Cardinals Acquire Former Diamondbacks Pitching Prospect

John Mozeliak and the St. Louis Cardinals have made their first move of the 2010 offseason, and it comes in the form of former Arizona Diamondbacks Minor League pitcher Bryan Augenstein.

Augenstein, who has been considered one of the Diamondbacks top pitching prospects for the past couple years, was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals on Wednesday, October 13th.

The move was seemingly made to improve pitching depth in the Minor Leagues, and to add one more pitcher who could be called up if need be. Even though the majority of fans are very un-optimistic of Augenstein’s future impact with the big league team – thanks to his extremely misleading stats from the past couple years – some believe Bryan should head the list of under-the-radar Cardinal prospects.

The 24-year-old right-hander has a very impressive build that catches the eyes of many scouts. At 6’6” and 232 pounds, his frame is almost identical to Chris Carpenter’s and Adam Wainwright’s.

Augenstein moved up very quickly after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2009, at 22-years-old, he made his first Major League start in only his second full season. Despite having a hard time in AAA and with the MLB club in 2009, Baseball America named Augenstein the Diamondbacks’ “Best Control Pitcher” before the 2010 season.

While Bryan did make his debut in 2009, most of his season was spent with the organization’s AAA team in Reno, Nevada. For the first time in his professional career, Augenstein hit a rough patch that nobody could really explain.

Augenstein had rolled through Single-A (2.16 ERA), Advanced-A (3.89 ERA), and Double-A (1.67 ERA), but all of a sudden his earned-run average had climbed nearly four points (6.32) when he hit Reno.

The most interesting part of all this is that his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers stayed right where they had been in 2007, 2008, and the beginning of 2009. FIP is basically a revised version of ERA. It takes out all of the factors that a pitcher cannot control and relies only on what he can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs). So while Augenstein’s ERA had gone off the charts, his FIP was still a very respectable 3.86, the fourth best mark of any PCL pitcher.

What’s even more impressive is that 3.86 is the highest his FIP has been since he pitched 21 innings in rookie-league ball.

So what accounts for the rise in his ERA as soon as he pitches for Reno? The obvious, since his FIP remained under four, would be fielding. However, the Reno Aces are the fourth best fielding team in the PCL according to stats. It could also simply be the learning curve and adjusting to better hitters, but I can’t imagine that being the case. Another popular explanation is luck. Batters have a .391 BABIP against Augenstein, which is quite high to say the least.

A more intriguing theory that some Cardinal fans have noticed as well is the altitude. Reno, Nevada’s elevation is 4,505 feet. That is less than a thousand feet less than the altitude of Denver, and we all know the problems that pitchers face at Coors Field. It’s not only Reno though. The Aces play in a league with teams from Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Portland, Fresno, Albuquerque, and Colorado Springs. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to think the elevation of these locations may have something to do with his struggles. This could definitely explain the high BABIP and ERA.

His groundball percentage supports this as well. If you exclude his appearances in AAA, Augenstein has a GB% of 56-61. With Reno, that percentage is only 45. Could the thin air have anything to do with this? I’m thinking so.

What Bryan does not have to worry about is the elevation of Memphis, which is where he will probably begin his career as a Cardinal farmhand. The team will most likely use him as a starter, even though I have my doubts about his future as a starter. He has made 81 appearances in his professional career and 64 have been starts. In those 64 starts, he’s averaging only 5.8 innings per start and has never recorded a complete game. That’s not exactly what you would call promising stuff for a starter.

There are some very noticeably good qualities of Augenstein’s game though. As mentioned above, he was given the “Best Control Pitcher” award by Baseball America prior to the 2010 season. In his four seasons in the Minors, Augenstein has a 3.92 SO/BB ratio and is averaging 1.8 walks allowed per nine innings. He also rarely gives up home runs (0.6 HR/9). So, much like other pitchers in the Cardinals system (Brian Broderick may be Augenstein’s long-lost twin), he doesn’t necessarily over-power batters, but he knows where to put the ball.

I’m not saying Augenstein should be shooting up anybody’s prospect lists; I’m simply proving that there is more than meets the eye with the newest Cardinal prospect. What he displayed in his first couple seasons is still there, and we very well could see it again.

Justin Hulsey covers the Cardinals for i70baseball and his blog, Rising Redbirds, that is also dedicated to Cardinals baseball and their minor league system. You may follow him on Twitter @JayHulsey by clicking here.

One thought on “Cardinals Acquire Former Diamondbacks Pitching Prospect

  1. The only thing that throws the “altitude in Reno” theory into question is that his numbers in 2010 were worse on the road.

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