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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Shawn Childs

Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado Seek Deeper Playoff Run in 2022

The Cardinals remain a top contender in the NL Central. They’ve made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and 15 times over the past 21 years with two World Series wins (2006 and 2011). St. Louis had a winning record in each of their previous 14 seasons. The Cardinals have nine other World Series championships (1926, 1931, 1933, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, and 1982).

They finished 12th in ERA (3.98) with a slight bump from their bullpen (3.97 ERA – 11th). Their relievers picked up 36 wins, 25 losses, and 50 saves. St. Louis underperformed in runs (706 – 22nd) and home runs (198 – 16th) while ranking sixth in stolen bases (89).

The only player signed to a major league contract was SP Steven Matz. The Cardinals didn’t re-sign SP Kwang Hyun Kim, SP Carlos Martinez, SP J.A. Happ, RP Andrew Miller, 3B Matt Carpenter, and RP Luis Garcia (SD).

St. Louis has one ace (Jack Flaherty), and they hope SP Adam Wainwright can maintain a high level of quality innings at 40. SP Dakota Hudson pitched well in 2019 (3.35) despite poor command (86 walks over 174.2 innings), and he should be helpful after having 18 months to recover from TJ surgery (September of 2020). SP Steven Matz will be an inning eater with upside. Unfortunately, the Cardinals can’t match Milwaukee’s top starting pitchers.

The closing job should be in good hands with RP Giovanny Gallegos. RP Alex Reyes has electric upside if he can ever throw more strikes. RP Jordan Hicks has a lot to prove after battling elbow issues over the past two years. St. Louis will also allow him to compete for a starting pitching job in spring training.

The Cardinals have two foundation middle-of-the-order bats with 1B Paul Goldschmidt and 3B Nolan Arenado. In addition, the growth of OF Tyler O’Neill and OF Dylan Carlson is essential for St. Louis to push up the offensive rankings.

Starting Lineup

2B Tommy Edman

Edman led the National League in at-bats (641) while adding a nice bounce in stolen bases (30). He finished 39th in SIscore (2.61) for hitters despite having weakness in home runs (11), RBI (56), and batting average (.262). His strikeout rate (13.8) matched his minor league career while taking fewer walks (5.5 percent – 9.0 in the minors).

As a result, his contact batting average (.308) came in as a five-year low. In September, Edman had his big push in stolen bases (nine steals over 129 at-bats). His only month of value came in August (.302/22/3/14/3 over 106 at-bats).

He finished with 229th in hard-hit rate (35.1) and 263rd in barrel rate (4.2), with better results in his launch angle (9.5 – 70th). His HR/FB rate (6.3) was much lower than his previous two years (12.1 and 12.2) with the Cardinals.

Over his four seasons in the minors, Edman hit .286 with 235 runs, 23 home runs, 158 RBI, and 71 steals over 1,414 at-bats.

Fantasy Outlook

Edman should be a much better player in batting average, and his previous history points to a rebound in walks. He comes off the board as the 53rd batter in the NFBC with an ADP of 85. Based on his low average hit rate (1.476), I don’t expect a significant jump in power. Edman projects as a three-category player with some help in home runs and RBI. With another healthy season, 100 runs, 15 home runs, 60 RBI, and 25 stolen bases should be a fair evaluation of his talent. His batting average should push back over .280.

1B Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt had an excellent rebound season based on his 2021 ADP (97). Thanks to a rebound in steals (12), he finished 14th in SIscore (6.15) for hitters. Everything Goldschmidt did last year fell in line with his previous resume.

His only regression came in his walk rate (9.9 – 13.3 in his career). Despite a rebound in power, he failed to match his average hit rate (1.751) from 2017 to 2019 (1.892, 1.837, and 1.832). Goldschmidt was also more challenging to strike out (20.0 percent – 25.1 in 2018 and 24.3 in 2019).

He crushed lefties (.350 with eight home runs and 30 RBI over 123 at-bats), leading to an impressive slugging percentage (.650). After the All-Star break, his bat was elite (.330 with 54 runs, 18 home runs, 54 RBI, and seven steals over 267 at-bats) while helping fantasy teams with a massive September (.330/30/9/20/2 over 106 at-bats).

Goldschmidt ranked 26th in hard-hit rate (50.6) with strength in his barrel rate (13.6 – 40th and launch angle (17.1 – 63rd). Even with a bounce-back in home runs (31), his HR/FB rate (16.3) was well below his path from 2013 to 2019 (over 21 percent).

