Fast-rising Walker makes Pipeline's Top 100

August 20th, 2021
Paul R. Gierhart/

ST. LOUIS -- The ascension of Jordan Walker has been expected from the Cardinals’ organization ever since it drafted the third baseman 21st overall in 2021. Now, the rest of the baseball world is taking notice.

Walker, who made a momentary cameo in the MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect rankings due to the graduation of former top prospect Wander Franco at the beginning of the month, has skyrocketed up to the No. 63 prospect in baseball, per a re-ranking of prospects released by MLB Pipeline on Wednesday.

Walker was joined by INF Nolan Gorman (No. 25) and LHP Matthew Liberatore (No. 51) as the three Cardinals ranked within the Top 100.

Gorman’s ranking represents yet another ascension, from No. 38 in the last Top 100 rankings up to the top quarter. It follows his 2021 trajectory; Gorman was promoted to Triple-A Memphis in June after blasting 11 homers with an .862 OPS with Double-A Springfield.

Liberatore, though, dropped from his spot at No. 37 to the second half of the Top 100. He’s begun to settle in at Memphis after helping Team USA qualify for the Olympics (despite not flying over to compete), turning the page from his full-season 4.73 ERA now that he’s made the leap to Triple-A despite never pitching in Double-A.

With the announcement of the Top 100 Prospects also came the Top 30 Cardinals Prospects list. After the trio mentioned above, Masyn Winn, a 2020 Draftee, comes in at No. 4, before the intrigue follows.

Outfielder Joshua Baez, taken in the second round of the 2021 Draft, is ranked No. 5, one spot higher than right-hander Michael McGreevy, the Cardinals’ first-round pick this past July. It goes in line with the club’s operating strategy: Baez was signed overslot for $2.25 million; McGreevy was signed underslot for $2.75 million.

Other 2021 Draftees on the new Top 30 list: Competitive Balance B pick Ryan Holgate (outfielder, No. 17), seventh-round pick Alec Willis (right-hander, No. 23) and third-round pick Austin Love (right-hander, No. 24).

One of the more impressive risers, though, is Nick Plummer, who was ranked the Cardinals' No. 30 prospect over the course of this season but has shot up to No. 10. The former first-round pick has completely turned around his trajectory, slashing .277/.389/.460 in 86 games for Double-A Springfield this year.

The one prospect of all to keep an eye on is Walker, however. The 19-year-old is one of the youngest players at the High-A level, thanks to the remarkable 1.162 OPS he put up with Low-A Palm Beach to start the year. The power hasn’t quite come in tow at Peoria, but having already drawn comparisons in prospect pedigree to Albert Pujols and Oscar Taveras, he could keep rising in the rankings -- and quickly.

Momentum for a Molina extension?

Prospect talk revolves around the long-term future look of the Cardinals. So how about their immediate future?

The Athletic reported on Thursday that St. Louis has engaged in contract extension talks with franchise icon Yadier Molina, trying to wrap up a deal before the stretch run of the season gets too far underway. The report included that Molina is looking for a one-year extension in at least the $9 million dollar range that he received for 2021. Molina told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in early August that he was hoping to get something done soon.

The club has not confirmed the report, but manager Mike Shildt said prior to Thursday’s series finale against the Brewers that he hopes the Cardinals bring back their “legacy” catcher for at least one more go-around.

“I'm optimistic something gets done,” Shildt said. “ … Hopefully it works out for both party’s satisfaction and hopefully it gets done soon so it's not anything hanging over him or us, and we can finalize this year and finish strong and have positive memories in the end and be ready to know we got him back for next year.”

Interestingly, backup catcher Andrew Knizner made his fifth start of August on Thursday, catching Jon Lester, as the club institutes as close to a time-share system as they have all season at the backstop position. It’s geared toward giving Molina, who’s dealt with neck and foot injuries this season, some time to breathe and keep him fresh for the final push for an NL Wild Card spot.

Also of note: Ivan Herrera, lauded publicly as the Cardinals' catcher of the future, was ranked as St. Louis' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline on Thursday.