JUPITER, Fla. -- Trevor Rosenthal's stuff is so dominant, it makes as strong an impression on fellow pitchers watching on television as it does on hitters standing in the batter's box. Lefty specialist Randy Choate, the newest member of the St. Louis bullpen, saw Rosenthal take the mound in a non-save situation during a televised game between the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs last year and immediately thought something was out of whack.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'They have this guy throwing 100 [mph] and he's not even their closer?'" Choate says, laughing. "I was like, 'Is 95 the minimum you have to throw to be in that bullpen?'"
Rosenthal, 22, has the repertoire to thrive as a starter and the toughness and overpowering heat to be a successful closer, but the Cardinals have the luxury of using him as a setup man until they can settle on a long-term role for him. Wherever he appears, swings and misses are sure to follow.
He struck out 25 batters in 22 2/3 innings with St. Louis when he was summoned from Triple-A Memphis after the All-Star break last year. As the Cardinals enter the 2013 season, he's set to pitch the eighth inning most nights while Jason Motte recovers from a strained elbow and Mitchell Boggs fills in at closer.
This spring in Jupiter, Rosenthal continued to impress his veteran teammates with his poise, work ethic and ability to pop the catcher's mitt so loudly the noise resonated throughout the box seats.
"He opened a lot of eyes last year," says Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday. "Guys were like, 'Wow, it's electric coming out of his hand.' He's fun to watch. He's one of those guys that gets you excited watching him throw.''
Kansas City's loss is St. Louis's gain. Rosenthal grew up about 20 minutes from K.C. in the city of Lee's Summit, Mo., and attended Cowley County Community College in Kansas with the intention of playing shortstop or third base. He showed enough skills as an infielder and occasional pitcher to attract interest from Division I programs at Oklahoma State and New Mexico State.
But everything changed when he took the mound during a postseason tournament in Wichita. St. Louis scout Aaron Looper, the cousin of former big league pitcher Braden Looper and son of long-time major league executive Benny, gleaned enough information from a one-inning cameo to make a pitch for the Cardinals to select Rosenthal in the draft. They picked him in the 21st round, signed him to a $65,000 bonus and sent him on his way up the organizational chain.
Rosenthal showed enough promise with Quad Cities in the Midwest League to skip high-A Palm Beach and proceed directly to Double-A Springfield last season. After a 15-inning pit stop with Memphis, he was in the big leagues.
In hindsight, Rosenthal seems as surprised as anyone over the sudden shift in his career path.
"Everybody on the team knew I had a strong arm throwing from shortstop, but they were like, 'We didn't know it was that good,'" he says.
Rosenthal's long-term preference is to start, and he has all the requisite weapons to make it happen. He complements his fastball with a curveball, slider and changeup, and added a cutter to the mix last year with help from Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter. Rosenthal has 318 strikeouts and 105 walks as a professional, so his command appears good enough to hold up for six or seven innings at a time.
When trouble arises, it's always comforting to rely on that heater. Now that he's seen it up close and in person, Choate, a 12-year major league veteran, is really impressed.
"I always tease him," Choate says. "I'm like, 'Oh sure, it's real tough to get somebody out when you throw 100. Try throwing 84 and getting people out. That's when you're pitching.'"
While Rosenthal carves out an identity for himself in St. Louis, he has to deal with the occasional mis-impression about his religious identification. Contrary to what numerous fans and bloggers might think, he is not Jewish.
"Every once in a while, someone will ask me about it," Rosenthal says. "My dad is an attorney, and he gets invited to bar mitzvahs all the time."
Young Trevor is still waiting for his first bar mitzvah invitation. In the interim, he might have to settle for a few All-Star Game appearances.