Cards' Roby building toward next level in Fall League

October 9th, 2023

It took Tekoah Roby some time to feel like he was a St. Louis Cardinal. About three weeks, in fact.

Moved by the Rangers at the Trade Deadline in the Jordan Montgomery swap, the 22-year-old right-hander was still rehabbing a shoulder injury and hadn’t pitched for Double-A Frisco since June 3 when he got the official word around July 30 that he was moving clubs. Initially, he didn’t know how to take the news, noting that he felt more sadness for leaving behind teammates than anything.

“Talking to my agent and my dad, everybody was reassuring me,” Roby said. “Even our farm director with the Rangers was like, ‘Man, this says a lot about you.’ There was all this reassurance, and I felt good about it.”

By the time he debuted for Double-A Springfield on Aug. 26, he finally felt like a full-fledged member of his new organization, and now in the Arizona Fall League, the Cardinals’ No. 5 prospect is getting an extended opportunity to make a first impression.

Before his assignment to Scottsdale -- along with the rest of the St. Louis AFL contingent -- Roby showed the Cardinals and their fans flashes of why the organization acquired him in the first place. The 2020 third-rounder posted a 3.00 ERA with 19 strikeouts and only three walks over his four regular-season starts (12 innings) with Springfield.

Roby shows flashes of above-average stuff with all four of his pitches but might shine most with his 92-96 mph fastball and upper-70s curveball. Even as he’s changed uniforms, he has not significantly altered how he works as a pitcher.

“Not yet,” he said. “As I get into maybe next year at Spring Training when I’m around more of either the front office or the coordinators, possibly [I’ll adjust]. But from the Trade Deadline and on, we got together, talked about what I’d been working on with the Rangers, and they thought that was a good path for me to continue on."

His four outings in the St. Louis system during the regular season were capped at three innings apiece, but Roby was allowed to open things up a little more with four frames and 56 pitches in a Texas League postseason matchup against Arkansas on Sept. 19.

As if a trade wasn’t enough, dealing with the rehab and recovery was another layer for the righty, who dealt with an elbow issue as well in 2022.

“I felt like I got my feet under me at Double-A and I had a couple good starts, so that makes it more frustrating,” Roby said. “On the back half of getting through the rehab and getting back to it, I think helping with that frustration was understanding that the Lord has a plan. I understand that. As frustrating as that may be, I think there are always going to be ups and downs, but I’m understanding that I know where I’m supposed to be.”

Roby got a taste of Cardinals Nation during Springfield’s postseason run as he met fans who told him they’d driven from St. Louis to North Little Rock, Arkansas, to catch a glimpse of the club’s future. Perhaps a few more will make the trek to Scottsdale for a look at a potential member of the Cards rotation.

“Every time I go out there, I'm able to show people more of who I am as a pitcher and a competitor,” he said. “That's what I want people to see most -- that I compete, I pitch with a little bit of fire, and I enjoy it.”

Cardinals hitters in the Fall League

Victor Scott II, OF (No. 4): An 80-grade runner, the 2022 fifth-rounder stood out most for tying for the Minor League lead with 94 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A in his first full season, and he puts that speed to great use as a plus-plus defender in center too. But the left-handed slugger also proved adept at the plate, hitting .303 while keeping strikeouts in check with a 15.7 K rate. He projects as a potential stereotypical leadoff hitter.

Jimmy Crooks, C (No. 15): Like Scott, Crooks is already in the AFL only one year after he entered the Cards system as a fourth-rounder. The 22-year-old backstop earns above-average grades for his glovework and throwing ability from behind the plate, which should be welcome skills for Scottsdale pitchers. He held his own offensively with High-A Peoria, too, with a .271/.358/.433 line and 12 homers in 114 games, though he tended to struggle against southpaws as a lefty bat (.261 SLG, .576 OPS) -- something that could be a focus in Arizona.

Jeremy Rivas, SS: The Venezuela native signed with the Cardinals for $600,000 in July 2019 and has developed a strong reputation for his defensive work at shortstop. But his offensive reputation remains far behind that of the glove. The 20-year-old has yet to post a WRC+ above 78 for a full-season club and especially struggles to hit for power, having finished with a .277 slugging percentage across 115 games for High-A Peoria this summer. He is Rule 5-eligible this winter but will really need to show something with the stick to be considered in that process.

Cardinals pitchers in the Fall League

Cooper Hjerpe, LHP (No. 7): The 22nd overall pick of the 2022 Draft underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left elbow earlier in the summer and missed all of June, July and August as a result, making him a prime AFL candidate. The former Oregon State left-hander has a crossfire delivery that helps his low-90s fastball play up, and his slider also earns above-average grades. Hjerpe may have a limited role for the Scorpions -- he only threw one frame in his AFL debut -- but even getting him back on the mound allows him to build a little momentum for 2024.

Edwin Nunez, RHP (No. 21): This is where to find heat among the Cardinals' AFL corps. Nunez is capable of sitting in the upper-90s with his heater and has touched triple-digits in the past. His upper-80s changeup is his best secondary, but he’ll also show a slider around 78-81 mph. The right-hander, who turns 22 next month, improved his walk rate significantly in 2023 but also saw his K rate drop from 29.2 percent at Single-A to 19.0 percent at High-A. Getting the whiff numbers back up will be huge in determining his role in future St. Louis bullpens.

Andre Granillo, RHP: The 2021 14th-rounder has already carved out an impressive place for himself within the system relative to his Draft position as a classic two-pitch reliever. Granillo can sit 94-96 mph with his four-seamer and tunnels a low-80s slider really well off it to get strikeouts. His 30.1 percent K rate was second-best among St. Louis Minor Leaguers with at least 60 innings this summer. Control will be a focus after walking 38 in 68 1/3 frames at Double-A and Triple-A, but Granillo already showed his stuff works in the Fall League with five K’s over two innings in his AFL debut last week.

Inohan Paniagua, RHP: Shoulder tightness kept Paniagua from making his season debut for Peoria until July 9, and he threw only 44 1/3 innings for the Chiefs, posting a 4.47 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 27 walks in that span. The 23-year-old right-hander’s best pitch is easily his plus curveball but needs to keep building velocity to keep hitters at bay beyond the High-A level.