Cardinals Begin Draft with Selection of College Southpaw Hjerpe

photo: Cooper Hjerpe (Karl Maasdam/Oregon State University)

The St. Louis Cardinals named their two selections on Day 1 of the 2022 First-Year Player Draft. They are both left-handed pitchers – Cooper Hjerpe of Oregon State and Brycen Mautz of San Diego. Reactions from the first rounder, the team’s scouting director and full scouting reports follow.

By Blake Newberry and Brian Walton

The first two rounds of the 20-round 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft were held on Sunday evening, July 17 in Los Angeles, California. For the second year, the draft is reduced to 20 rounds and held a month later than traditionally, now as part of MLB’s All-Star Weekend.

By virtue of their 2021 success, the St. Louis Cardinals received the 22nd overall selection in the first round and the 59th overall in round 2. The organization’s eight picks to be made in the third through 10th rounds will be made on Monday, starting at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time. The final 10 selections will be unveiled starting at 2:00 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The Cardinals have been assigned a pool total of $6,845,900 to cover the signing bonuses for their first 10 rounders plus any bonuses greater than $125,000 for draftees selected in rounds 11-20.

To reference the Cardinals’ new draft class on an ongoing basis here at The Cardinal Nation, each player will have a profile located on a holding team called “DRAFT UNSIGNED PLAYERS”. This can be accessed at the bottom of the drop-down menu in the red column in the left menu called “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES” or click here.

St. Louis’ selections – 2022 draft day 1

First round, 22nd overall – Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State junior

6’3, 200 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

Cooper Hjerpe

The pool amount for this pick is $3,182,200.

Randy Flores comments

Cardinals Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting Randy Flores spoke with the media via Zoom shortly after the selection was made Sunday evening. As one would expect, he praised the organization’s newest pick.

“Cooper possesses a tremendous set of weapons in his pitching arsenal that we are ecstatic about adding to our system,” said Flores.  “He has a unique look that can make opposing hitters uncomfortable as evidenced by his high strikeout totals and elite whiff rates.  Based on his three-year track record at Oregon State, our scouting department hopes that he can rise quickly through our system once we connect him with our player development staff.”

Hjerpe’s comments

The pitcher offered his opening remarks as a Cardinal via Zoom on Sunday evening, as well.

Hjerpe explained that he grew up a fan of the two Bay Area teams, the Giants and A’s. He said he admires Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom the most among MLB pitchers, noting that Scherzer is “almost like a psychopath out there and I love it” and deGrom is “an animal.”

To further develop his slider and changeup, the 21-year-old said he “invested in myself” by going to Driveline Baseball during the offseason.

Scouting report

The Cardinals have a type when it comes to pitching and Cooper Hjerpe fits the bill perfectly as a productive college arm with control and a fastball that doesn’t set radar guns ablaze.

The thing that really stands out about Hjerpe is his arm slot. It’s low. Like really low. Like Chris Sale low. Take a look at it. (I’ll reference this video more later, so keep it handy).

Quite honestly, with that kind of an arm slot, his fastball velocity isn’t really that important. He doesn’t need to blow his heater past hitters to be effective because he offers a unique look and plenty of deception.

Hjerpe has a much flatter vertical approach angle than most pitchers which allows his fastball to play up, especially in the top of the  zone. Because he comes in from such a low arm slot, his pitches have less drop from their natural angle leaving his hand. This is especially important for his fastball since it gives it a greater rising effect than most other fastballs..

The pitch is also unique in the fact that it gets a good amount of run to go with it’s rising effect. Because he comes in so far from the side, all of his pitches get more sweep than drop and that gives his fastball a nasty combination of movement.

It’s truly a plus pitch that plays really well at the top of the zone. I love his fastball and it’s a pitch that he can build the rest of his arsenal on. That’s rare for a 90 mph fastball.

Before I say what I’m about to say, I just want to point out that I am NOT comparing Hjerpe to Chris Sale. It doesn’t do the kid justice to compare him, a 21-year-old, to one of the best pitchers in the game. However, I want to point out what Sale’s fastball looks like.

Sale’s four-seamer gets a crazy 14 inches of run, which is 70% more than the average four-seamer. Again, Hjerpe isn’t Sale, but the similar arm slot means that he should also get well above average horizontal movement on a pitch not typically known for movement in that direction. When paired with the rising effect, that’s a really nasty pitch regardless of velocity.

The pitch plays really well at the top of the zone despite it’s low velocity and Hjerpe should keep it there to get the most out of its rising effect. He also throws a slider and a changeup, and both of those pitches are solid. I think his slider rivals, or maybe even surpasses, his fastball.

Hjerpe’s slider is more of a sweeper (think Andrew Miller) considering his arm angle, and some prospect evaluators call it a fringy pitch right now but I don’t think that’s the case. It has above average spin and still had close to a 50% whiff rate according to Baseball America. And that was against high-level Pac-12 competition.

