MESA, Ariz. – When the Cardinals organized a group of players to undergo further seasoning during the 2022 iteration of the Arizona Fall League, they sent talent in droves. The triumvirate of Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Mike Antico all put their wide-ranging skill sets on display for Salt River during a 4-3 extra-inning defeat to Mesa at Sloan Park on Thursday night.
Walker was again the center of attention, as has been the case for most of the fall circuit. He jump-started the offense with a resounding double that nearly cleared the fence in straightaway center in the first, before ripping an RBI single to left in the fifth. Through 18 games, St. Louis’ No. 1 prospect is tied for the league lead with five roundtrippers and has slashed .299/.364/.597 with 10 of his 20 hits going for extra bases.
“It’s the power and the arm strength, that’s what shows up every day,” Rafters manager Warren Schaeffer said of Walker. “The hit tool is there too, but the power stands out more.”
Salt River played the first half of its AFL schedule at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the lone AFL ballpark equipped with comprehensive Statcast data. In that time, Walker was an anomaly that made the hardest-tracked throw of any Cardinals outfielder since 2015, recorded four of the five hardest-hit balls and swatted two tape-measure shots that went north of 420 feet.
“I’m just going to focus on hitting the ball hard,” Walker said earlier in the AFL when asked about his preternatural gift to produce eye-popping output. But he did concede, “It’s definitely fun.”
Walker, MLB’s No. 6 overall prospect and the highest-ranked player in attendance at the Fall League, is coming off having spent his entire age-20 campaign at Double-A. Once he got his average above .300 during play April 15, he fell below the mark at the conclusion of an outing just five times. Not once all year did he face a younger hurler and yet he still posted an .898 OPS.
The other member of the Salt River lineup to collect a multihit performance Thursday was leadoff man Winn, the Cardinals’ No. 2 prospect. Upping his Fall League average to .327, the club’s second-round pick from the 2020 Draft ripped a single to kick off a rally in the fifth. He would come around to score on Walker’s knock, illuminating the duo’s potential offensive potency.
“It’s a crazy one-two combo,” Winn said of himself and Walker during AFL Media Day. “It's been a lot of fun playing with him.”
Highly regarded as a pitcher as well as an infielder during his high school days, Winn boasts a rare full 80-grade arm per MLB Pipeline. He put himself on the national map with a 100.5 mph throw from short during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game over the summer, but he also collected 56 extra-base hits and 43 steals across 119 games with High-A Peoria and Double-A Springfield.
“He gets on base, he steals bases, he’s a big-time threat when you get him on the basepaths,” Schaeffer said of Winn. “He’s a spark plug, he makes things go.”
Also a part of that Springfield group over the final three months was Antico, who got all of his third AFL homer in the sixth. The dynamic center fielder -- who finished tied for sixth in the Minors with 67 stolen bases during the regular season -- brought his OPS up to .963 with Salt River. Both Winn (eight) and Antico (seven) swiped a bag Thursday as well, putting them second and third, respectively, on the club.
Schaeffer cited the Cardinals’ trio as part of his club’s leadership during their time together in the AFL. Unlike many of their compatriots that are making up for lost time by garnering at-bats deep into the fall, Walker, Winn and Antico are putting the finishing touches on full, impressive seasons. All three boast outgoing personalities that are befitting of the success they’ve enjoyed during their time with Salt River as they look to utilize their time as a springboard toward St. Louis.