Updated: Dec 5, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#28: RHP Austin Love
23 years Old at the start of the season
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2021 draft
Palm Beach and Florida Complex League
I really really really like Austin Love. I’ve decided to be a little more conservative with him on the rankings for the same reason that I’ve been more conservative with all of the 2021 draft picks that I’ve mentioned thus far: I just want to give them time to settle in, and I just need more time to evaluate their tools. Just like with those other players on the list, there is no reason to think that Love couldn’t find himself way up the list by the midpoint of the 2022 season.
What Love is going to need to get there is to start by accumulating innings. Obviously this is a very generic statement, but it’s a large part of the reason why I am being more conservative with him. It was so difficult to truly evaluate MiLB during the 2021 season because of the 2020 shutdown. As difficult as that was, it was even more difficult to evaluate the collegiate talent in 2021 for the same reasons, to me. All of those lost innings need to be recovered. His inning total during the 2021 UNC season was a huge step in the right direction, but it still isn’t enough for me to feel 100% comfortable in evaluating what I’ve seen thus far out of Love. He did have an incredible season for UNC any way that you cut it. What a great third round selection.
Second, Love is going to have to continue to refine his fastball. It can be a somewhat flat pitch that does have a ton of spin, but there is some real concern that this will eventually put him in a relief role long-term. That fastball is also part of the reason why I am on the fence about moving him further up the list, and part of the reason that I just need to see more of him. When I watch that pitch, it looks more effective than it should be. Living in the mid 90’s with his fastball, I think that Love gets away with the flat nature of the pitch because of how well he repeats his release point; a short-arm release point that comes from the ear. I love the quick arm action that comes with his release point, as well, and I think that will continue to help that heater play up. I know that a lot of people smarter than myself grade it much higher than average, and will even go so far as to call it a "plus" pitch. I can see why, I'm just not there yet. Just like with nearly every fastball in the history of the world, Love's fastball is at it's best when he's dialing it up, while being vulnerable when he's unable to get above the low 90's. I'd call in "high-minors average" with a chance to be a lot more.
What I’ve been impressed most with from Love is the development of his breaking pitch. I’ve heard it described as fringy, but it was definitely more than that at the end of the 2021 collegiate season. That slider of his can get a little "floaty" and that causes it to hang, but it has the potential to be more than just an average pitch. If he can gain consistency in burying it outside on righties then he'll take himself to the next level.
The pitch that most scouts seem to love is his changeup, and that’s for good reason: it’s a very good pitch. It's a true plus pitch, and I don't believe that's debatable. You'll see him throw it often to complete the strikeout in the videos embedded within this article. It has incredible depth and fade, and it's made even more deadly because of how much command Love has of it. It's really good against both handed hitters, as well, and I can't get enough of how he's willing and capable of using it against righties.
To me, it’s not just the movement of these two off-speed pitches that makes them as good as they are with the potential of being more. No, it’s the arm angle and repeatability of his motion and release point. The more and more I watch it, the more and more convinced I am that it is incredibly difficult to pick up out of Love's hand. I love that Love has the slider to go after right-handed hitters with and a change that runs away from lefties. It’s a terrific base for potential effectiveness, and it's probably the most important part of what Love does.
I started this article by talking about the need for Love to accumulate innings, and how he was headed in the right direction following the 2021 season. Love is a workhorse with the body of a workhorse, and there's no doubting that. However, another reason why I'm practicing some caution is that UNC pushed Love a little too frequently for my liking during the 2021 season. I feel this way specifically because of the lost 2020 season. The video below is awesome. You'll see all of the awesome things about Love. You'll see his stuff at it's best, his command at it's best, and you'll see the passion and excitement that he brings to the mound. I wanted to make sure to include this video for that reason, but also to tell you that this 15 strikeout performance came in a 130-pitch start. This was the only time that Love got to 130 pitches - or even that close to 130 - but these were high-impact pitches late in the season. He was spectacular, and his last pitch was clocked at 97 to seal the win for UNC. I'm not overly worried about the heavy workload during 2021 for UNC, but it's some context that I'm going to keep in mind moving forward. Now that we are through this concern, watch this bulldog workhorse EAT:
What we have with Austin Love is the foundation of a terrific pitching prospect to keep an eye on. I think that this is who I wanted Tony Locey to be, and I’ve been lazy in comparing the two. Love is substantially more refined in his mechanics, pitching philosophy, command, and his body awareness. The more that I think about it and watch him, Love is what I hoped the 2019 3rd round draft pick Tony Locey would have looked like had the 2020 season been played. Love is just in a little bit better control of himself and his arsenal, and that’s a great 3rd round selection. Maybe it's because he went to UNC, but I see some weird amalgam of Tony Locey and Zac Gallen when I watch Austin Love.
All of this says nothing for the type of young man that Love is. A former honor roll student on Student Council in high school, Love is a tremendous student and a smart kid. This carries over to the diamond, and you can see that his work ethic and understanding of how to attack hitters really shines through.
A more aggressive evaluator would have every right to put Love in the top 20 of their prospect listing. Especially because of how good he was in limited innings after being drafted. Those people that would put him higher up on the list are certainly smarter than I am. However, with a little more time on the mound, it won’t take Love long to work his way into the Dirty Top 20.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
A special shoutout to BASEBALL REFERENCE for the college stats, too. I am grateful that they started to add that to their player profiles.
Once again, a very special thank you and shout out to The Palm Beach Cardinals Twitter page for keeping us updated on the baby birds. We just need this stuff more frequently if MiLB TV isn't going to carry the games.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!