Mathews’ rapid rise leads to Futures Game nod

July 8th, 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.

WASHINGTON -- No offense to the organizations or cities that he left in his wake, but hard-throwing left-handed pitcher Quinn Mathews has had one thing in mind with each Minor League stop he has made this season.

“We need to get out of here as quickly as possible,” Mathews, the fastest-rising prospect in the Cardinals’ system, said of his mantra when he was assigned to Single-A Palm Beach to start the year and after he was promoted to High-A Peoria on May 13.

Mathews, 23, has already pitched his way to Double-A Springfield, and he has become St. Louis’ No. 2 prospect (and No. 99 overall) per MLB Pipeline in the process. Mathews -- along with the Cardinals’ top prospect, injured right-handed pitcher Tink Hence -- will represent the Redbirds at the All-Star Futures Game on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Mathews is excited about being around some of the game’s best young players and some familiar faces.

“I had the chance to throw at Petco Park and Angel Stadium my senior year [of high school] -- two pretty cool ballparks -- so if the crowd is as big as it potentially could be, it would be the biggest crowd I’ve thrown in front of,” Mathews said. “I’ve faced three of the guys over the last two weeks that will be on the other team -- Cole Young [No. 22 overall, Mariners’ No. 1], Harry Ford [No. 23 overall, Mariners’ No. 2] and Gavin Cross [Royals’ No. 7]. It will be fun to see them again. And I want to chat with guys, try and learn and pick up bits and pieces where I can. These guys are all elite players.”

Mathews, a Stanford product who gained national attention last June when he struck out 16 and threw 156 pitches in an NCAA Tournament win over the University of Texas, certainly proved himself to be elite early this season.

In six starts with Palm Beach, the fourth-round pick from the 2023 MLB Draft struck out 52 hitters and walked just 11 over 30 2/3 innings. That earned him a promotion to Peoria, where he fanned 11 in his first start and another 11 on June 16. Whiffing 58 batters in 43 2/3 innings with the Chiefs earned Mathews a shot at Springfield, where he has yet to earn a decision in two starts.

It has been a something of a logistical whirlwind, but Mathews said it’s just part of the life of a pitcher who has his sights on pitching at the big league level for the Cardinals soon.

“I didn’t really come in with a set goal,” said Mathews, who is 6-2 with a 2.22 ERA with 120 strikeouts and just 25 walks over 85 innings overall. “I started down in Palm Beach and the first goal I set was, ‘We need to get out of here as quickly as possible.’ Then, in Peoria, the goal was the same -- ‘I need to get out of here as quickly as possible.’ For me, I didn’t have an expectation for where I wanted to be by the end of the year.

“Ultimately, I need to help the St. Louis Cardinals win games. If I can do that as quickly as possible, then I’m doing my job. If not, I need to keep working until I can. I haven’t put that big of a carrot out in front of myself. But I do think the expectation is there to help the St. Louis Cardinals win as many games as I can as quickly as possible. Whether that’s the end of this year or the beginning of next year -- whatever it might be -- that’s what I’m aspiring to do.”

Mathews thinks his loads of big-game experience in college will ultimately help him as he pushes his way to Triple-A Memphis and the Majors. What will also help him is a knee-buckling curveball that he has improved since he went from the Cardinal (Stanford) to the Cardinals (St. Louis).

“I think I’m still the same pitcher, but the stuff might be a tick better,” he said. “The curveball is the biggest pitch in terms of growth. The changeup and the slider have horizontal movement, and the curveball gets me more depth and it makes the fastball play up. So that curveball has been the biggest area of growth.”