Seemingly by all accounts, the St. Louis Cardinals have the most treasured supply of young pitching in Major League Baseball. It is one of the many reasons why the franchise has a bright future. But the surplus of big league-ready pitchers will create a challenge for manager Mike Matheny, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, and general manager John Mozeliak as they will have to find roles for each of the well-regarded hurlers and maintain a cohesion that keeps the Cards elite contenders.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright is locked in to his role as the number one starter, but after that every rotation spot seems to be at least somewhat up for grabs. Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly return after solid seasons in the Cardinal rotation. Also vying for a spot are postseason hero Michael Wacha, and lefty Jaime Garcia, looking to bounce back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for most of 2013.
Additionally members of the Cardinals’ 2013 bullpen will be looking for increased workloads after their successful finish to the season. Playoff closer Trevor Rosenthal was impeccable down the stretch, but he has expressed desire to become a starter. Phenom Carlos Martinez is too talented to be kept in a middle innings relief role, and lefty Kevin Siegrist also seems to be underutilized. On top of all that, players like Tyler Lyons and Seth Maness could be poised for solid improvements if opportunities arise.
Miller, Martinez, Rosenthal, Wacha and Siegrist are all under the age of 25. Kelly, Lyons, and Maness are all 25, Lynn is 26 and Garcia is 27. Martinez and Wacha are probably considered ahead of schedule but considering how important they were to the Cardinals’ postseason run, their progression cannot be ignored.
Michael Wacha, with his brilliant finish to 2013 has to figure into a starting rotation spot. While there is some fear of a “sophomore slump” as teams start to figure him out, even a mild regression from his level of play last October still amounts to being a good starter. Furthermore, opponents might be able to figure Wacha out and still not be able to hit his awesome stuff. He was dominant mostly with his change-up and two-seam fastball last year but he will also be developing a curveball to add to his attack to further stymie opposing hitters.
Carlos Martinez has been compared to former pitching great Pedro Martinez (no relation), with some even going so far as to give him the nickname, “Baby Pedro.” Carlos is so obviously talented that such comparisons do not seem absurd. Therefore Martinez should eventually be a starter and probably sooner rather than later. With a healthy Jason Motte returning for the Cardinals, and with Rosenthal’s stranglehold on the closer position, Martinez could possibly have to settle for being the seventh inning guy. For a young player who is clearly still maturing mentally, such a small role might be discouraging enough to affect his play in a negative way.
The Cardinals want to be sure to be careful with Martinez, because he can be a huge asset down the road. Last year the Cardinals considered Joe Kelly the “Ferrari in the garage” because he represented luxury depth that the Cardinals would not need to tap in to unless there was an injury. Kelly was a long reliever with only spot starts until they needed him to be a regular starter in the aftermath of the Jaime Garcia injury. Martinez seems destined for a similar role in 2014. It worked for Kelly, but it is a delicate situation and the Cards certainly do not want to send Martinez back to the minors as it would be degrading at this point.
The Cardinals’ handling of key young pitchers like Carlos Martinez continues to be a challenge as well as a crucial development for the future of the franchise.