Cardinals to promote Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore;  Tyler O’Neill in IL

Cardinals to promote Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore; Tyler O’Neill in IL

There’s a major roster shake-up in St. Louis, as the Cardinals are set to welcome two of the game’s top prospects to the major leagues in the coming days. As first reported by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter connections), the team promoted both Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberator for this weekend’s series against the Pirates. Athletics’ Katie Woo tweet this outfielder Tyler O’Neill heads to the 10-day disabled list due to a right shoulder impingement on a corresponding roster move.

According to Goold, Gorman will be in the starting lineup tomorrow at second base. Seems to be his main role going forward, with Gold Glove second baseman Tommy Edman kick to the other side of the bag. Edman has been great this season, but the Cards haven’t gotten much production from their shortstops. Paul DeJong Struggled enough, the team picked him for Triple-A Memphis last week, seemingly paving the way for an upcoming Gorman promotion.

That’s not to say the Cardinals promoted Gorman hastily to make up for the struggles at the major league level — far from it. The left-handed hitter made his way to the majors with an incredible performance in Memphis. Over 147 plate appearances, he hit .308/.367/.677 with an astonishing 15 home runs. No other Triple-A hitter has more than 13 homers, and only the Cubs Robel Garcia has a higher slugging percentage in the International League.

Gorman’s production was not completely without problems, as he went on strike 50 times. That’s a clip of 34%, an alarming rate for any minor league player considering the superior quality of pitching he’ll face in the majors. Ultimately, however, Gorman’s power generation grew too large 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 being selected with the 19th pick in the 2018 draft at an Arizona high school. Considered a hard-hitting third baseman as an amateur, he more or less lived up to those expectations in the minors. Gorman has consistently posted huge overbase numbers while executing high strikeout totals. Prospect evaluators raised concerns about the amount of swing-and-miss in his game, but were unanimously enthusiastic in their praise of his upside power.

Each of the FanGraphs, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, Athletic’s Keith Law and Baseball America have ranked Gorman among the game’s top 60 prospects this past offseason. (Law and McDaniel both placed it in their top 20). That was before this season’s home run barrage, which only further raises the 22-year-old’s profile. Gorman went on to keystone in the minors with Nolan Arenado entrenched at third base. He is not considered an elite defender and will certainly be demoted by Edman there, but the hope is his attacking ability will more than make up for any issues on the other side of the ball.

Not to be upstaged, Gorman’s draft mate will make his major league debut a day later. Liberatore is lined up to start Saturday’s game against the Bucs, manager Oliver Marmol confirmed to reporters (Courteous link). The skipper says it remains to be determined whether there will be more than one starting point for the 22-year-old southpaw. Either way, the fact that Liberatore is now lined up to pitch at the majors suggests he’s firmly on the organizational rotation depth chart.

Coincidentally, Liberatore was also drafted in the first round from a Phoenix-area high school the same year as Gorman, and the two have been friends since childhood. Considered one of the best prep arms in the class that year, he fell to the Rays in 16th place due to concerns over his signing bonus – which eventually reached just under 3.5million. dollars. As Liberatore’s fastball was in the 90s, he praised his secondary deals, especially a curveball that evaluators consider his best shot. He pitched well for his first season-plus in the lower tiers of the Tampa Bay farming system, then was embroiled in a January 2020 blockbuster that sent Randy Arozarena back to Tampa Bay.

The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season prevented 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 own, throwing 124 2/3 innings of 4.04 ERA ball with a solid 23.7% strikeout rate and excellent walking percentage of 6.3%. St. Louis assigned him there to open this season, and he’s been making progress from a swing-and-miss standpoint. Liberatore’s ERA and walk rate are in line with his 2021 ratings, but he has improved his strikeout rate by nearly five points in his first seven starts.

Liberatore is also considered by most reviewers to be one of the top 100 minor league talents. He’s not considered a future ace, but between his excellent control and full arsenal, he’s unanimously seen as a possible mainstay in the rotation. It’s unclear if the Cardinals will immediately plug him into that role, but it seems likely he’ll be taking the ball every five days in St. Louis before long.

Neither Gorman nor Liberatore will rack up enough major league service time this year to reach the one-year mark. Even though both players are definitely in the majors, neither will be eligible for free agency until the end of the 2028 campaign at the earliest. The two players are well positioned to reach early refereeing as Super Two qualifiers after the 2024 season, although that hinges on staying in the big leagues from now on. In the case of Liberatore, in particular, it seems that future optional assignments are always possible.

The cards have Adam Wainwright, steven matz, dakota hudson, Miles Mikolas and Jordan Hicks as their main starting five at the moment. Wainwright and Mikolas were excellent. Matz has struggled but will not be pushed out of the two-month rotation in a four-year contract. Hudson doesn’t have great takedown and walk marks, but he leads his typically elite ground ball production to decent results. That’s more or less also true for Hicks, who stretched into the rotation after a few years as a high-leverage bullpen arm.

Of course, St. Louis has arguably been without its best pitcher all season. Jack Flaherty did not pitch due to a shoulder problem that required injection of platelet-rich plasma. He has been on the 10-day injured list all year, and the club announced he had been transferred to the 60-day IL to free up space for Gorman on the 40-man roster.

It’s simply a procedural move that keeps Flaherty out for two months from the opening date. The 26-year-old has yet to embark on minor league rehab and surely wouldn’t have been ready to make a return to MLB until the first week of June anyway. Flaherty recently started pitching bullpen sessions, so it seems reasonable that he could be in minor league play within weeks.

The club will also need to create a place on Liberatore’s 40-man roster, with that transaction set to take place before Saturday’s game. Aside from Flaherty, St. Louis doesn’t have any obvious candidates for a 60-day IL transfer, so it seems likely someone will be slated for assignment in the next two days.

The only disappointing aspect of today’s news is that O’Neill is heading to IL. He has missed the last two days battling shoulder discomfort which will now cost him at least a week and a half. The team didn’t provide any indication if he faces a longer absence than the minimum stay.

So continues a tough start to the year for O’Neill, who is just one season away from an eighth-place finish in the NL MVP vote. The 26-year-old hit just .195/.256/.297 with a pair of homers in 133 plate appearances, a far cry from the 34 homers he produced last season. O’Neill, who also lost his arbitration hearing last week, will try to get back on track as soon as he is healthy enough to make a comeback.

Images courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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