St. Louis is undergoing a significant roster reshuffle as the Cardinals welcome two of the game’s best prospects to the big leagues in the coming days. As first described by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter connections), the team promoted both Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore for this weekend’s series against the pirates. Athletic’s Katie Woo tweets this outfield player Tyler O’Neill is transferred to the 10-day injured list for a right shoulder impact on an appropriate roster platoon.
According to Goodold, Gorman will be on the starting grid at second base tomorrow. That’s his main role in the future, with Gold Glove second baseman Tommy Edman stepped on the other side of the bag. Edman has been excellent this season, but the Cards haven’t squeezed much performance out of their shortstops. Paul DeJong had struggled enough when the team opted him for Triple-A Memphis last week, seemingly setting the stage for an upcoming promotion from Gorman.
That’s not to say the Cardinals hastily promoted Gorman to compensate for struggles at the major league level–far from it. The left-hander made his way to the majors with an incredible performance in Memphis. In over 147 plate appearances, he’s hitting .308/.367/.677 with an amazing 15 homers. No other triple-A batsman has more than 13 round trippers, and only the Cubs Robel Garcia has a higher slugging percentage in the International League.
Gorman’s production wasn’t without its problems, as he was struck 50 times. That’s a 34% clip, an alarming rate for any minor league player considering the quality of pitching they face in the majors. Eventually, however, Gorman’s power generation became too much for the St. Louis front office to ignore.
It was a long-awaited debut for Cardinals fans, who have been anticipating Gorman’s arrival since he was picked with the 19th pick in the 2018 draft by an Arizona high school. As an amateur, he’s considered a hard-hitting third baseman and more or less lived up to those expectations when he was in the minors. Gorman has consistently posted huge extra base numbers while posting increased strikeout totals. Prospect evaluators have raised some concerns about the level of swing-and-miss in his game, but they were unanimously effusive in their praise of his upward power.
Everyone from FanGraphs, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, Athletic’s Keith Law and Baseball America ranked Gorman among the game’s top 60 prospects this past offseason. (Law and McDaniel both placed him in their top 20). That was before this season’s home run barrage, which further raised the 22-year-old’s profile. Gorman has stepped on the keystone in the undertones Nolan Arenado entrenched at third base. He’s not considered an elite defender and will certainly be demoted there by Edman, but the hope is that his offensive skills will more than make up for any problems on the other side of the ball.
Not to be outshone, Gorman’s draft mate will make his major league debut a day later. Liberatore lined up for Saturday’s game against the Bucs, manager Oliver Marmol confirmed to reporters (woo link). Whether there will be more than one point start for the 22-year-old southpaw has yet to be determined, said the skipper. Regardless of Liberatore now lining up for the majors, it suggests he’s firmly on the organization’s rotation depth chart.
Liberatore also happened to be a first-round draftee at a Phoenix-area high school the same year as Gorman, and the two have been friends since childhood. As one of the top prep arms in this year’s class, concerns over his signing bonus saw him drop to 16th overall to the Rays – ultimately grossing just under $3.5 million. While Liberatore’s fastball was in the low 90s, he was praised for his secondary offerings, particularly a curveball that reviewers consider his best throw. He did well in his first season plus in the lower tiers of Tampa Bay’s farm system and then was involved in a January 2020 blockbuster that aired Randy Arozarena back to Tampa Bay.
The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season kept Liberatore from making his official debut with the Cardinals until last year. The organization pushed him straight to Memphis for his campaign at age 21, and he held his ground in 124 2/3 innings on 4.04 ERA balls with a solid 23.7% strikeout rate and excellent walk percentage of 6.3%. St. Louis sent him back there to open this season and he’s made progress from the swing-and-miss perspective. Liberatore’s ERA and walk rate are right in line with his 2021 grades, but he improved his strikeout rate by almost five points in his first seven starts.
Liberatore is also considered one of the top 100 minor league talents by most reviewers. He is not viewed as a future ace, but due to his excellent control and well-rounded arsenal, he is unanimously viewed as a potential rotation star. Whether the Cardinals will put him in that role right away isn’t clear, but it seems likely he’ll soon be taking the ball every fifth day in St. Louis.
Neither Gorman nor Liberatore will accumulate enough major league service this year to meet the one-year threshold. Even if both players are finally in the majors, neither will be eligible for the free hand until after the 2028 campaign at the earliest. Both players are in a good position to seek early arbitration after the 2024 season as a Super Two qualifier, although that is conditional on staying in the big leagues from now on. In the case of Liberatore in particular, it seems that future optional bets are still possible.
have the cards Adam Wainwright, Stephen Matz, Dakota Hudson, Miles Nicholas and Jordan Hicks as their primary starting five at the moment. Wainwright and Mikolas were excellent. Matz is struggling but won’t be transferred two months into a four-year deal from the rotation. Hudson doesn’t have great strikeout and walk marks, but he brings his typical elite groundball production to decent results. That’s more or less true of Hicks, who joined the rotation after a few years as a senior bullpen arm.
Of course, St. Louis has gone without arguably their best pitcher all season. Jack Flaherty did not throw a pitch because of a shoulder problem that required platelet-rich plasma injection. He has been on the 10-day injured list all year and the club announced he has been moved to the 60-day IL to make room for Gorman on the 40-man list.
It’s just a procedural step that will keep Flaherty out for two months from opening day. The 26-year-old has yet to start a minor league rehab assignment and certainly wouldn’t have been ready to return to MLB before the first week of June anyway. Flaherty has recently evolved into throwing bullpen sessions, so it seems reasonable that he could be breaking into minor league games within a matter of weeks.
The club must also secure a spot on the 40-man list for Liberatore, with that transaction set to take place ahead of Saturday’s competition. Aside from Flaherty, St. Louis has no obvious candidates for a 60-day IL transfer, so it seems likely someone will be designated for the assignment within the next two days.
The only disappointing aspect of today’s news is that O’Neill is going to the IL. He has missed the last few days to battle the shoulder ailments which will now cost him at least a week and a half. The team have given no indication if he will be absent for more than the minimum stint.
It continues a tough start to the year for O’Neill, who is just a season away from eighth in the NL MVP pick. The 26-year-old has hit just .195/.256/.297 with two homers in 133 plate appearances, a far cry from the 34-homer performance he hit last season. O’Neill, who also lost his pre-arbitration hearing last week, will try to get back on track once he is healthy enough to return.
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