In a market light on starting pitching, major league teams will be challenged to find value this winter.
The Cardinals signed Miles Mikolas to a two-year deal Tuesday, with the hope of getting quality innings at an affordable price.
Drafted by the Padres in the seventh round of the 2009 first-year player draft, Mikolas made 27 relief appearances for San Diego in 2012 and 2013 before a pair of offseason trades left him with the Rangers for 2014. All 10 of his appearances were starts, but he pitched to a 6.44 ERA with a 6.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 underneath, gobbling up 57.1 innings as a replacement-level arm. Throughout his time in the minors, Mikolas showed good control, and his time at Triple-A in the Rangers’ organization in 2014 included a 0.6 BB/9 in 44.2 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen.
When we last saw Mikolas in the majors, his arsenal featured a four-seam fastball (92.7 mph), slider, curveball, and changeup — with the slider and change being utilized as “new” pitches with his move into a starting role.
Little was made of Mikolas’ decision to sign with Yomiuri in Japan prior to the 2015 season, but he continued to receive chances as a starter, which he was much less likely to get if he had stayed in North America. The excellent control he showed during his time as a minor leaguer returned while he was overseas, and he parlayed his ability to limit free passes into two seasons with a sub-1.00 WHIP.
So what changed? Mikolas was a guest on MLB Network Radio on Tuesday morning discussing how he improved during his time in Japan.
What did new #Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas learn from his time in Japan?
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— MLB Network Radio Sirius 209, XM 89 (@MLBNetworkRadio) December 5, 2017
There’s some question as to whether he’s ditched his changeup, but a very similar arsenal appears to be in place right now — 92-93 mph fastball, curveball, cutter, and slider — as noted in a scouting report sourced in this column by T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.
The curveball is featured prominently in this video, which also includes Jimmy Paredes.
Signing with St. Louis, Mikolas is reunited with his former pitching coach in Texas, Mike Maddux. Additionally, he’ll be positioned to join a rotation that needed to find a way to replace Lance Lynn, without relying solely on Alex Reyes for those innings as Reyes returns from Tommy John surgery performed last February and appears destined to begin the year in the bullpen in order to limit his innings.
My initial reaction to Mikolas’ success, especially since the Rangers were among the team believed to be interested, was to recall the success Colby Lewis had in Texas after a similar stint in NPB.
The arsenals aren’t all that different, and a control-first skill set enabled Lewis to put up two seasons with Hiroshima that look a lot like Mikolas’ 2016 with Yomiuri.
Lewis was nearly a five-win pitcher in his first year back, before he leveled off with a pair of campaigns where he was a two-win pitcher as a member of the Rangers’ rotation. Given that Mikolas’ strikeout rate is almost certain to tumble with the move back to MLB, the ratios won’t be nearly as good as they were in Japan either.
Even if Mikolas is giving the Cards something in the 3.75-4.00 range with his ERA, and 1.22-1.25 in WHIP, he’ll be useful in mixed leagues as long as he’s not a frequent five-and-fly starter, which would hurt his chances of picking up wins. Don’t be surprised if he’s closer to 7.5 K/9 than 9.0, however, and that difference is enough to keep him just outside the Top 25 starting pitchers even if everything goes well otherwise in 2018. Ultimately, he may wind up giving the Cards a season or two that look a lot like Lance Lynn’s 2017, which was worth $10 in 15-team mixed leagues as he finished 11 wins, 153 strikeouts, and a 3.43 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 186.1 innings.
It would hardly be surprising if he’s available as an SP5 or SP6 in 15-team leagues, available after Round 12 in most drafts.
Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.