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Should Masyn Winn make the team on Opening Day?

The answer might surprise you!

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

There seems to be an assumption that Masyn Winn is going to make the Opening Day roster. It also seems to be the popular consensus from fans that it would be a bad idea. I’m not here to debate whether or not he will make the Opening Day roster. I think it’s far from the sure thing some people think it is, but I also wouldn’t be surprised. But how exactly will Masyn Winn have to perform to make it a good idea?

First, right off the bat, part of the reason so many people are against it is based upon what I feel is a false premise. That it’s a repeat of Jordan Walker. Walker and Winn are two completely different scenarios. Jordan Walker had numerous red flags going into the season: he obviously couldn’t play defense, he was a groundball machine and he had a grand total of 0 games played in AAA. He was also pretty good in AA, but not really skip AAA good. And more importantly, good god someone had to see it coming that he would not be a positive on defense.

Winn is absolutely better positioned than Walker was. To the point where I don’t think there’s a legit debate about it. He played nearly the entire season in AAA and the only reason he didn’t was because he was promoted to the major leagues. If the Cardinals were a rebuilding team, I don’t think Walker had a very good case to begin the season in the majors for his aforementioned developmental work that needed to be done.

On the other hand, Winn has a great defensive reputation, coming off a 108 wRC+ season in AAA where he got better as the season went on. He played in 37 games at the major league level, and while he looked punchless, his strikeout to walk numbers suggest he wasn’t overwhelmed at the level. He also just looked better at the plate the more he was in St. Louis. He didn’t walk until his 13th game and he didn’t walk a second time until his 20th game, but he walked 8 more times in his last 15 games. I don’t think there’s any question he should make the team if the Cardinals were a rebuilding team.

So just personally, I feel like Walker shouldn’t have made the team under any circumstance and Winn would at the very least make the team if the Cardinals didn’t care about wins and losses. The question is should Winn make the team if you do care about wins and losses.

While Winn has a great defensive reputation and few will doubt he will grow into a great defender, it’s not clear he would currently be a good defender. He didn’t rate well in his 318 innings at the MLB level, but I cannot stress enough how much I ignore this given the sample size. I know OAA is better than UZR, but it’s still unreliable over such a short sample. I would absolutely go with scouting over whatever the numbers say in 318 innings, especially for a rookie who only needs to make a couple of nervous mistakes to look badly by the numbers.

That said, it’s fairly unlikely he’s an elite defender right now. I think a fair assumption would be average right now. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, average is a fair assumption for any unknown defender. Offensively is more uncertain, but Steamer has him with an 89 wRC+. I don’t think this is too crazy. First you have the age - a 21-year-old struggling in his first stint in the majors is not even a story. His K/BB numbers are fairly similar to his AAA K/B numbers. And he had a .252 xwOBA compared to a .211 actual wOBA, so his .196 BABIP was unlucky.

Steamer sees basically a repeat of his MLB K/BB numbers, nearly doubling his power, and with a still below average BABIP at .287. I think I’d take the under on the power, although it is worth pointing out the last time he repeated a level after struggling with power was High A and he went from .095 to .217. He even played in 37 games for his first stint at High A. So he’s certainly capable of doubling his power as he gets more accustomed to the majors. It’s not like a .134 ISO is particularly good.

So average defensive shortstop with an 89 wRC+. We still have to contribute baserunning to the equation. Winn, at least in the minors, was a ridiculously good baserunner. He stole 92 bases to 12 caught stealing, which is an 88% success rate. He is also fast, with a sprint speed of 29.2 feet per second, which ranks 46th out of 582 qualified MLB runners. Just as a cherry on top, he was 0.6 BsR in just 37 games last season despite 2 stolen bases to 1 caught stealing. He will add value on the basepaths.

It’ll be easy to figure out his WAR because Steamer essentially did it for me. The only exception is the baserunning which they appear to ignore. (They have him as basically an an average defender helpfully) They have him at 1.6 WAR per 488 PAs, which is 2 WAR per 600 PAs, which means with +3 baserunning, he’s a +2.3 WAR player. Imagine if he’s actually good at defense right away. The offensive standard is not high at SS.

Okay, you don’t think he’s an 89 wRC+ hitter fair enough. And let’s cool it on the baserunning assumption. Fine. If he’s an average defender, 80 wRC+ hitter, and average runner, he’s a 1.6 WAR player over 600 PAs. I didn’t really expect to talk myself into actually thinking Winn should be on the team, but you really don’t have to do a lot of hoping to see an average player immediately.

Is he entering a situation where he is pushing an established starter out of a starting spot? Yes and no. Tommy Edman moves to CF, pushing Lars Nootbaar to LF and Dylan Carlson to the bench. This is at the very least far less egregious than the Walker situation in my opinion. Tyler O’Neill was in the mix and Dylan Carlson was a much more obvious “should start” than he currently is. And really Alec Burleson had more of an argument to start last year, and so did the nontendered Juan Yepez. Burleson underperformed and I don’t think he should be the guy who makes you keep Winn in AAA.

In all sincerity, I was not really intending to make the case that Winn begin the year on the Opening Day roster, but well there’s a very good case for him to make the Opening Day roster! I would be mildly surprised if Winn has anything worse than an 80 wRC+ from ZiPS and in fact you may be surprised at how good his projection was because I believe the defensive input that the system uses was very high on Winn’s minor league defense.

In fact, we have some evidence he’ll get a good projection from ZiPS. On July 18th, when Winn had a 92 wRC+ on the season, Winn landed on ZiPS biggest projection gainers, rising from a 0.2 WAR projection to 1.5. He ended up with a 108 wRC+ and some MLB time, so I would be surprised if his offensive projection didn’t improve. ZiPS had him as a +8 defender in half a season in AAA. I take that with a grain of salt, but that’s two projection systems that see him as a roughly average player next year.

And this is where that added draft pick incentive comes into play. Carlson is roughly an average player and we hope Burleson can be an average player, so it is reasonable for the tiebreaker to be that Winn exceeding expectations gets the Cardinals a draft pick.

And also there’s a case, though debatable, that MLB time would probably be better for his development than AAA time. I think while Walker would have benefited more defensively from being in AAA, I do actually think his offensive development went faster because he was in the majors. I have no concerns about Winn’s defense. So if the same held true for Winn - and honestly Walker is a vastly better hitting prospect so I’m not going to argue if you say no chance - but if the same held true, you could be helping him reach his offensive ceiling slightly sooner, even if he doesn’t come close to it in 2024.

So, I guess I inadvertently made the case for Winn to make team out of spring. I kind of wonder how people would feel about it if Winn came before Walker. Cause there was overwhelming support for Walker, to the point where I was really dreading having to write an article about why he shouldn’t (never got the chance thanks to VEB prospect votes). Would it be the same for Winn? Maybe it should?