The St. Louis Cardinals have been one of the most consistently competitive teams of this century. Their 55.9% regular season winning percentage since 2000 ranks third in MLB, and they’re one of five teams who have won multiple World Series titles in that time span. The organization has been able to consistently develop young talent while maintaining a core of veteran leadership acquired through signings and trades.
This consistently high level of success also creates a high level of competition within the organization. For hitters, the Cardinals’ current roster is so deep that it’s tough to see how they’re going to manage to fit in even their most impressive and major-league-ready prospects this season. Jordan Walker’s and Masyn Winn’s time will come, but the torch might pass slowly.
I think that the best roster spots to be playing for as a prospect for the Cardinals right now are the starting rotation slots. The club has been hunting for starting pitching help for the better part of three seasons after they started running into a plethora of injury issues with core players like Jack Flaherty and Carlos Martinez. Furthermore, four of the five players projected to be in their starting rotation this season are entering the final year of their contracts.
Coincidentally, the organization has a collection of pitching prospects that rivals just about any farm system in the league. While they’re not all ready quite yet to impact the Major League club, the young rotation talent that the Cards have been yearning for is right around the corner.
St. Louis Cardinals Top Fantasy Baseball Prospects
1. Jordan Walker, 3B/OF
2022 Stats (AA): 461 AB/.306 AVG/.388 OBP/.510 SLG/19 HR/22 SB/100 R/68 RBI
Jordan Walker is one of the most exciting prospects in baseball, and he absolutely has the highest potential in the power department. He has an extremely simple and effortless swing that makes deafening contact. We were able to see his raw power on full display in the 2022 Arizona Fall league, where Pitcher List’s Chris Clegg was able to get some batted ball data. Check this out from Chris’ Twitter:
Jordan Walker has 14 BBE in the AFL so far.
-97.5 MPH avg EV
-108.3 MPH 90th percentile EV
Just insane what he’s doing so far. https://t.co/Yzz4NQGy8f
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) October 10, 2022
14 batted ball events is by no means a full sample size. Barrel rate, for example, stabilizes after about 50 BBEs. But just look at how beautiful and compact that swing is. The former first-round draft pick hasn’t hit 20 homers yet in a professional season, but his upside points to a potential 40-HR season in the Bigs as he continues to develop. He hit 31 doubles last season, so the extra-base skills are already showing in game situations. It’s only a matter of time before the fences fail at holding him in the park.
Walker is also a competent and aggressive base stealer and has a fantastic arm in the outfield. He had a BB/K of 0.50 last season and only struck out 21.6% of the time, which I’ll take any day of the week for someone who hits the ball as hard as he does. That’s what’s probably the most exciting here – he has the opportunity to be one of the few players that doesn’t have to sacrifice one aspect of his hitting skills to unlock his power.
He doesn’t have to sell out and get in front of pitches so he can pull the ball in the air. He doesn’t have to get overly aggressive and swing out of his shoes. He could be a guy that’s in the 90th+ percentile of quality of contact metrics while keeping his strikeout rates and contact rates better than league average. There isn’t a wide-open hole on the Cardinals’ roster right now, but the Cardinals did invite him to Major League camp and he could force the issue aby making some room for himself.
2. Masyn Winn, SS
2022 Stats (A+/AA): 474 AB/.283 AVG/.364 OBP/.468 SLG/12 HR/43 SB/91 R/63 RBI
Masyn Winn may be best known for his record-setting arm strength from shortstop, or for irking Justin Turner, but he’s a prospect who can impact all facets of the game. The 2020 second-round pick has plus-plus speed and was only caught stealing 5 times in 48 attempts in 2022. His .185 ISO also points to his ability to generate an impressive amount of game power for a speedy middle infielder.
In his 403 PAs in AA, he posted a 100 wRC+ which puts him right at league average production at the plate. We’d like to see that number get a bit higher to realize his prospect potential, but at 20-years-old, he was 2-3 years younger than the average player in AA, so it’s not too worrisome. His timeline is probably at least a few months behind Walker’s, so there’s a chance we’ll see him debut by the end of this season. 2024 seems to be a safe target for when he can challenge Tommy Edman for shortstop.
3. Tink Hence, SP
2022 Stats (A): 52.1 IP/1.38 ERA/0.88 WHIP/81 SO
To start with a bucket of cold water, Tink Hence is probably the pitching prospect on this list with the highest risk of turning into a reliever by the time he reaches the Majors. So why is he still ranked the highest? Well, his ceiling is the highest. Tink’s stuff features ridiculous movement, but he’s still in the process of harnessing this repertoire. It seems like he could experience an early career arc much like Matt Brash of the Mariners, and we still don’t know where exactly Brash will impact the team. But we know that both players can throw some of the nastiest pitches you’ll see on the mound.
