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.
I want to remind 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. 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.
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. 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.
LET'S GET TO IT
I have decided to spend a little time going over the five pitching prospects that I had the most trouble keeping off of The Dirty50. They were all considered, and kept off, for various reasons. I'll get into it in each individual capsule.
They are in no particular order.
LHRP Hayes Heinecke
Age 23 (June Birthday)
Drafted in the 13th Round of the 2021 Draft
Listed at 6'0, 210
Hayes Heinecke has the chance to be a dynamic left-handed option out of the bullpen as he rises up the ranks.
What keeps him off of the list is that he's too old for the levels that he was at during the 2022 season, and that he ended the year on the IL with an injury that I haven't exactly been unable to get a clear answer on. I probably wouldn't be as weird about his age at the level had he been drafted during the 2022 draft instead of the 2021, but I think the extra time in the organization needs to be taken into consideration while considering his age for the level.
There are some clear command issues here, but the only pitch that seems to be vulnerable for Heinecke is his fastball. It's a pretty regular pitch that sits at about 90 MPH. It's capable of getting lesser experienced hitters to swing and chase, but older hitters do more damage against it. In the gif below, you'll notice that he throws with some deception because of where the ball releases within his somewhat funky arm action. As I'm sure you'd suspect, lefties have a tougher time with it than righties. So, here's a gif of him throwing it successfully to a righty!!
Where Heinecke's bread is buttered is with three off-speed pitches that all have a chance to be above-average or better pitches. Both his slider and his curveball are filthy breakers with an incredible amount of spin (both pitches are 2800 RPM pitches) and movement (the curve has 63" of drop and the slider has some wild slide-and-slurve action). His curve is both his best and his primary off-speed offering, but I'd very much like to see him use his slider more because it got whiffs about 66% of the 66 times that he threw it in 2022. It's even more impressive when you see that hitters only chased the pitch about 22% of the time, meaning that it's really damn good and hard to make contact with even when he throws it within the zone.
Heinecke also throws a changeup about as infrequently as he throws his slider, and I'd love to see him use that more, as well. It gets a decent amount of swings and chase, but not a ton of whiffs. I don't really think that I saw much of it in what was available to me through MiLB TV, so I'll hold off getting too deep into it until I see more of it.
I'll be very anxious to see how quickly a healthy Hayes Heinecke can rise through the ranks if he is indeed healthy during the 2023 season. It's safe to say that this young man has BIG-TIME sleeper prospect potential. Heinecke could easily have had a spot on the back quarter of The Dirty50.
RHRP Matt Hickey
Age 24 (May Birthday)
Drafted in the 15th Round of the 2022 Draft
Listed at 6'1, 165
If you, too, are like Old Gregg and you love FUNK, Matt Hickey is the righty for you.
Hickey was old for his level after the Cardinals drafted him in 2022, but that doesn't matter at all (it does) because look at this arm motion!!! I cannot imagine that this is an enjoyable at-bat for any right-handed hitter.
In every imaginable way, Hickey owned these poor Low-A hitters with his funk and his stuff, both of which will get him to AA, at least. From the batter's box, Hickey's sinker appears to rise before falling off the table when he's throwing it low in the zone. As you'll see in the gif below, it gets on a righties hands QUICKLY when he is throwing it in the upper half of the zone. The pitch isn't high velocity, sitting mostly between 94 and 91 during his relief appearances, but it's the right amount of speed and filth to feel like it's going to have continued success up the ladder.
Hickey's primary off-speed offering is his changeup, and I'm disappointed in myself for not having gif'ed it. On average, it comes in about six MPH slower than the sinker, which means that it doesn't get many swings and misses but it does get a lot of weak contact. This is especially true because of how well his arm angle and arm speed tunnel one pitch off of the other, as well as how the movement profile mirrors each other so well. It's not a strikeout pitch, but it's a potentially well above average contact-oriented off-speed offering.
While neither the sinker nor the changeup are strikeout pitches, both his slider and his curve have the chance to be even though he didn't use either that often after the Cardinals drafted him. Hickey's 2600 RPM slider has a chance to be a plus pitch that gets a ton of swing and miss, but it'll need more command to get there. I think that curveball is going to be somewhere between a strikeout pitch and a contact-first pitch, but he'll need to harness his command of that pitch better, as well.
Hickey is another intriguing right-handed relief option that uses deception to help his stuff play a level "up" from where it probably should. I wouldn't be surprised to see him pitching out of the Springfield bullpen by the end of the 2023 season.
RHP Edwin Nuñez
International Free Agent in 2020
Listed at 6'3, 185
No, I do not respect Edwin Nuñez as much as I should as a prospect. I never have and it's not fair to him.
Because of this, I'm going to keep it short.
Nuñez has the worst command of any pitcher that pitched at a full season affiliate during the 2022 season. The flip side of this is that Nuñez has the best stuff of any pitching prospect that pitched at a Cardinals full season affiliate during the 2022 season.
