THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Seth Elledge - Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Acquired from Seattle for Sam Tuivailala
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
This is the story of a big-bodied right-hander with a promising future in the bullpen, even if he doesn't have prototypical velocity for that role. This is also the story of what happens when you trade a player on your 40-man roster for a a younger, more polished version of that same player.
This is also a rare story of a purely relief pitching option that's found his way onto the Dirty Thirty-Five. Until recently, purely relief pitcher in the minor leagues had the slightest of chances to ever make the majors. That's just how it worked. The VAST majority of relief pitchers in the majors are, and have always been, failed starters. Almost always, that meant that minor league relief pitchers were usually the types that just didn't have enough to make it to the majors. They were there to help fill innings, more than anything. Some of those relievers might have busted out with work, refining, and adding, but making a major league debut was always a long shot for minor league relievers that never started.
However, baseball has changed.
Also, @Cardinalsgifs thinks he has a large....... Oh never mind. I don't know what they feed them at Dallas Baptist, but my guess is it's the same stuff that they feed horses (the guy's pic is basically winking at you in a "you know it" kinda way).
Nowadays, pitchers are being brought through minor league bullpens (quickly, at that) with the intent of pitching out of the major league bullpen. Obviously, this is because there is a larger emphasis on the bullpen in today's game than there has ever been. Elledge looks like the kind of pitcher that could find his way on to the major league roster less than two years after being drafted.
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft, Elledge is a product of Dallas Baptist University and he is an imposing figure on the mound. He uses his entire body to throw his three-pitch arsenal. That arsenal is lead by a fastball that doesn't usually get any higher than the mid-90's. It does possess good spin and it can be dominate up in the zone. That heater is followed by a curve (that others have called a slider but he calls a curve) that shows signs of being a plus-pitch when Elledge is commanding it. He doesn't always command it so well, though. Just like with the .gif below, he doesn't always need to command it so well for it to show signs of being a very good pitch:
I wanted to make a point to compare Elledge to Tuivailala because I think that the two are very similar pitchers, but with a very important caveat: Elledge isn't a converted position player. He's a developed pitcher with a relatively developed arsenal. He is probably at the point in his development that Tui was when Tui was just showing signs of being a capable pitcher in the bullpen for the Cardinals. Now, Elledge doesn't throw the ball as hard as Tui did when Tui was really slinging it, but it's a harder and more lively fastball than Tuivailala threw. Elledge's curve is substantially more developed than Tui's slider was, as well.
I think Elledge is maybe three years away from putting up numbers that match the 2017 production of Sam Tuivailala. For those of you that don't remember what that looked like, I'm talking about an ERA around the 2.55 mark to go with a FIP of around 3.50-3.70 and strikeout rate right around 20%. I also imagine that these stats will be sustainable for longer than they've been for Mr. Tuivailala.
As I eluded to above, one of the things that I love about Elledge is that he throws the ball with his entire body. He uses his legs very effectively for both plant and push, and the entirety of his big-body works in unison. This is a very very good thing, in my book. A few years back, I remember hearing Kyle Lohse talk about pitching with soreness. What he said, and I'm paraphrasing, is that he knew when his mechanics were good because it wasn't his arm that would be sore after a start. Rather, it'd be his entire body. His timing seems pretty great, too. If I had to pick one pitcher in the organization that I'm least worried about having arm trouble, it's Elledge (I'm so so so so sorry for jinxing this poor young man).
While I have high hopes for Elledge's high spin fastball and projectable slider, I can understand why others might not be as high on him. I mentioned that he isn't a fire-baller and I think that's part of the reason why the Cardinals were able to acquire him for a player, in Tui, that was lacking in relative value. I do really love how well his fastball and slider work together, but I really like how he uses his curve off with the curve (yes, I meant to use the word "curve" both times there. Again, I can't stress how bad I am at this) like you'll see below:
The other issue that I see is that Elledge doesn't always repeat his delivery and that's part of the reason why his curve lacks consistency. I'm also willing to bet that it's probably part of the reason why he let up three home runs in thirteen AA innings. Of course, that stat is probably a result of facing elite talent at the AA level for the first time so quick into his minor league career. Only time will tell. What I know is, he pitched amazingly well during limited exposure during the Triple-A playoffs. I mean, he really stood out as a potential difference maker that didn't back down as the stakes got higher and higher. I'm anxious to watch this evolution and development during the 2019 season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Elledge was a acquisition for the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for a pitcher that had a rocky, yet interesting, career in the organization. While there is reason to believe that Elledge could end up a lot like a more consistent version of Tuivailala, he is more developed and polished than Tui ever was at any time in the organization prior to making his major league debut. Even though he still has a repeatability issue and secondary-pitch-consistency issues, he's not that far away from being a positive major league contributor to the bullpen with a chance to be a late innings option.
MAY 1st UPDATE
Speaking of mismanaging a prospect, Elledge pitched three innings during his first minor league relief appearance. Now, I don't blame the Springfield manager for doing this. They were, the pitching staff that is, purging runs and they needed him to go long in that game. He pitched great, too. HOWEVER, it took Elledge a little time to recover from that outing. If not that outing, then the outing just a couple of days later that he had decreased velocity and terrible command in.
Either way, it's taken Elledge a bit to rebound after that aggressive start to the season. He's definitely normalized since, and he appears to still be one of the rare relief pitchers deserving of a spot on our list.
I am forever grateful to the fine folks at FanGraphs for providing amazing stats to this article!
Thanks For Reading!!