While the St. Louis Cardinals are looking to compete for a World Series in 2022, looking ahead to the farm system of the future is never a bad idea. In what some would categorize as a top-heavy system, I believe some players could position themselves for later success in Major League Baseball.
The Top End Guys
These three guys are the three no doubt top prospects in the Cardinals system. If the Cardinals ever choose to trade for a top-end starter, moving one of these guys could be the key piece it takes to acquire said starter. Two of these guys can make an impact at the big league level as early as this year, while one is still only 19.
1. Jordan Walker (3B/1B, 2024 ETA)
Jordan Walker was a 1st round selection for the Cardinals back in 2020. Walker has been nothing short of stellar in his short time in the Cardinals system. In 2021, he flat out raked at the Low-A level. In 122 plate appearances, he slashed .374/.475/.687 with a 205 WRC+. As someone who was straight out of high school, these were super impressive numbers. What was even more impressive was his transition to High-A, where he continued to bat well. In 244 plate appearances at High-A, he slashed .292/.344/.487 with a 124 WRC+. His strikeout rate was high, which is expected by a kid straight out of high school. He also showed a little prowess on the base pads, stealing 13 bags in High-A in his short time there.
Walker has a deep bag of tools to work with, especially someone of his age. He already has +power, with the range of reaching ++power. His bat-to-ball contact still needs a little work, but even there he is ahead of schedule. Even though the strikeout rate is high, his swing is simple. There isn’t a lot of moving parts when it comes to Walker’s swing, which should allow him to easier adjust to pitching with the right amount of reps. Walker starts his 2022 campaign in Double-A, where he’s already seemed to be more comfortable at the plate.
2. Nolan Gorman (2B/3B, 2022 ETA)
Nolan Gorman has started 2022 on fire. He’s slashing .348/.397/.833 across the first 17 games, while adding 10 HRs with 15 RBIs. Gorman came into 2022 off the back of average 2021, where he saw his WRC+ hit lows unheard of since his first stint in pro baseball. The one nice thing we saw from Gorman last season was the drop in strikeout rate, which was his career-low at 19%. Gorman has +power with ++raw power, and if his bat-to-ball skills improve he could find himself on the big league roster rather quickly.
His development has been rushed. He’s only 21, 22 on May 10th, and yet has over 300 PAs at the AAA level. The Cardinals feel like he’s their guy, and while he can become that guy, he still needs time to develop. He has his struggles, which include hitting velocity and hitting lefties. He’s got a below .700 OPS against velocity so far this season, and while he’s hit lefties well to start this year, his priors would suggest a little regression heading his way.
Overall I like Gorman. I’m not as high as most Cardinals fans, but I believe he can be a valuable asset to the big league roster soon. I’ve seen countless tweets saying “why isn’t he on the big league team” or “he’s better than DeJong and Sosa” and while those may be true, he wouldn’t be as big of a help as you’d think. He struggled to hit lefties, he’d struggle to hit velocity, and would only add a little power to the bottom of the lineup. Let Gorman develop, give him his time, because once he’s ready you’ll know it.
3. Matthew Liberatore (LHP, 2022 ETA)
Matthew Liberatore is a 6’4 lefty who can make his MLB debut as soon as tomorrow. He’s probably more suited than Jordan Hicks as a starter, and probably offers more than a Jake Woodford or Ryan Helsley. He’s a very mechanical pitcher, which bodes well for someone of his stature.
Liberatore does a lot well, in fact, he offers some of the best breaking stuff in the entire minor leagues. His curveball is held in high regard, and for good reason. It has good spin and dies before the hitter can adjust, but even then it’s not his most effective pitch. His slider has become his most effective pitch, and by a wide margin. It sits in the mid-80s with a lot of late break, which brings difficulty to hitters who see it like a fastball out of his hands. His two breaking balls are what bring him such a high floor as a prospect, the only challenge is determining where his ceiling lies.
