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2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!
Image credit: © Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The State of the System: The Cardinals have three potential impact talents at the top of their system, but less depth than recent years.

2022 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect List

Listen to “The 2023 Prospect Lists: St. Louis Cardinals” on Spreaker.

The Top Ten:

  1. Jordan Walker, 3B/OF
  2. Masyn Winn, SS
  3. Tink Hence, RHP
  4. Gordon Graceffo, RHP
  5. Cooper Hjerpe, LHP
  6. Leonardo Bernal, C
  7. Alec Burleson, OF
  8. Matthew Liberatore, LHP
  9. Michael McGreevy, RHP
  10. Ivan Herrera, C

  • 1.
  • Jordan Walker
  • Pos: 3B
  • Born: 2002-05-22
  • B: Right
  • T: Right
  • H: 6′ 5″
  • W: 220 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 21st overall in the 2020 draft, Decatur HS (Decatur, GA); signed for $2.9 million.
  • Major League ETA: Late 2023/Early 2024
Year Team Level Age PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG DRC+ BABIP
2021 PEO Hi-A 19 244 39 14 3 8 27 15 66 13 2 .292 .344 .487 101 .382
2021 PMB Lo-A 19 122 24 11 1 6 21 18 21 1 0 .374 .475 .687 144 .419
2022 SPR AA 20 536 100 31 3 19 68 58 116 22 5 .306 .388 .510 .365

The Report: Walker continued to redline every Trackman engine in Double-A despite not turning 20 years old until a month into the season. His batted ball profile would have been among the best in the major leagues last year, and he routinely smacks baseballs 110 mph or more. His contact rates remain fine, although he did chase more against Double-A pitching. I think he’s going to make enough contact and hit the ball very, very hard when he does. Walker does still hit the ball on the ground a little bit more than you’d like, and if he falls short of a true elite power outcome, that might be why. On the other hand, if he tweaks his approach enough and starts pulling the ball in the air more consistently, he’s going to win home run titles, and he started to lift the ball more later in the year.

Walker is listed here at third base and outfield—because he did spend most of 2022 at the hot corner—but is clearly transitioning to a corner outfield spot. He runs well enough and throws more than well enough for right field, but he’s going to take some time to develop into an average glove on the grass. The bat might be ready before the glove, and he’s still not a lock to avoid first base in the long term, but once again this list cycle, the offensive upside here is so loud, that just doesn’t move the needle much for me.

OFP: 70 / All-star slugger, position TBD
Variance: High. Contrary to what I wrote about OFP 50s in the intro, you’d prefer your OFP 70s to be lower variance. Walker has true elite outcomes in the 90th percentile and up, but you also don’t have to go too far below 50th percentile to start seeing “better Nomar Mazara” in play.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: In addition to the massive power, Walker has understated speed, and posts high-end sprint speed. Granted, it takes him a second to get up to speed, and stolen bases are not likely a big long-term part of his game. Still, his 22 steals last year are no fluke.  How his contact rate holds up and whether he’ll lift enough to get to his power in games are the biggest questions moving forward. Given his proximity, loud tools, and performance, however, Walker is a clear cut top-five fantasy prospect.

  • 2.
  • Masyn Winn
  • Pos: SS
  • Born: 2002-03-21
  • B: Right
  • T: Right
  • H: 5′ 11″
  • W: 180 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 54th overall in the 2020 draft, Kingwood HS (Kingwood, TN); signed for $2.1 million.
  • Major League ETA: Late 2023/Early 2024
Year Team Level Age PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG DRC+ BABIP
2021 PEO Hi-A 19 154 26 4 2 2 10 6 40 16 3 .209 .240 .304 86 .274
2021 PMB Lo-A 19 284 50 15 3 3 34 40 60 16 2 .262 .370 .388 107 .331
2022 SPR AA 20 403 69 25 1 11 48 50 86 28 5 .258 .349 .432 .308
2022 PEO Hi-A 20 147 22 11 7 1 15 13 29 15 0 .349 .404 .566 .431

The Report: Winn was an intriguing two-way prep in the 2020 draft, but it wasn’t clear that the position player side alone would carry him, despite some offensive upside at a premium defensive spot. Two years on, he’s ditched the pitching and developed into one of the better shortstop prospects in the game. Guess the Devil Magic isn’t only limited to Day 2 college picks.

