St. Louis Cardinals: What to expect from Luke Weaver

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 11: Starter Luke Weaver
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 11: Starter Luke Weaver /

The St. Louis Cardinals have called up one of their top young starting pitchers… to pitch in relief. What can we expect when the No. 3 prospect in the Birds’ system works out of the bullpen?

Luke Weaver made his 2017 debut for the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, pitching a scoreless sixth inning against the Miami Marlins. The right-hander is one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the Cardinals’ farm, and he will work out of the bullpen in the majors going into the All-Star break.

It seems like an odd move to promote Weaver for this role. Granted, Mike Matheny has had to deal with some shaky pitching this season, but the bulk of the problems have come from starters. If Weaver were to eventually slide into the rotation, wouldn’t he be better served in Triple-A, where he had been excelling to the tune of a 1.93 ERA and would have remained stretched out to a full workload?

Furthermore, the 23-year-old’s stuff isn’t the type you’d associate with a typical reliever. Though he strikes out his fair share of hitters, Weaver’s K-rate isn’t elite and his velocity isn’t eye-grabbing. This isn’t enough to dampen his prospects as a starter, but it does make you wonder how effective he can be in the short term. Giving up two hits on Monday wasn’t an encouraging sign.

Cardinals fans hope Weaver will develop into a front-end starter someday armed with pinpoint control and a knee-buckling changeup. He has shown glimpses of that potential in the past; he introduced himself to Busch Stadium last year with six innings of one-run ball.

But Weaver won’t get the chance to make that sort of impact this time around, as he finds himself at the back end of a crowded bullpen pecking order.

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As things stand, it appears Weaver will act as a versatile option in relief, able to work as a swingman thanks to his starting background. It isn’t something he has done regularly since his freshman year at Florida State—when he pitched to a 5.93 ERA for the Seminoles. He hasn’t made a single relief appearance in 50 career minor-league games, and he was lit up for five runs across two-thirds of an inning in his only other big-league bullpen experience last September.

With the midseason break approaching, however, there’s a chance the Cardinals are simply allowing Weaver to enjoy a cup of coffee in St. Louis before returning to Triple-A Memphis and rejoining the club as a starter further down the line. Lefties Zach Duke and Kevin Siegrist are both nearing a return, likely crowding Weaver out of the relief picture anyway.

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Nevertheless, the Cardinals are getting a brief look at their future as the stars of the present prepare to put on a show next week. Whether or not Adam Wainwright continues his struggles and forces a change in the rotation this year, the 35-year-old is nearing the end of his career, and fellow starter Lance Lynn will be a free agent at the end of this season. There will be a spot open for Weaver before long. Until then, though, the right-hander will look to carve out a big-league role, even if it comes out of the bullpen.