Check out this incredible thread by Trevor Hooth that features a perfect camera angle and high-quality resolution of Hence’s pitches:
Today’s 🧵 is STL RHP Tink Hence got a lot of buzz this year, and rightfully so. Got some ⚡️ in the arm. All FB against this first hitter, ending it with 96 MPH elevated for a whiff. pic.twitter.com/f4hq1tMtll
— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) November 24, 2022
This arsenal led Hence to carry a 41.5% strikeout rate in Low-A last season, and even with all of that movement, he managed to keep his walk rate just under 8%. If I had to guess based on watching him pitch, I’d say his walk rate is currently aided by a high chase rate and the poor plate discipline of players in Low-A. He occasionally runs into issues with missing his spots, but it’s hard to be upset about a 33.8% K-BB% as a 19-year-old in professional baseball.
4. Gordon Graceffo, SP
2022 Stats (A+/AA): 139.1 IP/2.97 ERA/0.94 WHIP/139 SO
Gordon Graceffo is a former fifth-round pick who dominated Low-A in his first professional season in 2021, and then followed it up by being even better against High-A competition in 2022. He posted a pristine ERA of 0.99 in 45.2 IP to start the season. While an ERA that low will almost never be legitimate, he did also carry an xFIP of 2.63. The luck was definitely there though, as his BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB% were all quite far away from league average.
His promotion to AA brought him to Earth a little bit, as everything except his BABIP regressed towards the mean. The only aspect of his profile that changed that could actually be concerning is his strikeout rate. It started at 33.9% while he pitched in High-A and dropped down to 21.9% for his 93.2 IP in AA. If it rebounds at all in 2023 then we could be looking at a mid-rotation piece within a few short years.
5. Alec Burleson, 1B/OF
2022 Stats (AAA): 432 AB/.331 AVG/.372 OBP/.532 SLG/20 HR/4 SB/68 R/87 RBI
MLB: 48 AB/.188 AVG/.264 OBP/.271 SLG/1 HR/1 SB/4 R/3 RBI
Alec Burleson doesn’t quite have the same pedigree as some other young hitters rising through the Cardinals system, but he’s shown he can connect with the ball pretty well without striking out very much. And that’s a profile that’s always going to be valuable as a hitter. The problem with his profile is that he doesn’t offer very much on defense. The Cardinals have Paul Goldschmidt locked down at first base for at least the next two seasons, and they have an extremely crowded outfield.
Even though playing time might be hard to come by right now, he’s shown some good promise in his small major league sample of batted ball data. In 39 batted balls, he carried a 109.2 mph Max EV, a 10.3% barrel rate, and a 48.7% hard-hit rate. When he eventually gets the chance to run with full-time ABs at first base and DH, he could be a steady and reliable power bat.
6. Cooper Hjerpe, SP
2022 Stats: N/A
Cooper Hjerpe throws all of his limbs at hitters from the left side and thrives on deception. His fastball only sits in the low 90s, but hitters still have a hard time barreling it up because of how he works it in with his pitch mix and how unique his delivery is. It may seem a bit too similar to a gimmick, but he’ll be able to prove that he’s a legit weapon in his first professional season in 2023.
He had all the success you would want him to have had in college, where in 2022 he was a finalist for the Golden Spikes award and won National Pitcher of the Year by Perfect Game. He led the NCAA in strikeouts and led the PAC-12 in innings pitched with 103.1 while pitching to a 2.53 ERA.
7. Moisés Gómez, OF
2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 442 AB/.294 AVG/.371 OBP/.624 SLG/39 HR/10 SB/89 R/94 RBI
Moisés Gómez signed with the Tampa Bay Rays as an international free agent in April of 2015 and then signed with the Cardinals as a minor league free agent in October of 2021. He seemed to have a nice breakout in 2018 with the Rays’ Low-A affiliate, but struggled in the following season after being promoted to High-A. Then the pandemic happened, and he had trouble adjusting again when he got back on the field in 2021 after the lost season.
But signing with the Cardinals seems to have given him some new life as a player, and even though he’s been in professional baseball for 7 seasons, he’s still only 24-years-old. Gomez posted a 169 wRC+ in 257 plate appearances in AA to begin 2022. And this time when he was promoted after a breakout, he continued to hit very well.
However, we have to pump the brakes a little bit because he had a strikeout rate a tick below 35% across levels last year. Even though he walks at an above average rate of around 10%, those strikeouts are way too frequent. He likely won’t be too viable much higher in the org until he can make some meaningful tweaks.
8. Jonathan Mejia, SS
2022 Stats (DSL): 165 AB/.267 AVG/.418 OBP/.479 SLG/5 HR/3 SB/33 R/34 RBI
There’s a good amount of uncertainty when ranking a 17-year-old this high in an organization, but Jonathan Mejia showed plenty of promise in the DSL for his first taste of pro ball. He posted a 145 wRC+ and an ISO of .212 while showing the beginnings of really solid plate discipline. Carrying that plate discipline up through the minor leagues will be a tall task, but at least we know it’s there to start at a young age.
