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The Cardinals Are Overflowing With Hitting Prospects

8 of the Cardinals top 10 prospects are hitters. It is tough to find a role for all of them, but Gorman, Yepez, Nootbaar, and Donovan all appear to be part of the near future.

2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game

Eight of the St. Louis Cardinals top ten prospects are hitters according to Baseball America. Those eight are Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Ivan Herrera, Lars Nootbaar, Joshua Baez, Masyn Winn, Juan Yepez, and Alec Burleson. Five of those hitters reached Triple-A last year as only Walker, Baez, and Winn played in the lower levels.

Having too much talent is a good problem, but the Cardinals will need to figure out what to do with all that talent. Gorman and Herrera have clear paths to the starting lineup at second base and catcher, respectively, and Lars Nootbaar has the fourth outfielder job locked down, though he probably can’t advance any higher than that with the Cardinals young starting outfield. If the NL adopts the DH, then Yepez has to be the front-runner for the job. Masyn Winn might be the shortstop of the future if the Cardinals don’t address the position before he reaches the majors. Besides them, there is not much room for other young players to earn big roles in St. Louis.

Brendan Donovan does not have a clear path towards playing time as he primarily played, first, second, third, and left field last season. If he can play shortstop (he spent 11 games there in 2021), then he may become a starter, but I doubt he beats out Gorman for the job at second and no other spots are really open besides shortstop. Alec Burleson has the problem of being behind Lars Nootbaar, who is already behind a strong group of young outfielders. His prospects of seeing much time in St. Louis are pretty bleak. Joshua Baez plays the same position but has the added benefit of being much younger, so he may not be blocked by the time he is ready.

Jordan Walker is also blocked by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. That is a pretty tough duo to be sitting behind, but the Cardinals will find time for Walker if he continues playing like he did in 2021.

Besides these top prospects, there is a group of other mid-tier prospects who could be solid major leaguers but likely won’t get a chance in St. Louis. Kramer Robertson fits into this group. He is an ideal high-OBP utility player that plays all over the infield, except with Tommy Edman and Edmundo Sosa on the roster, that role is not needed. Chandler Redmond is another rising prospect, but he is more of a corner guy who plays a little second base. That leaves him blocked. Luken Baker is a powerful first baseman, but he’s not Paul Goldschmidt or even Juan Yepez for that matter.

It is not a bad thing to be overflowing with hitting talent in the minors. It does pose an interesting dilemma for the Cardinals, though, as Gorman, Herrera, and maybe Yepez are the only top prospects with a clear path forward. The Cardinals could wait out the situation and see if anybody forces themselves into the picture, but again, it is difficult to see any member of the starting outfield getting displaced and it is practically impossible for Goldschmidt or Arenado to move to the bench. An injury or two could create some opportunity, but that is a temporary fix, or these players could be used as trade bait to improve the Cardinals pitching staff.

I doubt any serious trades are made before the trade deadline, and maybe not even then. Brendan Donovan could force his way into the picture by learning the shortstop position, and that is probably the best case scenario for the Cardinals as none of Edman, Sosa, or Paul DeJong have a firm grip on the job. Giving Donovan a season in Triple-A as the starting shortstop would be the best thing to do with him in 2022.

It is a bit weird to see the Cardinals churning out good hitting prospects while the pitchers lag behind. That does not mean the team doesn’t have good pitching prospects as both Matthew Liberatore and Michael McGreevy are strong prospects, but there are simply less highly rated pitchers than there are highly rated hitters. Connor Thomas, Johan Oviedo and Wilfredo Pereira are good mid-tier options, but they are not particularly close to the top ten overall prospects. Pitching is more of a need for this Cardinals team, so plenty of pitchers should get a chance in 2022 and 2023. That is not necessarily true for hitters, although there is just enough opportunity for the highest rates players.

By the end of 2022, the Cardinals could have Nolan Gorman starting at second, Juan Yepez starting at DH, Lars Nootbaar seeing time in the outfield or at DH, and potentially Brendan Donovan as a utilityman. For a team with a lineup that is set in stone in six of eight positions, the Cardinals should be able to give their top prospects a chance to start in the majors. While the Cardinals will be a good team in 2022, next season is almost a transition year in which the team adds Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez while Yadier Molina’s impending retirement opens the door for Ivan Herrera in 2023. 2022 could be a successful season in which the Cardinals make the playoffs while also getting better prepared for the future.