The foundation of right-handed pitcher Inohan Paniagua’s 2022 season is one that was built this past winter in his native Dominican Republic.
After he was told at the end of the 2021 season that he'd be used as a starter in 2022, Paniagua remained committed to the gym and focused on taking care of his body while he spent his offseason at home and at the Cardinals’ Dominican academy in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.
The 22-year-old spent six weeks training at the organization’s academy after the 2021 campaign wrapped up and returned there three weeks before he needed to report to Jupiter, Florida for spring training in March.
That offseason preparation led him to have a strong spring that ended with him being named as Class Low-A Palm Beach’s opening day starter.
“A lot of us have always wanted that opportunity to be the opening day starter,” Paniagua said in Spanish during a phone interview. “They told me that it was going to be me and I said, ‘Alright, I have to do a good job because if they gave me this role, I have to take advantage of it and give it my all.’”
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Across 17 starts with Palm Beach, Paniagua fulfilled what he hoped to do as he posted a 2.18 ERA and struck out 107 batters across 99 innings before earning his first call-up to Class High-A Peoria.
At the time of his July 26 promotion to Class High-A, Paniagua led the Florida State League in ERA, innings, strikeouts, and quality starts with 14.
“I always tried to just give it may all and focus on the important things like throwing strikes,” he said.
The call-up to Class High-A for Paniagua marked the highest level of pro baseball he had reached since he made his debut in the 2017 Dominican Summer League.
While in Peoria, the Bonoa, Dominican Republic native made eight starts for the Chiefs and finished the Midwest League season with a had a 4.42 ERA in 38 2/3 innings.
Paniagua was troubled by shaky command that led to a jump in his walk rate by nearly 4%, according to FanGraphs, and allowed eight homers compared to the four he gave up while with Palm Beach.
“The hitters here are more selective,” Paniagua said after. “You have to be more consistent in the zone with the way you pitch because hitters here don’t miss as much as they did in Low-A. That’s been one of the focuses.”
But even through his troubles, Paniagua also showed some of the similar effectiveness in Peoria that led him to success in Palm Beach.
Paniagua had three quality starts and struck out 38 batters following his final Midwest League start of the year on Sept. 7. Of his eight starts, he feels like his one of his strongest was on Aug. 14 start against Great Lakes, when he carried a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings and struck out seven.
“The experience and what he what he went through in having some success of Low-A level and then... a couple challenging outings with us," Peoria manager Patrick Anderson said. "He responded great, and did a really, really good job to finish up strong."
Signed to a minor-league contract by the Cardinals in 2017, Paniagua totaled 158 2/3 innings across three rooking ball seasons. He nearly matched that with 137 2/3 innings this season.
"He's young and he's not really strong yet,” Anderson said of Paniagua, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 148 pounds. “There's a frame in which, you know, once he puts on some strength, he's going to be really, really good.”
The standout year from Paniagua may create some decisions from the Cardinals’ front office over the upcoming offseason. Paniagua is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December and is currently unprotected since he isn't on the Cardinals' 40-man roster.
“He's done a great job, he really has," Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque said of Paniagua. "Sometimes it just takes time, innings... and we're very pleased with his progress.”
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