2021 St. Louis Cardinals Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
While some teams took advantage of the trade deadline to add stars (Yankees, Dodgers) and others traded away almost every star they had (Cubs, Nationals), the Cardinals largely remained static.
They did make a few minor moves—outfielder Lane Thomas was sent to Washington for lefthander Jon Lester and lefthander J.A. Happ was acquired for lefthanded reliever Evan Sisk. But considering Lester and Happ’s 2021 seasons so far, neither of these moves can be described as more than acquiring useful depth.
So the Cardinals headed into August in the same position as they left the all-star break. They are better than the worst teams of the National League Central (Pirates and Cubs) by a large margin. But they also seem significantly weaker than the division-leading Brewers.
The Cardinals have had only one losing season in the 21st century. Most every season the club has considered itself a playoff lock and, in its best years, a World Series contender. That is not true this year.
Injuries to Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas have left the rotation weakened. The offense has struggled to score runs. Overall, St. Louis has looked like a .500 team all season and has generally hovered right around the break-even mark.
A team with Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt manning the corners of the infield has a solid foundation for 2022, and the return of Hudson, Flaherty and Mikolas could stabilize the rotation. But the Cardinals will have to do a better job of self-evaluation. Rangers all-star outfielder Adolis Garcia joins Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena and Yankees first baseman Luke Voit among the list of the ones who got away from the Cardinals.
St. Louis has not had much success in wins and losses in the minors this year, but the strong debuts of Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn and the resurgence of prospects like Nick Plummer and Delvin Perez have provided some highlights down on the farm.
1. Matthew Liberatore, LHP
Age: 21. Team: Triple-A Memphis
Liberatore’s low-90s velocity generally keeps him from being overpowering, but his advanced feel, solid secondaries and good-enough fastball have helped him quickly climb the ladder. He has been well-traveled this year, with a stint with USA Baseball and an appearance in the Futures Game.
2. Jordan Walker, 3B
Age: 19. Team: High-A Peoria
Walker has some of the loudest tools in the minors and a solid understanding of the game as well. Front offices covet hitters who can post exceptional peak exit velocities. Just 34 MLB hitters have hit a ball 116 mph in a game since 2019. Walker did it in his first month in Low-A. He’s also shown a plus arm at third base and a relatively advanced feel for hitting.
3. Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B
Age: 21. Team: Triple-A Memphis
Gorman has embraced the challenge of learning a new position—a necessary move with Nolan Arenado now installed at third base in St. Louis. He still needs to get more comfortable with his footwork around the bag, but he’s showing he’s playable there already. In the second half of the season he’s likely to play more second than third with Triple-A Memphis.
4. Michael McGreevy, RHP
Age: 21. Team: FCL Cardinals
NEW McGreevy’s plus-plus control gives him a chance to move quickly through the lower levels of pro ball. If he can build some more velocity and improve the quality of his breaking ball, he could become a very interesting mid-rotation starter.
5. Ivan Herrera, C
Age: 21. Team: Double-A Springfield
Herrera has made steady improvement defensively, but this year that defensive improvement has been balanced by the first extended offensive struggles of his young career. Herrera got off to a fast start, but he’s been prone to passivity at the plate during a two-month slump. Defensively, Herrera needs to continue to work on improving his hands, as he’ll box balls at times.
6. Masyn Winn, SS
Age: 19. Team: High-A Peoria
Winn has maybe the best arm of any shortstop in pro ball, period. Offensively, he has been one of the better hitters in the Low-A Southeast since June and earned a promotion to High-A. Now, he and the Cardinals are working to figure out how to get him some work on the mound as well in order to keep his and the team’s dream of a two-way player alive.
7. Joshua Baez, OF
Age: 18. Team: TBA
NEW By drafting Baez after McGreevy, the Cardinals were able to get a blend of low risk (McGreevy) and high ceiling (Baez). Baez has a chance to be a plus defender in a corner-outfield spot with a plus-plus arm and plus-plus power potential. How much contact he can generate to get to that power is the question he’ll have to answer over the next few years.
