At 17-11, the St. Louis Cardinals sit atop the NL Central and are tied with Atlanta and Colorado for the best mark in the National League. There is one major weakness with the Cards, though -- their bullpen has been an absoloute disaster in the absence of Jason Motte. Their relievers are putting up the worst ERA (5.90), highest opponent OBP (.359), highest opponent SLG (.454) and third-most blown saves (6) in the National League.
The current bullpen is lacking in good options, reinforcements are needed, and that's why top prospect Carlos Martinez is being promoted straight from Double A.
Mitchell Boggs acted as the team's closer to start the season, but lost it in less than a month to Edward Mujica. After another multi-walk (and this time, no-outs-recorded) outing Thursday night in Milwaukee, Boggs has now lost his roster spot to Martinez.
In 10.2 innings this season, Boggs has walked 12 batters, allowed 17 hits and has been charged with 15 earned runs. Most of the ERA damage happened on April 8, when he allowed seven runs (six earned) on four walks and two hits against the Reds, but the clean outings have been few and far between.
Martinez was ranked 38th in Baseball America's preseason Top 100 prospects list, and the third-best prospect in the St. Louis system behind Oscar Taveras (arguably the best outfield prospect in baseball) and Shelby Miller (who's struck out over 27% of the Major League batters he's faced as a 22-year-old). With stuff that can reach triple digits, the 21-year-old Martinez has struck out 277 batters in 259.2 career minor league innings as a starter.
He'll be making the same Double A starter-to-MLB bullpen jump another hard-throwing righty -- Trevor Rosenthal -- made last year when the St. Louis bullpen was having similar issues. Rosenthal threw 22.2 innings for the Cards in the regular season last year, struck out 28% of the batters he faced in the regular season and was untouchable in the playoffs, striking out 15 and allowing just two hits in 8.2 innings.
Even with the trouble the Cards have had at the back end of the bullpen, it seems unlikely that Martinez would be thrown into the closer's role as a rookie. Don't forget, though, that's where Adam Wainwright got his start in 2006 for that year's World Series winner before jumping back to the rotation the next year. Truthfully, Martinez is more valuable as a middle-inning, need-a-strikeout fire man anyway, rather than being reserved solely for the 9th inning.
If you want an explanation as to how the Cardinals manage to keep winning even with all the injuries and roster turnover in recent years, this would be a pretty solid example. Not only do they have the resources to maintain a respectable payroll and keep (most of) their stars in town, but they also have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Guys like Rosenthal and Martinez would be #1 pitching prospects for most organizations. They can't even crack the rotation in St. Louis. That's scary for other teams in the NL Central, and if Martinez can solidify the bullpen, it'll be a problem for the rest of the National League, too.
[St. Louis Post-Dispatch]