Luke Weaver: Call Up Questions Answered

Mar 4, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Luke Weaver (83) pitches against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Luke Weaver (83) pitches against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Luke Weaver will make his MLB debut on Saturday and when top prospects like him are called up, fans want to know: Is this guy any good? Is he going to help us win? Should I pick him up in fantasy baseball? We have those answers for you.

Luke Weaver will be called up on Saturday by the St. Louis Cardinals to start for injured right-hander Michael Wacha. He’ll be the second top pitching prospect from the Cardinal’s system to make his major league debut this week following the electric-armed Alex Reyes.

While Weaver doesn’t have nearly as high of a ceiling as Reyes, he is widely-considered a Top 100 prospect across the industry and has been one of the minors most dominant pitchers in 2016.

Who is Luke Weaver?

A native of DeLand, FL, Weaver was initially drafted out of high school in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 19th round. Weaver, instead of signing chose to attend Florida State University, where he became one of the program’s top hurlers in short order.

The right-hander saw his stock rise as an MLB prospect after an incredible sophomore season, where he pitched to a 7-2 record with a 2.29 ERA and struck out 119 hitters in 98 innings and held opponents to a .229 batting average.

The Cardinals made him their first round pick following his junior season when he went 8-4 with a 2.62 ERA and was a First Team All-ACC selection.

Weaver was an excellent student while at FSU and made the Deans List for the Fall 2013 semester and was a member of the All-ACC Academic team in 2014. He decided to forgo his senior year at FSU however, and signed with the Cardinals for a $1,843,00 dollar signing bonus.

Due to a heavy workload at FSU, the Cardinals didn’t get much of a look at Weaver in 2014, but the few outings he did have were alarmingly bad and his velocity was noticeably lower.

A gangly, 6’2″ and 170 pounds, Weaver had his durability come to question right away as he didn’t debut in 2015 until mid-May due to continued shoulder fatigue which immediately explained his velocity loss.

What kind of pitcher is Luke Weaver?

Weaver’s bread and butter is an excellent fastball-changeup combination. His fastball sits in the 92-94 mile per hour range and he generally works up in the zone with it to make his plus changeup, which has a lot of sink on it, even more effective.

More from Call to the Pen

There is a good 10-12 mile per hour separation between the two pitches and he throws it from the same arm slot.  Weaver’s cleaned-up mechanics and consistent delivery make the two pitches very hard to discern for the hitter and because of that, he can use his changeup as a put-away pitch.

His breaking stuff, however, is uninspiring. His curveball is a true 12-6 offering that is below average and a cutter which he debuted in the Arizona Fall League and is still a work in progress.

Despite this, Weaver has been able to use his breaking stuff effectively in the minors because he has above average control and command and can spot both pitches well.

It’s unlikely he’ll have the same success in the majors with that approach though,and most scouts think that to reach his ceiling as a #3 starter he’ll need to develop one of his breaking balls, likely the cutter.

In a 2016 scouting report, Baseball America espoused that Weaver was primarily a flyball pitcher, but Weaver doesn’t necessarily agree with that assertion telling FanGraphs in a January interview:

"“ I think my ground balls come mostly from keeping my fastball down in the zone. I’m kind of from a three-quarter slot, so I get a little bit of an arm-side run. Sometimes it’s bigger and sometimes it’s smaller, but it’s enough for me to get a little bit of deception as the ball is coming in. If I keep it down in the bottom of the zone, I get a lot more ground balls. Obviously, if I get it up in the zone, more fly balls come."

How Has Luke Weaver Performed?

The short answer: exceedingly well. Weaver has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the minor leagues the past two seasons.

Last year for the Class-A Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals, Weaver put up spectacular numbers even for the pitching-friendly Florida State League.

He had a minuscule 1.62 ERA and 1.11 WHIP and allowed just two home runs in 105.1 innings. His HR/9 rate of 0.17 was spectacular by any measure, even pitching in the cozy confines of the FSL.

Taking the step up to Double-A Springfield this season as a 22-year-old after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, Weaver has been even better, posting a 1.40 ERA and a Kershaw-esque 8.80 K/BB ratio.

The advanced metrics support his great ERA’s both seasons as his FIP was 2.28 in 2015 and 2.10 this year and Weaver’s tendency to pitch in the zone and throw strikes forces the hitter to beat him.

He’s been limited to just 12 starts this season due to a fractured wrist on his non-throwing hand and just made his first start at the Triple-A level on Monday throwing six scoreless innings.

Will Luke Weaver Help the Cardinals in 2016?

The jury is still out on that one. His soon-to-be-manager, Mike Matheny, certainly thinks highly of him telling

"“He’s had great reports for a while, but it just looks like this last year has been a different level. Wherever he’s gone, whatever kind of challenge he’s been given, he’s been able to answer it.”"

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak won’t commit to anything beyond Saturday’s start, so he is not a sure-thing to continue taking Micahel Wacha’s turn in the rotation. With St. Louis currently tied for the second National League Wildcard spot, Weaver will have to perform to have any chance of getting additional starts.

September call-ups are just a few weeks away though and even if he is sent down for more seasoning at Triple-A following Saturday’s start, he’ll likely be back, but perhaps in a long-relief role.

Weaver’s stuff would play up well in the bullpen and he would be an asset there if he can touch 97 in short bursts like he has at times this year and did in the Arizona Fall league last October.

There are two main variables to consider – the Cardinals posts-season aspirations and Weaver’s development – and how the club chooses to balance those two elements will determine how much of a role he’ll play in the short-term.

Long-term he is certainly going to be given a shot to stick in the rotation, but as has been the case with Carlos Martinez in the past and fellow prospect Alex Reyes currently, the Cardinals may choose to let him get some major league seasoning in a relief role.

A distinction should be made between Weaver and Reyes though – Weaver has great control and doesn’t need polishing in that department like Reyes does.

What he DOES need is to refine a third pitch and that is best done in Triple-A. So regardless of what happens in 2016, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start next season in Memphis to work on that.

Will Luke Weave Help My Fantasy Team?

In 2016? Likely not. I would hold off on making a claim on him in all but the deepest formats where he would be worth a flyer.

His debut will be against the mighty Cubs at Wrigley, as tough as an opening assignment as a pitcher can get. The Cubs are a team that like to swing the lumber and with Weaver being a strike-thrower, I could easily see them teeing off on him.  I would stay far away from this match-up and take a wait-and-see approach.

It’s very easy to see the incredible minor league numbers and expect more of the same upon promotion, but to do so is a mistake. Weaver has been impressive no doubt, but with just one start above Double-A, I need to see more success against advanced hitters before I get too excited.

Pitchers with much higher pedigrees (Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias, Tyler Glasnow, Jose Berrios) have taken their lumps in the majors this year and that should be evidence enough that a smooth transition from the high minors to the majors is far from a guarantee – even for highly-regarded prospects.

Next: Alex Reyes Has Downright Filthy Stuff

In dynasty leagues however, he is a commodity worth holding on to or perhaps even trying to acquire. I think that his fastball-changeup combo is good enough to let him stick in the back of the rotation or pitch as a high leverage reliever, with the upside for more.