The Cardinals system is better than I anticipated with some players that are nearly ready for the show – Matthew Libertore and Nolan Gorman both spent time in Triple-A and should see St. Louis early in 2022. Plus, Ivan Herrera should see the big leagues at some point next season to start the transition from Molina. There are also some good depth pieces to go along with impact players.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Matthew Liberatore
- Biggest Mover: Nolan Gorman
- Emerging Prospect: Juan Yepez
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
- Tools Summary: Plenty of tools to get big league batters out. He was homer-prone in Triple-A giving up over 1.5 per nine
Originally drafted by the Rays in the first round, Matthew Liberatore was traded to the Cardinals in 2019. He is one of the best pitching prospects in minor leagues with a fastball that sits 92 to 93 MPH and a curveball and change-up that miss plenty of bats. His stuff was on display when he started the Futures Game and had no problem getting through his inning. While the fastball has plenty of velocity, it also lacks life and is pretty straight. Because of that, the Cardinals have him using more of his secondary pitches than he did with Rays. It’s the profile of a number two-three starter that we should see early in 2022.
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
- Tools Summary: Toolsy player with 20-20 upside assuming the improved hit-tool he showed in 2021 continues
Walker, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2020, had a very nice professional debut in 2021. He split his time between Low and High-A, slashing .317/.388/.548 with 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He also controlled the strike zone well, a concern I expressed coming into the season. He did better in Low-A than he did after the promotion, but as a 19-year-old, High-A can be challenging and he performed well for his age. The tools scream 20-20 and if he can continue to make solid contact and work Walks as he did in Low-A, he could be Dynasty League gold.
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: He has 80-grade power and this year, specifically in Triple-A, he saw a marked improvement in his contract rate. Since he’s blocked at third, he split his time between third and second. This is all very encouraging
I’ve long struggled with Nolan Gorman, and candidly, hitters like him. There is massive raw power in his game. For instance, he slugged nearly .500 across Double and Triple-A with 25 home runs in 2021. But he’s always had trouble making contact and unlike Joey Gallo, who he gets compared to a lot, he doesn’t walk a lot. But this year, he’s striking out less. I mean, a lot less. In 43 games in Double-A, he posted a 27% K/9 ratio, which for him is a significant reduction. After his promotion to Triple-A though, the K-rate fell to 19% in 76 games. I honestly did not see that coming. Below 20% is above-average. Now, he’s better against right-handed pitching, slugging 130 points higher than he does against left-handers. But, if his strikeout rate has indeed improved to the low to mid-20s, he could easily hit 30 home runs with a .250 batting average and that’s going to make him very valuable in fantasy leagues. Now, do I believe that? I’m struggling with it, but the data is the data.
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 Catcher
- Tools Summary: A catcher that can hit with 20 home run pop. He should be able to transition very nicely into the role once Yadier Molina retires at the end of the 2022 season
I know few people like rostering catchers but things are lining up for Ivan Herrera in St. Louis. Yadier Molina has announced that 2022 will be his last year and the timing should be nearly perfect for Herrera. He spent the entire 2021 season in Double-A where he continued to show an exceptional ability to control the strike zone along with above-average power. In 98 games, he struck out 22% of the time while walking 14% of the time. He also slugged .408 but did hit 14 home runs. Defensively, he’s not Molina, but he’s more than adequate there and offensively, once he gets established, he should be a step-up. With his hit tool, he has a chance to be a Top 5 catcher in the league.
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: A potential two-way player that will likely play shortstop full-time.
Masyn Winn was one of my favorite players to be drafted in 2020. He’s a great athlete who excelled as both a pitcher and a shortstop in high school. While he was being developed solely as a shortstop and having a fine season, he did pitch one inning in early September and was reportedly hitting 95 MPH on the gun. As a hitter in Low-A, where he played as a young 19-year-old, he didn’t look out of place. He slashed .262/.370/.388 with 3 home runs and 16 stolen bases. The Cardinals aggressively promoted him to High-A and he struggled; hitting .209 in 36 games. His High-A showing aside, he’s got plenty of tools as he’s a plus runner with plus raw power that should eventually show up in games. The question was how much he would hit. While the jury is split in 2021, I’m leaning to his Low-A performance given his youth and a likely overly aggressive assignment at the end of a long season.
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Displayed excellent plate coverage and contact. While the big power hasn’t appeared, I still believe it will
Nunez quietly had a very nice 2021 campaign. Across High and Double-A, he displayed an excellent ability to control the strike zone, adding nine home runs and 7 stolen bases. There is plenty more pop in his bat as he has 70-grade raw power but it has yet to show up in games. He’s being aggressively pushed by the Cardinals as he’s only 20 and already in Double-A. Based on his ability to control the strike zone, he appears to be up for the challenge. If the power comes, which I think it will, he has the upside to be a full-time regular, likely at first given he’s already a big boy and will only get bigger.
