On Thursday, Baseball America published its Top 10 prospects list for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s always a fun day when the new BA prospects ranking list drops! It’s something I look forward to every year, despite the proliferation of such lists throughout the internet.
With their rankings came a bunch of content for discussion. I’m going to pretend I’m Scooter and just drop some links in here for you to peruse at your leisure. Then I want to hone in on one aspect of their release blitz: the 2025 lineup.
Here’s where you can find all the content from Baseball America and some interesting connecting material at the Post-Dispatch:
Cards Top Prospects Landing Page (free)
Cards Top Prospects Full Page (Subscription)
Derrick Goold’s Take at the PD (free)
Here’s the Cardinals top 10 list for 2021:
1. Jordan Walker, 3b, age 19, eta: 2023
2. Nolan Gorman, 2b/3b, age 21, eta: 2022
3. Matthew Liberatore, LHP, age 22, eta: 2022
4. Michael McGreevy, RHP, age 21, eta: 2023
5. Ivan Herrera, C, age 21, eta: 2022
6. Lars Nootbaar, OF, age 24, eta: MLB rookie
7. Joshua Baez, OF, age 18, eta: 2026
8. Masyn Winn, SS/RHP, age 19, eta: 2025
9. Juan Yepez, 1b, age 23, eta: 2022
10. Alec Burleson, OF, age 23, eta: 2022
My thoughts on the list and rankings? It looks really good to me! Some of you who don’t follow the minor leagues closely might be surprised that either Nolan Gorman or Matthew Liberatore is not in the top spot. Please don’t interpret that change as those players have “fallen”. Liberatore and Gorman did not dominate AAA. But fans should not have expected them to after missing the entire 2020 minor league season and then facing the difficulty of an aggressive promotion philosophy by the organization.
Simply put, Gorman and Liberatore were great this season. Neither player hurt their standings nationally or their future with the organization by their 2021 performance when factoring in age, experience, level, and peripherals. Both will find their way into significant roles with the Cardinals this coming season and will be counted on as core performers for years to come. They are who we hoped they would be. Now it’s just a question of how well they can translate that to the majors.
No, those two dropped in the rankings only because of the meteoric rise by 2020 first round draft pick Jordan Walker. Have a napkin or paper towel ready after you look at this stat line because you’ll have to wipe the drool off your keyboard…
Yes, that’s a .516 wOBA and a 205 wRC+ in Walker’s first 122 PAs in the minors at 19 in offense-killing Palm Beach. He followed that with a .367 wOBA and a 124 wRC+ at Peoria. He hit 14 home runs total and stole 14 bases. He also displayed the ability to control his K’s and draw walks, though that was pushed by more advanced pitchers.
He deserves all the wonderful things that everyone is saying about him. He’s the best prospect the Cardinals have had in their system since Oscar Taveras.
The rest of the list shakes out without too many surprises. McGreevy was a tiny surprise ahead of Herrera at 4, but they love his curveball and control to go along with his heavy fastball. Then it just becomes a preference vs. proximity vs. projectability debate. Your list will vary by how much you weigh and balance those things.
More important to me than the order of the names is the quality of the names. John LaRue just made a convincing argument that Juan Yepez, number 9 on this list, should be the Cardinals starting DH next season. I agree. Below him at 10 is an outfielder who reached AAA in his first pro season by excelling at A and AA. At 8 is an infielder/pitcher, Mason Wynn, who oozes talent and just needs time.
All ten players listed on BA’s top 10 have a starter-caliber upside. Three or four have All-Star potential. The Cardinals’ system is strong. And not just with college pitchers anymore.
When they put out these rankings, they also include a projected starting lineup and rotation four years down the road. It’s an exercise in futility since a club’s roster churns regularly, especially with a team like the Cardinals, who build internally, limit the length of their free agent signings, and prefer the trade market. Still, it’s fun to see the way that current players line up with future players, who might arrive when, and how that would impact the roster. We’ll go through it position by position.
Here’s BA’s Cardinals projected lineup and pitching staff for 2025:
BA’s Choice: Ivan Herrera
My Choice: Ivan Herrera
Ok, come on Baseball America! I know that Yadier Molina will be 42 years old in 2025 and this is supposed to be his final season. Still, it’s hard not to pencil him into the starting lineup, isn’t it? Ivan Herrera still has a starter’s track after a good full season at AA Springfield at age 21. He will find his way onto the roster at some point this season and should be in line to at least compete for the starting position as soon as 2023. IF Yadi actually does retire. IF.