Fantasy Outlook

Even with success last year, his ADP (52) in the NFBC is below his results in 2021. Goldschmidt is a high floor player with a long history of hitting over .290 with 95+ runs, 30+ home runs, and 95+ RBI. The only wild card in his equation is speed. I rate him as a top 20 hitter at a minimum, creating value based on his price point this draft season.

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3B Nolan Arenado

The escape from Colorado ended with Arenado seeing a sharp decline in his batting average (.255) and contact batting average (.304), something many fantasy pundits expected. However, he continued to have strength in home runs (34) and RBI (105).

Arenado’s strikeout rate (14.7) and walk rate (7.7) fell in line with his career path. He even had a slight uptick in his average hit rate (1.940). His slide in runs (81) can be easily seen by his drop in hits (151) and walks (50) compared to 2019 (185/62).

He hit under .270 every month except May (.302 with 19 runs, seven home runs, and 20 RBI over 106 at-bats). Arenado saved his season in home runs and RBI over the final two months (14/43 over 207 at-bats). His failure in batting average came at home (.228/33/14/49 over 285 at-bats).

His hard-hit rate (37.5 – 208th) remains low and in line with 2019 (37.6) and 2020 (33.7). Arenado gains his power edge by launch angle (19.1 – 19th) and fly-ball rate (49.8). He had a regression in his HR/FB rate (13.5).

Fantasy Outlook

With two straight seasons with risk in batting average, Arenado will be viewed as a two-category player (home runs and RBI). His failure in batting average isn’t from lack of contact but a slide in his batting average when putting the ball in play. His ADP (73) fits into the steady veteran category. He finished 45th in SIscore (2.06) for hitters, which matches his price point this year. My bet will be on .270 with 90 runs, 35 home runs, and 110 RBI.

OF Tyler O’Neill

O’Neill hit .271 in his 2,138 at-bats in the minors with 140 home runs, 430 RBI, and 55 steals over seven seasons.

The Cardinals gave O’Neill 410 at-bats over his first three years, leading to 67 runs, 21 home runs, 58 RBI, and six stolen bases. His failure to earn a starting job came from a high strikeout rate (34.0).

Last year he still whiffed 31.3 percent of the time. However, O’Neill overcame his batting average risk with an electric contact batting average (.439). He hit .397 when putting the ball in play in his minor league career.

He finished in 2021 ranked 24th in SIscore (4.74) for hitters while missing some time with groin, foot, finger, and back issues. Despite a breakout season, a good portion of his success came over two months (May – .294 with 11 runs, seven home runs, 18 RBI, and two steals and September – .328 with 31 runs, 13 home runs, 30 RBI, and five stolen bases over 119 at-bats).

O’Neill improved to 20th in hard-hit rate (52.2) and 9th in barrel rate (17.9). His swing path came in balanced while setting a career-high in his HR/FB rate (26.2).

Fantasy Outlook

The profile of O’Neill will undoubtedly draw in fantasy managers this year with the prospect of owning a potential 35/20 player. His ADP (49) in the NFBC in mid-February leaves some wiggle room for regression, but a sharp decline in batting average could lead to some days off and less confidence. One only has to look at Yoan Moncada in 2019 (contact batting average - .451) to see what happens in the next couple of seasons. I have him on a path to hit under .250 with 80 runs, 30 home runs, 85 RBI, and 15 steals, but I won’t fight for him in drafts.

C Yadier Molina

After two good seasons at age 35 and 36, Molina faded in his power over the past three years (.261 with 102 runs, 25 home runs, 139 RBI, and nine stolen bases over 1,004 at-bats). He missed time in 2021 with foot, knee, and shoulder issues.

His average hit rate (1.468) remains below his best seasons. Molina had a similar contact batting average (.307) over the previous four years. He finished with the highest strikeout rate (16.7) with continued weakness in his walk rate (5.1).

Molina finished with a career-high fly-ball rate (38.7) but regression in his HR/FB rate (7.8). His hard-hit rate (31.6 – 273rd) and barrel rate (5.2 – 235th) ranked poorly while adding loft to his swing (launch angle – 15.3

Fantasy Outlook

Molina is a veteran bat who has a history of performing well with runners on base. However, his ADP (298) in the NFBC places him in the backend of the C2 inventory in 12-team leagues. He is more of a 55/12/55 player with a neutral batting average at this point of his career, but the DH could lead to some extra at-bats.