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: Double-plus control and command but the stuff is only average
The Cardinals drafted Michael McGreevy, a high floor college pitcher with the first pick last June. He had an impressive college career at UC Santa Barbara highlighted by his junior year where he struck out 115 while walking 11 over 16 starts. He doesn’t throw very hard but does have a plus curveball. His game is about locating his fastball and keeping guys off base. While Shane Bieber became a CY Young winner with a similar profile, velocity and movement give the pitcher a great degree of latitude than those that work exclusively on control. For that reason, I’m putting a number three/four starter ceiling on McGreevy.
- Highest Level: Complex League ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: He’s raw with 70-grade power and concerns if he’ll hit enough to be a Major Leaguer
The Cardinals drafted Joshua Baez in the second round last June. He has 70-grade raw power but with significant swing and miss concerns. While it was only 95 plate appearances in the Complex League, he did strike out nearly a third of the time. He did show an ability to work a walk. As with many similar players, it will come down to how much Baez hits as to whether he will have a big-league career. For Dynasty League owners who decide to take a gamble, you have the parameters. My only advice is to exercise patience.
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B or an extra bat
- Tools Summary: A reworked swing and better conditioning has put him on the doorstep of the Major Leagues with a chance to get full-time at-bats
I first saw Juan Yepez in 2018 in High-A and it wasn’t good. He was overweight with a bad swing. He had big raw power in batting practice but it wasn’t translating during games. In 2020, he lost weight and re-worked his swing, and is now starting to get to his plus raw power in games. He controls the strike zone, doesn’t strike out too much with some walks. I put a non-prospect on him three years ago, but he’s now definitely a prospect. There’s a chance he’s a full-time regular with some pop. Not guaranteed though.
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Big, strong kid with an ability to control the strike zone. If he used his lower half better, he might be able to unlock more power. Borderline full-time regular
Burleson had a nice season, splitting his time between High, Double and Triple-A. He demonstrated his ability to control the strike zone as well as a bit of power, slugging .452 with 21 home runs. The effort got him a late-season promotion to Triple-A. I think there is potentially more power in the tank but it’s an arm-heavy swing. The upside is a full-time regular because he can hit.
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: An aggressive assignment resulted in a poor season in Triple-A. There’s still the plus fastball-curveball, but the 30-grade control is holding him back
Thompson, the Cardinals 2019 first-round draft pick struggled mightily in Triple-A in 2021. In 93 innings, he posted a 7.06 ERA but only struck out 7.9 batters per nine and continued to struggle with his control (5.5 BB/9). He still has the great fastball-curveball combo but lacks a third pitch and just has not been able to harness his delivery. As they tend to do, the Cardinals challenged him with a Triple-A assignment and perhaps he was not ready.
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: A raw, arm strength guy who has no idea where the ball is going
This one is fun! Edwin Nunez was signed in 2018 from the Dominican. He’s a pure arm strength guy who can run his fastball up to 100 MPH with a wipeout slider. The Cardinals liked him so much that he made his professional debut in Low-A this year, skipping over the DSL and Rookie Ball. How did he do? As you might think, he struck out nearly 10 per nine but also walked nearly as many. And for fun, he threw 35 wild pitches in 53.2 innings. So, why is he on this list? Well, arms like his don’t grow on trees and he’s very athletic and I think he gets to at least 40-grade control. If that happens, he could be an interesting high leverage reliever with closer potential. As a comparison, Jordan Hicks had a similar profile and figured it out…rather quickly I might add.
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Average to above-average arsenal with solid control
Angel Rondon had a nice season in Triple-A in 2021, even seeing the Major Leagues for a couple of innings of work in June. He has a three-pitch mix with his fastball sitting 92 to 94 MPH with a slider and change-up. It’s a starter arsenal with enough control to pitch as a number four starter.
- Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with extreme
- Tools Summary: Good arm strength but the Cardinals allowed him to pitch only eight innings in 2021
Hence was our emerging prospect last year and well, he didn’t emerge. In fact, he barely pitched. The Cardinals are taking it slow with their 2020 second-round pick who has good arm strength but is still learning to pitch. If there is anything there, which I think there is, then we should know a lot more in 2022 when the Cardinals should finally let him pitch.
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Utility Player
- Tools Summary: His speed still makes him fantasy relevant. If he can continue to get stronger, there could be something there
Perez was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2018. While they thought at the draft table that he could eventually be their starting shortstop, that no longer seems in the cards. But, he has improved. He’s gotten stronger, has become a better hitter, and still can pick it at short. While that likely makes him a utility player at the highest level, he also still has plus speed. If he can continue to get stronger, he could get more playing time than it currently appears.