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Fantasy baseball waiver wire: Can Matthew Liberatore save the Cardinals’ rotation?

St. Louis is set to call up their top prospect to start on Wednesday after six electric weeks at Triple-A.

MLB: MAR 18 Spring Training - Tigers at Cardinals

It’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan so far for the St. Louis Cardinals, who entered the 2023 season with legitimate World Series aspirations and arguably the deepest roster in baseball — but who now sit last in the NL Central at 17-26 after a crushing loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night. The biggest culprit has been starting pitching: St. Louis’ rotation has posted a 5.15 ERA on the year, ranking just 23rd in baseball, and not a single starter has an ERA better than league average.

It’s been bleak, and tensions among the Best Fans in Baseball are high. But fear not, Cards faithful; the help you’ve been waiting for all year is finally here:

Lefty Matthew Liberatore — currently MLB Pipeline’s No. 92 overall prospect after shredding Triple-A over the past six weeks — will get the call to start the series finale against Milwaukee on Wednesday, as St. Louis finally gives its best young arm a second crack at the Majors. Here’s everything you need to know about the former first-round pick.

Matthew Liberatore fantasy impact

We’ve been telling you to keep an eye on Liberatore for weeks now, so if you’re already stashing him on your fantasy baseball roster, congratulations. If not, you’re going to want to make a move before it’s too late.

The No. 16 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Cardinals had high hopes for Liberatore when they acquired him from the Tampa Bay Rays for Randy Arozarena back in 2020. That deal initially looked like a bust for St. Louis, as Arozarena blossomed into a star while Liberatore’s star began to fade — the lefty put up a 4.04 ERA in Triple-A in 2021, then a 5.17 mark in a repeat visit in 2022. Necessity forced the Cardinals to call him up to the Majors anyway, and that didn’t go much better: Liberatore made nine appearances (seven starts) and posted a 5.97 ERA with just 28 strikeouts to 18 walks in 34.2 innings. He entered this past offseason plummeting down prospect lists and facing a make-or-break season for his long-term future.

It’s safe to say he’s making the most of it. In his third crack at Triple-A, Liberatore is putting up video-game numbers, with a 3.13 ERA and a whopping 56 Ks over 46 innings pitched. The main difference? His four-seam fastball, long a liability, has jumped up into the mid-90s and is missing bats with regularity.

The growth of that heater is key, as it keeps batters from sitting on Liberatore’s curveball — which is among the very nastiest in the Minors.

If Liberatore can maintain this velocity, that will give him two plus pitches to work with — plus a slider that he uses effectively down-and-in on righties — and leave him far better equipped to attack Major League lineups. Obviously, question marks will remain until we see the lefty actually conquer the highest level, but he’s a much better bet to stick as a big league starter now than at this time last year. The upside isn’t enormous, but he could settle in as a solid SP3 or SP4 for your fantasy teams and is a recommended add in all but the shallowest leagues.