Cards draft LHP Hjerpe with unique throwing motion

St. Louis adds left-handed pitcher Brycen Mautz in the second round

July 18th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals' assistant GM/director of scouting Randy Flores usually prefers to stay away from comparing young prospects to current MLB players. However, after seeing an overlay of the similar side-winding throwing motions of first-round Draft pick Cooper Hjerpe and Red Sox All-Star lefty Chris Sale, Flores relented a bit.

Hjerpe, the No. 22 overall pick by the Cardinals on Sunday night in the MLB Draft, prefers to model his attacking pitching style after Mets stars Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom because Scherzer’s “mentality is like a psychopath and I love it,” and because deGrom is “an animal, very dominant and his stuff blows hitters away.”

Hjerpe, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, used a unique throwing motion and a much-improved, sweeping slider to strike out 161 batters this past season while pitching for Oregon State University. The native of Capay, Calif., was rated as the No. 34 prospect on, but he intrigued the Cardinals with his ability to make hitters feel uncomfortable while in the batter’s box and facing him. The Cardinals hope that Hjerpe’s drop-down throwing motion, once described as “funky” by a youth baseball coach, compares favorably to the success that Sale has had throughout his MLB career.

“What I did like watching in that side-by-side presentation [on the Draft coverage when Hjerpe was being compared to Sale], you could see the looseness in movement, you could see the freedom and someone who looks athletic in their own unique way,” Flores said of Hjerpe. “Certainly, when you are looking at pitchers there are lots of ways to get outs, and his way is unique. He matches some of the names that he’s been comped to.”

The 21-year-old Hjerpe went 11-2 with a 2.53 ERA this past season for the Beavers. He registered a 14.3 strikeout-per-9 ratio while walking just 23 batters in 103 1/3 innings of work. Hjerpe was voted as the National Pitcher of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation. His 161 strikeouts this past season set an Oregon State school record, and he said he’s never encountered a pitching coach who attempted to change his unorthodox throwing motion.

“It’s been natural my whole career, honestly,” Hjerpe said of his throwing motion. “I remember people in Little League saying, ‘Man, that guy’s got a funky arm action.’ It’s natural, and the effectiveness plays without the velocity. [The throwing motion] was never a worry for me.”

Clearly, Hjerpe’s throwing motion wasn’t a concern of the Cardinals, who used their top pick on a college pitcher for a second year in a row. In 2021, St. Louis selected UC Santa Barbara pitcher Michael McGreevy, who has already shined in the system and has climbed to Double-A Springfield. McGreevy was the No. 18 selection in 2021.

With their second-round pick, the Cardinals selected fellow left-handed pitcher Brycen Mautz with the No. 59 overall selection. Mautz, who turned 21 on Sunday, went 10-2 with a 3.87 ERA this past season with the University of San Diego. He struck out 129 in 90 2/3 innings.

Flores, once a crafty left-hander for the Cardinals who used guile and deception to record outs, thinks Hjerpe can move swiftly through the organization’s farm system and help the big league club as either a reliever or a starter.

“When you look at his body of work and this three-year track record, we’ve seen the upper ranges of his velocity and we realize he has a unique look who can make hitters uncomfortable,” Flores said of Hjerpe. “He is someone we hope can move fast once we get him in our system and hand him off to [director of player development) Gary LaRocque and our player development department.”

Jackson Holliday, son of Cardinals Hall of Fame-elect Matt Holliday, was selected first overall by the Orioles. Matt, who played for the Cardinals from 2009-16 and was in St. Louis for the Cardinals win over the Reds on Saturday, will be inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame on Aug. 27.

“We didn’t think [Jackson Holliday] was going to get to [pick] 22, but guess what? Before the spring started, we did,” Flores admitted. “That’s a credit to Jackson and the family. Players change and players evolve.”

The Cardinals have had great success culling stars from the MLB Draft in recent years. This season, the Cardinals have had 13 rookies make their MLB debuts. Most of that young talent is homegrown in the Cardinals' organization, and many gems were selected in the Draft by St. Louis.

Even with that much young talent at the MLB level, the Cardinals have still stockpiled plenty of elite prospects at the Minor League level. Jordan Walker, the Cardinals farm system’s top-rated prospect, per MLB Pipeline, was the 21st overall pick in the 2020 Draft. Walker and No. 4-rated prospect Masyn Winn (No. 54 pick in 2020) played in the MLB Futures Game on Saturday in Los Angeles.

Now, they add Hjerpe to that mix. After throwing a career-most 103 1/3 innings this past season, Hjerpe said he took a three-week break to rest his throwing arm. He’s since resumed throwing while also lifting weights four days a week. He said he’s eager to get to work so that he can hopefully move quickly through the Cardinals' farm system. Of course, he has no plans of changing his throwing motion.

“For the most part, no one [asked him to change his throwing motion] because it was so effective,” Hjerpe said. “I think no one wanted to change it because of how unique it is -- that’s my guess.”