Fast-Rising Dakota Hudson Looks Like A Starter
The challenge to Dakota Hudson from the Cardinals, whether they said it or their actions revealed it, was simple: He had to pitch so well and so dominant that he forced his way onto a full 40-man roster.
The 23-year-old righthander is close.
Hudson has been one of the most reliable starters in the minors and one of the most pronounced groundball pitchers at any level, including the majors. The 2016 first-rounder out of Mississippi State cruised to a 12-2, 2.42 start through 17 starts with Triple-A Memphis.
Because of his biting sinker and a sharp, darting slider that he can shape to his will—it was once called the best pitch in the organization by a Cardinals official—Hudson averages nearly two ground outs for every one in the air.
An injury to Adam Wainwright (elbow) and another surgery for hotshot prospect Alex Reyes (shoulder) has thinned the Cardinals’ robust rotation depth—but not moved Hudson any closer to the majors. That's because he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2019 season—unless he forces the issue before then.
BIGGEST LEAP FORWARD
By the end of spring training, the unanimous selection for the organization's most improved player had been part of a rethinking of the Cardinals’ depth chart at his position.
Even though he didn't make the major league team, 23-year-old Andrew Knizner emerged in March as a legit catching prospect, one closing in on the majors. A raw, stout fielder with an intriguing bat, Knizner has narrowed the gap on Carson Kelly, who entered the season as one of the top catching prospects in the minors.
Returned to Double-A Springfield to improve behind the plate, Knizner has not stopped hitting in 2018. In his first 100 games in the Texas League, he hit .319/.377/.444 with seven home runs. He has the arm to play catcher and the footwork, and with extensive attention during spring training he started to become more deft and creative handling pitchers.
A 2016 seventh-rounder from North Carolina State, Knizner has hit beyond his level, and his defense is catching up. That means by 2019 the Cardinals want to see him as a challenger to Kelly, not just behind Kelly.