SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – It was an overcast spring training morning in mid-March, hitters were finishing up batting practice and pitchers were inside enjoying some lunch. Pitching prospect Trevor Rosenthal was not among them.
Rosenthal was on the bullpen mound just outside the Cardinals clubhouse, engaged in a conversation that he still remembers daily. Among the participants were Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, fellow starter Jake Westbrook, big league pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and former Major League pitcher Cal Eldred.
The subject? Introducing the promising prospect to a new pitch: the cutter. Arguably Carpenter’s most effective and important pitch, the group felt adding a cutter to Rosenthal’s repertoire would do wonders for his career.
Ten starts into his Double-A career, Rosenthal has bought in.
“I’ve been throwing it a lot this year, especially as of late,” Rosenthal said recently. “It’s been a good pitch. I picked it up pretty easy and have been able to throw it in the zone and get some swings and misses and some weak outs.
“I feel like as I continue to go through the organization and move up, it’s going to allow me to go deeper into the games and maybe it’s a pitch I save or give some different looks later in the game once I’ve thrown my other pitches.”
Rosenthal was so impressive during Spring Training that the Cardinals elected to have him skip High-A Palm Beach and start 2012 at Double-A Springfield. And so far, it’s looked like the right decision.
The hard-throwing right-hander has a 2.90 ERA in 11 starts with Springfield and has held opposing batters to a .195 average. In 59 innings, Rosenthal has allowed just 40 hits and has 53 strikeouts. He’s allowed two earned runs or less in eight of his 11 starts.
“He had a great opportunity in big league camp and took the most of it,” said Springfield manager Mike Shildt. “He had a good major league camp and opened some eyes. He got a lot of exposure to the big league staff and guys like Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. They were terrific and he soaked up a lot of information.
“He’s a really good competitor and is serious about his preparation. He’s getting a better feel for how to use everything and how to set up hitters and be economical with his pitches when he needs to because he has the ability to strike people out. A lot of power guys enjoy that obviously but there’s times when having quick innings and getting through a lineup is not a bad thing.”
A cutter is somewhere in between a fastball and a slider. It’s harder than a normal slider but a few MPH slower than a normal four-seem fastball. It breaks to the pitcher’s glove side, often resulting in weak contact or a ground ball.
Closer Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees has had success for years by throwing a cutter nearly every pitch. Right-handed pitchers often break the bats of left-handed batters because of the incoming movement.
Rosenthal mostly listened during the talk, making mental notes as Carpenter showed the grip and explained how to throw it. It was one of many conversations the young pitcher had with the big league staff during his first taste of Major League Spring Training, but one of the most important.
“It helps him big time,” Springfield pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd says of Rosenthal’s time in big league camp. “He talks about that experience all the time, getting to rub elbows with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and big leaguers. It was a huge experience for him. He got a lot out of it and he opened a lot of eyes down there.”
But Rosenthal did more than just make mental notes. He went back to his hotel room and wrote them down in a notebook. By the time Spring Training had ended, he had gone through three spiral notebooks of things taught and reminded to him throughout the spring.
When someone told him something – whether it was how to grip the cutter or how to alternate his reps during his weight-lifting program – he remembered it and wrote it down. Sometimes he just observed others and wrote down what he saw.
And the notes have come in handy. While working on the cutter in recent starts, Rosenthal found himself going back to the old notebooks to refresh himself on some of the key points.
“It was big in big league camp, things I picked up from the coaches and ideas I could jot down so if I didn’t store it in the memory bank, I could go back and remind myself later on,” Rosenthal said. “Ever since I signed, I’ve kept journals or a notebook. I have a couple going, one for my diet and what I’m eating, workouts and then just keeping a notebook with me at the field to track hitters and little things like that.
“I’ll write down notes about hitters following a start and go back and look at it before I face that team again. I want to continue to do it and get better at it and hopefully my notes get more detail.”
Rosenthal was a 21st round selection by the Cardinals in 2009 out of Cowley County Community College. The Lees Summit, Mo., native, pitched in rookie ball in 2009 and 2010 before posting a 4.11 ERA in 22 starts with Low-A Quad Cities.
But he’s been much more impressive at Double-A, forcing some to already speculate as to when he’ll get promoted to Triple-A Memphis. After turning 22 years old just last week, the Cardinals will likely resist the urge and try to continue his seasoning in Springfield for most, if not all, of the year.
But make no mistake. Rosenthal is quickly becoming one of the most exciting arms in the Cardinals system. And it’s thanks in large part to his experiences in big league camp.
“Just being able to learn from the older guys, there’s so much to learn and I tried to soak in as much as possible,” Rosenthal said. “I look forward to the future and continuing to learn because I have a long ways to go but that helped, just seeing the professionalism of the game and all the details that go into it. I realized there’s a lot more to it than what I’ve seen at the lower levels so far.
“It was amazing. It was a super fun time and it was even cooler that those guys took interest in me and wanted to help me with my career. I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of that experience.”
With the help of his new pitch, he appears to be doing just that.