Every Friday as part of Daily Dish, we’ll try to look at a lesser-known prospect who is having an exceptional season.
In 2006 the Cardinals took Jason Motte, a strong-armed if weak-hitting catcher, and moved him to the mound after three years of offensive futility. Three years later he was pitching in the big leagues and battling for the club’s closer job.
Three years later, history may be repeating itself.
The same year that Motte moved to the mound the Cardinals drafted Casey Mulligan in the 22nd round. Mulligan was a third baseman/pitcher at Valencia (Calif.) High, but the Cardinals quickly turned him into a catcher. The catching part never really took, and three years later, he carried a .218/.307/.309 career average that made it clear he wasn’t going to be a big league hitter.
Then fate, and the team’s memory of his high school pitching days, stepped in. In early June, Mulligan was wasting away on the Palm Beach Cardinals bench as a backup catcher. The Cardinals bullpen gave up nine runs in the seventh inning against Clearwater to blow a game out of reach. Rather than waste another bullpen arm, Mulligan was asked if he wanted to pitch the ninth. He eagerly agreed and went out to retire the side in order, showing a 90 mph fastball.
"They told me ‘you’re a pitcher now,’ " Mulligan said.
With the way’s he’s pitching, he’ll never have to worry about donning a chest protector again. In 11 appearances with the Quad City River Bandits, Mulligan has retired the side in order eight times. He’s struck out the side three times and struck out two in six other outings. In his second to last outing, Mulligan got the first batter to ground to the shortstop, but Niko Vasquez threw the ball away for an error. No problem, Mulligan got the next batter to ground to Vasquez for a potential double play. But Vasquez booted that one as well, putting runners at first and second with no out. No problem, Mulligan just took things into his own hands and struck out the next three batters.
His stats seem like a high school star’s stats: 1-0. 0.82 ERA, 7 saves, 11 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 23 Ks.
"He’s real special," Quad Cities pitching coach Ace Adams said. "He impresses me every time he goes out there. He’s got excellent poise. He’s very competitive."
Mulligan’s past history as a high school pitcher meant that when he went to the mound for the Cardinals, he didn’t have nearly the adjustment period many catchers turned pitchers face. He already has a solid curveball to go with his 92 mph fastball, and he also mixes in an occasional changeup. He also knows how to hold runners and field the position. But Mulligan’s secret weapon is his ability to change arm angles. He normally throws over the top, but when he gets ahead in the count, he’ll also drop down to sidearm or three-quarters to give hitters something else to worry about.
While catching may not have given him a lot of success on the field, Mulligan has found that it paid off now that he’s back on the mound.
"It’s definitely helped as far as what pitches to call and what location to throw to," he said. "I now know what to do before I do it. With reading hitters’ swings it definitely helps."
Mulligan has managed to make ever River Bandits game an eight-inning affair, but Adams hopes he won’t be doing that for much longer.
"He’s ready to move on," Adams said. "I could see him going to Double-A right now and getting hitters out."
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