5 Cards prospects primed for a breakout spring

January 11th, 2024

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.

When the Cardinals had 18 players within their organization slated to play in the World Baseball Classic last March, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and manager Oliver Marmol said that the theme for that Spring Training was “opportunity.”

Prized rookie Jordan Walker took full advantage of that opportunity, crafting a spring for the ages that allowed him to make the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. Similarly, shortstop Masyn Winn used the added reps that he got at shortstop to impress the squad’s front-office brass and coaching staff with a string of performances that helped him earn a late-season callup to the Cardinals.

Who among the Cardinals’ 27 non-roster invitees to Spring Training might emerge in February and March and prove themselves ready for the big leagues? Two former first-round picks and three players acquired at the Trade Deadline last August highlight the group of players that the club extended Spring Training invites to on Wednesday.

Here’s a brief look at five non-roster invitees who could make noise in Jupiter, Fla., this spring for the Cardinals:

, center fielder
No player’s stock has risen higher or faster than that of Scott, who tied for the Minor League Baseball lead in stolen bases (94) last season and backed it up with more stellar play in the Arizona Fall League. Center fielder Tommy Edman is coming off arthroscopic right wrist surgery, which could free up a few extra reps for the speedy son of two former college track athletes. If Scott shows an ability to get on base, swipe bases and play Gold Glove defense, he just might sprint his way onto a roster that’s in need of speed and athleticism.

Tekoah Roby, right-handed pitcher
It couldn’t have been easy for the Cardinals to look on last fall when lefty Jordan Montgomery pitched the Rangers to their first World Series title. Softening the blow, however, was the tremendous haul the Cards got in return for Montgomery. Roby and Thomas Saggese have already shown tremendous promise, while John King proved himself to be a reliable lefty out of the Cards’ bullpen down the stretch. The 22-year-old Roby made four starts with Double-A Springfield last fall and fanned 19 batters in 12 innings. That’s the kind of swing-and-miss stuff that the Cardinals are looking for.

Tink Hence, right-handed pitcher
Hence, now 21 years old and 185 pounds, hails from the same 2020 Draft class that produced Walker, Winn and Cards outfielder/designated hitter Alec Burleson. Like Roby, he likely is not ready for the big leagues just yet, but his ability to blow hitters away with raw power and his knee-buckling curveball makes him a wild card to watch. Could Hence’s ability to get punchouts come in handy to the Cards out of the bullpen late in the season?

, infielder
All Saggese did after coming over to the Cards following the Montgomery trade was win the Texas League’s MVP award and nearly capture its Triple Crown. The Carlsbad, Calif., native led the Texas League in OPS (.936), batting average (.318), hits (158), and RBIs (107) while finishing second in slugging, homers and runs scored. Saggese, who plays to honor the memory of his late mother, just might hit his way onto the big league roster.

, left-handed pitcher
The Cardinals will likely still be looking for bullpen help throughout Spring Training, and that very well could be Hjerpe’s path to the big leagues. The first-round pick from 2022’s first pro season was interrupted by arthroscopic surgery in his left elbow, but he did get back in time for the Arizona Fall League and he salvaged the year in a strong way. Hjerpe’s funky delivery could make him a unique lefty specialist. He struck out 15 batters in 8 1/3 innings in the Fall League.