JUPITER, Fla. – Already dressed in his home white jersey and Cardinals cap for a required autograph session a short time later, Cardinals rookie Trevor Rosenthal chats about his experience in the big leagues a season ago and his expectations for 2013.
Rosenthal and fellow youngsters Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller set the bar high with their impressive contributions down the stretch last season. And their immediate success already has fans wanting big things out of them this year.
Told that fans will expect him to strike out two batters an inning every time because he was doing it on a seemingly regular basis during the playoffs Rosenthal smiles and offers up a telling response.
“I’d rather it be three strikeouts than two,” he says.
The trio of young arms and friends are competing for the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation this spring. Kelly would seem to have the slight advantage after starting 16 games last season while Jaime Garcia was out and posting a 3.53 ERA in 24 games overall but Rosenthal and Miller figure to find themselves in the mix.
Rosenthal joined the Cardinals bullpen straight from Double-A Springfield and posted a 2.78 ERA in 19 games. He was even better in the playoffs, allowing just two hits and striking out 15 in 8 2/3 innings. His bullpen success could work against him in his case to enter the starting rotation this year.
Miller, a first round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2009, went 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA in six September appearances last season. He pitched two games in the NLCS against the Giants and allowed two runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Kelly is the oldest of the bunch at 24 years old. Miller and Rosenthal are both 22. But with the experience they gained down the stretch and in the playoffs, the Cardinals expect them to pitch much older than their years.
“It’s huge,” said manager Mike Matheny. “It’s so important, not just for their development as a player but also their development as a future leader on this team. That experience, there were a lot of guys that had long careers who never had one day in the postseason and they got to get thrown right into three different series counting the one game in Atlanta.
“They were listening to the veteran players, ‘this is how I go about this’ and then they watched and it’s an invaluable experience for later on but also for right now to give them a little bit of self confidence as they walk on here. Your asking a guy who’s never thrown in the big leagues and say, ‘hey you’re going to go fight for a job in the starting five and he’s never really got a big leaguer out in a big league game, it’s kind of a daunting task and no matter how much they talk about it they just wouldn’t be ready for it.”
Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook have the first three spots in the rotation locked up and 18-game winner and All-Star Lance Lynn would seem to be in line for the No 4 spot. But the No. 5 spot is up for grabs and all three youngsters are taking aim at it.
The two that miss out could end up starting the season in the bullpen. Or the Cardinals could decide that someone like Miller needs to pitch regularly and have him start the year in the rotation at Triple-A Memphis.
Miller is hoping that’s not the case.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Miller said. “I don’t feel like I need to go back to Memphis by any means. I don’t think any of us do. I think obviously Joe and Rosenthal pitched very well in their time in St. Louis and Lance obviously was an All-Star last year so he’s doing well, so I think if we’re all up there somehow, its going to be a great team. It’s going to be a great team regardless.”
Adding to the dynamic is that both Kelly and Miller are roommates this spring and best friends. Both got engaged in the offseason and both will be in each other’s weddings come November.
Now the two will be competing for more than just video game bragging rights in their spring condo.
“I’ve been planning for this since the offseason started,” Kelly said. “I knew I would be coming into this and it’s something I look forward to, especially with how competitive I am. I hate losing. I love the challenge and it’s something I have fun doing. With everything I do, I always try to win, so it’s going to be awesome battling with my friends.”
Of the experience he gained last season, Kelly said, “It’s definitely a confidence booster to see how you match up against the best players in the world. It just helps knowing what I need to work on, good and bad.”
Said Miller, “It opened up my eyes and it’s going to help me in the long run, to work harder to get what I want, to be a part of that.”
Rosenthal finds himself in an intriguing spot. A starter throughout his time in the minor leagues, the right-hander had instant success in the bullpen when he was added into the mix midway through the season.
The Cardinals likely see Rosenthal as a starter long term but could decide his best fit for the 2013 group would be coming out of the bullpen. Regardless of where he finds himself pitching, the flamethrower said he’s got his hopes set high for himself and his fellow right-handers.
“I think as competitors we set the bar really high for ourselves so yeah, we’re grateful for the success that we had but at the same time we’re really looking to improve,” Rosenthal said. “Being one game away from the World Series, it was a good spot to be in and most would probably be happy with that, but this group isn’t and we want to take advantage of that opportunity the next time we have it and we look to do that this year.
“I think for all of us, we expect great things from ourselves and we expect our teammates to expect great things from us.”
Even if it means striking out the side each inning.