It's not a Cardinal spring training in Jupiter without an injury scare or roster shake. Usually, it happens within the first, and 2020 is no different.
Miles Mikolas couldn't even get through one throwing session before his forearm flared up, an injury that had received preventative measures before pitchers even reported. The PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injecton didn't do the trick, so Mikolas received another one this week, pushing his start of camp back 3-4 weeks. He is down officially with a flexor tendon strain, which is code word for "try not to think about Tommy John Surgery" around St. Louis.
For those who don't know what a PRP injection is meant to do, the general purpose of one is to accelerate the healing process of joints, tendons, and ligaments. It's like a morphine shot to a muscle strain, but stronger.
Since there's no crying in baseball over injured expensive pitchers, the beat goes on and Mike Shildt will have to call on one of his go-between arms or homegrown talents to fill the void. There are a few, because if there's one thing the Cardinals don't go small on, it's possible starting pitching.
Here are five pitchers who could pick up the slack while Mikolas heals. Since attaching a bionic arm to Chris Carpenter is out of the picture, let's keep our feet in realistic waters.
5) Daniel Ponce de Leon
Look, whenever an arm goes down, this guy's name will come up. It's like the gangster call sheet on a "Sopranos" set. Get me a Danny! Ponce de Leon has 12 career starts in the Majors along with 12 bullpen appearances, compiling a 3.31 ERA with 9.6 strikeouts recorded per nine innings. In 16 starts with Memphis last year, Ponce de Leon put up a 2.88 ERA in 84.1 innings.
Overall, the man has never been tagged for an ERA over 4.00 at the professional level. You have to go back to the NCAA back in 2013 with the Houston Cougars to find his 4.47 ERA. He can do the job and could be the right guy for a temporary spot. He's got extra cheese on his fastball (mid-90's) and mixes in a curveball (80 mph) and cutter (90 mph). Ponce de Leon doesn't jump off the page, but could the job for at least five starts.
4) Kwang Hyun Kim
The South Korean import was set for a bullpen role, but has started games overseas. He may not have much batting expertise, but as long as he collects outs, all would go well.
My feeling is John Mozeliak acquired him for possible starter-reliever back and forth duty, because that's how Mozeliak works. He's always preparing for injuries to his pitchers with depth. The 31-year-old almost made his MLB debut in 2014 with the San Diego Padres, but talks fell through. He missed 2017 with Tommy John, but came back a more accurate pitcher, walking few and getting less hard contact from hitters. There's the "who knows" factor with Kim due to the lack of MLB exposure, but if his post-TJ life is any indication, Kim could be a plus-pitcher for at least a season.
3) Ryan Helsley
While the kid has closer stuff, Helsley has stated a desire to start. The 25-year-old righthander nicknamed "Hellz Bellz" impressed last year, specifically in the playoffs.
In 36 starts between 2017 and 2018 spread out between Palm Beach, Springfield, and Memphis, Helsley offered up 19 quality starts. The 4.58 ERA in seven starts and 10 relief appearances in Memphis last year looks bad, but in previous seasons with more starts, Helsley put up better numbers. Here's the thing. Helsley struck out 73 batters in 74 innings between Memphis and St. Louis last year. He's got a big arm that could use some direction before he kicks into his upper 20's.
Now could be a chance to take a look, albeit a brief one, at Helsley's versatility. Usually, these things solves themselves rather quickly. Example: Mike Mayers. Could Helsley be a better fireman in the bullpen than a starter?
2) Jake Woodford
The guy whose name has been passed around the past couple of years whenever an injury took place is 23 years old and put up a 4.15 ERA with Memphis last year. Woodford's WHIP, strikeouts per nine, and overall ability looks fine on paper. That's it, the outlook is fine. He did walk 75 hitters in 151.1 innings last year, which is troublesome. 11 of the 26 starts were quality, and he held hitters to a .223 average. He is one of those depth guys who could become something more even if his overall arsenal doesn't blow you away.
1) Austin Gomber
Last year is one Gomber would like to forget. He was slated to get innings with St. Louis before a shoulder injury erased the majority of his season. He is fully healed now and looking to make a dent. Gomber made 11 starts in 2018 with the Cardinals, including an impressive August where he made six starts and compiled a 2.38 ERA and struck out 29 batters. Gomber had his fair share of struggles that year, putting up a high WHIP of 1.51 and never exactly keeping his feet on the ground, but for a seven start period from the end of July to August, Gomber showed what he could do. He's a crafty southpaw who should be #1 on the call sheet for an open slot. Use him or lose, Redbirds.
One of these guys will get the call when the season opens. Between now and then, you could see a competition unfold, one akin to the open tryout happening in left and possibly center field. This Cardinals team has one more question attached to it now heading into the end of February.
Who is closing games?
Who is playing left field?
Who is playing center field?
Who is the fifth starter?
It's not like there were upgrades during the season or anything, ladies and gentlemen. The Cardinals wanted to gamble on youth, and they surely will get their wish in 2020.