BA’s Choice: Jordan Walker
My Choice: Nolan Arenado
Two positions in and we’re already running into some difficulty with this exercise. Reports on Walker’s defense at third base have been relatively positive. He’s tall but quite athletic. It’s hard for me to accept a for-fun projection that bumps Walker, the best prospect in the Cardinals’ system, all the way down the defensive spectrum to first base. Then again, where else does he fit? Arenado is under contract through 2027, assuming he doesn’t opt out after next season. He’s a multi-time platinum glove defender. Still, in 2025 he’ll be 35 years old. One of these third basemen is going to get bumped to first. An aging Arenado? Or a youthful but defensively limited Walker? I can see why they picked Walker but I’m going to bump Arenado across the infield.
BA’s Choice: Nolan Gorman
My Choice: Nolan Gorman
Speaking of third base, as Nolan Arenado ages, is it possible that the other Nolan (Gorman) could slide over to replace him? Yes, it’s possible. But then who plays second base? Not Jordan Walker. Not Juan Yepez. Gorman at second three years from now seems like as good a bet as any.
BA’s Choice: Paul DeJong
My Choice: Mason Wynn
DeJong has a $15M club option for 2025, so he is technically under team control for this conversation. He also has the bat and glove to potentially hold on to the position that long. The Cardinals just haven’t seen it consistently. Still, I have a hard time imagining that DeJong is the starter at SS for another 4 seasons. Wynn still has a long way to go before earning this spot in 2025, but he’s the best internal candidate as of now. You could also pencil in Tommy Edman here.
BA’s Choice: Nolan Arenado
My Choice: Jordan Walker
We talked about this under first base. I can see what BA is thinking. I’m going in the other direction.
BA’s Choice: O’Neill, Bader, Carlson
My Choice: O’Neill, Carlson, Burleson
All kinds of problems here. The biggest is that Bader will be two years into his free agency by the time 2025 rolls around. Yes, the Cardinals could extend him but I don’t really want them to give a lengthy contract extension to a defense-first outfielder even if his defense is otherworldly. O’Neill will also be a free agent. Are the Cardinals going to pay both of them? I don’t think so. In my scenario, O’Neill gets the dollars and Bader gets the boot. Doing that, though, forces me into the awkward situation of sliding Carlson into center, where he doesn’t belong, and probably Burleson into right. If nothing else, it reveals some holes currently in the system. The club has a few starting outfield options in a few years but no one stands out in center.
BA’s Choice: Paul Goldschmidt
My Choice: Juan Yepez
Goldschmidt will be 37 years old in 2025 and a free agent. He’s off my list just because he’s a free agent and right at retirement age. Juan Yepez, though, will be a slick-hitting 27-year-old in his prime. Can’t list anyone else here. He’s the choice.
BA’s Choice: Flaherty, Hudson, Liberatore, Matz, McGreevy
My Choice: Flaherty, Liberatore, Matz, McGreevy, Thompson
In this scenario, Baseball America has Flaherty and Hudson somehow getting extensions with the Cardinals to stick around post-arbitration. I don’t think Hudson will get a deal that carries him into his thirties. If Lance Lynn couldn’t from the Cards, then Hudson won’t. Flaherty, on the other hand, seems very likely to hit free agency but also likely to be a high priority for the Cards. So, I have him coming back and then sliding everyone else up. Liberatore has to reach his ceiling as a #2. That’s a stretch but possible. Matz in the #3 spot four seasons from now looks painful. McGreevy should probably be ahead of him. In place of Hudson I’ll go ahead and slide in Zack Thompson. Everyone is down on Thompson after a rough season in AAA. He does still have strong breaking pitches and a solid fastball. It was a tough assignment for him this season that went poorly and, in retrospect, it seems obvious the club should have started him in AA. I still expect him to rediscover some of his lost command and control. If he does that – and he should – then he’ll be fine. Not awesome. But fine.
BA’s Choice: Alex Reyes
My Choice: No Closer, thank you very much
I can’t tell you who will be the closer in 2023 let alone 2025. I still hope they don’t have a closer at all and just use matchups and leverage to determine who gets the ball to end games. I can tell you one thing though, it almost certainly won’t be Alex Reyes.
Feel free to make your own list down in the comments! Don’t take it too seriously but have fun with it. Is there a name I missed? Someone that will rise to take a spot that no one expects? Make your argument!