The St. Louis Cardinals have gone all in on their youth movement.
While some of us would have liked to see the Redbirds sign a dominant veteran hurler or two over the winter to mix in with the emerging fruit of the farm system, the team has cast its fate with four of its brightest prospects. Jordan Hicks was added to the opening day roster after an eye-opening exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays, joining Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes as dynamic — yet unproven — hurlers who will be counted on as members of the St. Louis pitching staff.
It seems like an awful lot to ask from such young and inexperienced players. Hicks is only in his second year of pro ball and he played in just eight games last year at Advanced Class A Palm Beach after spending the bulk of 2017 at Class A Peoria. We're wowed by his 101-mph fastball. But he walked 45 in 100 innings of work last year. So questions remain about if he actually knows where the ball is going.
Flaherty, who had a cup of coffee in the big leagues last year, has all of 15 Class AAA games under his belt while Reyes blew out his elbow in spring training last year, derailing what was going to be his coming out party.
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I hope this is the right move for the kids. You've got to cut your teeth at some point. But I don't want to see their egos and their future damaged by putting too much pressure on the shoulders of these young kids too fast. It's okay to have one or two prospects on the big league roster at once to contribute around the edges while veterans draw the toughest assignments. But when you have four raw kids playing significant roles on the pitching staff, there isn't a lot of opportunity to protect them. It doesn't do any good to put these guys in mop up roles in the majors when they could be the leaders of their teams in the minors.
The other risk from this move is that Hicks' free agent clock is being started awfully early. Why burn service time in a limited role in St. Louis instead of letting him hone his craft in Springfield or Memphis? By making this move now, the Cardinals are gambling that Hicks can make a monumental leap forward to be a difference maker at the back of the Birds' bullpen right now.
It will be interesting to see how it works out, to say the least.
On another subject, best wishes to 2006 World Series champion Chris Duncan who announced he'll take leave from his ESPN Radio show in order to attend to his returned brain tumor.
Duncan took a defiant tone toward the disease on social media. I hope he's able to fight this off and return to the airwaves soon.