cardinals drafted him in 2010. After giving up no earned runs in his first 29 innings, he struggled in his last two outings with his control and has an ERA of 5 over those two starts. He is not ready for prime time this year and the Cards know to be careful that they don’t “Ankiel” him by pushing him too far too fast.
10-1 is Michael Wacha, one of the most impressive youngsters in the system. He progressed further and faster than anyone expected and got everyone’s attention in spring training. He is also at AAA Memphis where he has improved steadily. But at 21 and only a year out of college, there’s no reason to rush him. His control has been a bit of an issue early (13 walks in 40 innings) but he has held hitters to a sub.-200 batting average. (Below the Mendoza line and if you are a regular reader you know all about that).
15-1 is Carlos Martinez. Another huge arm (97mph) but very young (21 years old). He also essentially made the jump from AA Springfield after virtually no spring training because of visa issues. He has done well for the Cards out of the pen but was a starter at Springfield where he had 67 Ks and 23 walks in 83 innings with an ERA under 3.