OF Dylan Carlson

St. Louis drafted Carlson with the 33rd selection in the first round in the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft. Over four seasons in the minors, Carlson hit .261 with 256 runs, 47 home runs, 194 RBI, and 41 stolen bases over 1,478 at-bats. His approach (strikeout rate – 21.7 and walk rate – 11.0) came in above the league average.

Carlson played well at AA in 2019 (.281 with 81 runs, 21 home runs, 59 RBI, and 18 stolen bases over 417 at-bats). The Cardinals pushed him to AAA (.361 with five home runs, nine RBI, and two steals over 72 at-bats), leading to more success.

He struggled to make contact in his first experience in the majors (strikeout rate – 29.4) in 2021 while posting a short walk rate (6.7). His contact batting average (.293) was well below his minor league career (.348).

Last year Carlson showed growth after the All-Star break (.277 with 34 runs, 11 home runs, and 34 RBI over 220 at-bats). His approach (strikeout rate – 24.6 and walk rate – 9.2) improved while still needing work.

Fantasy Outlook

His bat is on the move, along with his ADP (170) in the NFBC. Carlson should push higher in batting average while owning underlying speed. He finished 101st in SIscore (-1.30) for hitters last year. Next step: .270 with 80 runs, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, and 15 steals.

SS Paul DeJong

DeJong lost his way over the past two seasons, leading to a .213 batting average with 61 runs, 22 home runs, 70 RBI, and five stolen bases over 508 at-bats. His strikeout rate (25.6) and walk rate (8.7) weren’t far off from his career path.

He continues to have strength in his average hit rate (1.986), supporting over 30 home runs. However, DeJong struggled to find consistency in his contact batting average over the past five years (.406, .335, .313, .373, and .277).

His swing path continues to deliver a high number of fly balls (46.7 percent) while finishing with a bump in his HR/FB rate (16.0). DeJong has a low hard-hit rate (35.4) and a reasonable barrel rate (10.6).

A broken rib in mid-May led to a month on the injured list. He also battled a back issue in mid-April.

Fantasy Outlook

After two years of interest in his bat, DeJong has a much lower ADP (465) in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. As a result, he will be found in the free-agent pool in 12 and 15 formats. However, his bat still has plenty of power with a chance to steal five bags. I expect a much more usable batting average, so my bet is on .250 with 70 runs, 25 home runs, 70 RBI, and some help in speed.

OF Harrison Bader

Over his four seasons with the Cardinals, Bader hit .234 with 146 runs, 31 home runs, 97 RBI, and 31 stolen bases over 917 at-bats.

Last year he started the year on the injured list with a left forearm issue. His bat was unplayable over his first 77 at-bats (.208 with eight runs, four RBI, and three stolen bases). After another missed five weeks with a broken rib, Bader looked much improved over his next 80 at-bats (.375 with 13 runs, five home runs, 18 RBI, and three steals). He finished the year with a .248 batting average over 210 at-bats with 24 runs, seven home runs, 23 RBI, and three stolen bases, thanks to a stellar September (.333/18/7/19/3 over 111 at-bats).

Bader pushed his strikeout rate (21.2 – 27.0 in his career) closer to the league average while taking fewer walks (6.7 percent).

His hard-hit rate (31.7) ranked 270th, with weakness in his barrel rate (7.0 – 191st). Bader finished with a balanced swing path with no change in his HR/FB rate (13.7).

Fantasy Outlook

There was an improvement in Bader’s game last year, creating a high ceiling if he locks down a starting job. His ADP (229) in mid-February in the NFBC prices him as a full-time player. He’s getting closer to a 20/20 player, but I need to see more before investing in his present value.

SS Edmundo Sosa

Sosa hit .283 with 44 home runs, 237 RBI, and 37 steals over 2,090 at-bats in his seven seasons in the minors. His best success came at AAA in 2019 (.291 with 17 home runs, 62 RBI, and two stolen bases over 453 at-bats). His walk rate (5.6) was low, with a respectable strikeout rate (16.9).

The injuries to SS Paul DeJong last year led to Sosa earning his best chance with the Cardinals. He finished with 39 runs, six home runs, 27 RBI, and four stolen bases over 288 at-bats. His contact batting average (.347) fell in line with his minor league resume. Sosa failed to match his previous two seasons in average hit rate (1.436).

