St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore is set to make his 2023 season debut in the Majors on May 17 after a nine appearance cameo in 2022. The 23-year-old lefty has been off to a strong start to the year in AAA, and he’ll look to see if he can stay in the Majors for good starting with a pivotal game against the Brewers. Here’s a closer look at Liberatore and what fans can expect of him.
A Look at Liberatore
The Rays did quite well in the 2018 MLB Draft, as it was one that netted Tampa a promising arm in Taj Bradley (fifth round), as well as two of the game’s best pitchers right now in Shane McClanahan (1A) and Joe Ryan (seventh round). None of those players were the Rays’ top draft pick that year, though. With its first pick that draft, Tampa selected Arizona prep pitcher Matthew Liberatore at #16.
Liberatore flirted with a BB/9 near 4.0 in his first two pro seasons, but also showcased incredible stuff in the Tampa system. However, his time with the Rays would be short lived. In January 2020, the Cardinals acquired Liberatore along with a Minor League catcher and a Competitive Balance B pick in 2020 from Tampa in exchange a CBA pick, utility player Jose Martinez, and a top-20 prospect in the St. Louis system named Randy Arozarena.
The deal made a fair amount of sense at the time, given that the Cardinals picked up a left-handed starter with #1 or #2 potential and the fact that St. Louis was loaded with young outfielders. The trade turned out great for the Rays, as Arozarena blossomed into one of the game’s most exciting players to watch. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have patiently waited to see how Liberatore would develop.
The 23-year-old made his MLB debut last season with St. Louis, but failed to carve out a spot in the rotation. Across 34.2 IP, Liberatore recorded a 5.97 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. He struck out 28 batters in his brief cameo, but command problems bit him hard. He’s looked much better in 2023. as he’s struck out 56 over 46 innings with Memphis (AAA) and posted an ERA of 3.13 and a lower walk rate.
When on his game, Liberatore can pound opposing hitters with either a four-seam or two-seam fastball, and play his slider and changeup off those weapons. On top of that, he’ll break out a curveball that proved to be his best weapon in the Majors last year. It’s a slower pitch that sits in the mid-70s, but one with a lot of drop.
Liberatore possess four pitches that have the potential to grade out as at least average to above-average offerings, but command will be the key to his success.
A Look at the Cardinals Rotation and Fantasy Outlook
It’s fair to consider Liberatore’s start on May 17 to be a significant one for the future of the Cardinals rotation. As things stand right now, the Cards are set to lose 60% of its starting rotation this summer when Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty — provided both are with St. Louis come the end of 2023 — are set to hit the open market. On top of that, longtime starter Adam Wainwright will likely retire, leaving St. Louis with holes in its rotation. Not to mention, Steven Matz‘s future in St. Louis beyond 2023 is murky after his rough start to the year.
Both Liberatore and RHP Gordon Graceffo are among the next generation of Cardinals starters, and St. Louis will need those two to deliver results in the near future. But for the lefty who’s set to make his season debut on May 17, he will not only be tasked with cementing his spot in the Cardinals’ future plans, but also keep the train moving. After a brutal start to 2023, the Cardinals have won eight of its last nine entering play on the 17th and look poised to get back into playoff position.
As far as fantasy is concerned, Liberatore is exceptional at inducing whiffs. The walk rate has also come down from last year, a good sign that the 23-year-old’s development is on the right track. The lefty is someone to watch moving forward, but don’t go running to pick him up just yet.