Cardinals Add Reliever Dominic Leone, Prospect for Randal Grichuk

photo: Dominic Leone (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today (Friday) that they have acquired right-handed pitchers Dominic Leone (pronounced lee-OHN) and Conner Greene from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Randal Grichuk.

Dominic Leone (Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Leone, 26, enjoyed a solid 2017 campaign for Toronto, going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA (12th among American League relievers) and 11 Holds in 65 games pitched, striking out 81 batters in 70.1 innings of work.   His 70.1 innings (9th among A.L. relievers) and 81 strikeouts were both 2nd highest among Toronto relievers last season.   Leone stranded 42 of 54 inherited runners (78 pct.), ranking 4th among American League relievers (min. 50 inherited runners) and he limited left-handed batters to a .183 average and righties to a .211 mark.

The 5-11, 195-pound Leone owns a career mark of 11-8 with a 3.48 ERA in 160 outings (all in relief) with Seattle (2014-15), Arizona (2015-16) and Toronto (2017).  A Connecticut native, Leone was drafted by Seattle in 2012 (16th round) out of Clemson University and made his Major League debut with the M’s in 2014 when he put together a solid rookie season, going 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 57 games (66.1 IP) with 70 strikeouts.   He led all Major League rookie relievers with his eight wins in 2014, finished 2nd to Dellin Betances (NY Yankees, 135) among Junior Circuit rookie relievers in strikeouts, was 3rd in rookie reliever ERA (2.17) and finished as one of just 19 American League relievers to fan 70 or more batters that season.

Conner Greene (Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Greene, 22, went 5-10 with a 5.29 ERA for New Hampshire (AA) in 26 games (25 starts) and fanned 92 batters in 132.2 inning pitched, earning selection to the Eastern League All-Star team.   It was his 2nd-straight All-Star season, having also earned mid-season honors in the Florida State League (A) in 2016 when he was 4-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 15 starts for Dunedin.

A 7th round draft selection by the Blue Jays out of Santa Monica (Calif.) High School in 2013, Greene was ranked as the 5th best prospect in the Toronto organization by Baseball America in 2017.  The 6-3, 185-pound Greene is 31-31 with a 4.04 ERA in 103 career games (91 starts) since making his professional debut in 2013.

Randal Grichuk (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Grichuk, 26, played four seasons (2014-17) with the Cardinals after coming over in a November 2013 trade from the Los Angeles Angels that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Halos.  Grichuk owns a career batting mark of .249 with 66 HR’s and 182 RBI in 404 games and he hit .238 last season with 22 HR’s and 59 RBI in 122 games.

Both Leone and Greene will be added to the Cardinals Major League roster, which is currently at the maximum 40 players.

Derek Shore’s take

At the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up last weekend, Randal Grichuk was surprised to still be in the organization. Not even a week later, Grichuk was flipped to Toronto, where he will join former teammate Aledmys Diaz.

In return, the Cardinals acquired – to no one’s surprise – a major-league reliever, one who had had an outstanding 2017 campaign, as well as a high-upside pitching prospect. The two are Dominic Leone and Conner Greene.

Leone had a breakthrough season in the Blue Jays ‘pen last season and will obviously have a back-end role with the Cardinals in 2018. What stands out the most about the right-hander is his ability to miss bats at a high rate (10.36 K’s per nine innings).

As far as his repertoire, Leone throws four different pitches, per Brooks Baseball. He has a four-seam fastball which sits at 95 mph with an 89 mph cutter, also mixing in a hard sinker at 94 mph and a slider at 89 mph.

Here is Brooks Baseball’s description of his approach on the mound:

“His fourseam fastball results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slightly above average velo and has some added backspin. His cutter generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ cutters, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters, has some natural sink and has strong cutting action. His sinker generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has well above average velo, has little sinking action compared to a true sinker and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers. His slider generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has exceptional depth.”

Greene is a 22-year old project with big stuff, who will need to prove he can throw quality strikes above A-ball. His electric 70 grade heater sits at 95-97 mph with his ability to reach back for 100, and an average changeup (80-82 mph) to complement his fastball. To round out his arsenal, Greene displays a potentially average curveball (78-79) and a below-average slider (86-88).

With his control and command issues, Greene may project best as a late-inning reliever with two usable pitches with the potential to be a closer at the big-league level. In order to maximize his value, however, he is a #3-#4 caliber starter with front-of-the-rotation potential.

Grichuk was tabbed to be the Cardinals fourth outfielder before the trade on Friday. With him out of the picture, it opens the door for either Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill to slide into that role for St. Louis and also allows Oscar Mercado to be a shoo-in for Triple-A Memphis’ outfield.

Brian Walton’s take

Given the number of outfielders still available on the free agent market, in my opinion, the Cardinals did quite well to secure four years of the services of a solid reliever in Leone, one who could set up or even perhaps close. In the process, they also cleared out some space in what is a very crowded outfield pipeline, creating opportunity for a younger player.

A Super-two player, Leone had already settled with the Jays on a $1.085 million contract for 2018. He will not become free agent-eligible until after the 2021 season, though his salary should escalate each year between now and then – assuming he performs like he did in 2017.

This article from Yahoo Canada credits Leone’s improvement last season to his study of Mariano Rivera’s cutter and increased and effective usage of the offering.

Toronto also secured a nice return for a player (Leone) they claimed off waivers from Arizona in November 2016. As noted above, Greene was a seventh-rounder out of high school in 2013.

In spring training, a reserve outfield job audition will now occur, with the primary candidates likely being all-around standout Bader (TCN 2018 Cardinals prospect #4) and power threat O’Neill (ranked #5), both of whom are members of the 40-man roster. Mercado also has a roster spot, but with zero career at-bats above Double-A, the speedster has to be considered a very long shot.

Returning reserve Jose Martinez played more games in the outfield last season than he did at first base and is also on my projected Opening Day bench. However, Martinez cannot play in center field, which both Bader and O’Neill can do, as well can as new right fielder Dexter Fowler, of course.

My guess is that Greene will return to Double-A, joining the Springfield rotation. Note that because he was a 40-man roster player with Toronto, he is required to use a spot with St. Louis, as well. As a result, the open space on the 40-man is now gone. That does not preclude a future signing, but it would now require the removal of one incumbent.

For more

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