Happy Satur… I mean, Wednesday, Viva El Birdos!
Sorry for not providing my usual detailed analysis post today but the writing team and I planned to do a podcast last night. I say planned because life happened for a bunch of us, so we’ve rescheduled that for the second time. Hopefully, you’ll hear from us all on Saturday, where we’ll cover the latest news: coaching vacancies, Wainwright & Arenado’s return, and everything that we’ve been writing about.
In the meantime, I’ve got a stream-of-consciousness post for you based on something that showed up in my Twitter feed. Credit Randy Karraker of 101 ESPN with these comments from John Mozeliak:
Second note:— Randy Karraker (@RandyKarraker) November 1, 2022
Last week Mozeiak said Masyn Winn made the biggest jump of any position player in the Cardinals system. Looking at the World Series…
Phillies SS Bryson Stott played only 169 minor league games (620 AB), 19 in Triple A
Let’s break this little nugget down a bit.
First, is Mozeliak right about Winn?
I think he is. Until this season, Winn’s prospect status was based more on potential than it was realized talent. Winn was known to have elite defensive ability at short, including the strongest arm in the organization. He also had athleticism that should translate into quality offense – both at the plate and on the basepaths. His foot speed was undeniable. He showed a good eye very early in his professional career. He had a notably quick bat.
Those skills didn’t translate into much production early. He started his professional career in ’21 at age 19 in A ball Palm Beach. He was pretty good there, producing a 112 wRC+ with an above-average walk rate and average-for-a-middle-infielder everything else. His slash line was .262/.370/.388. Not bad. Not awesome. Especially when you compared him to fellow 2020 draftee Jordan Walker.
It was enough to earn Winn a promotion. He went to A+ and, frankly, tanked. His BB rate disappeared. His contact ability plummeted. His already shaky power evaporated. He wasn’t quite “knock the bat out of your hands” bad in Peoria, but his wRC+ was just 48.
Thankfully I didn’t see much criticism of Winn for that forgettable half-season. He wasn’t quite on the radar of the average fan and those who followed such things knew better than to read too much into one sketchy offensive performance from a 19-year-old at an advanced level.
He entered 2022 with many of us holding our breath and crossing our fingers and toes, hoping that he could bounce back.
We didn’t have any reason to fear. He tore A+ apart his second time through, producing an impressive .349/.404/.566 line in Peoria as a 20-year-old with a 163 wRC+. That earned him an early-season promotion to Springfield, where he was free to fail again without too many people making much of it.
Instead, he turned heads with his incredible defense, made the Futures Team, and displayed a more mature batting approach against pitching talent that, frankly, was well over his head.
His .258/.349/.432 batting line in AA was perfectly average: 100 wRC+. When placed into its proper context, however, it’s the sign of a budding highly productive major leaguer.
Yes, Moises Gomez tore up the high minors. Alec Burleson burled his way through AAA. Jordan Walker earned the national attention he’s getting. Gordon Graceffo turned heads with his dominating pitching performance early in the season. Tink Hence had all of us drooling over our computer screens.
But it was Masyn Winn who, as Mozeliak put it (through Karraker), “made the biggest jump.”
Now he is off at the AFL continuing to show how much his offensive approach has improved against now very advanced pitchers. The AFL is something of a hitter’s playground, but it’s filled with also MLB-ready talent arms. Who’s going to scoff at a .311/.456/.378 line no matter where it happens? Not I!
You can probably see where Winn still needs to make some progress. He can make contact. He has borderline elite on-base skills. He doesn’t have much power. Yet.
I’m ok with that. You should be, too.
Winn is not an Ozzie Smith or Brendan Ryan; defense-first shortstops whose homers are something akin to miracles. He can already drive the ball to gaps. Some of those drives left the park in Springfield and even more will do so in Memphis in ‘23.
That’s only going to happen with more frequency as Winn’s body and strength catch up with his already existing bat speed.
If we’re sticking with Cardinals shortstops as comps, he’s more Edgar Renteria than either of those other two. It took Renteria until his fourth season to find double-digit homers and a .400+ slugging percentage. His career slugging was just .398. Still, he translated elite athleticism, good contact ability, solid baserunning, quality defense, and doubles power into a career 95 WRC+ and 35.1 fWAR.
That’s probably “Cardinals Hall of Fame” levels of career production.
Edgar Renteria was a darn good prospect for the Marlins. There’s a reason the Cardinals wanted to snatch him up.
I don’t think there is one single thing that Edgar Renteria did better as a prospect/young player than Masyn Winn. Maybe contact ability. Ok, that’s one. The rest is neutral or advantage Winn.
What about readiness? Renteria went straight to the majors for the Marins. Winn should not follow that lead. He should spend the full season at AAA in ’23, with the potential for a call-up at some point if injuries necessitate it.
What about the team’s depth in the middle infield, then?
Right now, the team still has Paul DeJong under contract. I still don’t think that he’ll be a Cardinal come February when the team reports to Spring Training.
They also have Tommy Edman who just produced a 5.6 fWAR season while splitting time between second and short. We knew he was an elite defender at 2b. He showed in a half-season sample size that he could translate that perfectly to the other side of the infield. He might very well be the best defensive shortstop in the league next season.
His rather pedestrian offensive production + elite defense at SS = another season of 3+ fWAR or higher. Maybe much higher. There’s really nothing about his 108 wRC+ or corresponding .265/.324/.400 slash line that he can’t replicable. (I don’t know why I don’t have more double-negative sentences in my posts.)
Brendan Donovan isn’t a shortstop, though he should continue working out at the position. He’s likely first in line to start at 2b after a very productive rookie season. Nolan Gorman would still be in consideration as a 2b’man as well.
What’s the point that I’m trying to make?
The Cardinals are pretty well stocked on the infield with cost-controlled talent with good to very good production upside.
Meanwhile, I’m seeing fans be fans on the internet. Many – not as many as last year – are calling for the Cardinals to look at one of the upper-tier short stops on the market and to commit most of their offseason budget to sign one.
Trea Turner is a popular choice. Xander Bogaerts is frequently named as well.
It’s easy to see how fans are settling on those names. They know the Cardinals plan to raise the budget this season. They know that the free agent market is short on impact talent outside of Aaron Judge and the shortstop position. They also know Tommy Edman as a 2b’man. They might only know Masyn Winn as that kid with a ridiculously strong arm.
All of that says, to them, “get one of these shortstops while you can, Mo!”
There’s an argument for that. Who doesn’t want to add a 6 fWAR infielder to a team with 2 other 6 fWAR infielders and a 5 fWAR infielder? Sounds ideal!
The flip side is that, while the team has publicly stated payroll is going up, we shouldn’t interpret that as a sign that Mo has free reign over DeWitt’s DeWallet. The Cardinals are well-provisioned in the middle infield both now and into the future. Wouldn’t the funds they have be better spent on areas of actual need?
Wouldn’t a 5 fWAR catcher look even better than a 5 fWAR SS?
That’s where I land. Give me an elite catcher, if such a player could be pried away from other teams. (It would have to be a trade). Give me a #1 starter, which isn’t going to happen now that Wainwright is back. If neither of those can happen, then give me elite production from the outfield or, I guess, DH.
I have a pretty high level of confidence that the Cardinals can get good production out of SS and 2b both next season and over the new few years. I have an increasing level of confidence in the production that Masyn Winn can provide for the club over the course of his career.
Guaranteed production comes with a guaranteed price tag, and it just seems like the Cardinals would be better served investing in a position without such current depth and future promise.
What say you? Should the Cardinals pursue an impact shortstop or are you satisfied with internals?
The rest is up to you. Post like a champion today, Viva El Birdos.