He struggled against lefties (.217 with one home run and nine RBI over 69 at-bats). St. Louis never gave him over 72 at-bats in any month. Sosa offered a ground ball swing path (51.5 percent) while ranking poorly in hard-hit rate (32.0 – 265th).

Fantasy Outlook

The DH in the National League opens up an opportunity for an extra bat for St. Louis, but I can’t see Sosa earning a full-time job. Paul DeJong is the better option at shortstop. At best, a super-utility player with a chance to help in an NL-only league. His ADP (426) in the NFBC ranked him before DeJong, but I don’t support this message.

3B Nolan Gorman

The Cardinals drafted Gorman with the 19th overall selection in the 2018 June Amateur Draft. After a quiet 2019 season (.248 with 65 runs, 15 home runs, and 62 RBI over 456 at-bats), he played well over two levels of the minors. His year started with success at AA (.288/26/11/27/4 over 195 at-bats), leading to a push to AAA (.274/45/14/48/3 over 303 at-bats).

His walk rate (8.9) came in above the league average while owning some risk in his strikeout rate (26.2) but improved in 2021 (22.0).

Fantasy Outlook

I expect Gorman to push his way into the major league conversation in 2022. He’s blocked at third base by Nolan Arenado, but St. Louis gave him experience at second base (77) last season. If Gorman is ready, he could force 2B Tommy Edman to the outfield. His average hit rate (1.724) is on a path for 30+ home runs, with some batting average risk early in his career.

OF Lars Nootbaar

Despite a dull career in college (.272 with 85 runs, 14 home runs, 74 RBI, and four steals over 504 at-bats), St. Louis selected Nootbaar in the eighth round in the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft. His best asset was his approach (strikeout rate – 15.2 and walk rate – 13.7).

Over three short seasons in the minors, he hit .261 with 74 runs, 15 home runs, 83 RBI, and seven stolen bases over 656 at-bats. Nootbaar played well over 117 at-bats at AAA (.308/21/6/19/1), leading to his call-up to the majors.

With St. Louis, he delivered playable stats (.239 with 15 runs, five home runs, 15 RBI, and two steals over 109 at-bats). His walk rate (10.5) held form, with a reasonable strikeout rate (22.8).

Fantasy Outlook

The Cardinals could give Nootbaar starting at-bats at DH while also offering insurance in the outfield. His average hit rate showed growth at AAA (1.611) and the majors (1.769). He is a player to follow early in the year as his approach could lead to him batting second in the lineup. Nootbaar is an insurance card for OF Tyler O’Neill and OF Dylan Carlson.

Starting Pitching

SP Jack Flaherty

After a foundation ace season in 2019 (2.75 ERA and 231 strikeouts over 196.1 innings), Flaherty battled COVID-19 and injuries over the past two years.

Coming off a 25-day layoff in 2019 due to a Covid-19 outbreak in St. Louis, he struggled to pitch deep in games and find his rhythm. Over six starts, Flaherty allowed 16 runs, 31 baserunners, and five home runs over 22.1 innings with 27 strikeouts, with most of the damage coming in one game (nine runs and 10 baserunners over three innings).

In 2019, Flaherty underachieved over his first 17 starts (4.90 ERA, 1.289 WHIP, and 101 strikeouts over 90 innings), with a significant portion of the damage coming from home runs allowed (19). However, his arm was brilliant over his final 16 starts (0.93 ERA, 0.6959 WHIP, and 130 strikeouts over 106.1 innings). Over three starts in the playoffs, Flaherty allowed eight runs and 21 baserunners over 17 innings with 22 strikeouts.

Last year after a poor first start (six runs, 11 baserunners, and two home runs over 4.1 innings), Flaherty won his eight straight games with a 1.65 ERA, 0.9184 WHIP, and 51 strikeouts over 49 innings. Two starts later (nine runs, 14 baserunners, and three home runs over 8.2 innings), he landed on the injured list for almost 11 weeks with an oblique injury.

After two excellent starts (two runs over 12 innings with 13 strikeouts, Flaherty left his next contests with a right shoulder strain, knocking him out of the starting rotation for another month. To finish the season, he made three relief appearances (two runs over 2.1 innings with four strikeouts).

His average fastball (94.0) fell just below 2019 (94.5). His four-seam fastball (.191 BAA), slider (.155 BAA), curveball (.167 BAA), and low-volume sinker (.167 BAA) were challenging to hit. Flaherty had a drop-off in his strikeout rate (9.8) compared to his previous 70 starts (10.7).

