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Cardinals Hope Their Highly Touted Prospect Can Be an Ace

It’s been years since a mid-season callup bolstered the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation. That could change this season. For years, it seemed the Cardinals always had a pitching prospect with ace potential up their sleeve in the minors. However disappointing results from recent high-level prospects have made the minor league pitching well appear dry. Postseason runs for the Cardinals in the previous decade were highlighted with impressive late season debuts.

It includes the likes of Shelby Miller in 2012, Michael Wacha in 2013, and Luke Weaver in 2014. However, disappointment lingered from high level prospects after the trio of pitchers made their debuts. Mathew Liberatore’s 2023 campaign and the failure to develop Jordan Hicks into a regular starter, coupled with the sudden injury-plagued falloff of Jack Flaherty, have left the Cardinals starting rotation as a major problem of late for the organization. 

Tekoah Roby is a High Hope From 2023 Deadline Returns

Despite trying to solve their starting rotation issues with the splash signing of Sonny Gray, bringing back Lance Lynn and taking a flier on Kyle Gibson, the Cardinals rotation still has question marks heading into the season. A large part of that is the bad luck of Gray’s spring training injury, but even with Gray returning the Cardinals should look for strong and consistent out of their starters. But could one of the trade deadline deals from last season provide the Cardinals with those answers?

Potentially the best chance to make a mid-season rotation impact is Cardinals No. 2 prospect Tekoah Roby. Roby has big league stuff without a doubt, flirting with 99 mph on his fastball when healthy. The 2020 draft pick came to the Cardinals from the Texas Rangers with the Jordan Montgomery deal at the 2023 trade deadline. He sports good off-speed stuff to match his fastball with a four-pitch arsenal including a straight downward curveball, a low-80s mph slider and a decent changeup. In 43 minor league games, the right-hander owns a 7-16 record with a 4.45 ERA and 233 strikeouts in 190 innings. 

Tink Hence is a Bigger Question Mark

Cardinals top prospect Tink Hence is a bigger question mark, but has undeniable talent. Hence is the 61st overall prospect and the club’s top prospect according to He has earned that spot based off a plus fastball and a plus changeup. Another heat thrower, Hence has the potential of hitting 99 mph with his fastball while pairing it with a mid-80s changeup with a 63 percent whiff rate in Double-A. Hence does have a curveball and slider in his arsenal as well, however a tendency to hang them has gotten him in trouble in the minors. Unlike Roby, Hence is also relatively inexperienced.

With injuries cutting his minor league seasons short so far in his career and has yet to pitch more than 100 innings in a season. Even still, his talent makes him an attractive candidate for a mid-season boost to the Cardinals lineup. 

Dark Horse Ace Possibilities

Depending on how Roby and Hence’s respective campaigns go, the Cardinals do have some dark-horse pitching prospects in their system. 24-year-old prospect Gordon Graceffo shined in college, striking out 86 in 82 innings at Villanova in 2021. He has a plus slider which is his best strikeout pitch and can regularly hit high-90’s mph with his fastball. 

Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein were the return for Hicks in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays in 2023. Either one could appear on the big league rotation as soon as 2024 if things go right for them. Robberse struck out 44 batters in 35 1/3 innings in Triple-A after the trade. His fastball isn’t much of a standout sticking in the low-90’s mph, but his breaking pitches and changeup show potential to miss bats and get strikeouts. Kloffenstein is a ground ball pitcher with a 49.4 percent groundball rate in Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. That’s good enough for 12-best rate in the minors. 

Main Photo: © Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports


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