I see Liberatore becoming a solid #4 starter in MLB, with a high #3 starter as his ceiling. It’s not a wide range of outcomes for the southpaw, but it’s something in itself that is valuable. He lacks a lot of life on his fastball. It doesn’t have a ton of spin or run, and only sits between 91-94 MPH. He lets up quite a bit of loud contact on his fastball, which brings me a little worry if he can translate fully to the big leagues as of this moment. I don’t think the Cardinals nailed the Randy Arozarena trade, but they’ll get a solid rotation arm nonetheless.
These next few guys intrigue me for 2022 and beyond. I think they bring a good mix of talent, and even some guys I could see crack the big league roster come September.
4. Ivan Herrera (C, 2022 ETA)
With the noticeable aging of future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina, the door is cracking open for prospect Ivan Herrera. He hasn’t gotten off to a hot start in AAA this season, but it’s not his bat that intrigues me.
Herrera brings a high IQ to the backstop, something the Cardinals have not lacked since the turn of the century. He’s already MLB-ready in terms of defense and has a ceiling that could land him as one of the best defensive catchers in the bigs.
Herrera has good bat-to-ball skills, even if his career strikeout rate so far sits around 25%. His hit took still needs some work, but he may have to figure it out at the big league level. I wouldn’t expect him to come up and rake, but he could offer good defense and learn from the aging Yadi.
5. Masyn Winn (SS, 2025 ETA)
While Masyn Winn won’t make his big league debut this season, the 20-year-old shortstop has some untapped potential. He’s athletic with supreme speed and can play defense with a good feel for the ball. His offensive ceiling isn’t the highest, but he’s got alright raw power that we haven’t truly seen translate to game power in his professional career.
I think Winn is farther off than anyone mentioned before him but can become a solid utility player if he hits. He needs his bat-to-ball skills to seriously improve before he gets any consideration as a future starter for the Redbirds. His BB% is nice to see, which gives way to say he’s got a good approach, but he struggles to reach base in any other fashion. He’s only 20 and has a ton of time to hone his skills, but his impact won’t be felt for at least 3 years.
6. Joshua Baez (OF, 2026 ETA)
I’m going to plant my flag now on Joshua Baez, because his upside has me all the way sold. Baez is only 18 but has incredible raw power that translates into game power. He hasn’t reached anywhere past the complex, but I’m willing to take a stand and ride with the incredible athleticism and pop from a young gun.
He’s got some speed, has a good feel on defense, and can drive the ball to all parts of the field. He has a long way to reaching his potential as a starter in MLB, but with the right development of his hitting tool, he has the other tools to help him get there.
7. Juan Yepez (1B, 2022 ETA)
Juan Yepez started 2022 in AAA, and a lot of Cardinals fans expected him to make the opening day roster. Insert Albert Pujols, and that roster spot went out the window. Yepez has plus raw power, that in 2021 we saw lead to 22 HRs at the AAA level. I’m lower on Yepez than the consensus, but his upside lies directly with his power.
He’s not going to wow anyone with his speed or defense, but he’s got decent bat-to-ball skills and good power. He’s your typical 1B prospect, which in and of itself is hard to rank, but can become a solid bench bat for the Cardinals as soon as tomorrow.
The Rest of the Bunch
Some guys I want to give an honorable mention to, and for you (and I) to keep an eye on are Michael McGreevy (RHP), Alec Burleson (OF), Brendan Donovan (INF), and Zack Thompson (LHP). These guys rank 8-11 for me in the Cardinals system and can see an immediate jump once the 2022 guys make their debuts.
We’re already seeing Donovan get the reps at the big league level, playing defense on the off days of Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman. We could see Thompson and Burleson as soon as this year, but I think Burleson is still a ways away.
This system has a good blend of upside and floor and runs a little deeper than marketed. The impact of these guys will be needed soon, and it’s super exciting to have a good farm system.
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