Cardinals boast 5 on Top 100 prospects list
This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
While recently discussing his franchise’s acquisition of catcher Willson Contreras via free agency, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the biggest relief of all was that the organization didn’t have to unload any of the marquee young players in the farm system to better the Major League roster.
With young stars such as outfielder Jordan Walker and hard-throwing right-hander Gordon Graceffo likely to make strong pushes for the Opening Day roster this spring and several other elite players not far behind, the future looks bright for a Cardinals franchise that takes pride in utilizing its “draft-and-develop” strategy to maintain success. The Cardinals have had 15 consecutive winning seasons -- a stretch in which they won the 2011 World Series, reached the NLCS three times and won their division in six instances -- largely because of their ability to replenish the roster with dynamic young talent from their system.
MLB Pipeline agrees that the Cardinals have one of baseball’s best farm systems, with five players listed in its new Top 100 prospect rankings, which were released on Thursday. Walker, the 20-year-old sensation who was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and will be given every opportunity to make the MLB squad, leads the way as the No. 4 prospect in baseball. Masyn Winn, the vastly improved hitter with a dynamic throwing arm from shortstop, is No. 50. Electric right-hander Tink Hence, who will likely start the 2023 season at High-A Peoria, is ranked No. 77, while Graceffo is No. 79. Alec Burleson, who got a September MLB callup, is ranked at No. 91.
Only the Orioles (eight), Dodgers (seven), Guardians (seven) and Rangers (six) have more Top 100 prospects than the Cardinals. The Braves, World Series champions in 2021 largely because of the major injections of talent from their farm system, are the only MLB squad without a Top 100 prospect this year.
Walker, a converted outfielder who has bulked up to 250 pounds, is the prize of the Cardinals' organization, and he could be in St. Louis in late March when the team breaks Spring Training. Though he’s just 20, Walker has a mental and physical maturity that already has the Cards dreaming of him playing right field and hitting in the middle of the order for the next decade.
Walker put together a spectacular season at Double-A Springfield and then continued to open eyes with more stellar play in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll battle Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill for a starting job in the outfield, and he could very well land a spot if he continues to thrive in Spring Training.
A fan favorite during the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up festivities, Walker visited the playing surface at Busch Stadium to remind himself of his goal for this spring.
“I got a chance to take a long look, and it really is giving me that push,” Walker said. “I’m ready to get going, I’m ready to try and make the team, and just being here gives me that extra drive to try and make it. I’m ready to do it for St. Louis.”
Like Walker, Graceffo heads to Spring Training with the Majors seemingly within reach. He’s bulked up to the 230 pounds the Cardinals asked for, and he could provide the swing-and-miss ability the pitching staff needs.
“I saw the benefits [of the added muscle] last year -- I went home at 210 and came back at 230 -- and putting on that good weight made me more athletic, and it helped me gain velocity,” said Graceffo, who opened eyes last spring with some surprising velocity and success against some of the Cardinals' top hitters in an impromptu live BP session. “I’m working on adding a few more ticks on the [velocity]. It helps to throw harder when you get into a jam. It’s something that can set you apart.”