The Situation: Yesterday, we wrote a call-up on Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes, and how he was on his way up to help stabilize the rotation. Apparently, that’s all hogwash and poppycock, because Reyes is headed to the bullpen, and Luke Weaver will make his big-league debut on Saturday in place of Michael Wacha.
Background: Weaver was one of the best pitchers in the country his sophomore year at Florida State University, posting a 2.29 ERA and an impressive 119/19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just over 98 innings. He struggled to repeat those numbers as a junior (85 strikeouts in just over 106 innings), but still was considered a first-round talent in the 2014 draft, and St. Louis procured his services with the 27th pick that June. Since entering the Cardinals system, the numbers have been ridiculous; he’s posted a career era of 1.78, and after posting a 1.40 ERA with 88 strikeouts in Double-A Springfield and a shutout in his first start at Triple-A, St. Louis is ready to see if those numbers can translate to the next level.
Scouting Report: Weaver by no means has prototypical starter size. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 but is likely an inch or two shorter than that, and calling him slim is an understatement. That being said, he does have excellent arm-strength, and his fastball is plus thanks to his ability to get it into the 92-94 mph range with the occasional tick up along with late life. He also has a quick arm, and that arm speed helps make his change a plus offering, with occasional flashes up to plus-plus.
Those two pitches make Weaver intriguing. His breaking balls, however, leave scouts wanting. He will throw both a slider and curve, but neither pitch flashes more than 45-grade on a consistent basis, and they will also run into each other. At some point the Cardinals may need to tell Weaver to scratch one and focus on developing either the curve or the slider (probably the slider) into a big-league pitch.
Even if the slider/curve/slurve/crider doesn’t develop into more than a fringe-average pitch, Weaver has a chance to start because of the two plus pitches, and the fact that he can throw everything for strikes. He repeats his delivery as well as you can repeat it, and that allows him to hit his spots with all four (or 3.5, if you will) offerings on all parts of the plate. The control is slightly ahead of the command, but when you’re working with thin margins like Weaver is, the ability to get ahead and throw that nasty change is going to be a huge benefit.
Immediate Big-League Future: I feel like a kindergarten teacher sometimes with the big-league future, but here we go again: If Weaver throws strikes like he did at every other level from college on, he has a chance to succeed. That being said, because of the iffy—at best—breaking pitches, there are reasons to be concerned in the short, medium and long-term. Having three plus tools is wonderful, but it’s really hard to be a successful starter at this level without at least an average curve, slider, screwball, what have you, and it remains to be seen whether Weaver will have that. The upside is a mid-rotation guy because of the command, but the floor is lower than it should be for someone who can throw this many strikes. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: The 22-year-old right-hander excelled in his Triple-A debut earlier this week, scattering a pair of hits and walks, while striking out four, across six scoreless innings. After missing the first two months of the season with a wrist fracture, Weaver has posted a stellar 1.30 ERA (0.93 WHIP) with 92 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 83 innings this year. It’s hard to find a more impressive minor-league resume over the past two years combined than the Florida State product, who owns a 1.85 ERA with a 204:35 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 214 1/3 innings, since the start of the 2015 season.
With top prospect Alex Reyes slated to work out of the Cardinals bullpen, where his triple-digit fastball velocity and devastating curveball project to be even more effective in short bursts, it’s Weaver who will step into the starting rotation now that Michael Wacha is headed to the disabled list. While he doesn’t possess Reyes’ overpowering arsenal (very few major-league starters can even make that claim), it’s his pinpoint control (career 1.6 BB/9) and ability to consistently go deep into games (tossing at least six innings in 10 of his 13 starts this year) that make him the better short-term rotation option for St. Louis.
In deeper mixed leagues and NL-only formats, Weaver is a savvy investment from a fantasy perspective because he projects as an extremely low-risk source of quality innings over the final two months. Outside of deep keeper and dynasty formats, he hasn’t generated the type of buzz that would drive up his acquisition cost in re-draft formats, making him a prime target for contenders on a tight FAAB budget. —George Bissell
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