8. Edwin Nuñez, RHP
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Palm Beach
The Cardinals knew they were giving Nuñez a massive challenge when they sent the 18-year-old to Low-A to begin his first pro season. In May and part of June, he seemed massively overmatched. His ERA reached 18.00 in his 10th appearance of the season. Since then, he’s posted a 2.13 ERA in nine appearances. Nuñez’s stuff is as good as was advertised. He’s touched 100 mph with his fastball and his high-spin slider (2,900 rpm) can get swings and misses.
9. Malcom Nunez, OF
Age: 20. Team: Double-A Springfield.
Nuñez came into 2021 having only had a brief 2019 cameo appearance in Low-A. He handled a jump to High-A by hitting his way quickly out of the league. Nuñez is one of the best pure hitters in the Cardinals’ system
10. Zack Thompson, LHP
Age: 23. Team: Triple-A Memphis
It’s been a very rough season for Thompson so far. His arm speed and velocity are down, and his results have suffered. Thompson’s control has always been shaky, but the combination of below-average control and below-average stuff means he’s been extremely hittable as hitters get into favorable counts. The Cardinals and Thompson have to hope that his stuff ticks back up.
11. Tink Hence, RHP
12. Angel Rondon, RHP
13. Justin Williams, OF
14. Delvin Perez, SS
NEW Early in his pro career, Perez lacked the physicality he needed to do anything with the ball when he made contact. But as he’s gotten older, he’s finally started to fill out, which has meant he’s now hitting line drives in front of and between the outfielders rather than at the infielders. Perez’s improved offense pairs with above-average defense at shortstop. He has a shot to be an Edmundo Sosa type for the Cardinals down the road.
15. Brendan Donovan, 2B/3B
NEW A seventh-round pick out of South Alabama in 2018, Donovan has hit his way into prospect status. He’s got a fringy glove, but he’s fringy at multiple positions (second base, third base and left field). His ability to spray the ball around the field and yank a mistake pitch over the fence has helped him hit .305/.411/.446 this year between High-A and Double-A.
16. Julio Rodriguez, C
17. Jhon Torres, OF
18. Alec Burleson, OF
19. Ryan Holgate, OF
NEW Holgate’s all-fields power gives him a shot to be an everyday left fielder in the big leagues if his hit tool comes along to match his juice. He’s similar to Alec Burleson, whom the Cardinals drafted in the second round in 2020.
20. Austin Love, RHP
NEW Love really emerged in 2021. The North Carolina righthander improved his slider and sharpened his 92-97 mph fastball, giving him a shot to be a starter in pro ball, where before many scouts saw him as a reliever.
21. Tre Fletcher, OF
22. Alec Willis, RHP
NEW A pop-up prospect in 2021 whom the Cardinals swayed away from Minnesota with a $1 million bonus, Willis has projectability to go with an already impressive low-90s fastball and a potentially plus slider.
23. Jake Walsh, RHP
NEW Keeping Walsh healthy has been an issue, but when Walsh pitches, he’s extremely effective. Walsh can run his fastball up to 95-97 mph and when he’s locating it, he can blow hitters away with just the heater. He also has a curve that sometimes is big but can sharpen to become a swing-and-miss pitch.
24. Jose Davila, RHP
NEW The Cardinals have a tendency to send a number of players ticketed for the Florida Complex League to Low-A to get a month of acclimation at a higher level before they head back down. Davila, a 6-foot-3, 18-year-old righthander, wasn’t really ready for Low-A, but he showed why the Cardinals are excited about his potential. He can touch 95 mph already, sits 92-93 and spins a promising curve. He has starter traits.
25. Dionys Rodriguez, RHP
NEW The Cardinals just moved Rodriguez from Low-A Palm Beach’s bullpen to its rotation. He earned that shot by striking out 27 of the 69 batters he faced (14.9 K/9) and allowing just 16 baserunners in 16.1 innings in June in the Palm Beach bullpen. Rodriguez has touched 97 mph as a reliever and sits 92-94 mph as a starter. He mixes a cutter and slider to go with his fastball, showing advanced control of his cutter for his age.