As I watched some video of Hjerpe, his slider really stood out as a knee-buckler that generated a lot of ugly swings. It’s especially nasty against left-handers as he throws it right at them and watches it break over the plate.

In the video I posted above, look at the pitch starting at 1:28 to see a hitter who has absolutely no idea what to do with the pitch. That doesn’t always happen, though. Look at 6:38 for an example of a hitter who stayed on the slider and took it the other way.

Here’s another slider making a hitter look silly.

Watch the slider at 1:28 and the slider above and then consider a 50% whiff rate and try to tell me that it’s a fringy pitch. You really can’t. It’s an underrated offering and forms a nasty one-two punch with the four-seamer.

That doesn’t mean the slider is perfect. I do think his slider could improve if it was a bit firmer. He throws the pitch in the upper 70s, but ticking up to the lower 80s could help the pitch become sharper and nastier.

From what I’ve seen, when hitters, and especially right-handers, aren’t fooled by the movement, they are able to sit on the pitch and take it the other way. Adding velocity would make it tougher to hit and a real terror for left handed hitters. .

The Cardinals are a great fit for Hjerpe because they are an organization who have successfully been able to add velocity to pitchers in the past. Think Gordon Graceffo and Andre Pallante for some higher profile examples. If they can do the same with Hjerpe, he could become even nastier.

The final pitch in Hjerpe’s arsenal is a changeup that moves a lot like his fastball, but at an upper 70s speed. It’s definitely the third pitch in his arsenal. That’s less of an indictment of the pitch and more a praise of his other two offerings.

As I watched Hjerpe, something that really stood out to me is how well Hjerpe is able to hide the ball from hitters. Unsurprisingly, he’s better at it against lefties, but when you watch video of him throwing, a hitter can’t really pick up the ball until it leaves his hand.

Between the deception, the arm angle, and the movement of his pitches, it’s tough for a hitter to feel comfortable. Nothing emphasizes that more than the fact that he allowed just three home runs in 103 ⅓ innings.

That’s part of the reason why Hjerpe dominated with Oregon State in the Spring, compiling a 2.53 ERA and allowed more than three earned runs in a start just once. He also lasted at least five innings in all but one start while lasting into the 7th innings or later four times in 17 starts. He was the best starter for one of the best programs in the country.

Hjerpe may be a funky pitcher, but he fits perfectly into the Cardinals type since he’s a bona fide strike thrower. The lefty walked just 2 batters per nine innings which looks even better when paired with his 14 Ks per nine.

Some scouting sites have mentioned that Hjerpe has some reliever risk but I really don’t think that’s the case. He has three good pitches, a nasty one-two punch, great underlying metrics and a repeatable delivery. Even though there aren’t a ton of starters that pitch like him, saying that Hjerpe has reliever risk doesn’t give him enough credit.

He’s not just your trademark pitchability prospect. He has great control and he doesn’t have elite velocity, but his arm slot makes everything play up. He’s absolutely a starting pitcher in the future and I see very little reliever risk with him. The Cardinals aren’t an organization that would really take a guy with reliever risk in the first round anyway.

It’s way too early to project Hjerpe to be more than a number 3 starter kind of pitcher, but adding velocity could change that projection.

A fun fact about Hjerpe is that his dad was a college pitcher too so it seems that he’s continuing the family legacy at a higher level.

I love the fit for Hjerpe and I think the Cardinals are one of the best organizations he could have gone to in order to develop fully. The organization seems to target his type and works with it well. As a polished college pitcher with funky arm action, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move quickly.

Second round, 59th overall – Brycen Mautz, LHP, University of San Diego junior

6’3, 190 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

Brycen Mautz

The pool amount for this pick is $1,246,200.

Scouting report

By national scouting standards, Brycen Mautz was a bit of a reach. Baseball America had him as their 95th ranked prospect while had him ranked 69th. The Cardinals must have seen something they like that caused them to rank him higher, and we may be able to find out what it is.

First off, Mautz is another college lefty who broke out in his final collegiate season. He also showed good control, walking just 2.2 batters per nine innings in the Spring.

Let’s start by looking at Mautz’s delivery, since it provides some similarities with Hjerpe. Let me be clear, his arm slot isn’t nearly as low as Hjerpe’s, but it’s definitely lower than the standard pitcher. Like with Hjerpe, there are some scouts who are worried about his unusual delivery.

The Cardinals clearly do not share those concerns as they have now used their first two picks on pitchers who are considered to have unorthodox deliveries.

Look below for some video of Mautz.

The first thing you should notice is the deception in Mautz’s delivery. He has a slight turn inwards when he raises his front leg and that hides the ball well. That’s similar to Hjerpe. He also comes from a lower arm slot. Again, similar to Hjerpe, though not as low.

That helps give his fastball plenty of run ans he still gets a lot of sink. In the video, hitters seem to have had a tough time getting underneath the pitch and driving it in the air. The strong two plane movement paired with a fastball that sits 92-94 is promising.

