I’m back to discuss some more prospects that we may see at the major league level this year. This time I’ll be focusing on some infielders who could provide help for the St. Louis Cardinals in the event of injury or in case Paul DeJong gets replaced as the backup shortstop.
There’s not a ton of opportunity here but baseball seasons are always unpredictable and that means that any upper level prospect could be pressed into action at any time. The infield is probably the weakest area of the Cardinals system but there are still a few interesting names to cover. I’ll start with some of the more under the radar names before moving on to the prospect everyone wants to see.
Let’s start with someone who already made his MLB debut but could be a sneaky option to play a role off the bench.
Kramer Robertson has never been a highly touted prospect but he earned his MLB debut last year and has always had the profile of a backup utility man. He has a great approach at the plate and draws walks at a rate of 12% of higher without striking out a ton. That’s a big reason for his consistently above average wRC+es and when that’s paired with his solid defense around the diamond, he makes him a strong backup infielder candidate.
He’s mostly a gap power guy but he has hit 11 home runs in back-to-back seasons. If he does play as a backup infielder, it will be his defense and his plate discipline that are his main assets.
Robertson has seen plenty of time at short, second, and third and could feasibly fill in at any of those positions at the major league level. Seeing as he’s now 28 years old, he’s likely running out of time to make his mark as a backup infielder for the Cardinals so this year could be crucial for him. In fact, last year he actually bounced around from the Cardinals to the Braves to the Mets and then back to the Cardinals and I would love to see him get a chance to replace Paul DeJong if the Cardinals decide to move on or be the first injury replacement for an infielder.
He has been a consistently above average Triple-A player and he does all the things a prototypical backup infielder does. Maybe he’s a AAAA player and maybe he’s not but I would love to see him get a chance to prove himself as an MLB player.
Jose Fermin has one thing that Kramer Robertson doesn’t - a 40-man roster spot. That likely makes him the first man up if someone gets hurt, but Kramer Robertson’s bat is likely better and Robertson actually has more power than Fermin despite not being a power oriented hitter.
What Fermin does well is make contact. He may not have a ton of pop but he only struck out in 13.9% of his plate appearances last year. He doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to be a power threat or to post great batting averages but contact is a good skill to have for a backup infielder who is often a slap hitting defense-first player.
Like Robertson, he can also play short, third, and second but he has enough range and arm strength to play short at the highest level. That’s huge for him since the Cardinals don’t really have anyone besides Edman and DeJong to play short. And DeJong’s future is anything but sure.
Fermin even has some speed as he stole 28 bases in 2019, though that total dropped to just 9 in 2022. That gives him speed, defense, and versatility to go with a walk heavy, contact-oriented approach at the plate. He also has a great makeup and is bi-lingual, which is certainly something that appealed to the Cardinals.
He’s only 22 years old too so there’s plenty of time for him to improve his offensive game and become more viable at the plate but I don’t think he has enough of a bat to ever become a league average hitter at the major league level and maybe not even at the Triple-A level.
He does seem like the kind of player who will make a major league debut at some point, though I do like Kramer Robertson more and I would rather see Robertson with the Cardinals in 2022 than Fermin.
For more on Fermin, you can read Gabe’s article from earlier this winter.
You can think of Irving Lopez as Jose Fermin but 5 years older. That probably doesn’t do enough justice to the individuality of Lopez but the two players have a similar profile.
You might be shocked to learn that Lopez also plays short, third, and second but he is primarily a second or third baseman. He does have a strong glove and plenty of range, so he would be a good defense first option off the bench. He is also a contact-oriented hitter with a solid approach at the plate as he posted a double-digit walk rate in 2022 and a strikeout rate below 16%.
He may not be a strong hitter but he did post an OBP driven 100 wRC+ at the Triple-A level last year. That was an improvement on his 66 wRC+ in 2021 but I don’t think 2021 showed his true talent as he took a step back after the lost COVID year of 2020 as he was an above average hitter in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.
You may see some similarities between the first couple players on this list but that’s because they all have the same profile as utility infielders. Lopez has split time between Double-A and Triple-A for the past three seasons and has yet to break through to the major league level but that may change this year. One of the things the Cardinals are good at is giving debuts as a reward to their long term minor leaguers. I sincerely hope that Lopez gets the chance to play with the Cardinals at some point and if he does, I will certainly be watching every second.
Perhaps the best way to describe Irving Lopez is to describe him as Kyle Reis did in his Dirty Flirty writeup — an “organizational soldier”. Lopez is a guy who has shown tremendous versatility and is one of my favorite prospects in the system with the way he has filled a million different roles in the organization and kept plugging away. He and Kramer Robertson will likely spend much of 2023 together in Triple-A but they are both players that I would love to see in St. Louis this year if they get pressed into duty.
Alright, I know this is really the infielder we’re all waiting for. He’s clearly the top infielder in a system without high-end infield talent and his athleticism is simply off the charts.
Before I go any further, I want to preface the rest of this section by saying that I would like to see Masyn Winn spend a full season in the minors this year as he’s still only 20 years old and there’s likely to be very limited opportunity for infield prospects this year since the Cardinals already have Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, and Nolan Gorman at the major league level.
I think Masyn Winn would be better off playing every day and working on his offensive game against Triple-A hitters than being pressed into action against major league pitchers where he likely would be a below average hitter.
With that said, Winn is obviously a tantalizing prospect. He’s wicked fast, can draw walks, makes a decent amount of contact, and even has some pop despite his 5’11, 180 pound frame. Last year, he obliterated High-A pitching to the tune of a 163 wRC+ before getting promoted after just 147 plate appearances. That showed a great adjustment after he had just a 48 wRC+ in 154 High-A plate appearances in 2021.
After his promotion, he went on to be an exactly league average hitter in the Double-A Texas League with a .258/.349/.432 slash line (yes, the Texas League is super hitter friendly) and a 12.4% walk rate as compared to a 21.3% strikeout rate.
Power isn’t what Winn is known for, but he is fully capable of hitting the gaps where his speed helps him stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. In fact, his 8 triples led the entire organization and his 36 doubles did too. He also stole 43 bases in 48 attempts which was good for the second most in the system behind only Mike Antico.
He’s an electric player with a wow factor because of his pristine athletic ability. Right now, he’s a top prospect because of elite speed and defensive potential and a true 80-grade arm but his bat is certainly worth noting too as not too many 20 year olds are able to post a league average line at Double-A.
At his peak, Winn looks more like a defense and base running star than a true offensive powerhouse, but that’s why I would like to see him get plenty of time at Triple-A and not rush into the major leagues. Regardless, I wouldn’t be shocked if he turned into an average to above average hitter with truly elite defense and base running at a premium position.
2023 may be the year he debuts but only if there is a clear opportunity for extended time in the starting lineup. Unless a key injury creates that opportunity, I expect one of the names I listed above to get some time in the major leagues while Winn bides his time in Triple-A.
As always, let me know if there’s anyone you think I missed. I almost added Luken Baker who has gobs of power at first base, but there are simply too many first base and DH options ahead of him with Juan Yepez, Alec Burleson, Moises Gomez, and more. If he is going to have any opportunity at the major league level, it’s likely with another team.
The infield isn’t loaded with top prospects but it doesn’t need to be because the Cardinals are already loaded with controllable infield talent at the major league level. That means that a few long-term minors leaguers may get the chance to play in the majors this year and earn a utility role off the bench. That is an exciting prospect to me but the most exciting prospect is Masyn Winn, who is lingering in the background and nearing his MLB debut.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Enjoy your Tuesday!