Dakota Hudson Makes A Quick Impression
The Cardinals’ search for their next power-packed, middle-of-the-order hitter made headlines this past winter, but it was a subtler move during the 2017 season that gave them a chance to develop an internal candidate.
By trading lefty Marco Gonzales to the Mariners for outfielder Tyler O’Neill, the Cardinals dealt from their depth (pitching) to acquire an area of need (power). O'Neill, the muscle-bound son of a former Mr. Canada, slugged as expected: His 26 home runs for Triple-A Memphis ranked third-most in the Pacific Coast League. Only sporadic promotions to the majors kept his .311/.385/693 slash line and 1.078 OPS from ranking among the league leaders.
O’Neill has raw, bottle-rocket power that he gets from torque—and he has added a change in approach. He realized he naturally makes hard contact, so he focused on making contact more often and shrank his strikeout rate, which puts him nearer a role in St. Louis.
One measure of how impressive a young pitcher was in the minors is how his performance there lingered long after he graduated to the major leagues.
Righthander Dakota Hudson, more than a month after leaving Memphis, won the PCL pitcher of the year award for going 13-3, 2.50 with 87 strikeouts and only one homer allowed in 111.2 innings.
The 23-year-old has a sharp, biting sinker that makes him one of the best groundball pitchers in all of pro baseball. Lefthanded hitters were three times more likely to hit a groundout than a flyout against the righthander, and he has the ability to throw off that sinker to a changeup and tight breaking ball.
The Mississippi State product was part of the Cardinals’ midseason bullpen makeover and emerged as the preferred seventh-inning setup man, bringing stability to the role. He could return to it in 2019, though the organization sees his future as a mid-rotation starter.
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KEEP AN EYE ON
There’s little doubt internally who will ascend in the next 12 months as the Cardinals’ leading prospect. Promotions give them away.
In his pro debut, 18-year-old third baseman Nolan Gorman mashed his way from Rookie-level Johnson City to low Class A Peoria, where he saw regular playing time, the postseason, and a hint of what’s ahead. He hit .291/.380/.570 with 17 homers and 44 RBIs in 63 games in the Appalachian and Midwest leagues.
Taken 19th overall in June, the Arizona native has the kind of lefthanded, upside swing the Cardinals rarely get a chance to draft and are giddy to now nurture.