Fastball movement seems to be something that the Cardinals value. We see it at the major league level with the organization seemingly placing a premium on groundballs and sinkers and we saw it in the first selection with Hjerpe.

The fastball already looks pretty good and with Mautz being listed at 6’3” and 190 pounds, he looks like a prime candidate to add some velocity. I mentioned it after the first pick and I’ll mention it here too. The Cardinals are good at squeezing extra velocity out of players and Mautz looks like a prime candidate for that.

If you watch the video for long enough, you’ll see Mautz throw some breaking balls. To be honest, those look like curveballs to me. You can see the big hump as it comes out of his hand and the pitch dives toward the ground like a curveball. Even the velocity (~77 mph) suggests that it’s a curveball.

The interesting thing is that Mautz doesn’t throw a curveball. Every scouting outlet gives him a slider and after I watched some video of his start against Vanderbilt in the Regionals, I can absolutely declare that he does in fact throw a slider.

That slider has plenty of sweeping action (again, similar to Hjerpe) and got a lot of swings and misses. It’s a good pitch and makes a great pair with his fastball.

The video that I posted above is from 2021. That makes me wonder if Mautz really worked to reshape his breaking ball in the 2021/2022 offseason because it looked much different in 2022 than it did in that video. To me, that’s a good thing because I like his sweeping slider a lot.

I should also note that it does look like the Cardinals are targeting pitchers with sweeping action, even if that means an unorthodox delivery.

The Cardinals are certainly leaning into that unorthodox delivery despite the fact that some scouts think it brings more risk. To be honest, the delivery is probably part of the appeal because it generates that sweeping action.

I am a fan of pitches with that kind of a movement pattern. Thinking logically, a pitch with sinking motion can stay on the barrel if a hitter can touch it. It may be the bottom of the barrel and have a lower launch angle, but it can still be hit pretty hard, even if a hitter doesn’t hit it perfectly. When a pitch is sweeping, it should run off the barrel when a hitter doesn’t hit it perfectly, which leads to weak contact.

Mautz gets a lot of horizontal movement of his two best pitches and that is the appeal. The deception just makes things even better.

I haven’t seen much of Mautz’s changeup but he’s not scared to throw it, even if it is a clear third option. He threw at least a few against Vanderbilt and I saw a few in the video that I linked above. To be honest, it’s not as nasty as his fastball or his slider but it’s not a hopeless pitch.

Baseball America gave a 30 grade while was much higher on it, giving it a 45 grade. I side more with after watching it. From what I saw, he commands it pretty well to the outside part of the plate and it has decent arm side run at around 9 mph slower than his fastball.

The development of Mautz’s changeup may determine his future, If he can get it up to being an average pitch, then he’ll have three average of better offerings which gives him a future in the rotation. If he never gets it to work right, then he can ride his fastball/slider combo to bullpen success.

My hunch is that the Cardinals believe in his changeup because I don’t think they would have picked him here if they thought his future was in the bullpen. That’s just not how they usually operate.

I like the fastball/slider sweeping combination a lot on video, but Mautz’s statistics do leave a bit to be desired. He had a 3.87 ERA in his final season and that was brought below 4 in his final start of the season when he went 7 innings and gave up 1 run against Vanderbilt.

2022 was his first season as a full time starter and his first season with below a 4 ERA. 2022 also saw his strikeout rate take a massive jump from 8.7 K/9 to 12.8 K/9. At the same time, his walk rate was cut in half, going from 4.7 BB/9 to 2.2 BB/9. This is likely what drew the Cardinals to him.

Mautz also pitched in the Northwoods Summer League following the 2021 college season and posted a 2.08 ERA in over 30 innings out of the bullpen. The Cardinals have drafted successful Northwoods League players often, so it should not be surprising to see Mautz fall into that category.

Above, I noted that Mautz may have reshaped his slider prior to the season and that may have helped him see a huge uptick in strikeouts. The numbers and the different pitch shape indicate a lot of growth in a short amount of time and this is likely a pick built on the idea that he can continue growing at a quick rate.

Deception and a really good two pitch combo give Mautz a high floor and the ability to rack up strikeouts, but Mautz’s ceiling is based on improving his changeup and maintaining the control gains that he found in his final collegiate season. If he can do those two things, then he could be a really promising starting pitching prospect. Still, there is some reliever risk here.

I expect that the Cardinals are saving some money with this pick to potentially pursue a prep player tomorrow but only time will tell.

So far, that’s two college starters with somewhat similar profiles in the first two picks. That could give the Cardinals room to find some more hitters later in the draft, but it’s interesting to see the Cardinals attacking a certain kind of arm. They’ve always liked college pitching, and especially college pitchers who could add velocity, but the newfound emphasis on sweep and a lower arm slot means that the approach has potentially gotten more nuanced.

Your authors

TCN staff writer Blake Newberry wrote these player scouting reports with Brian Walton filling in the rest.

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