BATTER UP! GET 6 MONTHS FOR $19.99
Dakota Hudson

Mississippi State pitcher Dakota Hudson (25) throws against Southeast Missouri State during the third inning of their NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament game at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Miss., Friday, June 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Class AA Springfield pitcher Dakota Hudson doesn’t just compete against opposing batters.

When the 2016 first-round draft pick takes the mound, he’s competing with the other pitchers in Springfield’s loaded rotation.

“I think we’re all kind of pushing to one-up the next one, so it’s kind of an inner competition between our staff,” Hudson said.

Hudson’s competition this season has been stiff. Jack Flaherty was promoted to Class AAA Memphis after posting a 1.42 ERA, the lowest in the Texas League, in 10 starts. Matt Pearce threw back-to-back complete games this season. Austin Gomber has allowed one earned run through 15 innings in his last two starts combined.

Tuesday, Hudson achieved something none of the other starters can claim. He started the Texas League All-Star Game for the North Division.

Hudson pitched the first inning and didn’t allow a hit before he was removed to make room for the other all-stars to take the mound.

“It was awesome, to get up there and see all the guys that have been just dominating throughout the league, all year pretty much,” Hudson said. “So just to be able to hang out with those guys and then go out there and start, and then to see them all come in one after another, it was a pretty awesome experience.”

Hudson earned the all-star berth by accumulating a 6-3 record and a 2.66 ERA in 13 starts this season. He has recorded eight consecutive quality starts, capped by an eight-inning outing in which he did not allow a run on June 22.

After being drafted last season, Hudson made four appearances for the Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate — three as a starter and one as a reliever — and eight relief appearances for High-A Palm Beach. He was primarily used as a reliever because he pitched 117 innings for Mississippi State during the college season. He allowed just one earned run in 13 1/3 innings on the season.

Hudson, who leaned heavily on his fastball and cutter in college, knew that to start in the pros he would have to develop an off-speed pitch, so he said that was his primary focus in spring training. While Hudson said his change up and breaking ball are still works in progress, Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez said their effectiveness allowed Hudson to make it to eight innings in his most recent outing.

Rodriguez said the reason Hudson has been able to improve his off-speed pitches this season has been the maturation he has shown since spring training. He described Hudson as mature “beyond his time.”

“Because of that (maturity) I knew that eventually when we gave him the information to make those adjustments and secondary pitches and so on that he was going to improve,” Rodriguez said.

Kruczynski makes

perfect pro debut

Ninth-round draft pick Evan Kruczynski is the only player from this year’s draft class to play for a full-season affiliate.

Kruczynski was up to the challenge.

The lefty out of East Carolina pitched four perfect innings, striking out two, in his pro debut for Low-A Peoria on Tuesday.

Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque complimented Kruczynski’s poise, saying the most impressive aspect of his first outing was maintaining control on the big stage.

“He maintained poise throughout, he used his fastball to both sides of the plate, his change produced a lot of outs as far as being effective,” LaRocque said.

While Kruczynski is the only rookie to be placed in a full-season affiliate so far this year, LaRocque said it is not uncommon for players to wind up in Peoria right after being drafted. He named Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong as recent examples.

LaRocque said Kruczynski’s placement in Peoria had more to do with a roster opening than anything else. Peoria typically uses a six-man starting rotation and an opening in the rotation gave Kruczynski a spot. But LaRocque credits Kruczynski for being prepared for his debut.

“He showed that he had a lot of poise; he was clearly ready for it,” LaRocque said.

Spitz thriving at plate

in Palm Beach

High-A Palm Beach outfielder Thomas Spitz spent the first two months of the season bouncing between Palm Beach and Springfield. Now that he has a consistent role in Palm Beach, Spitz has been on a tear at the plate.

Spitz began the season in Palm Beach and was moved to Springfield after 21 games. He played eight games there before returning to Palm Beach, but 10 days later he was back in Springfield for three games.

He struggled at the plate in both places.

On June 8, when he returned from his most recent stint in Springfield, Spitz’s batting average through 31 games in Palm Beach was .208. In his 11 games in Springfield, it was just .167.

Since his return to Palm Beach, Spitz has found his swing. In the 19 games since returning from Springfield, he has hit 23-for-64 (.359).

LaRocque said Spitz’s recent surge has corresponded not just with a consistent role in Palm Beach but with more selective hitting.

In his first 31 games in Palm Beach, Spitz struck out 28 times. He drew 10 walks in that span. In the last 19 games, he has drawn 13 walks, compared to 14 strikeouts.

“He’s taking more quality at-bats, he’s done a nice job being selective at the plate, he’s understanding his strike zone well and I think it’s just all shown that he’s been able to produce more offensively,” LaRocque said.

Keep up with the latest Cardinals coverage from our award-winning team of reporters and columnists.