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Saturday SOC: Accelerate Your Arrival Times For Prospects!

The Cardinals have some great young talent who are moving quickly through the system and are now closer to the majors than you might realize.

There was some big news from down on the farm this week! On May 24th, the Cardinals promoted Top 10 prospects Michael McGreevy, Gordon Graceffo, and Masyn Winn from A+ Peoria to AA Springfield.

By this time, you all probably know what’s been happening at the top of the Cardinals’ system. Top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore has made his official MLB debut and looks like he’ll stick around for a while.

Nolan Gorman, after destroying AAA pitching for a few weeks, has received his first call as well, and might just be the team’s permanent fixture at the keystone position, depending on what happens with Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman over the next few weeks.

Juan Yepez had to wait behind Cardinals legend Albert Pujols for a few weeks but got the promotion he had earned from his performance in 2022 and is now a lineup fixture at multiple spots on the field.

Brendan Donovan, whom we’ve hyped on this site as a potential do-it-all utility piece with an intriguing bat, has impressed the Cardinals with his defensive versatility, his contact ability with a little pop, and his impressive batting eye.

I could also mention Jake Walsh. And Andre Pallante. Even Kramer Robertson has gotten into the mix with his useful athleticism of defensive ability in the middle infield.

All of those players, because of their position on the roster or the time they had already put in at AAA, were expected to either break camp with the Cardinals this season or make their MLB debuts at some point in 2022. (Pallante would be the exception there, but a few prospect analysts earmarked him early in Spring Training as a possible dark horse bullpen candidate. They were dead on right!)

I’m not here to talk about any of those players right now. You’ve all seen them. We’ve analyzed them on this site. We’ll continue doing so as the season progresses.

However, I do want to talk about the “second wave” of potential MLB-caliber prospects who were sitting just behind those players with either significant AA or AAA time entering 2022.

These are players like Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Luken Baker, Connor Capel, Zack Thompson, and Connor Thomas. These players entered the season with just a bit more to prove than the prospects ahead of them – like Thompson or Baker. Or they sat just a little lower in the prospect pecking order and would have to see some unfortunate injury situations develop for them to see the major league roster this season – like Herrera and Burleson.

We’ve already seen how misfortune can lead to opportunity for these second-wave prospects. When Yadier Molina went on the bereavement list to care for his son, it was Herrera and not the more experienced Ali Sanchez who got the call from Memphis. Herrera is getting a brief taste of the majors. If Knizner or Molina suffer any kind of longer-term injury – let’s hope that doesn’t happen – it looks like he would be the first call.

Herrera has earned such a look. In Memphis, he had a .310/.405/.493 batting line with a 143 wRC+. He has a 13.1% walk rate and a .183 Isolated Power (ISO). His defense has always earned positive marks. The Cardinals’ anointed “catcher of the future” is showing that the future is already here.

Zack Thompson is probably closer to the majors than you might realize. With Matz exiting with injury and an unknown timetable, Flaherty still on the shelf, and Hicks’ rotation spot somewhat in question, the Cardinals’ former first-round lefty starter has to be getting consideration from the front office for a promotion to the majors. The 23-year-old, who scuffled with a too-aggressive promotion to AAA after the pandemic last season, has really put things together. He’s added consistent velocity and regained the control he displayed in the low minors. He has a 4.12 ERA and a 3.17 xFIP (expected FIP). He has an 11.34 K/9 compared to a 2.68 BB/9. His ERA is elevated by an HR/FB rate of over 20% — something that will not last.

Thompson is pitching like the first-round talent the Cardinals believed him to be when they drafted him. He is not on the 40-man roster, but there are still moves the club could make if they decide they’re ready to bring up their new number 57.

Then there’s Burleson. Memphis’ burly lefty outfielder did not have a clear path to the majors this season. O’Neill, Bader, and Carlson were locks at the MLB level. Then Nootbaar, also a lefty and more versatile defensively, was on the 40-man and had performed relatively well in the majors in 2021. And there was Yepez. And even Nolan Gorman, also a lefty, who was on target to reach the majors as an infielder, but was a possibility in the outfield if injury created such an opening. I expected Burleson to spend the season at AAA. In ’21, Burleson’s first season in the minors, he started in A+ before earning an early season to AA. There he performed well, producing a 116 wRC+ and showing legitimate power and contact ability. Then, as a 22-year-old in his first pro season, he scuffled at Memphis. It was a bit much too fast for him.

This season, though, he’s caught back up again. He has a .303/.348/.559 slash line with a 139 wRC+. He needs to learn to walk more, but his 14.8% K rate shows just how unafraid he is to swing the bat against AAA pitching and his batting line shows how good he is with that bat when he swings. I suspect he’ll learn to walk more when he can’t just crush his enemies with such authority.

The line of players in front of Burleson is getting shorter. Carlson and O’Neill are on the IL. Donovan, an infielder, is getting time in the outfield. One more injury or if the Cardinals decide to give up on Dickerson – which needs to happen soon – and Burleson could find his way onto the roster.

The Cardinals system is having such a good year! I could go on about Thomas, who is also performing well. But I still need to get to the players that inspired this piece!

All of these guys – the first wave and second wave – entered the season within range of the majors. Below, them, though, is a slew of extremely talented young prospects who had some significant minor league ground to cover before we would start talking about “ETA”: estimated time of arrival. We could call them a “third wave” of prospects, but honestly, they were so young and unproven that putting any kind of description on them would have been premature.

Chief among them is Jordan Walker. Walker just turned 20. He can’t drink. But he can crush pitchers. Any pitchers. All pitchers. The Troy-Glaus-like third base prospect advanced to A+ last year as a teenager, producing a 205 wRC+ in A ball and a 124 wRC+ in A+. The Cardinals remained aggressive with him this season, throwing him to the wolves (real adult men pitchers) in Springfield. There, Walker has shown just how good of a prospect and hitter he really is.

His line in Springfield is .304/.410/.486 with a .403 wOBA and a 131 wRC+.

Just bask in the glory that is that stat line.

Walker’s been so good at AA that you have to think a promotion to AAA is coming soon just to continue to give the kid a challenge. And once you’re at AAA, there’s only one more place you can go.

Jordan Walker probably can’t do anything to make his way to the majors this season but you can go ahead and put an ETA on him of early season 2023. The Cardinals need to make their offseason plans assuming that Jordan Walker, the best hitting prospect this club has seen since Albert Pujols, will be a starter by mid-May.

Then there are the two pitchers – Michael McGreevey and Gordon Graceffo. McGreevey was the club’s first-round pick in 2021. Graceffo was their fifth-round pick. Here are their lines. I won’t even tell you whose is whose because it doesn’t matter:

.99 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 11.04 K/9, .79 BB/9.

2.58 ERA, 2.36 FIP, 8.14 K/0, .79 BB/9

Those are crazy good stats. Both pitchers have earned their advancements to AA, where they will get at least 2/3’rds of a season worth of starts.

Advancing to AA in your first full season in the majors is quite an accomplishment. It’s one duplicated by three other recent, mature college draftees: Dakota Hudson, Marco Gonzales, and Lance Lynn.

AAA awaits at the end of this season or early in 2023. Neither pitcher seems likely to force their way into a rotation spot at the beginning of next season, but both should be sitting in the same spot that Thompson and Liberatore were in entering this season. They will be there, if and when they are needed to take a rotation spot if (when) injury demands it.

Lastly, there’s Masyn Winn. The Cardinals’ uber-athletic shortstop was reunited on the left side of the infield with Walker this past week and, honestly, it makes Springfield the most fun team to watch in the Cardinals organization (including the Cardinals themselves). Winn is just an absolute blast on the baseball field.

Like Walker, Winn is barely 20 years old. He hit pretty well last year in A ball and earned a promotion to A+ where he showed his age and inexperience. He had a 48 wRC+ and only walked 3.9% of the time. But, he was just 19, was still tinkering with pitching, too, and flashed a glove that could become elite.

He started the season in A+ again and showed what one offseason can do at this age. He hit .349/.404/.566 with a .423 wOBA and a 168 wRC+. He was excellent in the field, and featured the best infield arm that the system has seen … maybe ever, honestly. His mid-to-high 90s fastball from the mound isn’t any slower on the infield dirt.

I still want to pump the brakes on Winn a little. He’s earned his trip to AA, but like Herrera last season, he probably needs to stay at this level all year. That still puts him into AAA next season if all continues to go well. Once you’re in AAA, you’re in range of the Major League roster. That means Winn could be pushing for time in STL next season and a possible starting gig at a position of need as soon as 2024.

Did I say yet that the Cardinals’ system was having an incredible year? Well, they are. They have two waves of MLB-ready players (many of whom are already at the major league level), and a third wave of high-impact MLB talent now sitting at AA. Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ director of scouting, has done an absolutely BRILLIANT job with this group of prospects. And not just him. The whole development system needs to be commended for the work they’ve done.

It’s exciting. Can you tell I’m excited? I’m excited!

That’s it for me. I’m off to graduation weekend part 2.0 in Kansas City. Enjoy the baseball this weekend – at all levels of the Cardinals’ system!