The "Prospect on the Rise" concept we have been using lately is rather nebulous. Some of these players are quite obscure unless you are a fan of a particular organization, Jharel Cotton of the Dodgers (our most recent subject of study) being a good example. Others are better known but for some reason or another haven't received as much recent attention (on a national level) as they may deserve, given their talent level. An example here is Luke Weaver of the St. Louis Cardinals system.
Weaver is not an obscure prospect. His 2013 sophomore season at Florida State University was superb (7-2, 2.29 ERA, 119/19 K/BB in 98 innings) and he was viewed as a likely first-round pick entering the spring of 2014. His junior year wasn't quite as strong (2.62, 85/23 k/BB in 106 innings) but that was still enough to get him selected late in the first round last year, 27th overall by the Cardinals. This was actually a bit controversial as some teams, noting a velocity decline with his fastball and less crispness with his breaking stuff compared to '13, saw him as more of a second or even third rounder.
Weaver's pro debut last summer was just nine innings long, nine innings in which he gave up 15 hits and eight runs and reportedly looked tired, with his stuff still down. This did not help his ranking on prospect lists entering 2015. I had him eighth on the 2015 Cardinals list but many other people were not as sanguine. Eric Johnson at Viva El Birdos posted an excellent scouting summary of Weaver last March, pointing out Weaver's excellent change-up but noting his inconsistent fastball velocity and his less-than-stellar breaking ball.
So what results do we have from 2015? Weaver started in extended spring training but was activated in late May and sent to Palm Beach in the High-A Florida State League. He had some low pitch count games early but built up his stamina and by late June he was on a roll, posting ERAs of 0.98 and 0.89 in July and August with a combined 57/8 K/BB in his last 66 innings of work. Overall he went 8-5, 1.62 in 19 starts with an 88/19 K/BB and 98 hits allowed.
Weaver is a 6-2, 170 right-hander born August 21, 1993. He looks as scrawny as you'd expect with that height-weight data but he has plenty of mound presence and no shortage of arm strength. Reports from late in 2015 indicate that he looked more like the pitcher who blew away the ACC in 2013 than the one who had some issues in '14, maintaining his peak fastball velocities more readily and making hitters look bad with the change-up.
His breaking ball was said to be sharper this year but remains the main focus going forward. Despite his dominance for Palm Beach his K/IP ratio was not spectacular, often a sabermetric symptom of the need for more consistent breaking stuff. Despite that doubt it is fair to say that Weaver has regained much of his stock value. I had him rated as a Grade B- pre-season and it seems like a move up to a straight Grade B will be appropriate.