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 a 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.
Dakota Hudson - Right-Handed Pitcher
Drafted 34th Overall in the 2016 Draft
AAA Memphis and St. Louis
For the most part, this is going to be a post with a light amount of gif's. I'm deciding to do this because you already know Hudson. He spent a lot of time in the majors last season, and he's going to spend a lot of time in the majors during the 2019 season. Initially, I had every intent of putting him on "The Graduates" list. Your familiarity with him made me want to leave him off of the list, but I kept him on it anyway. Here he is so there ya go!
This is the story of just how stupid I am. You're going to want to pay close attention here, because there is going to be a lot of self-owning going on. And, honestly, I can't think of a better way to end the D35 than this way.
First, it wasn't until this very moment that I realized that our #1 prospect only allowed one home run during the 2018 season. That's INCREDIBLE. Honestly, how did I not notice that? I can not tell you how impressive it is that he only allowed ONE SINGULAR home run in 139 innings at the two highest levels that professional baseball has to offer. A pitcher with the ability to suppress the home run is one of my favorite commodities.
As you probably know by now, Hudson controls the long ball by throwing a sinker that he can run up to about 98 MPH with wicked arm-side run. It's a heavy pitch and it's a groundball-inducing-machine. Truthfully, it's a devastating pitch that he just needs to learn to command better. Hudson is a double play machine, as well.
Hudson posted a strikeout rate of about 17.9% between the majors and AAA in 2018. I'll maintain until the day that I die that the number is as low as it is because of his fastball command. You see, Hudson struggles to reign in the sinker. This is partially because of how lively it is. As a matter of complete fact, the only major complaint and area of worry that I have about Hudson is that he struggles to work ahead of hitters.
In large part, this is due to his inability to use the hard sinker to get ahead of hitters early in counts. It's something that he's struggled with during both of his full seasons within the organization. To this point, it hasn't really showed signs of getting any better, and that's worrisome.
Yet, that's the beauty of just how good Dakota Hudson is. Think about it this way: he has to compromise his stuff a little bit in order to avoid high walk totals because he's working from behind and often in hitter-friendly counts. Yet, he finished his time at AAA as the PCL Pitcher of the year after posting a 2.50 ERA over 111.2 innings.
It was very encouraging to watch his K rate climb as his walk rate (which finished high on the season, around the 9.5% of batters mark) dipped. He struggled with command at the major league level, but his command-to-strikeout seemed to get drastically better by the end of his time at Memphis. He managed to only walk nine batters over his last seven starts (good for a BB rate of 5.%) while throwing 37.1 innings. During this time, and I really love all of this, he only allowed four extra base hits (no homers), struck out 29, and induced six double plays while causing ground balls 57% of the time. Hudson was really dialed in before receiving the promotion to the majors.
Now, before we get to his time in the majors, it probably should be noted that part of the reason that Hudson fell to 34th overall in the 2016 draft was because a) some scouts didn't believe his arm would hold up and b) some scouts worried that his stuff would eventually put him in the bullpen (which, honestly, is comical and a reason why so many great pitchers over the years have fallen a bit in the draft). At the time, Hudson had a bit of funky delivery that appeared to put unneeded stress on his arm, or so it was claimed. Also, while Hudson threw what was then considered to be one of the best sliders in the collegiate ranks, his changeup and curve left a lot to the imagination. Anyway, here's another .gif of a double play because, of course:
Well, turns out the joke was on his doubters because that slider was always a cutter. It's important to note that now, because of where we are about to go. His change and curve have come a long way, and his delivery has been cleaned up. Also, he's since added a slider to his repertoire and that gives him a sharp slider to go with a biting cutter and heavy sinker. His curve is an above average offering when he's using it as a change of pace pitch, and his changeup is a nice little "dagger" that he can keep close when in a battle. Take note of this little three-pitch mix. He shows off a little bit, here:
All of that is just a little background to a) show you that pitchers, players for that matter, all evolve, and it isn't always easy to keep up, b) that Hudson has a very good arsenal that just needs a little command early in counts to truly peak, and c) the draft is such a joke and that's why we shouldn't get too worked up about it.