Fantasy Outlook

Flaherty offers a difference-maker arm with a four-pitch arsenal to hold hitters to a low batting average. However, any shoulder issue has to be a concern. His ADP (77) in the NFBC prices in his injury risk. With a healthy year, Flaherty would be an excellent cheat ace with a chance to post a sub 3.00 ERA and under 1.000 WHIP with over 225 strikeouts. With success in spring training, his stock should rise in drafts. I love his arm and potential, but I will avoid him if any negative news surrounds his shoulder in March.

SP Adam Wainwright

Wainwright enters his 17th season in the majors with a 184-105 record while posting a career 3.35 ERA over 2,375.2 innings with 2,004 strikeouts. He has five dominating years on his resume, which may not be enough to reach the Hall of Fame.

From 2016 to 2019, over 96 games, Wainwright went 41-28 with 4.58 ERA and 450 strikeouts over 534 innings. However, his arm has been rejuvenated in 2020 and 2021, leading to a 22-10 record with a 3.08 ERA and 228 strikeouts over 272 innings. A big part of his improvement came from regaining his command (2.2 walks per nine) and minimizing the damage in home runs allowed (1.0 per nine).

Last year, he pitched at a high level in St. Louis (9-5 with a 2.74 ERA and 108 strikeouts over 128.1 innings). Wainwright had 14 wins over his final 22 starts with a 2.58 ERA and 117 strikeouts over 146.2 innings.

His average fastball (89.3) was the lowest since 2012, while about two MPH below his peak in 2013 (91.8). Batters struggled to hit his sinker (.174 BAA) and curveball (.211 BAA), but Wainwright offered less value with his cutter (.262 BAA) and changeup (.267 BAA).

Fantasy Outlook

Investing in a pitcher coming off a peak season tends to spell doom in fantasy baseball, especially when that player doesn’t bring dominating stuff to the table. Wainwright found his lost curveball over the past two seasons, and maybe his arm was healthy for the first time since 2014. His ADP (206) in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship paints him as an SP4 in 15-team leagues. Nevertheless, I can’t dismiss his success, and Wainwright will win his share of games. My gut says he finishes with an ERA over 4.00 and regression across the board.

SP Dakota Hudson

Hudson had success in ERA (3.35) and wins (16) in his first year with over 30 starts in 2019, but he killed fantasy teams with his WHIP (1.408) with weakness in strikeouts (136). He allowed three runs or fewer in 25 of his final 27 games (2.99 ERA, 1.261 WHIP, .230 BAA, and 117 strikeouts over 150.2 innings). Hudson struggled against lefties (.260 with 11 home runs over 312 at-bats). In addition, his walk rate (4.4) was a mess.

In 2020, Hudson continued his success in ERA (2.77) over 39 innings with some improvement in his walk rate (3.5). Unfortunately, he blew out his right elbow in September, requiring TJ surgery.

The Cardinals gave him 27.1 innings of work last year between the minors and majors. Hudson allowed four runs and 28 baserunners while picking up 16 strikeouts.

His average fastball (92.8) was below 2019 (94.1). Hudson worked off a sinker, cutter, and slider in his two appearances with the Cardinals last season while mixing in a show-me changeup and minimal four-seamers.

Fantasy Outlook

With a 24-10 record with a 3.14 ERA and 192 strikeouts over 249.2 innings with St. Louis, Hudson should help fantasy teams in 2022. His WHIP (1.322) has been a significant pitfall, but it could be fixed with better command. His ADP (434) in the NFBC in mid-February puts him in the deep flier range. Hudson would become fantasy relevant with better control and one swing and miss pitch. I'll be following his spring training news to see any hints of growth in his game.

SP Steven Matz

In 2020, Matz looked sharp in spring training and in July before the start of the season. Unfortunately, he finished with a wasted season leading to a 9.68 ERA and 1.696 WHIP over nine appearances while batting a left shoulder injury.

Over the previous two full seasons, Matz made 60 starts with mixed results (16-21 with a 4.09 ERA and 305 strikeouts over 314.1 innings).

Last year he kept the Blue Jays in many games by allowing two runs or fewer in 17 of his 29 starts, leading to a career-high in wins (14) with a 3.82 ERA and 144 strikeouts over 150.2 innings. However, Matz did have eight disaster showings (36 runs, 72 baserunners, and 11 home runs over 35 innings).

