The first thing that jumps out when looking through the Louisville roster is the size of the Cardinals top 2018 pitching prospects. Look at some of these monsters: 6-4, 210 pounds, 6-6, 225 pounds, 6-6, 240 pounds, 6-6, 220 pounds, and 6-8, 240 pounds. Maybe you’re one super tall rim protector short, but otherwise that’s a pretty fun starting five for a modern day position-less basketball team. Let’s take a closer look at each…
RHP Riley Thompson (6-4, 210 pounds)
In terms of raw stuff, there are few better prospects in the country than Thompson. Armed with an electric fastball (90-96, 98 peak), consistently average or better breaking ball (78-86, will flash plus), and a solid if firm 84-88 MPH changeup, Thompson has the three pitches, imposing size, and prospect pedigree (if not for Tommy John surgery two weeks before the 2015 MLB Draft, he’d likely be well into a pro career by now) to jump into the draft’s first round. Unfortunately, the aforementioned size and injury past has made his developmental path a bumpy one. Since arriving at Louisville, Thompson has missed a season while recovering from his Tommy John and thrown 15.2 innings of good (13.27 K/9), bad (5.19 BB/9), and fine (4.02 ERA) ball as a redshirt-freshman. He’s currently five starts into a season showing more of the same as he did last year. The stuff remains top notch, but his control (not good) and command (below-average, believed to be equal parts from searching for a consistent release point and still working himself back into top shape after the surgery) have limited his overall effectiveness. If you know where Thompson will be valued by draft day, then let me know. I’m still trying to piece it all together. I think he might be looked at as one of those “first round stuff with tenth round pitchability” types who winds up splitting the difference draft-wise.
RHP Bryan Hoeing (6-6, 225 pounds)
You could make a strong case for Hoeing over Thompson as Louisville’s top 2018 pitching prospect. Though I currently like Thompson a hair more, I’ll give it a shot. What Hoeing lacks in Thompson’s top end velocity he makes up for with a better present breaking ball (78-80) and a much more promising low-80s changeup (above-average, plus upside). And that fastball that doesn’t quite match up to Thompson’s is still pretty damn good. At full health, Hoeing sits 88-94 MPH and can hit 95. On top of all that, he has great size and plenty of athleticism. There’s a lot to like here. Like Thompson, he’ll have to answer questions about his own recovery from Tommy John surgery as well as whether or not he can master the finer parts of pitching to allow his big stuff to work against pro bats.
RHP Sam Bordner (6-6, 240 pounds)
Bordner, Louisville’s closer, is one of my favorite 2018 college reliever to professional starter conversion projects. With a quality fastball (88-94, 95 peak) and a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (80-84 MPH breaking ball and changeup), he’s certainly got the assortment of pitches to make the switch. Whether or not he’s got the delivery and arm action to hold up to the rigors of a starter’s workload is in the eye of the beholder, but I’d at least try to get a guy with his size, athleticism, and track record of success stretched out to see what you have firsthand once he enters pro ball. Of course, it’s easy to like the idea of Bordner as a starter when you know you have the safety net of Bordner as a reliever reliever as a backup. That aforementioned track record of success comes exclusively in relief and includes a silly 0.41 ERA in 43.2 IP last season and a pristine 0.00 ERA through ten innings to start this season. That’s pretty good.
LHP Adam Wolf (6-6, 220 pounds)
The fact that we’ve been through three really good names already — though, to be fair, names chosen in in no particular order besides the fact this is the way they are listed in my notes — before getting to Wolf, potentially the best 2018 prospect on the Louisville team, says something about the depth the Cardinals have built up on this roster. Wolf’s velocity is more good than great, so it’s his plus cutter and average to above-average breaking ball (with a chance to be plus as well) that make him the dominant college pitcher that he is. Tack on an interesting low-80s changeup and a delivery with ample deception, and you can understand why Wolf has emerged as the Cardinals best starter in 2018. Like literally every other pitcher on this list, I’ve heard from smart people in the know who believe that Wolf’s long-term home is the bullpen. I get it — his fastball would play up in shorter outings and his changeup isn’t quite where it needs to be yet to get through a pro lineup multiple times — but, as you may have picked up on already, I think almost all pitchers deserve their shot to keep starting until they prove outright they can’t do the job any longer. As a matchup lefty reliever Wolf could be deadly, but I’d still much rather see what he could be pitching every fifth day in the pros.
