'Just another day at work': Behind Kloffenstein's stellar debut

June 24th, 2024

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS -- Almost as if he could see into his son’s immediate future, John Kloffenstein spoke through bleary red eyes and a wavering voice, and said no matter what happens in the distant future, right-handed pitcher and the family would always have their magical night at historic Rickwood Field to savor.

“The biggest thing for me is that this is a dream come true for Adam; this isn’t him just reaching some goal, because very few people ever get to see a dream like this come true,” John said after his son pitched a scoreless eighth inning in his MLB debut in the Cardinals' 6-5 win over the Giants on Thursday night in Birmingham, Ala. “Obviously, we hope that he’s a Major Leaguer for a long time to come. But even if he isn’t, this [performance] will always be there and we’re as proud of him as we can possibly be.”

As fate would have it in the crazy world of roster shuffling at the big league level, Kloffenstein -- the No. 15 prospect in St. Louis’ system, per MLB Pipeline -- was optioned back to Triple-A Memphis on Friday. The move came a day after he bailed out a short-handed Cardinals bullpen with a scoreless inning of relief on one of the game’s grandest stages. Considering the confidence and steely resolve that the 6-foot-5 Kloffenstein displayed, he certainly figures to be back in the big leagues very soon.

“When he was walking out to the mound, I said to him, ‘Hey man, just another day at work,’” Cardinals rookie shortstop Masyn Winn said of his pep talk to calm the nerves of the 23-year-old Kloffenstein. “Then, he very comfortably said, ‘Three righties up, you’re about to get some ground balls!’ Big smile on his face and he didn’t look nervous. He really stepped up in a big moment for us.”

Kloffenstein, who came to the Cardinals along with Sem Robberse (St. Louis' No. 12 prospect) in a trade with the Blue Jays for Jordan Hicks on July 30, allowed ignorance to be bliss during his MLB debut. Because of the positioning of the Cards' bullpen and the manual scoreboard, Kloffenstein said he had no idea of the game circumstances when he entered.

“I was like, ‘Who’s coming in after me?’ Then I turned around and saw it was 6-5 in the eighth,” Kloffenstein joked. “Oh, [closer Ryan] Helsley is coming in? I was like, ‘I just set up for Helsley? No way!’”

A third-round Draft pick in 2018 by the Blue Jays, Kloffenstein has spent six seasons working to try and get his MLB shot. A recent three-start stretch with Memphis (June 5-16) where he was 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 innings gave the Cardinals the belief that he could help them.

Because he had to hurriedly scramble to get from Memphis to Birmingham in less than two hours, Kloffenstein quickly alerted his family and friends of his MLB promotion with a series of 30- and 60-second calls. On the big day, he was able to land 10 tickets for folks who savored his success.

“I cried when he first walked on the field before the game, because he was about to be in a Major League game and he had worked so hard,” Kloffenstein’s mother Renee said. “When he came out [of the bullpen], I was bawling. Then, when I saw him after the game, I lost it again. It’s been a very emotional, but wonderful day.”

Here's a look at some of the other top performers in the Cardinals' Minor League system thus far:

Triple-A Memphis: A couple of outfielders who started the season in St. Louis, Jordan Walker and Victor Scott II (No. 3 prospect), have hit the ball better of late. Walker, who could be close to a return to the big leagues if the Cardinals need to put third baseman Nolan Arenado on the injured list with nerve irritation in his left forearm, opened eyes recently with a 427-foot home run that left the bat at 109.4 mph. In 43 Triple-A games, Walker is hitting .264 with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

Scott, who got a callup to the Rickwood Field Game and played an inning of defense in left field, pushed his average to .202 with a recent flurry. Scott has 19 steals in 22 attempts, but he is still working to become a better line-drive hitter.

Double-A Springfield: Tink Hence, the No. 1 prospect in the Cards' system, per MLB Pipeline, sent up alarms when he left his most recent start two pitches into the second inning. Hence, who was in Birmingham, Ala., last week for the Rickwood Game, said he left his June 5 start after two innings with “tightness” in his side/chest/shoulder area. That issue arose again on Sunday when he labored through a 32-pitch first inning and made it just two pitches into the second inning before catcher Jimmy Crooks (No. 11 prospect) headed out to the mound.

Cooper Hjerpe (No. 6 prospect) notched his first Double-A victory when he combined with reliever Andrew Marrero for a seven-inning no-hitter on Thursday. Hjerpe struck out six and walked just one while needing just 64 pitches over five innings in the 5-0 defeat of Corpus Christi. Marrero struck out three over the final two innings for the no-hitter.

High-A Peoria: Left-handed pitcher Quinn Mathews (No. 20 prospect) has been arguably the most impressive performer in the Cardinals' system all season. After opening the season at Single-A Palm Beach by striking out 52 over six starts, the 23-year-old former Stanford star has continued to throw the ball well in seven starts with Peoria. Following his defeat of Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Mathews is 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA. More impressively, he has struck out 58 batters while walking just nine. In 74 1/3 innings over two levels (Single-A and High-A), Mathews has fanned 110 batters while walking just 20. Could another promotion -- this time to Double-A Springfield -- be far behind?

Single-A Palm Beach: Miguel Villarroel, a 22-year-old shortstop out of Venezuela, continues to lead the Florida State League in hits (86) and batting average (.335). He had three more hits on Sunday -- a game where Palm Beach led Tampa 13-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth before having to hang on and win 13-11. The 5-foot-11 Villarroel has one homer and 34 RBIs and he’s 18-for-18 in stolen-base attempts this season.