His season ended with a 2.91 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts over 74.1 innings. Matz didn’t hold an edge over right-handed (.261 BAA) and left-handed (.276 BAA).

He relies on his sinker (94.4) as his top usage pitch, but batters hit .296 against it. His changeup (.210 BAA) was the best of his career. Matz struggled to get batters out with his curveball (.253 BAA) and slider (.302 BAA).

Fantasy Outlook

When looking at his walk rate (2.7) and strikeout rate (8.6) in his career, Matz gives the appearance of a much better arm. Home runs lead to some disaster innings, and he has never pitched over 161 innings in any season in his career. His ADP (249) in the NFBC will look intriguing to fantasy managers who believe the move to the NL will lead to better stats. Decent arm, but I see too many negatives to fight for him on draft day. Start the bidding at 3.75 ERA and 150 strikeouts.

SP Miles Mikolas

Mikolas suffered a forearm injury in February of 2020 that required a platelet-rich injection. After looking healthy in July while getting ready for the late start to the season, he had a setback that ended up needing surgery.

In his first year back in the majors in 2018, after three seasons in Japan, Mikolas outperformed his expected value with an 18-4 record with a 2.83 ERA and 146 strikeouts over 200.2 innings. However, his WHIP (1.071) suggested a higher ERA.

In 2019, his overall game regressed (4.16 ERA, .272 BAA, and 1.223 WHIP). Mikolas had a tick down in his elite walk rate (1.6 – 1.3 in 2018) with a minor rise in his strikeout rate (7.0 – 6.5 in 2018).

He allowed two runs or fewer in 14 of his 32 starts, with failure in April (5.29 ERA) and August (5.72 ERA). His arm held value at home (3.01 ERA and 65 strikeouts over 95.2 innings) with plenty of damage on the road (5.40 ERA and 1.415 WHIP).

Last year Mikolas missed almost all of the first 21 weeks with a right shoulder injury and a second forearm issue. Over his final eight starts, he posted a 4.43 ERA and 28 strikeouts over 40.2 innings.

His average fastball (93.6) was a step back from 2018 (94.7). However, Mikolas did have success with his four-seamer (.158 BAA), slider (.186 BAA), and changeup (.154 BAA). Batters drilled his curveball (.385 BAA) and sinker (.321 BAA).

Fantasy Outlook

Mikolas looks closer to TJ surgery than helping the Cardinals and fantasy teams in 2022. His ADP (469) in the NFBC puts him in the free-agent pool in 12 and 15 team formats. Only a sit-and-watch, but I see disaster even if his season starts well.

SP Jordan Hicks

Over two seasons in the minors, Hicks pitched almost exclusively as a starter. He went 14-5 with a 2.82 ERA and 137 strikeouts over 165.2 innings while never reaching higher than A ball. His failure was tied to poor command (4.0 walks per nine).

He made the jump to the majors in 2018, where he pitched in relief. Over three seasons in the Cardinals bullpen, Hicks went 5-6 with a 3.64 ERA, 111 strikeouts, and 20 saves over 116.1 innings.

In 2019, his walk rate (3.5) was still high but improved over 2018 (5.2), leading to a bump in his strikeout rate (9.7). In addition, he converted 14 of his 15 saves chances.

Hicks missed all of 2020 due to TJ surgery on his right elbow.

Last year, he struggled over his 10 appearances over the first month (5.40 ERA), leading to a trip to the injured list with right forearm and elbow issues. After that, the Cardinals gave Hicks three games at AAA (15.00 ERA) and two in the Arizona Fall League (9.64 ERA), but he didn’t look healthy.

He needs to improve against left-handed batters (.255 BAA with 31 walks and 41 strikeouts over 192 at-bats).

Hicks still has one of the best fastballs (101.2) in the game. His sinker (.182 BAA) and slider (.125 BAA) have electric upside when he develops better command.

Fantasy Outlook

His second round of injuries points to another elbow surgery. The Cardinals stated last fall that Hicks would compete for a starting job. However, I don’t understand the decision as it will put more strain on his already fragile right arm. There is plenty of upside with Hicks, but improved command is a must. His ADP (545) in the NFBC shows his present fantasy value. Only a watch while the bullpen is a much better place to develop his arsenal.

