Prospect Retrospective: Jason Motte, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte had an excellent season in 2012: 42 saves, 2.75 ERA, 86/17 K/BB ratio in 72 innings, just 49 hits allowed. Indeed, he's been very successful over the last three seasons, with a career 2.87 ERA, ERA+136, with a 273/77 K/BB ratio in 260 innings with 201 hits allowed.
Motte's development as a prospect was atypical, so let's take a look at the career of the Cardinals closer.
Jason Motte was drafted in the 19th round in 2003, from Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. He successfully avoided tripping over ottomans in college, coming into pro ball as a defense-first catcher. He was skilled with the glove, but hopeless with the bat, hitting just .188/.217/.231 through 2005. He reached Triple-A briefly as an emergency roster reinforcement, but had no hope for a significant major league career.
The Cardinals moved Motte to the pitcher's mound to take advantage of his strong throwing arm in 2006. He responded well, posting a 3.69 ERA with a 38/7 K/BB in 39 innings between the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues, allowing 46 hits. He showed a solid low-90s fastball but his breaking stuff, not surprisingly, needed work.
Motte took a big step forward in 2007, posting a 2.20 ERA with a 63/22 K/BB in 49 innings for Double-A Springfield, allowing 36 hits and picking up eight saves. His velocity picked up a tick into the 93-95 range, occasionally hitting 96-97, and he made progress developing his slider. He was an older prospect at age 25, but given his background that was understandable. Noting his excellent K/IP ratio, I rated him as a Grade C who needed to sharpen his command, but that he "clearly has middle relief potential."
Moved up to Triple-A Memphis for 2008, Motte posted a 3.24 ERA with nine saves, with a stellar 110/26 K/BB ratio and 64 hits allowed. His K/IP mark was ridiculously good, and he was now hitting 98 MPH with regularity. Scouting reports indicated that his slider was just adequate, but he was mixing in occasional splitters and changeups at this point, trying to find a reliable offset for the fastball. Obviously he was doing something right; you don't fan 110 in 67 innings otherwise.
He followed up with a 0.82 ERA and a 16/3 K/BB in 11 major league innings. Having seen him several times in Triple-A, I wrote that his "lack of a consistent secondary pitch" would probably prevent him from being a full-time closer, and that his basic game plan was to come in and throw the fastball past people. I noted he was "entertaining to watch" and gave him a Grade C+ entering '09.
Motte scuffled at times in the Cardinals bullpen in '09, posting a 4.76 ERA in 57 innings, with a 54/23 K/BB. However, he improved dramatically in '10, lowering his ERA to 2.24 and improving his command. He's been excellent ever since, relying mainly on a cutter to go with a fastball that can hit 100 MPH.