9. Iván Herrera, C
2022 Stats (AAA): 235 AB/.268 AVG/.374 OBP/.396 SLG/6 HR/5 SB/41 R/34 RBI
MLB: 18 AB/.111 AVG/.190 OBP/.111 SLG/0 HR/0 SB/0 R/1 RBI
Iván Herrera looked to be the best bet to succeed franchise icon Yadier Molina, but then the Cardinals went and signed Willson Contreras in free agency. Herrera probably wasn’t quite ready to fully contribute anyway, and now he gets to ease his way in by potentially breaking camp as the backup catcher. In the minors, Herrera had very good plate discipline for a catcher but didn’t offer enough thump in the bat to be graded much higher than league average according to his wRC+. He isn’t the most exciting fantasy catcher prospect, but he could carve out a dependable career as a late-round option in drafts.
10. Matthew Liberatore, SP
2022 Stats (AAA): 115.0 IP/5.17 ERA/1.38 WHIP/116 SO
MLB: 34.2 IP/5.97 ERA/1.73 WHIP/28 SO
Matthew Liberatore was able to crack the Major League roster in 2022, but he was hit around pretty good and struggled to show many redeeming qualities in his profile. The biggest issue was that his fastball was absolutely clobbered. The pitch allowed a .345 AVG and a .429 wOBA, and, of course, it was his most-used pitch. The sinker shows some promise if he can up the usage, but he actually allowed more hard-hit balls against that pitch than the four-seam fastball. I’m not out on Liberatore tweaking his pitches in the minors and coming back for a second shot, especially with youth on his side and with the way the Cards’ rotation looks for next year, but I’ll need to see it to really believe it.
11. Leonardo Bernal, C
2022 Stats (A): 156 AB/.256 AVG/.316 OBP/.455 SLG/7 HR/1 SB/22 R/29 RBI
Leonardo Bernal is not nearly as far along in his development as Herrera is, but I think it’s safe to say that Bernal offers far more upside as a dynasty catcher. He managed to crack Low-A as an 18-year-old, which would be impressive for anyone, but it’s a bit more impressive for a catcher. Usually, catchers take a year or two longer to progress through levels than other highly touted prospects. He then posted a 117 wRC+ in 171 PAs and showed solid plate discipline.
12. Joshua Baez, OF
2022 Stats (CPX/A): 105 AB/.276 AVG/.394 OBP/.495 SLG/4 HR/10 SB/15 R/21 RBI
Joshua Baez was the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2021 and while he’s shown an early-career strikeout problem, his profile shows the makings of a modest power/speed combo. The game power will come with time, but he’s already shown that he’s willing to be aggressive on the basepaths. He’s improved as a hitter with each step forward in his early career – from the Arizona Complex League in 2021, to a brief stop there again in 2022, and then to a final 2022 stop with another small sample, but in Low-A.
13. Michael McGrevy, SP
2022 Stats (A+/AA): 144.1 IP/3.99 ERA/1.24 WHIP/117 SO
Michael McGreevy was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2021 and while he posted solid ratios for his first full professional season in 2022, he had a hard time missing bats. His 19.8% strikeout rate in 2022 was concerning, but what’s keeping him interesting is his impressive control and his ability to limit walks. That can only take him so far however, as allowing too much contact puts the pitcher’s fate at the mercy of the defense behind him and makes it much more difficult to work out of jams. He didn’t show impressive strikeout rates in college either, so it’s tough to tell if there’s the potential to increase the swing-and-miss in his game.
14. Wilmer Ortega, SP
2022 Stats (CPX): 34.0 IP/3.18 ERA/1.18 WHIP/38 SO
Wilmer Ortega signed with the Cardinals as an international free agent in 2019 and was able to log 12 starts and 55.1 innings that season before the COVID-19 shutdown the following year. He’s continually improved as he’s made his way through the different levels of rookie ball, and he was able to put his skills together to perform the best at what should be his final stop in rookie ball – the Arizona Complex League. He posted a 20.4% K-BB% in his 34 innings, and that should set him up well to start in Low-A next season. There, we’ll see if his gains in K-BB% after coming stateside were legitimate.
15. Noah Mendlinger, 2B/3B
2022 Stats (A+): 224 AB/.246 AVG/.384 OBP/.321 SLG/2 HR/8 SB/38 R/18 RBI
Noah Mendlinger signed with the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent in 2021 and has done some good work to show why he should have been on draft boards from the get-go. His biggest strengths right now are his ability to draw walks and make contact. He hasn’t shown game power very much, but he has been pretty aggressive in stealing bases and if he can work to be a contact hitter who gets on base frequently and attempts a good number of steals, then he can be a pretty valuable bench bat both for the real-life Cardinals and fantasy teams.
Busch Stadium: Unsplash | Ronni Kurtz
Masyn Winn: @MasynWinn on Twitter
Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller @kurt_player02 on Instagram / @KUwasemiller on Twitter