Cardinals Make Surprise Signing of Miles Mikolas

photo: Miles Mikolas (Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today (Tuesday) that they have signed free-agent right-handed pitcher Miles Mikolas (pronounced MIY-koh-lahs) to a two-year deal (2018-19).   Financial terms were not disclosed.

Miles Mikolas (Yomiuri Giants)

Mikolas, 29, has starred the past three seasons (2015-17) in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball League, going a combined 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA in 62 starts for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League.  Mikolas went 14-8 with a 2.25 ERA in 27 starts for the Giants this past season, posting career highs for innings pitched (188.0) and strikeouts (187) and he issued only 23 walks.

The 6-5, 220-pound native of Jupiter, Fla. was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 7th round of the June, 2009 draft out of Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla, and he made his Major League debut with the Friars in 2012.   Mikolas was a combined 4-6 with a 5.32 ERA in 37 games (10 starts) in the majors with San Diego (2012-13) and Texas (2014).

Upon joining the Yomiuri club in 2015, his career took off, as he went 13-3 with a 1.92 ERA in 21 starts, completing four games, including two shutouts.   In 2016, Mikolas was 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 14 starts for the Giants.

Mikolas won Central League MVP of the Month awards in June of 2015 and August of 2017, becoming the first foreign-born pitcher in Yomiuri Giants franchise history to win the MVP of the Month award multiple times.

Between his 2015 and 2016 seasons, Mikolas posted a 13-game win streak, becoming the first foreign pitcher to accomplish such a feat in the Central League.

Mikolas was errorless in his three years with the Giants, handling 92 chances flawlessly and he also belted a pair of home runs for Yomiuri.

Today’s signing of Mikolas puts the Cardinals Major League roster at 39 players.

Brian Walton’s take

We have been told for a number of years that the Cardinals were putting additional emphasis on scouting in Asia. While many fans had probably hoped for the moon – such as a top shelf signing like two-way star Shohei Ohtani – the Cardinals pulled a surprise with the signing of Miles Mikolas to a two-year contract worth $15.5 million.

The 29-year-old, a former starter with the Texas Rangers, has been one of the better pitchers in Japan for the past three seasons. In 62 outings for the Yomiuri Giants, all starts, Mikolas logged a 2.18 ERA and a 0.994 WHIP. The right-hander fanned 378 against 69 free passes issued in 424 2/3 innings.

After coming back from a shoulder ailment in 2016, Mikolas stepped forward in both performance and endurance in 2017. His 2.25 ERA was second among Japan’s Central League starters and his totals of 187 strikeouts in 188 innings both led the league. Further, he walked just 23.

Where does he fit?

While St. Louis has a cadre of exciting young arms, the club may need to give up one or more of them in trade. Even if not, they needed middle rotation depth and have been creative in getting it. Mikolas’ ability to log solid innings has to be appealing to the Cardinals, who lost two veterans known for their durability – traded Mike Leake and free agent Lance Lynn.

If the rumors are accurate, the Cardinals were aggressive in their bid for the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder’s services. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, some MLB executives were speculating Mikolas would receive in the $10 million range for two years. The Cards went 55 percent higher to get their man. Further, rumors had his former club, the Rangers, among the clubs trying to sign him now, a positive indicator.

Passan also reports Mikolas will be “locked in” to a rotation spot with the Cardinals. While that kind of assurance, if true, may bother some people, the $15.5 million committed should have already told you that. Further, the greatest challenge is keeping a rotation spot, which he will still have to earn despite the salary. For what it is worth, he has no minor league options remaining.

Background, repertoire

Mikolas, a Jupiter, Florida native, was the seventh-round draft pick of San Diego in 2009. The Nova Southeastern product reached the majors in 2012, posting a 3.62 ERA in 32 1/3 relief innings for the Padres. Mikolas spent most of 2013 back in Triple-A as a closer before being traded twice in a month during the following off-season, first to Pittsburgh, then Texas. In 2014, he split his season between Triple-A and the majors. In 10 starts with the Rangers, Mikolas was shelled to the tune of a 6.44 ERA. Following the 2014 campaign, he was released and headed to Japan to rebuild his career.

Scouting reports have Mikolas working his fastball in the low 90’s with a plus slider and a curveball in the mid-70’s. He is projected to be mid- to back-of-the-rotation material, and if he could deliver like Lynn and Leake, I imagine the Cards would be delighted. A potential plus is that new Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux worked with Mikolas in Texas.

On a side point, Mikolas has some internet notoriety. When coming up through the ranks, he pitched in the 2011 Arizona Fall League prospect showcase. Apparently on a bet with teammates, he consumed a lizard, leading to his nickname of “Lizard King”. Watch the YouTube video here (if you dare and can deal with a bit of foul language). On Mikolas’ twitter page, he also proclaims himself to be an avid fisherman.

Roster flexibility remains

The timing of this signing comes just four days after the trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto was announced. Now, the 40-man roster spot freed up in that deal can be used on Mikolas. The Cards still have one open spot that they could deploy for a pick in the December 14 Rule 5 Draft or to accommodate another signing or trade.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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