On Friday the Cardinals announced the full list of prospects that they are sending to the Arizona Fall League.
Nine #STLCards minor leaguers will participate in the 2022 @MLBazFallLeague season starting Oct. 3:— Cardinals Player Development (@CardsPlayerDev) September 16, 2022
▪️OF Jordan Walker
▪️SS Masyn Winn
▪️RHP Tink Hence
▪️RHP Kyle Leahy
▪️RHP Ryan Loutos
▪️LHP Connor Thomas
▪️C Pedro Pages
▪️OF Mike Antico (taxi squad)
▪️COA Tyger Pederson pic.twitter.com/1r8kWhA9U8
Headlining the list is Jordan Walker. With a second straight dominant season, Walker has skyrocketed up prospect rankings. MLB.com currently has Walker ranked 6th. Prospects Live had him ranked 5th on their mid-season list.
In just his age-20 season, Walker has a .308/.390/.508 batting line with a .396 wOBA and a 129 wRC+. He has 18 homers and 22 stolen bases. Drafted as a tall and athletic third baseman, Walker made the switch to the outfield about a month ago. He has played both corner positions and some center field. He is listed as an outfielder on the AFL roster.
Walker is joined by rising star Masyn Winn, also just 20 years old. Winn is an uber-athletic shortstop with a cannon for an arm and developing offensive skills. A former two-way standout, Win’s bat has improved once he focused exclusively on hitting. After dominating A+ with a 163 wRC+ and a .349/.404/.566 slash line, Wynn has settled in at just above average with a .260/.349/.437 slash line and a 101 wRC+ in AA. He has 11 homers and 26 steals. That’s a perfectly fine offensive profile for a 20-year-old with Gold Glove potential at short.
In the recent past, the AFL has served as a finishing ground for the Cardinals’ MLB-ready prospects. DH Juan Yepez, UT Brendan Donovan, and OF Lars Nootbaar competed in Arizona last season. Each of them excelled there and that performance slingshotted them to prominent roles with this year’s club.
For Walker and Winn, neither of whom have seen AAA at this point, that’s probably not the goal. Instead of a finishing school, the Cardinals are likely using Arizona as a testing ground, a chance to let their elite hitting prospects test their skills against other elite competitors and MLB-ready arms.
That’s not to say that Walker and Winn won’t be in the mix to make the active roster next season. Walker in particular could force his way into a starting outfield position with a strong AFL performance and an impressive spring. As a short stop with significant defensive upside, Winn could find himself just one injury away from the majors. It seems likely that the Cardinals would delay their arrival at least long enough to secure an extra year of contract control.
I am a little surprised that catching prospect Ivan Herrera isn’t joining them. Herrera spent most of the season at AAA and earned a few brief promotions, where he saw limited action. Herrera has only played in 57 games for Memphis on the season and only caught in 50 of them. Workload is not a concern for him. With solid offensive numbers at Memphis and developing defense, he should be in a position to push Andrew Knizner for the starting catcher role in StL post-Molina. It would have been beneficial to get him some time in the AFL just to have one more data point on his readiness.
The pitching side is more notable for who isn’t on the list, with one intriguing exception. Neither Michael McGreevy nor Gordon Graceffo will be heading to Arizona.
McGreevy and Graceffo both advanced to AA this season with mixed results. McGreevy has thrown around 140 innings on the season. A 2.29 FIP in A ball rose to nearly 5 in AA. Graceffo experienced similar struggles against AA batters. He has regressed from a 1.71 FIP at A+ to a 5.07 at AA. He is also near 140 innings.
If either pitcher had maintained their impressive A+ performances they might be heading to the AFL. At their age, though, there’s not much reason to be concerned over their statistical struggles. More likely their relatively high innings totals are contributing to the decision to go ahead and shut them down for the winter.
The opposite is true of Tink Hence, the Cardinals' 19-year-old ace-caliber prospect. Hence has electric stuff with a 13.93 K/9 rate balanced against just a 2.58 BB/9. His ERA in A-ball is just 1.38. His FIP is a hair higher.
Hence has only 52 innings thrown in 16 starts, an average of just over three innings per outing. The Cardinals have very intentionally limited Hence this season. Despite his youth and organizational inexperience, the AFL provides the opportunity for him to get some more innings under his belt and run a quick test of his stuff against mature bats. Success in the AFL this fall could elevate Hence to a quick promotion to AA early next season. His stuff is that good.
The rest of the list is made up of players who have something to prove or things they need to work on if they want to one day make a Major League roster.
I would guess, for example, that Connor Thomas will use the opportunity to both work on his developing cutter and show the Major League staff that his FIP is more indicative of his true talent than his elevated ERA.
Pedro Pages, a 23-year-old catcher, had a solid performance at AA but disappointed for Memphis with a 66 wRC+. The AFL might give him a chance to show a little more offensively and potentially compete for the third catcher spot next season behind Knizner and Herrera.
Mike Antico, who will be on the AFL taxi squad (the same role Brendan Donovan was in last year, if memory serves), has Billy Hamilton-like speed with 65 stolen bases in just 129 minor league games across A+ and AA. The problem is that he also has a Billy Hamilton-like bat, with a .241/.332/.397 slash line at AA. He can draw walks, though, and his speed plays in the outfield.