Winn’s bat broke out in a big way in 2022 as he started to impact the ball more consistently. Despite a pretty average frame, he showed off above-average bat speed and the ability to drive pitches into the gaps where his plus-plus speed is often good for an extra base or two. The top line exit velocities aren’t close to Jordan Walker’s, but indicate potential fringe-average pop which means Winn might end up at the top of your lineup rather than the bottom given an above-average hit tool.

Regardless, you’ll want him in your lineup somewhere given the defensive skill set. Winn is a plus shortstop with possibly the best infield arm in organized baseball. He’s rangy with good hands and actions, and his elite, accurate arm allows him a longer clock than most other infielders. The glove will absolutely get Winn to the majors, but he’s now enough of an offensive threat that plus regular is in play, even without the mound work.

OFP: 60 / First-division shortstop
Variance: High. Winn’s Double-A performance was more pedestrian with additional swing-and-miss, so he might settle in more as a good glove who bats eighth. But he’s young enough and had enough of a breakout once his sole focus was on hitting that there might be a bit more in the tank at the plate too.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: While his power may be fringe, his fantasy value is predicated on his impact speed and promising hit tool. Winn can truly fly and is more than willing to run, going 43-for-48 in steals last year. His solid plate discipline, bat-to-ball ability, and, of course, speed should get him on base at a healthy clip. Even if he barely edges past double-digit home runs, Winn has potential to be a dynamic fantasy player.

  • 3.
  • Tink Hence
  • Pos: P
  • Born: 2002-08-06
  • B: Right
  • T: Right
  • H: 6′ 1″
  • W: 175 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 63rd overall in the 2020 draft, Watson Chapel HS (Pine Bluff, AR); signed for $1,115,000.
  • Major League ETA: 2025
Year Team Level Age W L SV G GS IP H HR BB% K% K GB% BABIP WHIP ERA DRA
2021 CAR ROK 18 0 1 1 8 1 8.0 11 1 7.3% 34.1% 14 31.8% .476 1.75 9.00
2022 PMB Lo-A 19 0 1 0 16 16 52.3 31 1 7.7% 41.5% 81 54.1% .309 0.88 1.38 3.38

The Report: Last year we noted that the Cardinals were very cautious with Hence, and he had workload concerns going back to the draft. Sixteen starts and 52 innings—plus a handful in the AFL—won’t assuage those entirely, but like Dave Wasserman, I’ve seen enough. Similarly to Marco Raya in the Twins system, Hence is just one full(er), healthy season away from being one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. His fastball sits mid-90s, touches higher, and is a heavy pitch. His low-spin curve flashes the kind of sheer drop you’ll usually only find at Six Flags, and his mid-80s change is developing well, showing more consistent power sink and fade.

That description of the arsenal sure sounds like a top-of-the-rotation starter, but beyond having just thrown a tick under 70 professional innings, Hence has a narrow, slim frame and an effortful delivery. There’s physical projection left, but I don’t think he will ever look the part of a sturdy, 180-inning starter. He doesn’t have to throw that many frames to be very good—it is the 2020s after all—but the delivery also leads to some overthrowing and fastball command issues, and I do wonder how it holds up when he’s expected to go more than three innings per outing. This is a very, very high variance prospect profile, but the right tail outcomes along that wide swath are quite tantalizing.

OFP: 60 / no. 3 starter or late inning reliever
Variance: Well…very, very high. Hence could very easily break out next year once the training wheels come off, end the season in Double-A, and be a top 25 prospect in the game. He could also throw another 50 innings…intermittently.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: Hence, a standout in June, has three electric, bat-missing offerings that compare favorably to some of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Yet, as emphasized above, he is a high–borderline extreme–risk prospect given his frame and limited innings to date. Depending on how risk averse you are, Hence could fall within the top 50 or outside the top 100 in fantasy.

  • 4.
  • Gordon Graceffo
  • Pos: P
  • Born: 2000-03-17
  • B: Right
  • T: Right
  • H: 6′ 4″
  • W: 210 lbs.
  • History: Drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, Villanova University; signed for $300,000.
  • Major League ETA: Late 2023/Early 2024
Year Team Level Age W L SV G GS IP H HR BB% K% K GB% BABIP WHIP ERA DRA
2021 PMB Lo-A 21 1 0 1 11 1 26.0 28 1 7.8% 31.9% 37 63.2% .403 1.42 1.73 4.68
2022 SPR AA 22 7 4 0 18 18 93.7 76 16 6.3% 21.9% 83 45.4% .237 1.07 3.94 4.36
2022 PEO Hi-A 22 3 2 0 8 8 45.7 27 1 2.4% 33.9% 56 43.7% .255 0.68 0.99 3.95

The Report: Shortly after getting drafted by the Cardinals, Graceffo saw a significant velocity jump, and he maintained it in 2022, regularly sitting in the mid-90s with above-average sink and command. The now plus fastball has helped his changeup, and his best offspeed ticks every box to be plus as well. He sells the cambio well, it shows good fade away from lefties, and has 10 mph of velocity separation off the fastball. Both of Graceffo’s breaking balls lag behind the rest of the arsenal. The slider is the primary glove-side offering and has average potential in the upper-80s, flashing solid two-plane action. His curve is used sparingly and has more of a 12-6 shape. Unlike Hence, Graceffo is already built like a mid-rotation starter, and while his stuff doesn’t have the same upside, the plus fastball/change combo and advanced strikethrowing should have him contributing to the Cardinals major league rotation in short order.

OFP: 60 / no. 3 starter
Variance: Medium. Graceffo missed fewer bats and was a bit more homer-prone in Double-A, but those things can happen when you pitch your home games in Springfield. He does need to get one of those breaking balls to average to hit the mid-rotation outcome, but Graceffo is a fairly high-floor starter after maintaining his 2021 fastball gains.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: Graceffo is a prototypical better in-real-life than in fantasy pitching prospect. His fastball, while effective, does not miss many bats, and his pound-the-zone approach is geared to forcing batters to put the ball in play and avoiding walks. That said, Graceffo should be good for strong ratios and eating innings, which always has a place in fantasy.

  • 5.
  • Cooper Hjerpe
  • Pos: P
  • Born: 2001-03-16
  • B: Left
  • T: Left
  • H: 6′ 3″
  • W: 200 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 22nd overall in the 2022 draft, Oregon State University; signed for $3,182,200.
  • Major League ETA: Late 2024/2025

The Report: Hjerpe throws in the low-90s from a near sidearm arm slot. Almost nobody can hit it. Even five years ago or so, the BP Prospect Team would have gathered around the virtual table like Clint Eastwood and John Goodman and pondered how Hjerpe could have gone in the first round. But he probably wouldn’t have gone in the first round then, despite being a Golden Spikes finalist after a junior season of utter dominance in the Pac-12. His four-seam fastball from that low slot has elite vertical approach and despite righties getting a long look at it, they have been mostly helpless to hit it. Hjerpe also offers a trendy sweeping slider and a reasonably projectable change he hasn’t needed much. He might not need it much in the pros either.

OFP: 55 / no. 3/4 starter
Variance: Medium. We’ll see if pro hitters also hate Hjerpe’s one weird trick, but there’s a pair of decent secondaries backing the fastball, and he’s always thrown strikes.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: Hjerpe is a unicorn, “with a sub-4.5-foot vertical and -3.5-foot horizontal release point–lower and wider than any starting pitcher in MLB.” The uniqueness of his release point causes all his offerings to play up. It also makes it difficult to project him. No one hit him in college. Hjerpe is a profile to gamble on after the top bats in upcoming FYPDs.

  • 6.
  • Leonardo Bernal
  • Pos: C
  • Born: 2004-02-13
  • B: Switch
  • T: Right
  • H: 6′ 0″
  • W: 200 lbs.
  • History: Signed January 2021 out of Panama for $680,000.
  • Major League ETA: 2026
Year Team Level Age PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG DRC+ BABIP
2021 DSL CARB ROK 17 178 23 9 1 5 29 17 28 3 1 .209 .298 .373 .224
2022 PMB Lo-A 18 171 22 8 1 7 29 12 32 1 1 .256 .316 .455 .280

The Report: The Cardinals highest-dollar signing in the 2021 IFA class, Bernal performed well in an aggressive assignment to the Florida State League as an 18-year-old. Already built like a major league backstop, he sets a big, steady target, is a quiet, flexible receiver with good hands, and is twitchy and reactive on balls in the dirt. The only weakness in Bernal’s defensive game is fringy arm strength and carry which he covers for to an extent with a quick transfer and release.

At the plate, the switch hitting catcher is far more advanced from the left side, with above-average exits despite still being a teenager for another season. Bernal is compact inside, level against balls up in the zone, and able to turn and lift fastballs with his solid-average bat speed. There’s a hair too much swing-and-miss in the zone—especially against offspeed—but some of that can be explained by seeing full-season spin for the first time in his life. The right-handed swing is a bit more of a work in progress, not uncommon for an inexperienced switch-hitter, but it’s well, well behind the lefty stroke at this point—more tentative, less in sync with his lower half, and more prone to both strikeouts and weak contact.

It’s a long path from an 18-year-old catcher in A-ball to the majors, and Bernal doesn’t have much to give back at the plate if the usual offensive attrition takes hold as he makes his way through the minors. But he’s an advanced prospect on both offense and defense already, and any gains with the hit tool, especially from the right side, could move him into the Top 101 conversation before he’s legally able to drink.

OFP: 55 / Above-average catcher
Variance: Extreme. Despite being ranked ahead of Ivan Herrera on the 2023 version of this list, a perfectly reasonable outcome is Bernal slides down the Cardinals rankings like Herrera did, as the offensive tools get beaten back by the rigors of everyday catching. A 25th percentile outcome here is something like a third catcher on your 40 for a few years. Bernal also does have the potential to be one of the five best backstops in the game, oh…six years or so from now. Catchers are weird, man.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: Generally, it is not advised to target 18-year-old catchers absent extraordinary circumstances. Bernal nearly justifies it with his impressive pop, including a 110 mph max exit velocity and 87 mph average exit velocity in Low-A. His raw approach needs work, though. In deeper formats or two-catcher formats, he should be on your radar.

  • 7.
  • Alec Burleson
  • Pos: RF
  • Born: 1998-11-25
  • B: Left
  • T: Left
  • H: 6′ 2″
  • W: 212 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 70th overall in the 2020 draft, East Carolina University; signed for $700,000.
  • Major League ETA: Debuted in 2022
Year Team Level Age PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG DRC+ BABIP
2021 MEM AAA 22 172 19 7 0 4 22 17 27 0 1 .234 .310 .357 106 .260
2021 SPR AA 22 282 34 10 0 14 44 19 59 2 0 .288 .333 .488 112 .321
2021 PEO Hi-A 22 49 8 1 0 4 10 6 15 1 0 .286 .367 .595 120 .333
2022 MEM AAA 23 470 68 25 1 20 87 29 67 4 0 .331 .372 .532 .350
2022 STL MLB 23 53 4 1 0 1 3 5 9 1 0 .188 .264 .271 98 .211

The Report: Burleson continued to rake in the upper minors in 2022, leaving opposing pitchers singing the blues when they came through Memphis. He’s steep but direct to the ball, and prioritizes contact with two strikes, making him capable of driving pitches early in counts, while being a pesky out later on. Burleson does like to swing, but he doesn’t expand much. The two-strike approach has kept his strikeout rate low, but can limit his ability to impact the ball, so that bears watching in the majors, but given his ability to sting stuff in the zone generally, he feels like that classic Cardinals .270, 22-home run guy. Burleson will need to get all the way there though, as he’s unlikely to run stellar OBPs and has limited defensive value. He’s fringy in a corner outfield spot as he’s, well, a burly dude, and his reads and routes aren’t ideal, and first base—which he played a fair bit of in his major league cameo—is occupied for the next couple seasons. St. Louis is as good as any team in baseball in terms of defensive positioning though, and if they can stand Burleson in good enough spots on the grass, you’ll be more than fine seeing him standing in the batter’s box day in and day out.

OFP: 55 / Three corners bat with just enough hit and power to play everyday
Variance: Medium. Burleson’s first run in the majors was better than the top line numbers, but he has very little margin for the offensive tools as this is a bat-first profile.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: A “classic Cardinals .270, 22-home run guy” is useful in most fantasy formats. Whether the Cardinals will stomach Burleson’s defense to get his bat in their crowded lineup, though, is a real concern. Regardless, he should receive a look this year at some point and either thrive or allow fantasy managers to move on. Burleson should be rostered in formats with up to 200 prospects.

 

  • 8.
  • Matthew Liberatore
  • Pos: P
  • Born: 1999-11-06
  • B: Left
  • T: Left
  • H: 6′ 4″
  • W: 200 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 16th overall in the 2018 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, Mountain Ridge HS (Phoenix, AZ); signed for $3,497,500. Acquired from the Rays for Randy Arozarena.
  • Major League ETA: Debuted in 2022
Year Team Level Age W L SV G GS IP H HR BB% K% K GB% BABIP WHIP ERA DRA
2021 MEM AAA 21 9 9 0 22 18 124.7 123 19 6.3% 23.7% 123 38.3% .308 1.25 4.04 5.23
2022 MEM AAA 22 7 9 0 22 22 115.0 118 16 8.3% 23.4% 116 41.8% .328 1.38 5.17 5.76
2022 STL MLB 22 2 2 0 9 7 34.7 42 5 11.2% 17.4% 28 37.7% .346 1.73 5.97 6.27

The Report: Liberatore has bounced around the middle of our Top 101 for several years now as a high-probability mid-rotation lefty. He never really dominated in the minors, but with the lost 2020 and a jump straight form A-ball to Triple-A, you could give him some leeway. But ultimately these reports are about projecting major league performance, and neither Liberatore’s Triple-A or MLB work suggest a clear-cut above-average major league starter anymore. There’s stuff to like still, specifically the secondary stuff. Liberatore’s high-spin, mid-70s curve has a nice shape and misses a fair amount of bats, and his upper-80s slider bores in on righties and has enough run to make it a tricky left-on-left offering as well. The main problem is Liberatore’s fastball gets hit hard. Some of this is a control and command issue, some of it is a movement and spin issue, He’s run fairly significant platoon splits in the upper-minors and his sparingly used change isn’t going to mitigate that in the medium term. If Liberatore tightens up the command and gets some more ground balls—perhaps he could lean on his sinker a bit more than the four-seam—the offspeed might be above-average enough to make him a useful backend starter.

OFP: 50 / no. 4 starter
Variance: Low. Liberatore is major-league-ready—and has major league service time—but might not have a major-league swing-and-miss pitch.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: A back-end starter without “a major-league swing-and-miss pitch” and a hittable fastball should not normally be rostered outside of deep formats. Liberatore’s proximity and breaking balls provide enough intrigue to keep him on the fantasy radar in formats with up to 200 prospects.

  • 9.
  • Michael McGreevy
  • Pos: P
  • Born: 2000-07-08
  • B: Left
  • T: Right
  • H: 6′ 4″
  • W: 215 lbs.
  • History: Drafted 18th overall in the 2021 draft, UC-Santa Barbara; signed for $2.75 million.
  • Major League ETA: Late 2023
Year Team Level Age W L SV G GS IP H HR BB% K% K GB% BABIP WHIP ERA DRA
2021 PMB Lo-A 20 0 0 0 5 5 6.0 10 1 3.4% 13.8% 4 75.0% .391 1.83 9.00 5.94
2021 CAR ROK 20 0 2 0 2 2 1.7 4 0 10.0% 30.0% 3 33.3% .667 3.00 10.80
2022 SPR AA 21 6 4 0 20 20 99.0 109 14 6.3% 18.4% 76 48.4% .321 1.36 4.64 5.82
2022 PEO Hi-A 21 3 1 0 8 8 45.3 41 1 2.2% 23.0% 41 52.3% .305 0.99 2.58 4.84

The Report: Like Graceffo, McGreevy got a 2021 velocity bump, although his came during his junior season for UC-Santa Barbara. He also held his gains in 2022, but his fastball is more low-90s than 95. The pitch works in the zone though, due to being able to sink it down, ride it up, and generally work around the margins with above-average command. McGreevy did start to run into issues in Double-A, and while some of that can be explained by park and league context, he may lack a swing-and-miss offering amongst his three secondaries. His mid-80s change is the best present option. It’s an average-ish pitch he can pull the string on now and again, but tends to twist it off a bit and it will firm up. His mid-80s slider has more cut than tilt, and is inconsistent in shape, while his low-80s curve has a more repeatable 11-6 break, but is short and not really a bat misser.  McGreevy has an uptempo delivery, but repeats it well and his command profile is fine enough, but it’s not a carrying tool to mid-rotation starter on its own.

OFP: 50 / no. 4 starter
Variance: Low. I think it’s fair to pref McGreevy over Liberatore—I went back and forth—as he’s more likely to have success throwing his fastball in the zone against major league hitters, and his command is a bit finer. The lack of a clear swing-and-miss secondary is going to limit the ceiling at present though, and he struggled at his first run in Double-A.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: Command-first profiles with mediocre stuff can develop into viable fantasy arms, but the margins are narrow, and narrower still without a bat-missing secondary offering like McGreevy.

  • 10.
  • Iván Herrera
  • Pos: C
  • Born: 2000-06-01
  • B: Right
  • T: Right
  • H: 5′ 11″
  • W: 220 lbs.
  • History: Signed July 2016 out of Panamá by the Cardinals for $200,000.
  • Major League ETA: 2023
Year Team Level Age PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG DRC+ BABIP
2020 MOC WIN 20 58 8 1 0 0 9 8 13 1 1 .184 .310 .204 .250
2021 MEM AAA 21 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 98
2021 SPR AA 21 437 50 13 0 17 63 60 96 2 3 .231 .346 .408 106 .261
2022 MEM AAA 22 278 41 10 1 6 34 38 52 5 1 .268 .374 .396 .318
2022 STL MLB 22 22 0 0 0 0 1 2 8 0 0 .111 .190 .111 78 .182

The Report: After prospect writers spent well over a decade writing up Cardinals catching prospects blocked by Yadier Molina, Herrera is in the right place at the right time to stake a claim as the next starting catcher in Busch Stadium. He’s improved behind the plate and is now a polished, above-average defender, a good receiver who sets a big, quiet target. The power he showed in 2021 didn’t return, but the tradeoff was a bit more bat to ball. The overall offensive tools are going to be fringy, as Herrera isn’t very twitchy at the plate—and he can struggle to get to velocity on the outer half—but as a solid defensive backstop who could pop double-digit home runs, he’ll at least be putting his name in the hat to replace St. Louis’ long-tenured star backstop.

OFP: 50 / Average catcher, glove over bat
Variance: Low. Molina has finally retired, opening up the Cardinals starting catching role for the first time since the George W. Bush administration. Herrera is likely to be a candidate for the Opening Day job as he has a strong glove and little left to prove in the minors. But he also doesn’t have the kind of upside that would keep you from trading a couple names higher on this list for say, Sean Murphy instead.

Jesse Roche’s Fantasy Take: Herrera appears to have a fairly clear path to a substantial role next year. At the same time, the Cardinals also appear to be linked to just about every catcher rumor out there. If Herrera runs into a regular role, however, he could surprise with plenty of contact and sneaky pop. That is one big “if,” though.


11. Jonathan Mejia, SS (DSL Cardinals Blue)

The Cardinals top international free agent out of the 2022 class, Mejia is already flashing the kind of tools that got him a seven-figure bonus. The prominent ones here are shortstop defense and bat speed, and if you have those two in your locker you get a long leash to develop the rest of the skill set. Mejia is still raw at the plate, with solid bat-to-ball skills covering for less than ideal swing decisions at present. The variance here is extreme, as Mejia hasn’t come stateside yet, but the two-way shortstop potential gives him a much higher realistic upside than the names behind him (and a few of the names in front).

12. Jimmy Crooks III, C (Low-A Palm Beach)

Your centerfold for the December 2022 edition of Cardinals Devil Magic, Crooks is a fourth-rounder out of Oklahoma, where he put up nice, but not spectacular stats, so he broadly fits this org’s usual type of college bat overperformance bullshit. Crooks is a catcher, which is a bit unusual for this genre of Cardinals hitting prospect, but his left-handed swing reminds me a bit of Burleson’s and he’s put up similarly loud contact in his brief pro debut. I do wonder if the barrel control will really play against better pitching—his swing can be a little stiff—but the potential for at least average offensive tools from a solid catch-and-throw guy is going to remain intriguing.

13. Brycen Mautz, P (DNP)

St. Louis’s second-round pick in last summer’s draft, Mautz moved into the Tritons rotation his junior year and showed an at times dominant fastball/slider combo. Everything comes out of a funky, uptempo, deceptive delivery, and he has a fairly short track record of throwing strikes. There’s a fair bit of reliever risk here, but the Cards are the right org to turn Mautz into a solid back-end starter. The bullpen fallback isn’t too bad either as he’s been up to mid-90s in short bursts.

14. Moisés Gómez, OF (Triple-A Memphis)

Gómez never got a ton of attention in the super deep Rays systems of the late-2010s, and a disastrous post-pandemic season in Double-A dimmed much of his remaining prospect luster. The Rays released him after 2021, and the Cards picked him up. He promptly hit the most home runs in the minors, slugging over .600 between Springfield and Memphis. The power is legit, plus-plus potential, and Gómez doesn’t need to get it right on the sweet spot to pull it out of the park. There’s still a lot of swing and miss here, and he’s not going to provide a ton of defensive value. Still, Gómez is at least ready to offer some right-handed platoon pop, and St. Louis must figure the same, as they added him to the 40-man after the season.

15. Pete Hansen, P (DNP)

The Cards continued their run on left-handed pitching into Day 2 of the 2022 draft. Hansen has a more traditional lefty delivery and higher slot, but a bit less fastball than Mautz. His slider has a chance to be a plus swing-and-miss offering, and if he can get a little bit of a velo bump in a pro development program, he could settle in nicely as a back-end starter or lefty setup type.

16. Max Rajcic, P (DNP)

A sturdy, sophomore-eligible righty out of UCLA, St. Louis went overslot to snag Rajcic in the sixth round of the draft. Rajcic works primarily off a low-90s fastball that can touch higher and a power slurve that can sometimes show a bit early. He arguably has the best shot to start of the three non-Hjerpe arms from the 2022 draft, but at least one of them is a good bet to take a leap in 2023.

17. Won-Bin Cho, OF (Low-A Palm Beach)

Signed out of Korea in January, Cho went right to the Florida Complex League, and displayed a strong batted ball profile for an 18-year-old at that level, while almost never expanding the zone. There was a bit of swing-and-miss of course, and the approach could border on too passive at times. Whether this is merely an adjustment period or a larger pitch recognition issue remains to be seen. The potential for an everyday corner outfield bat is in play though.

18. Austin Love, P (High-A Peoria)

Love looked more like a future reliever than starter coming out of the 2021 draft, and after posting a 5.00+ ERA in the Peoria rotation, a move to the bullpen might be on the offer quite soon. The good news is his stuff should play there as both the slider and change have improved and show above-average potential. If Love can get his mid-90s and better heat back in short bursts, he has a number of weapons that could play in the late innings of a major league pen.

19. Joshua Baez, OF (Low-A Palm Beach)

The Cardinals 2021 second-rounder dealt with a wrist injury early in the year, and while the top line numbers look fine for a 19-year-old in A-ball—granted even that is only a month of games—there are some issues lurking in the profile. Baez’s swing can get long and steep, and he uses strength over bat speed to generate his potential prodigious power. He can absolutely smoke the ball when he makes contact, but the K-rates here are concerning. More at issue is how those strikeouts happen. Baez misses too much in the zone, especially against offspeed, and while their were enough positive reports post-injury to keep him on the watch list (and the Cardinals list), this is the kind of profile we are souring on more quickly to the point that 2023 might be a make-or-break year. All in all, it’s just too small a sample to generate broad conclusions, but a corner outfield prospect has to hit a lot, and that starts with consistent good contact in the zone.

20. Ryan Loutos, P (Triple-A Memphis)

An undrafted senior sign in 2021, Loutos made it all the way to Triple-A in his first full professional season, striking out well over a batter per inning on the strength of a mid-90s fastball that played even past those velocity readings due to a deceptive arm action. Lotus pairs his easy plus heater with a low-80s curve which can show good downer action, but is a bit too inconsistent to work in the late innings at present. The command profile wasn’t all that fine once he hit the upper minors, and there’s some effort in his uptempo delivery that will limit it to average at best, but the fastball/curve combo will play in a major league pen as soon as 2023. Lotus is more good middle reliever than leverage reliever at present, but if he can tighten up his breaker, he might find his way into the setup innings.


Top Talents 25 and Under (as of 4/1/2023):

  1. Jordan Walker, 3B/OF
  2. Dylan Carlson, OF
  3. Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B
  4. Masyn Winn, SS
  5. Lars Nootbaar, OF
  6. Tink Hence, RHP
  7. Gordon Graceffo, RHP
  8. Juan Yepez, OF/1B/3B
  9. Cooper Hjerpe, RHP
  10. Andre Pallante, RHP

The St. Louis sorcerers continue weaving their wicked ways, looking to continue their trend of just a single last-place divisional finish in the past 105 years. The defending champs of the sad-sack NL Central were the first victims of the bludgeoning instrument that was the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies in the playoffs. Their organization is in excellent health, however, at least in regards to having young talent rolling in like the tides to abet their reigning MVP and runner-up.

Carlson’s progression hasn’t quite reached star status, however performing as around a league-average regular in all facets of the game at just age-23 is a rousing success for essentially any big leaguer. There isn’t an obvious next gear of power in his frame, but his balanced success is a comfortable baseline. By contrast, Gorman looked every bit the potent slugger he has been since he was a prep, with 14 big flies in just 313 plate appearances suggesting the 30-homer seasons are on the horizon—at least if he can find somewhere on the field to get full time reps. Gorman won’t be unseating Paul Goldschmidt or Nolan Arenado, while 26-year-old surprise Rookie of the Year bronze medalist Brendan Donovan has earned a lion’s share of reps at second base. That puts Gorman on utility duty, or perhaps the most yoked platoon in history with Tyler O’Neill or the similarly positionless Yepez.

Unlike Carlson and Gorman, Nootbar had a more muted prospect pedigree, but has outperformed his fourth outfielder billing thus far. Much of that can be credited to a patient approach that has continued bearing fruit against the best pitching in the world, albeit in predominantly platooned circumstances. As a more able defensive outfielder than the rest of his young compatriots, his path to playing time has many possible forks. Of note as well is Pallante, whose borderline meteoric rise through the Cardinals’ system was a godsend for a St. Louis club that struggled with arm health for much of 2022. His fascinating pitch profile got him rightly dubbed a “unicorn” this season as a ground ball elicitation expert, and Pallante had the rare season of double-digit starts AND bullpen appearances, with 108 innings in total over 47 appearances. His ability to offer length as well as performing as a stopper is a rare combo, albeit not yet with much bat-missing in the profile. —John Trupin

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