26. Carlos Carmona, OF
NEW Carmona just made his pro debut with the Cardinals' Dominican Summer League team, but he’s one to watch as a center fielder with an advanced approach at the plate and a shot to stay in center field. His hitting ability is ahead of his power for now, but he should grow into more extra-base pop.
27. Nick Plummer, OF
NEW Plummer had steadily edged from first-round pick to org player status over the past six years. But he has reworked his swing to keep it in the zone longer and has taken away a big step that led to timing issues. The results have been the best year of his pro career and one that makes an MLB future once again plausible.
28. Levi Prater, LHP
29. Freddy Pacheco, RHP
NEW Pacheco, a 23-year-old, 5-foot-11 righthander, needs to improve his below-average control. But if he can get to even fringe-average control, his ability to get swings and misses up with his fastball and hard, slurvy breaking ball (it varies between curve and slider shape and depth) gives him the weapons to help in a big league bullpen. He was just promoted to Double-A Springfield after striking out 16.3 batters per nine innings at High-A Peoria, and opposing hitters hit just .182 against him. But he had a 5.17 ERA at High-A thanks to 5.7 BB/9 and five home runs allowed. While his fastball does get whiffs, it also can be crushed if he doesn’t locate it well.
30. Luken Baker, 1B
30 MLB Prospects Who Improved Their Stock In 2021
Here are 30 players—one from each organization—who really improved their stock in 2021.
OF Nick Plummer reworked his swing, toned down some of the noise in his setup and stance and found his first extended string of success in his seven-year pro career. He’s already equalled his career high in hits (69) and set a career high in home runs (10). Before this year, he’d never posted a .750 OPS in a season. This year, he’s posting an OPS over .900.
Even when his bat was struggling, SS Delvin Perez had the glove to at least contribute to a team’s success. Now he’s gotten stronger and it’s paying off with the best offensive production of his career. Perez seems likely to at least be a utility infielder in the majors, if not more.
LHP Zack Thompson has long needed to refine his control, but in 2021, his stuff has taken two steps backward, turning him into one of the most hittable pitchers in Triple-A East. His fastball has at times dipped into the upper 80s. It does not generate swings and misses, and hitters are teeing off against it to the tune of a .360/.459/.604 slash line. The lost arm speed means his once-dominant slider now is a low-80s pitch without much bite or depth.
RHP Alvaro Seijas was struggling to throw strikes well before he went on the injured list with an arm injury. Before he was shut down, he had walked 21 batters in just 13.1 innings.
OF Dylan Carlson has been a fixture in the big league lineup all season. He hasn’t been spectacular, but the 22-year-old switch-hitter has not looked overmatched.
SS Edmundo Sosa has been the Cardinals’ primary backup at shortstop and second base while also filling in at third base and in center field.
LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim has proven to be one of the Cardinals’ most astute free agent signings in years. With an injury-ravaged starting rotation, it’s Kim’s steadiness that has provided needed consistency.
RHP Junior Fernandez has yo-yo’d back and forth between Triple-A and the majors as a reliever.
RHP Johan Oviedo’s control needs to improve if he’s going to be a long-term part of the Cardinals' rotation, but he has shown he has a shot of being around for years.
RHP Jake Woodford has moved from the Cardinals' bullpen to the starting rotation recently.
C Julio Rodriguez missed the first half of the season recovering from a wrist injury. He has recently returned to the Double-A Springfield roster.
RHP Ian Bedell made only two appearances this year. He suffered a torn UCL in his pitching elbow and needed Tommy John surgery that will sideline him until some point in 2022.
RHP Kodi Whitley missed close to a month thanks to back spasms.
RHP Alvaro Seijas left a June 29 outing with a sore arm and has been on the injured list ever since.