The Kids are Playing
For the better part of the last few years, many fans have wanted to give playing time to some of the kids. "Let the kids play" has been their moniker. While that's easier said than done, it seems like John Mozeliak and company are more inclined to do just that. Maybe it's due to player injuries. Maybe it's due to poor performances by veterans. Maybe it's due to outstanding performances in the minor leagues by the youngsters. I'm sure it's a combination of all the above. This season, we have already seen a few of the youngsters be promoted to St. Louis. Let's take a look at how they got here, how they're doing, and are they here to stay.
Andre Pallante entered the season as the Cardinals 15th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. While he wasn't one of the well known prospects, he certainly opened eyes in Spring Training. With the expanded rosters to begin the season, Pallante earned a spot in the Cardinals bullpen. Initially, many, myself included, thought he would be sent down once the calendar turned to May and the rosters reduced to 26. Boy was I wrong. As of this writing, Pallante has made 14 appearances (18.2 IP), 4 holds, and has only allowed 2 earned runs, which means he holds an ERA of 0.96! Pallante has become one of the more trusted relievers in the bullpen. While he's been primarily the 6th or 7th inning reliever, he has also seen some time in some more higher leverage situations in the 8th inning. He's not a big strikeout guy but has a very high groundball rate, which is something the front office has been focused on in their pitchers. As long as he continues to get guys out, he's here to stay. Don't be surprised to see him continue as the go to 7th inning guy, bridging the gap to get to Ryan Helsley and/or Giovanny Gallegos.
Donovan was called up toward the end of April when the Cardinals demoted Lars Nootbaar. Donovan has been a Daniel Descalso type player, playing anywhere and everywhere he is asked. Literally, he's played everywhere except CF, LF, C, & P. They've done that because they want to keep his bat in the lineup since he's hitting a slash line of .319/.467/.489. When the Cardinals demoted Paul DeJong, Donovan has seen a lot of time at short. With Gorman up, more on him later, he may see less time in the infield. Personally, I think Donovan is a type of player you want on your bench, much like Descalso was. I don't see him being sent down any time soon.
Coming into Spring Training, many were expecting Yepez to make the Opening Day roster as our main DH. That was until the Cardinals signed some Joe Schmo named Albert Pujols (sarcasm people, don't come after me). Yepez was sent to Memphis where he was mashing. In 22 games, he hit 9 home runs, 26 RBI, and slashed .279/.323/.651. Edmundo Sosa was placed on the Covid-IL, which prompted the Cardinals to bring up their #6 prospect in Yepez. Yepez has primarily played the corner outfield spots, but has also given Goldschmidt a break at 1B here and there. In 17 games, Yepez hasn't missed a beat. He is currently slashing .303/.384/.492 with 3 round trippers and 6 RBI. He has been batting either 4th or 5th, so the Cardinals think highly of his bat and production. He has added a little oomph that has seemed to be missing early on from guys like Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Paul DeJong. As long as Yepez continues to hit, even when O'Neill returns from injury (more on this in a moment), I don't see how they can send Yepez back to Memphis.
When news came out that Paul DeJong was being demoted to Memphis, many thought this was going to be Nolan Gorman. It wasn't. Kramer Robertson got the call, mainly because was already on the 40-man roster. Robertson is a former 1st round pick but has struggled a bit in the minors. Robertson only saw time in 2 games before being demoted back to Memphis. I don't see him coming back up unless injuries to one of our infielders occur.
I'm not 100% certain if this is a true injury or one of those "phantom" take some time off and rest injuries, but the Cardinals placed LF Tyler O'Neill on the 10-day IL with a right shoulder impingement. That certainly could be the reason why O'Neill is hitting below .200 with a negative WAR. All season, fans have been clamoring to bring up Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals #2 prospect. Personally, I have been a little hesitant on him as I would like to see him cut down his K-rate. I'm on record on here stating that I think Gorman's ceiling is Joey Gallo. Nevertheless, the front office doesn't care what I think and call up Gorman anyway. Let me say, that I do not think he's a bad player at all. I just think he's going to put up a lot of power, not a great average, and a lot of Ks. Fans I think need to temper their expectations of him a bit. Gorman debuted Friday in Pittsburgh and hit a seeing eye single to right field through the shift. That was hit lone hit of the game, but Gorman also had some hard contact in his other at bats as well, including a deep fly out to RF. A bright spot for me to go along with the hard contact, he didn't strike out and he drew a walk. Fast forward to the end of the weekend, he only struck out once, had 5 hits, including 2 doubles, walked twice and drove in a run in 10 at bats. Solid start! Now, this was against the Pirates, but you need to perform well in the games where you're supposed to, so this was certainly a good sign. If he continues this pace, and shows his power more, the Cardinals are going to have some very hard decisions to make once O'Neill returns.
What's cool about Liberatore and Gorman both coming up, is that they have been friends since they were little. Now, Liberatore was only brought up for a spot start, as he was sent back to Memphis after his start on Saturday. Liberatore is the Cardinals #3 prospect and many are hoping he does well given that he was traded for Randy Arozarena, who took the league by storm in the 2020 playoffs and won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2021. Liberatore was less than spectacular. He failed to make it out of the 5th as he was hit hard, giving up 5 extra base hits, including a Bryan Reynolds home run, all while throwing 88 pitches. As I mentioned, the Cardinals used one of Liberatore's five options by sending him back to Memphis after the game. That seemed to be the right move as they called up Angel Rondon. Rondon came in to pitch to the first batter of Sunday's game after Steven Matz left after 4 pitches with left shoulder stiffness. I would think if Matz requires a stay on the 15-day IL, Liberatore will be right back up, but more should be known today. Health of other pitchers will determine Liberatore's 2022. While the Cardinals can only option him 5 times, I wouldn't be surprised if they use all 5.
Is there anyone else that could be called up? Dylan Carlson is currently day to day but could see time on the IL. A name to keep an eye on would be Alec Burelson. In his first year in the minors in 2021, Burelson saw time in all three levels of the Minors (High-A Peoria, AA Springfield, & AAA Memphis) as he couldn't stop hitting. This year in Memphis, he hasn't slowed down as he is hitting .321, 9 home runs, 30 RBI. The Cardinals would need to clear a spot on the 40 man roster for him, but they cleared spots for Gorman and Liberatore. However, the more likely guy to be called up is going to be Lars Nootbaar. Nootbaar struggled when given time in April. After his demotion, Nootbaar has dealt with a knee injury which kept him out for nearly 2 weeks. He came returned late last week and hit 3 home runs in Sunday's win over Gwinnett.
Update at 12:07pm: Cardinals have announced that Carlson and Matz are put on the IL. Liberatore and Nootbaar recalled. Rondon also optioned with Junior Fernandez recalled.
It's refreshing to see that Mozeliak seems more apt to promote the prospects. If some of these veterans continue to be unproductive, I wouldn't be surprised if they continue to roll with the kids. Are you excited to see these guys finally in the big leagues? Thanks for reading and Go Cards!