Because of this, it's so difficult to decide what to do with Edwin. Logic tells us that an arm of this caliber definitely deserves a spot on any Top 50 list of the organization. Logic also tells us that someone that is this awful at commanding both his body and his arsenal definitely does not deserve a spot on a Top 50 list.
As I said in one of these write-ups, I think that it's more difficult to teach stuff than command, but I also think that it's more difficult to teach command than a lot of the modern evaluator's tend to think. Because of this, I just can't justify putting Nuñez on my list.
HOWEVER, there could very well come a time when this fireballer and his 98+ MPH heater with big spin and run and movement ends up being the most promising arm in the system. There could very well come a time when this ball-spinning son of a bitch and his potentially plus curveball and slider - both with ideal movement profiles for big strikeout potential - could end up finding his way back on to the national radar. There could very well come a time when Nuñez learns how to control his body and motions and his stuff instead of being erratic and out of control on the mound, and he could end up finding himself on a quick ascent through the system.
At 21 year's old, all of these things could happen. Personally, there isn't a world in which I'd bet on it because of how awful his command of both himself and his stuff is.
RHRP Logan Gragg
Age 25 (August Birthday)
Drafted in the 9th Round of the 2019 Draft
Listed at 6'5, 200
Here's the thing about Logan Gragg: I love Logan Gragg.
Gragg has a weird name and he's kind of a quirky kid and he throws with a little funk and he goes through periods where he can be unhittable and one of the more impressive pitchers in the organization.
Alas, those moments just never last long enough.
At this point in his Minor League journey, this tall and slender righty is 100% a bullpen arm. You'll notice from the stats above that he's more of a contact pitcher than he is a strikeout pitcher. You'll also probably notice that the more advanced hitter's in the Texas League started to turn on his stuff and put it in the air more and that really really really hurt Gragg.
That's because Gragg has the same issue with his command that Michael McGreevy has: he throws strikes but too many that don't matter, leaving a lot in the parts of the plate that older and more advanced hitter's do a tremendous amount of damage against.
Gragg's two best off-speed offerings are his changeup and slider, two pitches that flash well-above average but are more consistently average. The changeup is the better of the two pitches, and he has tremendous feel for that pitch, luckily. In a lot of ways, Gragg's slider can mirror a cutter's movement when he's going outside to righties. Sometimes, Gragg will drop a big curveball on the backdoor to lefties and that pitch has a tendency to freeze less evolved left-handed hitters. It's still a work in progress, but it has a viable use within his arsenal.
Logan Gragg is what you'd get if Michael McGreevy and Luke Weaver had the best sex of their lives with each other and a baby came from it. I guess I'll end it there.
RHP Zane Mills
Age 22 (July Birthday)
Drafted in the 4th Round of the 2021 Draft
Listed at 6'4, 220
ZANE MILLS IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BORING AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
Zane Mills is everything that I hate in a pitcher.
NO. THAT'S NOT FAIR.
I'M JUST KIDDING. For real, Zane Mills is really really talented.
Zane Mills is everything that The "Olds" love about a pitcher. He's a talent similar to Matt Bowman or Seth Maness, for context. Or, maybe better put, he's what will hopefully be the next generation's Matt Bowman or Seth Maness. That would put Mills on the fast-track to being a serviceable right-handed pitcher that will literally (figuratively) strikeout no one and who will get a lot of groundball outs while pitching quick and eating a ton of bullpen innings here and there for three years or so before his arm blows up because a shitty manager over-used him because the shitty manager is, has, and always will be a shitty manager.
Well, I guess the good news for Mills is that he won't have Mike Matheny managing the Cardinals if he does eventually make a Major League debut.
All of this jackassery aside, Mills has a pretty great sinker/change combo that limits a lot of damage and gets a ton of groundballs. The changeup is easily his best off-speed offering, and it's a good combo of a pitch that he can get weak contact with and that he can also get strikeouts and whiffs with. Mills also throws a slider and a curve, with the slider having a chance to be an above average offering. His curve has the chance to be an average offering, too, if he can find more consistency with the location of that pitch. Mills mixes the velocities up between 93 MPH on the high end with his fastball/sinker and 77 MPH on the low end with his curve, while his change and slider velocities fall somewhere in between. I do love when he lets that sinker go all front-door on a lefty.
The honest deal with Mills is that he deserves to be on The Dirty50-proper because of how good he was in 2022. In addition, Mills will almost certainly make a Major League debut by the end of the 2024 season. It's just that, man, there's nothing sexy about the way that he does it other than how he grows out his mustache. The good news is, one man's "boring" is another man's "quickened pace of play". I do love that extremely free and easy throwing motion of his.
To end this post, 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:
THE CARDINAL NATION (Subscribe to the damn site, dummies)
KAREEM AND CARDINALS REEKS TOP 12
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis