St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals promoted many players in 2022, but given their depth, there is plenty of talent still sitting in their minor league system.  Jordan Walker and Maysn Winn lead the list and are two of the best young players in the minor leagues.  While Walker gets most of the focus, Winn has crazy tools, and it would not surprise me if he becomes the better Major Leaguer.  Tink Hence took an excellent step forward last season, and Gordon Graceffo was one of the breakout pitchers in 2022, showing an improved arsenal and elite control.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Jordan Walker
  • Biggest Mover: Gordon Graceffo
  • Emerging Prospect: Jonathan Mejia

1. Jordan Walker (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary: Quietly becoming one of the best prospects in the game with 20-20 upside and a lot more power in the tank.

Walker, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2020, built upon his excellent 2021 season with an even better season in Double-A.  He slashed .306/.388/.510 with 19 home runs and 22 stolen bases.  He also controlled the strike zone well, posting a reasonable 22% strikeout rate and an 11% walk rate.  If you want more…he did it all as one of the youngest players in Double-A at age 20.  The tools scream 20-20 (long-term, 30-10), and if he can continue to make solid contact and work his walks, he should be Dynasty League gold.

2. Maysn Winn (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 SS if the new approach is real
  • Tools Summary: Crazy tools with a newfound approach in 2022 makes for an exciting overall package

Maysn Winn took a significant step forward in 2022.  He’s always had the tools to be an impact player with double-plus speed, plenty of bat speed, and a hose for an arm, but the approach and ability to make contact was lacking.  That was not the case in 2022, as he became more patient at the plate and cut down his strikeout rate in a meaningful way.  The Cardinals thought enough of the improvement to promote him after 33 games in High-A to Springfield, where he continued to show his improved approach.  From my view, all arrows are pointing upward.

3. Tink Hence (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP or Closer
  • Tools Summary: He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and can repeat his delivery.

Tink Hence not only has a great baseball name but is also oozing with athleticism and a fastball that touches the upper 90s.  The Cardinals have handled their prized right-hander with kit gloves, never having him throw more than four innings in any one outing.  It seems to agree with him as he posted a 1.38 ERA in 52.1 innings, striking out 14 per nine while walking only 2.6 per nine.  He’s only 6 feet tall and weighs 175 pounds, if that, so there will always be concerns on whether he can stay a starter, but he has the big fastball, the nasty slider, and a change-up that should improve over time.  He’s a Top 100 prospect and should be owned in all leagues at this juncture.

4. Gordon Graceffo (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: One of the breakout pitchers in 2022 who showed an improved arsenal with elite control.

The Cardinals started Gordon Graceffo in High-A to begin the 2022 season, and he dominated. He struck out 11 per nine and walked four in 45.2 innings.  In May, he was promoted to Double-A, and the elite control continued, but the strikeouts were not as plentiful (8 K/9).  He has a solid arsenal with a fastball that now sits 93 to 94 and two excellent secondary pitches in his slider and change-up.  He can throw all three for strikes and has all the ingredients to become a mid-rotation starter.  We discussed him several times in our Hot Prospect of the week series, but if he’s still available on your waiver wire, the upside warrants consideration on your Dynasty League.

5. Alec Burleson (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: His lack of power against lefties could relegate him to a platoon outfielder

The overall stat line for Alec Burleson looks great.  He slashed .331/.372/.532 in 470 plate appearances with Triple-A with 20 home runs and even stole four bases.  He showed excellent contact at a 14.3% rate, and while he only walked 6% of the time, that’s not uncommon for low strikeout rate players.  The problem is that most of his damage was done against right-handed pitchers.  In his Triple-A time, he slugged .669 and hit 19 home runs against right-handers.  Against lefties, he slugged .380 with only one home run.  I do like him and believe he could develop into a Joc Pederson style of player.

6. Matthew Liberatore (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: Plus curveball, but his fastball lacks velocity and spin.

Matthew Liberatore split time between the Triple-A and the Majors last season but didn’t pitch well enough to secure a spot in the Big League rotation.  His plus curveball played well, as did his slider, but his fastball, which lacked spin, was hit hard (.727 SLG), as was his change-up.  If you read my previous post, his lack of a plus fastball was the thing I felt would keep him from pitching at the top-of-the-rotation.  Being a lefty will cure many ills, and I still think the ceiling is a number three starter, but at present, he’s more of a back-of-the-rotation starter with obvious upside.

7. Ivan Herrera (C)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Excellent approach and ability to make contact with average power potential.  He’s still only 22, so there is room for growth.

Ivan Herrera seems to get lost in the proverbial prospect shuffle.  He’s a good player and already has some Major League experience, yet he lacks the explosive tools fantasy managers crave.  What he can do is hit.  He has a solid approach at the plate, doesn’t chase pitches out of the zone, and makes excellent contact.  If he had above-average power, I would be more excited, but last season he slugged .399 with five home runs, and in 2021, he slugged .408 with 17 home runs.  Then again, he just turned 22 with excellent defensive chops, so perhaps I am too low.  But with the quality of catchers who have just arrived in the Major Leagues and the ones coming, he might wind up an excellent second catcher in fantasy league – kind of in the mold of Christian Vazquez.

8. Michael McGreevy (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: He pitched well in 2022, showing improved stuff with his usual great control.

Michael McGreevy had an excellent step-up season in 2022, showing sharper stuff to complement his usual stellar control.  He split his time between High and Double-A, striking out 7.3 per nine while walking less than two per nine.  He works quickly, trying to get weak contact but has the stuff to strike out a hitter when needed.  His fastball is only average but comes with a high spin rate.  He started as a reliever/shortstop in college, but the athleticism is evident, and the chance to stay a starter is, therefore, high.

9. Cooper Hjerpe (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: He throws strikes with a Major League-ready change-up, but his fastball lacks velocity, which might ultimately limit his ceiling.

Cooper Hjerpe put up impressive numbers as a junior at Oregon last year, striking out 161 in 103.1 innings while only walking 23.  It was good enough for the Cardinals to spend over $3 million to sign him as the 22nd pick in last July’s draft.  The fastball only sits in the Low 90s, but I’ve heard evaluators put a 70 on his change-up and at least a potential 60 on his curveball.  But, a 90 to 92 MPH fastball could be problematic, although he throws strikes, which should help.  Because of his college workload, the Cardinals held him back from game action, and he’ll likely be assigned to High-A to begin the 2023 campaign.  Given the quality of his change-up, he might not be challenged until Double-A.

10. Brycen Mautz (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  High-Leveraged Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Decent arsenal, but with his delivery, everything plays up, particularly against LHB.

The Cardinals took three college lefties with their first three picks last July.  Brycen Mautz was selected in the second round after an impressive junior season where he struck out 129 batters in 90.2 innings while only walking 22.  It was also his first year as a starter and his best control year.  Before that, he walked over four per nine.  The delivery has a lot of violence and funk, and given his arm angle, he’s likely to be tough on left-handed batters.  Alternatively, I would expect right-handed batters to get good looks.  The stuff is okay with a low 90s fastball, and together, he’s likely landing a spot is in the bullpen.   If LOOGYs still existed, that would be perfect. 

11. Jonathan Mejia (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He’s already showing a feel to hit as a 17-year-old in the DSL.

The Cardinals signed Jonathan Mejia in January and immediately got him going in the DSL last summer.  In 208 plate appearances, he showed a solid approach and a feel for hard contact.  While he only hit five home runs, the bat speed suggests there is more in the tank with the ability to hit double-digit home runs in the future.  He’s also an above-average runner who should be able to steal double-digit bases yearly.  He has a long way to go, but the early returns are favorable.

`12. Joshua Baez (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He’s a large human with a big swing but equally enormous raw power.

Joshua Baez was the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2021 with tremendous raw power and equally big holes in his swing.  At 6-foot-4, the Cardinals will have to live with some swing and miss, but hopefully, they can get him shorter to the ball over time.  He missed most of 2022 with a sprained wrist, so we don’t have much to go on, except he’s big, with considerable raw power, and he struck out almost 40% of the time.

13. Won-Bin Cho (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF
  • Tools Summary: At 17, he’s already showing a patient approach in the Complex League and should be able to develop power as he fills out.

Won-Bin Cho had a lot of helium in rookie drafts last spring as fantasy managers were intrigued with his ability to hit with potentially some power down the road.  While he only hit .211 in the Florida Complex League last season, he did walk a lot (20% BB/9) but also struck out more than you would have liked (27% K/9).  His swing is built for contact, but as he matures and the Cardinals work with him, he’s strong enough to suggest 20+ home run potential.  While he stole five bases, he’s already a big kid and will likely get bigger as he matures, so I don’t see stolen bases as a big part of the profile.

14. Moises Gomez (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Extra Bat
  • Tools Summary: Potentially 70-grade raw power with a poor approach and a 30%+ strikeout rate

When we talk about players filling out, look no further than Moises Gomez.  When the Rays signed him in 2015, he was promoted as a potential five-tool talent with plus speed and future power.  As time passed and he’s filled out, the speed disappeared, but the power became significant.  Unfortunately, so have the strikeouts, as he has rarely struck out less than 30% annually.  Can he be a low average, low OBP power bat in the big leagues?  Maybe early in his career, but as he gets expensive, the Cardinals will likely want more than a .220/.280 stat line in their lineup.

15. Brady Whalen (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 1B
  • Tools Summary: He can hit, but the power to date has been limited.

Brady Whalen has always been able to hit, but injuries and the pandemic have slowed his career.  At 24, he started the season at Low-A and wasn’t on anybody’s prospect radar.  However, he ended the season in Double-A and did what he does best…hit.  In 406 plate appearances, he hit .291 with a .370 OBP, only striking out 17% of the time.  Unfortunately, he plays first base, and given that his game is geared for contact, he only hit nine home runs.  But he’s overcome a lot, and players add loft to their swing all the time, and if he can, there could be something here.

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