The odds were seemingly against the St. Louis Cardinals early in the regular season, when, after playing just seven games, a coronavirus outbreak on the team's Major League roster resulted in a 17-day layoff. When the Cardinals finally returned to the field, they faced having to play 53 games over the next 44 days, including 11 doubleheaders.
While having to endure a rigorous schedule was in itself an accomplishment for the Cardinals, the fact that they still managed to secure a postseason berth -- the team’s second in as many years -- via a second-place finish in the National League Central, served as testimony to the organization’s longstanding knack for developing Major League-caliber players.
Top prospect Dylan Carlson’s performance after being recalled from the alternate training site should have Cardinals fans excited about the team’s future. One of 18 Cardinals who made his big league debut in 2020, the 22-year-old outfielder is the headliner of a promising group of young hitters that also features third basemen Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker, the club’s respective first-round picks in the 2018 and ’20 Drafts, as well as a fast-rising backstop in 20-year-old Ivan Herrera. They are all still a few years away from being ready for the Majors but possess upside that could make it well worth the wait.
On the mound, lefty Matt Liberatore, the Cardinals' prized return from Tampa Bay in the offseason Randy Arozarena trade, has the look of a front-of-the-rotation starter with his blend of size, stuff and feel. Fellow southpaw Zack Thompson, the club’s first-round pick in 2019, could be part of that rotation one day as well, and the Cardinals have high hopes for 18-year-old Tink Hence, an ultra-projectable right-hander.
And after finishing with a 30-28 record -- the franchise’s 13th consecutive winning season -- the Cardinals are set to make their highest pick (No. 18) in the Draft since 2008, when the club selected Brett Wallace with the No. 13 pick.
FARM SYSTEM RANKINGS
2020 Midseason: 18 | Preseason: 18
2019 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2018 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2017 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2016 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2015 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
Only the top 10 systems were ranked from 2015 to 2019 preseason; the top 15 systems were ranked 2019 midseason.
Trade: Matt Liberatore, LHP (No. 3); Edgardo Rodriguez, C
The Cardinals made the most of their seven picks in this year’s abbreviated Draft, nabbing six players from MLB Pipeline’s Draft 200 list, including four ranked in the Top 100. Five of those players now rank among the organization’s Top 30 prospects, with Walker, Winn, and Hence all landing in the Top 10. The offseason trade that sent Randy Arozarena and José Martínez to Tampa Bay netted St. Louis Liberatore, MLB Pipeline’s sixth-best left-handed pitching prospect, and Rodriguez, a 19-year-old catcher who can really impact the baseball.
2021 IMPACT PROSPECT
Dylan Carlson, OF: Though he was demoted to the Cardinals’ alternate training site after a .162/.215/.243 showing across his first 23 big league games, Carlson looked every bit the part of a top prospect when he returned two weeks later and batted .286 with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs over his final 11 regular-season contests. The switch-hitter then posted a 1.016 OPS as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter against San Diego in the Wild Card Series, offering a glimpse of what could come in a full rookie campaign.
2022 TOP PROSPECT
Nolan Gorman, 3B: The 2018 first-round pick smashed 17 homers while reaching full-season ball in his pro debut but endured a challenging first full season in ’19, albeit while still hitting 15 home runs and spending the second half as a 19-year-old in the pitcher-friendly Class A Advanced Florida State League. Gorman did manage the strike zone better this summer at the alternate training site, though it was his improvement defensively at the hot corner which impressed club officials the most.
Hit: Dylan Carlson
Power: Nolan Gorman
Run: Tre Fletcher
Arm: Masyn Winn
Field: Julio Rodriguez
Best athlete: Masyn Winn
Fastball: Edwin Nuñez
Curveball: Matt Liberatore
Slider: Seth Elledge
Changeup: Junior Fernández
Control: Tommy Parsons
How the Top 30 Was Built
Draft picks account for nearly half of the Cardinals’ mostly homegrown Top 30 list, including nine players taken by the club in the past two years. The Ivan Herrera-led group of seven former international signees within the top 16 spots on the list reflects the organization’s ability to find and develop young players. The Cardinals also have netted a pair of top 10 prospects via trades, with Liberatore’s acquisition last offseason the most notable.
Top 30 by Position
The hot corner is a clear strength in the system, with Nolan Gorman, Jordan Walker and Elehuris Montero (No. 8) all ranking among the club’s Top 10 prospects, and Malcom Nunez (No. 16) falling just outside the top half. The tandem of Liberatore and Thompson represents another bright spot for the Cardinals, who have struggled to produce left-handed pitchers in recent years, while Carlson and the organization’s other toolsy outfielders should continue to give St. Louis plenty of options at the Major League level.