Full disclosure – I never was the biggest Sam Tuivailala fan. Always billed as a hard-throwing righty who could eventually assume the closer’s role, the guy just never missed enough bats for me. When he came up he had a walk rate upwards of 12% and you could kind of brush that off as him being young but this persisted throughout his first 3 partial years in the league and you could kind of brush that off as him being young but he never even really had particularly high strikeout rates in the minors. I kept wondering if he was ever going to really figure it out.
Last year he did fairly well in 42.1 innings, giving up just 35 hits and walking just 11, but he still only struck just 34. In this day and age, a reliever with a K rate under 20% just isn’t going to be able to be counted on consistently in the late innings. In 2018, Tui actually went backwards a little, with more hits than innings pitched and a strikeout rate that had fallen to 18%. He certainly wasn’t the biggest problem the Cards’ bullpen had – not by a long shot – but it was equally clear that he wasn’t the solution.
So Tui yesterday was jettisoned to the Great Northwest for minor league reliever Seth Elledge. There’s a lot to like about this trade from the Cardinals’ perspective. Elledge was a 4th round pick in 2017 out of Dallas Baptist where he was their closer. Just a cursory look at his first year in the minors shows that Elledge has the potential to be a very solid pickup.
Elledge began his pro career at low-A Clinton where he simply dominated hitters to the tune of a 44% K rate and a 12.5% BB rate. He was promoted one level (the Mariners have 3 Class A teams) at the end of last season where he again struck out more than 40% of the batters he faced, walking just 7%. This season Elledge was again promoted, this time to high-A Modesto, and has pretty much picked up where he left off last season, with a 36% K rate and a 10% walk rate. Elledge has also been able to maintain ground ball rates of 66.7%, 39.0%, and 50% at the 3 minor league stops on his resume. According to Jen Langosch, the Cardinals have immediately optioned Elledge to AA Springfield.
Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com recently updated their pre-season prospect lists and had him listed as Seattle’s #10 prospect. They’ve moved him over to the Cards’ list where he’s listed as our #21 prospect –- clearly speaking to the depth of the Cards’ system. You can see their write-up on him below.
Before the season started, Fangraphs listed Elledge in their “others of note” in the Seattle system. Eric Longenhagen also wrote some good things about Elledge and just about 3 weeks ago in a chat called him a "quick moving reliever."
The 3 scouting reports are pretty similar about Elledge and his potential. He throws hard, in the 93-96 range with his fastball, and his secondary pitch is a slider. He’s got good size (6’3”, 230) and can throw both his pitches consistently for strikes. He also has a changeup that grades as a 50 but he doesn’t really need it in his relief role. His money pitch appears to be the fastball that has heavy sink and he can locate consistently at the bottom of the zone.
His stats seem to be pretty consistent with the scouting reports. His relatively low walk rate illustrates his ability to command his pitches and the high ground ball rate speaks to his ability to pound the bottom of the zone and the corners with a good, hard fastball. I also asked our resident expert, Kyle Reis, for where he would put Elledge in his list of Cards’ prospects and he was hesitant to say anything definitive about him, having never really seen him and because he is just a middle reliever.
So Elledge probably isn’t going to be a rock star for us but his ability to command his pitches and get outs through K’s and ground balls gives him the potential to move through the system relatively quickly. He’s a guy who can provide some depth in an area where it is desperately needed. Before the season started, Sickels had Elledge’s ETA as 2020 but considering the success he’s had so far in 2018, the Cards’ bullpen issues this season, and the fact that the Cards are starting him at AA, I would surmise that his timetable is being moved up. If he continues to pitch well, I would expect to see him in St. Louis in 2019 and, in fact, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he was promoted in September. Of course, if that happens, it probably means that someone else got hurt or at least one of those recently promoted didn’t get the job done.
Thanks to mlb.com, minorleagueball.com, fangraphs, and baseball-reference for all the stats and scouting reports. Thanks to @cardinalsgifs for the great pic of Elledge on short notice and thanks to you all for reading.