Cards continue to prioritize left-handed pitching

July 19th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- The importance of having left-handers in the rotation for the Cardinals can’t be understated, especially when accounting for the troubles that right-handed hitters have traditionally had hitting home runs at Busch Stadium in the hot and humid summer months.

That’s a big reason why the Cardinals went out and signed lefty Steven Matz to a four-year, $44 million free-agent deal last November. And, undoubtedly, it played a major role in the Cards using their first three selections of the 2022 MLB Draft on collegiate lefties with big-time strikeout stuff.

After using the 22nd and 59th overall picks of the Draft on left-handers Cooper Hjerpe (Round 1) and Brycen Mautz (Round 2), the Cardinals tripled down on their efforts to land a difference-making southpaw by selecting University of Texas star pitcher Pete Hansen (Round 3) on Monday.

Add in catcher Jimmy Crooks III (Round 4), outfielders Victor Scott II (Round 5) and Alex Iadisernia (Round 7), and six of the first seven players drafted by the Cardinals either throw left-handed, bat left-handed or do both from the left side. Maybe it’s only fitting that the organization leaned left with their prospects considering assistant GM/director of scouting Randy Flores is a former lefty in St. Louis' organization. Flores said it wasn’t until after Day 2 of the Draft that he learned that Cards manager Oliver Marmol likes having plenty of southpaws in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen.

“Honestly, if those players were a combination of performance and scouting evaluation and had been right-handed, then our first three selections might have been right-handed,” said Flores. “With that being said, it’s always nice to make your skipper happy.”

Of the Cardinals’ 10 selections through the first two days of the three-day Draft, seven have been pitchers. While the first three picks were left-handed, St. Louis’ final three selections -- Texas-Arlington’s Cade Winquest (Round 8), California’s Joseph King (Round 9) and Queens University of Charlotte’s Tanner Jacobson (Round 10) were all right-handed pitchers. UCLA righty Max Rajcic, a sixth-round selection, might be one of the biggest late-round steals so far for the Cards, Flores said.

“Candidly, we were kind of surprised that he was still on the board in the sixth round,” Flores said of Rajcic, who was 8-5 with a 3.28 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 85 innings this past season with the Bruins. “He was someone who -- credit to our area scout -- we saw his stuff tick up later in the year. Early in the year, some of the velocity that you would hope for to pitch in pro ball wasn’t consistently there. Later in the year, that velocity trended up. You add that to him being someone who can command the baseball, has a feel for multiple pitches and has a track record going all the way back to the Team USA 18U Cup is impressive. Seeing that type of profile still available in the sixth round, it’s something that we jumped on.”

Flores also had high praise for Mautz (No. 59 overall) and Hansen (No. 97 overall), who present different skill sets from the left side. Mautz, who turned 21 on Sunday, was 10-2 with a 3.87 ERA in 16 appearances with the University of San Diego. As for Hansen, he was 11-3 with a 3.76 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings for the University of Texas.

“Brycen Mautz made a big jump this year, which was evidenced by his performance, but our scouts also said he made a jump,” Flores said. “When you’re looking to explain a jump, you are wondering what the story is behind that. His coach, Brock Ungricht, was a former scout of ours. To be able to talk to him and get confirmation of what we were seeing was real and learn about the work put in to corralling his delivery and shaping his pitches.

“Pete Hansen was somebody we had interest in last year, even, but he was young for the class and decided to go back to school,” Flores added. “Some of his biggest moments this season were in the biggest games, so what we saw … when we combined the performance, the stuff and his weapons, we were glad he was available at 97.”

With 40-year-old catcher Yadier Molina set to retire after this season, the Cardinals targeted Oklahoma’s Crooks as a potential backstop of the future. Crooks’ handling of OU's staff and his sweet swing from the left side appealed to the Cards.

“Being able to handle [several talented] arms showed his ability to grow defensively,” Flores said. “Also, we like his left-handed approach with 21 doubles and nine home runs, and our scouts spoke highly of his ability to use the entire field. I think that ability gives him a chance of having a balanced type of profile as a catcher."