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Cards prospects Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo make strides, face struggles in ‘22

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For the first two months of the minor-league baseball season, Cardinals right-handed pitching prospects Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo proved to be a formidable duo atop Class High-A Peoria’s rotation.

McGreevy had a 2.58 ERA in eight starts for Peoria during which he allowed one homer and was named Midwest League Pitcher of the Month of April after he kept hitters to one run over 23 2/3 innings to begin the year.

At the same time, Graceffo maintained a 0.99 ERA over 45 2/3 innings, struck out 59 batters, and gained recognition from within the Cardinals’ organization as the farm system’s pitcher of the month for April and May.

But their final four months spent with Class AA Springfield were different stories for the pair of 2021 MLB draft picks.

“Professional baseball isn't easy, but there was definitely a big skill jump I think coming up to Double-A,” said McGreevy, who had a 4.64 ERA in 99 innings for Springfield. “These are good hitters. These are some of the best hitters in the world — the young stars.”

Those experiences weren’t exclusive to McGreevy.

“These hitters here, they're extremely talented,” said Graceffo, who finished Springfield’s season with a 3.94 ERA in 93 2/3 innings. “I mean, these are the guys that end up making it to the show this year, next year, or a couple years later.”

For the 22-year-old Graceffo, the adjustment to pitching in Class AA included a dip in his strikeout rate and a rise in homers allowed. The former fifth-round pick left Peoria with a 33.9% strikeout rate and surrendered just one homer to Midwest League hitters. But in Springfield, he struck out 21.9% of hitters and gave up 16 home runs.

“You definitely can't strike everybody out. You'd love to, but it's impossible,” Graceffo said during an interview in Springfield, Missouri. “I've seen that a lot here, my strikeout numbers are a little bit down, but I'm still able to get outs and stuff like that which has led me to go deeper into games.”

However, going deeper into games during August and September became less frequent for the two. The pair of 22-year-olds were placed on workload limits as the Cardinals took a cautious approach to their respective developments.

"You have to watch those workloads and make sure that it fits at the end of the year and you gave them the appropriate amount of work,” farm director Gary LaRocque said of Graceffo and McGreevy during an August interview in Springfield, Missouri.

McGreevy averaged around 77 pitches in his final nine starts and threw a max of 83 while Graceffo averaged 68 pitches in his final nine outings and never threw above 86 pitches in any of those starts.

“I'm sure Gordon spoke for me too and I could speak for Gordon right now,” McGreevy said during an interview in Springfield, Missouri. “We definitely racked up a ton of innings in High-A and we still racked up a ton early on in our Double-A tenure here. … It's frustrating because you want to help the team win but, you know, there's a bigger picture and there's people looking out for you.”

Those limitations did come with a benefit for the two.

“It is cool seeing the velocity tick up again. A lot more 94s and 95s yesterday which is good to see,” McGreevy said after an Aug. 18 start against Arkansas. “Slider velocity is up. The more and more I pitch this year, the better and better I think my stuff's getting. It's always tough to work on (a limit) but it's really encouraging to see the numbers tick up again this late in the season.”

Said Graceffo on the lighter workload: “That's helped me get my body feeling back to good.”

After some ups and downs in Springfield, the duo ended their seasons on high notes.

Graceffo pitched six shutout innings, struck out a season-high nine batters on 67 pitches, and carried a perfect game through 5 2/3 innings before a line drive single broke up his bid for perfection against Tulsa on Sept. 15.

The scoreless start bookended a run of 16 2/3 scoreless innings over three starts to end his season. Graceffo limited opposing lineups to five hits and struck out 22 batters while only walking two over his last three starts in that span.

“He (Graceffo) had to make an adjustment because hitters are more polished here in Double-A,” Springfield manager Jose Leger said during a phone interview. “He had to make that adjustment in understanding, 'How can I be more efficient with my pitches.' He was able to do it in his last outing. He was great.”

A Sept. 13 start against Tulsa during which he gave up four runs over six innings was original last scheduled for McGreevy in 2022. But with the Cardinals organization hoping for McGreevy to make one extra start and the Southern California native ready, he took the mound for Springfield's season finale on Sunday.

On same mound where his Class AA career began, McGreevy gave up one run across four innings on the road against Tulsa to end his first full MiLB season.

He flashed some of his most effective stuff in the process.

“He finished really strong. I think he was up to 96 (mph) yesterday, which definitely tells you something because the whole year he was sitting 92, 93 and then yesterday was up to 96,” Jose Leger said of McGreevy during a phone interview on Monday.  “So he definitely finished strong. He was able to spot his fastball. He's got the ability to do that. So definitely the kid can pitch.”

Following a season where the two shared success in Peoria and faced challenges in Springfield, neither McGreevy nor Graceffo will participate in this year’s Arizona Fall League to make any further impressions.

With their full workloads in 2022, those impressions were already made.

“They've done a good job with it. They're very capable,” LaRocque said of how the prospects handled being in Class AA. “Both of them pay attention. They're great workers and they've done a good job here.”

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter

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