SP Matthew Liberatore

Tampa Bay drafted Liberatore 16th overall in the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft. The Cardinals acquired him in January of 2020 for OF Randy Arozarena.

Over his first two seasons in the minors, Liberatore went 8-4 with 2.59 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 111 innings. His walk rate (3.6) needs work while offering strength in his strikeout rate (9.2).

In 2019, he made 16 appearances at single-A (6-2 with a 3.10 ERA and 76 strikeouts over 78.1 innings), which should have put him on a path for AA, and possibly AAA in 2020. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a minor back issue.

Last year Liberatore went 9-9 at AAA with a 4.04 ERA and 123 strikeouts over 124.2 innings. He finished with his young career's best walk rate (2.4) and repeated success in his strikeout rate (8.9). His downside came from 19 home runs allowed.

His fastball has mid-90s upside. Liberatore offers a plus curveball while still working on his slider and changeup.

Fantasy Outlook

Based on the starting options in mid-February for the Cardinals, Liberatore should be the favorite to win the fifth starting job unless St. Louis signs a free agent arm. At the very least, he should start the year at AAA with an early-season call-up to the majors. His ADP (661) is much too high based on his closeness to St. Louis and potential. I'm watching his progress in March as I expect him to be fantasy-relevant in 2022.


RP Giovanny Gallegos

Gallegos pitched his way to the bullpen early in his minor league career. Over eight seasons on the farm, he went 23-20 with a 2.78 ERA, 453 strikeouts, and 18 saves. His command was exceptional (1.9 walks per nine), with more growth in his strikeout rate (12.1) in his five seasons at AAA.

His major league career started with a 4.55 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 31.2 innings in 2017 and 2018. Over the last three seasons, Gallegos made a significant step forward with the Cardinals (2.76 ERA, 209 strikeouts, and 19 saves over 169.1 innings). Batters hit .176 against him with repeated success in his command (strikeout rate – 11.1 and walk rate – 2.1).

In 2021, a rough patch in mid-April (four runs, eight baserunners, and one home run over 4.2 innings) led to Gallegos pushing to the back burner for saves for the Cardinals. Over his next 26 games, he posted a 1.39 ERA, .132 BAA, and 34 strikeouts over 32.1 innings, but Gallegos surrendered the lead in three games with one save.

His arm lost value over his next 15 games (12 runs, 19 baserunners, and three home runs over 14.1 innings). St. Louis gave him the keys to the ninth inning in late August. His season ended with a 2.25 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 24 innings with 13 saves in 14 chances.

His average fastball (94.7) was the best of his career. His slider (.156 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.200 BAA) have closing value while adding a show-me changeup (.200 BAA).

Fantasy Outlook

Gallegos has the command and tools to save games. He developed late in the majors (age 29). His late success closing games put him in the driver seat to secure the ninth inning in 2022. He comes off the board as the 11th closer with an ADP of 111 in the early draft season in the NFBC. Gallegos should be a target this year as his overall package projects well.

RP Alex Reyes

Over six years in the minors, Reyes had a 3.53 ERA with 542 strikeouts over 394.2 innings. He walked 4.7 batters per nine in his career with elite strikeouts (12.4 per nine). In 2017, Reyes blew out his right elbow in mid-February, which led to TJ surgery and a lost season.

Last year Reyes looked the part of an upside arm while owning a higher ceiling if he could ever throw more strikes (walk rate – 6.5). The Cardinals gave him the closing job for almost the first five months (29-for-34). Reyes had five wins, and 20 saves on July 1st, thanks to his 0.91 ERA, .134 BAA, and 52 strikeouts over 39.2 innings despite issuing 31 walks.

However, his lack of command caught up to him over his next 17 games (15 runs, 19 hits, 13 walks, and three home runs over 18.1 innings with 20 strikeouts). Over this span, Reyes went 0-5 with four blown saves in nine opportunities. His season ended with a 4.40 ERA in September over 14.1 innings due to eight walks and four home runs.

His average fastball (97.0) remains elite. Reyes had three pitches that were tough to hit (four-seam fastball – .198 BAA, and changeup - .191 BAA, slider – .090 BAA).

Fantasy Outlook

On the positive side for Reyes, he pitched the most innings of his career with St. Louis. His ADP (314) in the NFBC puts him in a challenging handcuff range for Giovanny Gallegos. However, if Reyes shows better control, closing games is back on the table. His WHIP (1.355) does show his risk.

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