Anyway, Hudson made his major league debut on July 28th and he dominated the Cubs in the one inning of relief that he threw against them. Then, he continued to pitch amazingly for basically the rest of his time out of the bullpen. Over 27.1 major league bullpen innings, Hudson allowed a batting average against of .196, a slugging percentage against of (AN INCREDIBLE) .237, while posting an ERA of 2.63 and striking out 19.
BUT BUT BUT
The command issue was still there, and almost from the get-go. He started his major league career by throwing 8.2 innings of one walk baseball over six appearances. That was a good start. From there, he ended up walking 17, while striking out 15, over 18.2 innings to finish out the season. Now, I don't think it's a coincidence that his command started to falter out of the pen immediately after his first taste of back-to-back days, and I also don't think that it helped that those back-to-back days came three days after he threw three innings in relief. However, it's still worth mentioning that the issue of getting ahead of hitters was the main culprit for his issues.
Some will point to fatigue at the end of the season as the reason why Hudson struggled. I do think it was fatigue, but I don't think it was just "a young pitcher wearing down at the end of the season" like it has a tendency to be. Hell, like it was for Jack Flaherty at the end of the 2017 season (and even the 2018 season, for that matter). No, I believe that Hudson's fatigue was a direct result of miss-and-over-use in the bullpen. It was Hudson's first taste of the bullpen, as well, and those are some harsh conditions for any pitcher, but it has to be extra-tough for a pitcher at the end of their season when they've never had to prep for that role.
In the misuse department, let me tell you why the Cardinals did it wrong with Hudson. His walks were high because they'd try to reestablish the count by using the sinker instead of his cutter when he was behind. THAT ISN'T GOING TO WORK. If he's behind in the count, let him go cutter. He commands it better AND it's a dagger-pitch pitch. Just watch the .gif below. You'll see what I'm talking about. He's going to get behind here. In this at-bat, you'll notice what I mean by struggling to locate his sinker, and how he commands the breaking pitch to get out of trouble. THIS IS WHO HUDSON HAS BEEN TO THIS POINT AND TRY TO SCREW WITH IT IS STUPID. Anyway, here's the five pitch at-bat:
So, as we enter 2019 the big question with Hudson is "What do you do with him? Do you use him as a starter in the minors or a bring him along out of the bullpen?" If I had my choice, I'd like for him to follow in Jack Flaherty's footsteps from last year and have him ready to go at Memphis for when a starter falters early in the season, which is bound to happen. However, i have been very vocal about saying that I think that Hudson could be a very valuable piece out of the bullpen. He's been one of the arms that I've been using to support my argument that the Cardinals don't need to add a right-handed reliever. What I know for sure is, the Cardinals have a very valuable asset in Hudson and he looks poised to eat a ton of innings either way.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As we complete our list of the top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization, we finish with a player that has already made a positive major league debut. A pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal, the question is whether his command will ever catch up with his stuff. What I know for sure is, if it does, then you're talking about an innings-eater akin to Lance Lynn statistically but with an arsenal of pitches. If it doesn't and he stays the exact same relief pitcher that he showed in 2018, then you still have a very valuable weapon. If I'm guessing (or even hedging), I see him as a dynamic bullpen piece for years to come if handled properly. As "The Dirty Farmer" himself, The Farmer Va La, said on Twitter, "Hudson reminds me of Danny Cox." I'm 32, so I don't know exactly what that means, but it seems like high praise so I'll take it!
I would also like to thank everyone for sticking around throughout this list. It takes a ton of time and energy and I really appreciate the views, discourse, conversation, and both negative and positive feed back. I want the D35 to feel like the "Top Prospect List Of And For The People" and I hope that you feel the same way. It's been a fun trip through the minors. Now, let's get some games that matter under our belt and let's see what this organization has in 2019!
**SPRING TRAINING UPDATE**
Mr. Hudson did pretty damn well and went ahead and earned himself the fifth starter job out of Spring Training. Good for him. WIth the current state of the pitching staff, health-wise, it was the correct choice to make. I'm really excited to see him starting for the Cardinals!
Thank you to FanGraphs for the stats!
Thanks For Reading!!