A man in a plaid shirt talks into a microphone
After being named the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2022, Gordon Graceffo looks to make it to the big leagues at some point this season. (Photo: Kimberly Bates, Springfield Cardinals)

When Gordon Graceffo returned to Hammons Field last week as part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Caravan, the young right-handed pitching prospect had mostly positive flashbacks.

There were some bumps along the way during his 2022 season for the Springfield Cardinals, most notably the month of August when he struggled to an 0-2 record and 9.33 earned run average.

But undeterred, Graceffo was able to bounce back and finish strong. Busting through the proverbial wall that many young pitchers hit at some point in their first full professional season, Graceffo was 2-0 in three September starts, covering 16 ⅔ scoreless innings.

Graceffo named Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year

It was a notable way to head into the offseason and important to the 22-year-old, who later was named the 2022 Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

“I think it’s good to show the world you can pitch late in the year like that,” Graceffo said. “With the Cardinals, you’re looking at playing in October every single year. They focus on the playoffs. Being able to pitch late in the year like that, it’s huge.”

Graceffo heads to spring training in a few weeks as one of several 2022 Springfield Cardinals hoping to turn heads and maybe even earn a spot on St. Louis’ opening-day roster. 

Not that Graceffo, a fifth-round draft choice in 2021 out of Villanova, is going to be deflated if he begins the regular season in the minor leagues. It’s all about perspective and, considering the road Graceffo has traveled over the last year, Graceffo’s arrival in St. Louis seems to be not if, but when.

“Wherever the Cardinals want to send me, I’ll go there and pitch the best I can,” Graceffo said. “I’m going to enjoy it and hopefully, when the time comes, I’ll be ready.”

A big surprise at last year’s spring training

Just a year ago the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Graceffo was a surprise during spring training. He reported to camp throwing triple-digit velocity in miles per hour, showing a big jump after a winter of training at Annex Sports Performance, in Chatham, New Jersey.

He was one of a few minor leaguers invited to throw game-simulated batting practice to some of the Cardinals’ big league stars one afternoon and quickly caught everyone’s attention with his velocity and control. 

Graceffo said he returned to Annex Sports this offseason to fine-tune and build on the foundation of last year. 

This spring, everyone likely will know his name when training camp begins in Jupiter, Florida. That gives Graceffo a level of comfort and confidence. 

“You definitely know what to expect now,” Graceffo said of returning to Jupiter after a breakthrough season. “Going into your first spring training, last year, you hear about how long the days are and everything like that. You now know what to expect, you know your way around the place and you know the guys. That part is nice.”

A baseball player pitches the ball
Gordon Graceffo compiled a 7-4 record in 18 starts with the Springfield Cardinals last season, after his promotion from High-A Peoria in early May. (Photo: PJ Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Pitching in Springfield ‘a great experience’

Graceffo wound up 7-4 with the Springfield Cardinals last season and 10-6 overall counting a month with High-A Peoria. He racked up 139 strikeouts in 139 ⅓ innings and said showing durability was important. He enters the 2023 season as the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline.

“It was a great experience,” he said of pitching in Springfield, despite the hitter-friendly aspect of Hammons Field. “There’s definitely some things you look back on that you want to improve, but it was a good first full year.  

“One of the marks of a successful season is staying healthy and being able to make every start. Your best ability is availability. Looking back on a healthy year is a big thing.”

Graceffo’s name popped up in trade discussions

The 2022 season also included hearing his name mentioned in trade discussions, especially involving outfielder Juan Soto. The Cardinals declined to surrender Graceffo, or other prospects, but the buzz was something impossible to ignore.

“The Juan Soto trade was crazy, and that whole time,” Graceffo said. “You have to try and block it out. During the whole trade deadline stuff, you’re playing games. The trade deadline was on a Tuesday and I was pitching that night. It’s crazy that stuff goes on.

“You realize how much of a business it is. But you have to block it out and get your job done.”

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton