How 5 top Cards prospects stack up for '22

December 17th, 2021

The New Year is almost upon us, and with it comes a time of both reflection and lookahead. The Cardinals’ Minor League system in 2021 featured a bevy of takeaways. The team results, near the bottom across several statistical categories, left much to be desired. But up and down the system, not just positive but wholly impressive showings were turned in by select top prospects, several of whom could be knocking on the door of a big league callup.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the seasons put together by a core of the Cardinals’ top prospects and preview what their respective 2022 campaigns might look like.

Nolan Gorman (No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline)
End of 2021: Triple-A Memphis
Projected start of 2022: Triple-A Memphis

The power that Gorman has long displayed followed him into 2021 after the lost season a year prior, blasting 25 homers in 119 games across Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, as well as one more in his injury-stunted Arizona Fall League slate. But most important about his development is that he earned rave reviews in his shift to second base -- work that began last offseason with the acquisition of Nolan Arenado. There remains a solid opening for Gorman, the No. 24 prospect in baseball, in the big leagues at second next season or at the designated hitter spot should one be introduced to the National League, especially with his left-handed bat. It’s the Cardinals’ decision whether that promotion comes to open the year or at some point further down the line.

Matthew Liberatore (No. 2)
End of 2021: Triple-A Memphis
Projected start of 2022: Triple-A Memphis

The story of Liberatore’s 2021 season is not told well by the raw numbers, though his 4.04 ERA across 22 outings (18 starts) at the offense-happy Triple-A level are respectable. But the lefty, ranked the No. 47 prospect in baseball, turned in a 2.55 ERA across his final nine outings, with 53 strikeouts against 14 walks and an opponent OPS of .648. He profiles to make his long awaited MLB debut in 2022, likely in the latter portion of the year. Should that occur, the fruits of the big trade with the Rays will finally arrive in St. Louis, lofty expectations in tow.

Jordan Walker (No. 3)
End of 2021: High-A Peoria
Projected start of 2022: Double-A Springfield

The raw tools possessed by Walker have earned him comparison from within the organization to Albert Pujols and the late Oscar Taveras. The numbers he put up in his first professional season merely reaffirm that belief. Walker, baseball’s No. 57 prospect, slashed .317/.388/.548 with 43 extra-base hits across 82 games for Low-A Palm Beach and High-A Peoria -- the latter of which he was one of the youngest players at the level at 19 years old. The Cardinals may want to start him to at High-A to get his feet wet again, but should the organization want to move along his development, a spot on the Double-A Springfield club is the best bet.

Zack Thompson (No. 8)
End of 2021: Triple-A Memphis
Projected start of 2022: Big league bullpen?

The Arizona Fall League is a spot for some of the top young talent in baseball to square off. For others, it’s a chance to get added game action and refine adjustments made over the course of the 2021 season. Count Thompson among that second group. The left-hander, off a brutal 2021 with Triple-A Memphis, turned in a 1.56 ERA across nine appearances (17 1/3 innings) in Arizona, though a walk rate that proved tenuous in the regular season followed him. The club’s 2019 first-round Draft pick appears closest to the Majors of some other young pitchers. Might that come as a bullpen arm if he excels in Spring Training?

Alec Burleson (No. 11)
End of 2021: Triple-A Memphis
Projected start of 2022: Triple-A Memphis

Perhaps the most surging yet under-the-radar prospect in the Cardinals’ system, Burleson stormed from High-A Peoria all the way to Triple-A Memphis in his first professional season, slashing .270/.329/.454 along the way. The 23-year-old hit a rut at Triple-A, but his overall emergence as a left-handed-hitting outfielder made it so the Cardinals could move on from former top Draft pick Nick Plummer and allow him to sign a big league deal with the Mets. Burleson tracks to try and build on his 2021 season starting at Triple-A unless the club elects to allow him to reset with Double-A Springfield to open the year.