Updated: Feb 14
THIS IS THE PROSPECT PREAMBLE.
Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.
I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.
Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry) and Mr. Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.
I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.
The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.
Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:
KAREEM AND CARDINALS REEKS TOP 12
THIS HAS GONE ON TOO LONG. LET'S. GO.
RHP AUSTIN LOVE
Drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2021 Draft
Listed at 6'3, 232
My SCORCHING HOT TAEK is that Austin Love might be the pitching prospect that we see at that Major League level during the 2023 season that we aren't even talking about having that potential as we enter spring training.
Moreover, I think that Austin Love has the chance to be an absolutely DYNAMIC relief option in the long-term with immediate impact on the horizon. I worry about him as a starter but I have no doubts or worries about Austin Love as a Major League reliever.
And I am 100% confident in that assessment.
I've been quick to pigeon hole my concerns with the trajectory that Gordon Graceffo is on with the trajectory that Ryan Helsley went through, which is to say a starter with starting stuff but octane to be cast off into the bullpen as an important piece based on opportunity for years and years. In a lot of ways, Austin Love is the happy medium between the two. Austin Love is what everyone other than me viewed Ryan Helsley as way back when he was a prospect: a flawed starter that could be a great bullpen piece. I think that Love has the stuff to be a starter, but I also don't think that it does the Cardinals any good to get cute with Love now, especially if the pen and starter arms at AAA, and the pen arms at the MLB level, falter ahead of this righty.
Real quick, how are you not exhausted reading this stuff?!?! I'm so exhausted writing what is in my brain... I can't imagine the pain that you feel reading it or trying to read it or skimming it or WHATEVER. The only reasonable answer is that you hate yourself as much as I hate myself. Anyway, let's keep going!!! (CRIES)
So I guess the reckoning that I'm facing as I write this in the stream of consciousness way that I do is, that what I am banking on with being this aggressive with Love is a pitcher capable of covering very valuable and late innings for a Major League bullpen once fully developed. I'm banking that Love will rediscover that consistent mid-to-high 90's heater to pair with a sometimes brilliant slider and flashing plus changeup if thrust into a pen role. He's shown the sporadic ability to do all of these things while starting during the 2022 season, so I feel extra confident that this is something that he wouldn't have trouble doing out of a bullpen.
I'm reckoning with the fact that his kid - this workhorse that I was quick to be extra cautious with one year ago as I ranked him in the 25-30 range because I wanted to see where his season would go after being a little abused by UNC - still has a starter's future if he can continue to refine a four-seam that he throws about 93 MPH with decent spin and movement profile, but needs a more refined arsenal against lefties to be the pitch it's a capable of being.
Because, ultimately, his starting future is going to come down to how he handles lefties. I've been quick to hammer hitters that struggle against lefties in these rankings so far, and I have to do it again with Love. There isn't a world in which he's going to be able to get away with putting righties on 41% of the time or allowing a .502 slugging percentage against them. With Love, I'm banking that the big numbers that he allowed to lefties will be course corrected, and for a couple of reasons.
For the first few months of the season, Love hardly threw anything other than the four-seam and slider, and boy did I hate that. In college, you could see that his changeup had a chance to be a special pitch. I hated to see that he wasn't using it (or wasn't able to use it for whatever reason...), and I firmly believe that some of Love's early season struggles came because lefties were able to sit on either the slider or heater how they saw fit. Which, of course, says nothing for the poor batted ball luck against Love, particularly by lefties and late in the season once he was using his changeup more frequently. When he did use it early in the season, like you'll see in the gif below, it was a strikeout pitch.
The highly debatable part of Love's game and potential comes in the talk of his command. I don't think it's as "bad" as it's being labeled, but it's certainly an area that he is going to have to improve. In addition to the heater, slider, and change, Love throws a curve and a sinker, but he doesn't throw either all that frequently. I think that it would do Love a great deal of good to continue to work on the sinker so that it can be a more formidable pitch against lefties. At Winter Warm Up, we heard Michael McGreevy talk about implementing a cutter to keep lefties off of the rest of his arsenal. I think that there is reason to believe that this could also do Love quite a bit of good, but in a more effective way because of how Love's four-seam and slider play off of each other.
I would not have Austin Love as the 12th best prospect in the Cardinals organization if I was ready to write him off as a starter, so neither should you and neither should the Cardinals (I doubt that they will or would, anyway). However, I do think that Austin Love is going to be a difference maker in the bullpen on the current track that he is on. His slider/heater combo is good enough to get righties out at an impressive clip as-is, and with added command he won't have trouble relying on either pitch at the next levels. Love is going to need to continue to refine and toy with his arsenal to get the best of left-handed hitters, but I believe that the increased use and feel for his changeup will aid this greatly, as would the continued development of a sinker or cutter. I don't think it's a surprise that we was Love post a FIP of .372 while holding hitters to a batting average against of .241 while striking out 28% and walking 9.8% of the 328 batter's that he faced over his last 14 starts. That selective time period starts with his June 15th start in which he allowed seven hits and five earned runs over 3.2 innings pitched. The short of the long is that Love became a different pitcher when he was able to use his change more often, and that pitcher is good enough to be a top 15 prospect in the Cardinals organization on a starter's trajectory, at least.
He may have ended the season a level lower than Michael McGreevy, but Austin Love's tools are much louder than McGreevy's are. At least, as currently constructed. What McGreevy lacks in stuff - specifically with his fastball and sinker - he makes up in (over-evaluated) command, and what Love lacks in command - with his fastball and slider - he makes up in (what I'm over-evaluating) stuff. Like with McGreevy, Love has shown the ability to be a durable work horse that is capable of adding strength and muscle to his frame. Love is also a bulldog of an athlete and competitor, and he wants the ball when the game is on the line. Austin Love undoubtedly pitches with that fire on the mound that I crave out of a pitching prospect.
I can't wait to see which direction Love's prospects shake during the 2023 season. A year ago he was a prospect that I was very cautious towards. This year he's a prospect that I'm bullish on. This is why I love this stuff so damn much.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis