With all eight of the players the Cardinals sent to the 2021 Arizona Fall League -- Jordan Hicks, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Andre Pallante, Zack Thompson and Jake Walsh -- making it onto the 2022 MLB roster, one can only wonder how many future stars from this fall will arrive in St. Louis in 2023.
Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, two 20-year-olds who have lived up to the hype as the top two players in the Cardinals' system, per MLB Pipeline, continue to churn out highlights almost nightly in the Arizona Fall League. Could their overwhelming momentum carry over into Spring Training and allow them to skip Triple-A altogether and make the leap to the big leagues? Could Connor Thomas’ tremendous growth -- he recently authored the first double-digit strikeout game in the AFL in six seasons -- help the 5-foot-11 left-hander make the jump to the Majors?
With those questions in mind, here are some players in the Cardinals' system who deserve to be closely watched this fall and into the spring.
3 players who forced their way onto the radar this season
3B/OF Jordan Walker (Cardinals' No. 1, No. 6 overall)
Walker slashed .306/.388/.510 (.898 OPS) this season in 119 games with Double-A Springfield, collecting 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, 31 doubles and three triples. He bulked up to an impressive 250 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame while retaining the agility to play the outfield, the position he moved to in hopes of getting to the big leagues sooner. Walker does need to improve upon his 10.8% walk rate and his 21.6% strikeout rate after walking (58) half as many times as striking out (116) in 2022.
SS Masyn Winn (No. 2, No. 51 overall)
Winn teamed with Walker to give Double-A Springfield a powerful one-two punch this past season. After being promoted from High-A Peoria, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Winn slashed .258/.349/.432 (.781 OPS) in 86 games with Springfield. He collected 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, 25 doubles and one triple in Double-A. Winn also flashed the kind of dynamic speed that makes him a five-tool prospect by stealing 28 bases in 33 attempts.
OF Moisés Gómez (No. 30)
Gómez split time at Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis and ended up with 39 home runs and 94 RBIs in 120 games. In Double-A, the 24-year-old slugger from Venezuela hit .321 with a 1.106 OPS, and he went on to hit .266 with an .881 OPS when he was promoted to Triple-A. Of issue is the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder’s swinging strike rate and his whiff numbers. Gómez had three times as many strikeouts (174) as he had walks (52) this season, but the Cardinals have gotten him to get rid of the leg kick he’s used for years in hopes of him making better contact. St. Louis might have to give Gómez a look this spring due to its lack of pop from the corner outfield slots last season.
2 possible breakout players to watch in 2023
RHP Tink Hence (No. 6, No. 91 overall)
Hence was impressive in his final outing of the season with Single-A Palm Beach. Facing the St. Lucie Mets in a must-win playoff game, the 20-year-old started and threw four scoreless innings -- his fourth consecutive shutout performance late in the season. Purposefully limited to just 52 1/3 innings, Hence compiled a stellar 1.38 ERA while striking out 81 hitters.
LHP Connor Thomas (No. 24)
Thomas, who had a 5.47 ERA this past season at Triple-A Memphis, has looked great in the Arizona Fall League by greatly improving his slider/cutter/fastball mix. Despite modest strikeout numbers (8.6 K/9 in 2021 and 7.3 K/9 in '22) over the last two seasons, he has fanned 17 over his first 12 2/3 innings in the AFL. He hopes to have a better changeup by spring -- something that could help him contend for an MLB roster spot.
1 big question for next season
With the Cardinals in tremendous need of more pop out of their corner outfielders and stability at shortstop, will Walker and Winn make strong Spring Training pushes to be on the Opening Day roster?