RHP Liam Jenkins (6-8, 240 pounds)
It’s been all good news so far, but, in the interest of remaining fair and balanced, there is some less than good news to report on. Jenkins is a really talented young pitcher, but the big righty hasn’t gotten a chance to show it off just yet. Control remains the well-traveled Jenkins’s fatal flaw. His fastball (up to 97 at its best) and slider (mid-80s and impressive when on) are enough to get him noticed, but control has been a problem for years. The former Arizona State Sun Devil walked over five batters per nine in junior college last season (also over a strikeout per inning and a good ERA) and has almost doubled that figure in his admittedly small sample start for Louisville. On the plus side, the stuff and size remain so intriguing that a late round pick on Jenkins (if signable) still seems like a smart investment. Betting on big arms (and bodies) to turn the corner with daily pro instruction from experienced coaches will still give you more misses than hits, but the hits are often big enough to make it all worth it.
LHP Rabon Martin isn’t one of the Louisville giants and his stuff is far from overwhelming (86-90 heat, decent 75-79 breaking ball), but the man has gotten results. RHP Austin Conway is a little bigger with stuff both a little firmer (89-92 FB, 94 peak) and crisper (his 78-84 breaking ball flashes above-average to plus). With a strikeout rate over one per inning spanning his entire college career, the Indiana State transfer has an even more accomplished track record than Martin. Both pitchers are good enough to play professionally
OF Josh Stowers has the most upside of any 2018 Cardinal position player. He’s often referred to as a five-tool player, so he has that going for him. I’m not quite so sure — yes, he has all five tools but none stand out in the way I’ve come to expect out of a true “five-tool player” — but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him a lot. Stowers is coming off a .300/.400/.500 season (.313/.422/.507 to be exact…you know, I’ve always thought there should be a catchy name for a triple-slash line like that) where he walked almost as much as he struck out (31 BB/33 K) while flashing power, athleticism, and enough range to hang in center. The last point is one that’s up for debate depending on what day you see Stowers. His best present tool (speed that plays above-average to plus) makes him a natural fit up the middle, but there is still some question as to whether his arm (inconsistent, though mostly around average) and instincts are suited for the task. Considering my ceiling for Stowers is more fourth outfielder (but a good one!) than everyday player, the ability to play a credible center is a little less important for me. As long as he can play it well enough — and he can — then I’m good. His speed, pop, and patience will do the rest.
There’s little not to like about 2B/3B Devin Mann‘s offensive profile. He makes decent contact, flashes some pop, and is opportunistic on the bases. There’s little to love there as well — no carrying tool, some question how much his present decent contact projects, he’s awkward fit defensively as an infielder who looks like a third baseman but throws like a second baseman — so the math probably adds up to a bat-first utility upside…if you believe in the bat.
1B Logan Wyatt has all the ingredients necessary to be the latest Louisville hitter I’m willing to look past some positional issues with and rank higher than most. OF Drew Campbell sure seems like he has the skill to be the next exciting Cardinals center field prospect of note. 2B/OF Jake Snider can hit. SS/3B Tyler Fitzgerald and 3B/SS Justin Lavey both need a hefty dose of polish, but offer serious upside. RHP Shay Smiddy, RHP Michael McAvene, and LHP Nick Bennett all are intriguing names to know heading into 2019. RHP Bobby Miller and LHP Reid Detmers are both really high follows for 2020.
rSO RHP Riley Thompson (2018)
rSO RHP Bryan Hoeing (2018)
JR RHP Sam Bordner (2018)
JR LHP Adam Wolf (2018)
rSR RHP Austin Conway (2018)
rSO RHP Liam Jenkins (2018)
SR LHP Rabon Martin (2018)
JR 2B/3B Devin Mann (2018)
JR OF Josh Stowers (2018)
JR C Zeke Pinkham (2018)
rJR C Pat Rumoro (2018)
SO RHP Shay Smiddy (2019)
SO RHP Michael McAvene (2019)
SO LHP Nick Bennett (2019)
SO LHP/OF Adam Elliott (2019)
SO SS/3B Tyler Fitzgerald (2019)
SO 3B/SS Justin Lavey (2019)
SO 1B Logan Wyatt (2019)
SO OF Dan Oriente (2019)
SO OF Drew Campbell (2019)
SO OF Ethan Stringer (2019)
SO 2B/OF Jake Snider (2019)
FR RHP Bobby Miller (2020)
FR LHP Reid Detmers (2020)
FR LHP Michael Kirian (2020)
FR RHP Glenn Albanese (2020)
FR OF/RHP Lucas Dunn (2020)
FR C/OF Zach Britton (2020)
FR OF Tey Leonard (2020)
FR 3B/1B Cameron Masterman (2020)
FR C Ben Bianco (2020)