Cardinals' Matthew Liberatore Masters Triple-A Learning Curve
More than a year after a trade to the Cardinals, Matthew Liberatore had yet to throw a pitch in competition for his new organization or handle an inning above Low-A.
He accomplished both by opening the 2021 season with Triple-A Memphis. He closed it on the brink of the majors.
At 21, Liberatore finished his first full season with the Cardinals with a 4.04 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 124.2 innings. One of the youngest starters in Triple-A East, Liberatore showed how his mature command of the strike zone helped his fastball and breaking ball excel.
After he adjusted to the Triple-A learning curve, of course.
The Cardinals acquired Liberatore from the Rays in January 2020 as part of a deal famous for sending 2021 AL Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay. The deal centered around Jose Martinez, an established righthanded bat, and gave the Cardinals a chance to streamline their outfield choices and add what had become a rarity in their system: a young lefthander with upside.
A lifelong friend of Cardinals prospect Nolan Gorman, Liberatore was earmarked to start 2020 in High-A and join his pal at some point in Double-A. Instead, they spent the whole summer together—marooned by the pandemic at the alternate training site.
Liberatore took advantage of the reps against the same hitters and tightened his curveball, smoothed his delivery, and started refining additional pitches, like his changeup.
When he started at Memphis, the competition was more advanced than he had ever faced, but his stuff caught up. Liberatore ran up a 5.15 ERA in his first 71.2 innings, but rather than have him step back a level and thrive, the Cardinals had Liberatore press on—and that’s when he did.
In his final 53 innings, Liberatore pitched to a 2.55 ERA, struck out 53, walked 14 and allowed just three home runs.
Liberatore reported early to spring training in 2022 and was expected to leave it as Memphis’ Opening Day starter.
— Won-Bin Cho, a teenager from South Korea, signed with the Cardinals hours after the international market opened and became the first amateur from Asia to sign with the organization. Cho, 18, flexed his power during a showcase event in 2019 at Texas, and opted not to enter his name in the KBO draft. The Cardinals were able to scout the lefthanded-hitting outfielder in workouts and games in Atlanta before offering him a six-figure bonus.
— The headliner for the Cardinals’ international class was shortstop Jonathan Mejia, a switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic. Mejia, 16, has a lively bat and projects power from both sides of the plate to suggest he’ll be above-average offensively at any infield position. He received a bonus around $2 million, the highest the Cardinals have given a player this young.