With all eight of the players the Cardinals sent to the 2021 Arizona Fall League -- Jordan Hicks, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Andre Pallante, Zack Thompson and Jake Walsh -- making it onto the 2022 MLB roster, one can only wonder how many future stars from this fall will arrive in St. Louis in 2023.
Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, two 20-year-olds who have lived up to the hype as the top two players in the Cardinals system, per MLB Pipeline, continue to churn out highlights almost nightly in the Arizona Fall League. Could their overwhelming momentum carry over into Spring Training and allow them to skip Triple-A altogether and make the leap to the big leagues? Could Connor Thomas’ tremendous growth -- he recently authored the first double-digit strikeout game in the AFL in six seasons -- help the 5-foot-11 left-hander make the jump to the big leagues?
With those questions in mind, here are some players in the Cardinals' system who deserve to be closely watched this fall and into the spring.
3 players who forced their way onto the radar this season
3B/OF Jordan Walker (Cardinals' No. 1, No. 6 overall)
Walker slashed .306/.388/.510 (.898 OPS) this season in 119 games with Double-A Springfield, collecting 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, 31 doubles and three triples. He bulked up to an impressive 250 pounds while retaining the agility to play the outfield, the position he moved to in hopes of getting to the big leagues sooner. Walker does need to improve upon his 10.8% walk rate and his 21.6% strikeout rate after walking (58) half as many times as striking out (116) in 2022.
SS Masyn Winn (No. 2, No. 51 overall)
Winn teamed with Walker to give Double-A Springfield a powerful one-two punch this past season. After being promoted from High-A Peoria, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Winn slashed .258/.349/.432 (.781 OPS) in 86 games with Springfield. He collected 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, 25 doubles and one triple in Double-A. Winn also flashed the kind of dynamic speed that makes him a five-tool prospect by stealing 28 bases in 33 attempts.
OF Moises Gómez (No. 30)
Gómez split time at Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis and ended up with 39 home runs and 94 RBIs in 120 games. In Double-A, the 24-year-old slugger from Venezuela hit .321 with a 1.106 OPS, and Gómez went on to hit .266 with an .881 OPS when he was promoted to Triple-A. Of issue is the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder’s swinging strike rate and his whiff numbers. Gómez struck out (174) more than three times as many times as he walked (52) this season, but the Cardinals have gotten him to get rid of the leg kick he’s used for years in hopes of him making better contact. The Cardinals might have to give Gómez a look this spring based off their lack of pop from the corner outfield slots last season.
2 possible breakout players to watch in 2023
RHP Tink Hence (No. 6, No. 91 overall)
Hence was impressive in his final outing of the season with Single-A Palm Beach. Facing the St. Lucie Mets in a must-win playoff game, the 20-year-old started and threw four scoreless innings -- his fourth consecutive shutout performance late in the season. Purposefully limited to just 52 1/3 innings, Hence compiled a stellar 1.38 ERA while striking out 81 hitters.
LHP Connor Thomas (No. 24)
Thomas, who had a 5.47 ERA this past season at Triple-A Memphis, has looked great in the Arizona Fall League by greatly improving his slider/cutter/fastball mix. Despite modest strikeout numbers (8.6 K/9 in 2021 and 7.3 K/9 in '22) over the last two seasons, he has fanned 17 over his first 12 2/3 innings in the AFL. He hopes to have a better changeup by spring -- something that could help him contend for an MLB roster spot.
1 big question for next season
With the Cardinals in tremendous need of more pop out of their corner outfielders and stability at shortstop, will Walker and Winn make strong Spring Training pushes to be on the Opening Day roster?
With this past Thursday being the 40th anniversary of the Cardinals' Game 7 victory over the Brewers to win the 1982 World Series, it’s a good time to look back on the path that St. Louis squad took to get to the World Series.
That Cardinals team famously hit just 67 home runs while stealing 200 bases and mashing 239 doubles and 52 triples. How many double-digit home run hitters did the 1982 Cardinals have?
WHITEY HERZOG REMEMBERS BRUCE SUTTER
Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter, who was back at Busch Stadium as recently as Opening Day in April, passed away last Friday near his home in Cartersville, Ga. The 69-year-old Sutter died just six days shy of the 40th anniversary of him striking out Gorman Thomas to win Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. The irony, of course, was that Sutter, a player who built his Hall of Fame career on his pioneering of the split-fingered fastball, used an 80-something-mph tailing fastball to strike out one of the game’s most feared power hitters at the time.
Whitey Herzog, who constructed the Cardinals' ’82 World Series roster, was the mastermind behind trading slugger Leon Durham, third baseman Ken Reitz and player-to-be-named-later Ty Waller to the Cubs for Sutter. Over a hectic two-day stretch in 1980, Herzog made a flurry of moves by trading away 14 players and acquiring 11, including Hall of Fame closers Rollie Fingers and Sutter on back-to-back days. How Herzog chose which closer to keep and which to trade away came down to a chance conversation in 1981.
“I didn’t know if I could make that [Sutter] deal with the Cubs because they wanted [Tommy] Herr, and I wasn’t going to trade away Tommy,” Herzog remembered. “I had Terry Pendleton coming in the Minors, but we also had [Ken Oberkfell], who I wanted to switch from second to third because of an injury, and he was a really good ballplayer and a contact hitter.
“Jack McKeon, who was the general manager in San Diego at the time, wanted [catcher Terry] Kennedy, and I was able to get Rollie Fingers,” Herzog continued. “Rollie came to the Winter Meetings to pick up his Rolaids [Relief Man] Award, and I got to talk to him. I said, ‘Rollie, if we’ve got the tying run or winning on second and a left-hander up, and I brought in Bruce Sutter to get him out with that split-finger, would you be mad about that?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I would be.’ So I told him, ‘Well, I don’t want to get into that situation, and I’m going to have to trade you.’ A week later, I offered Milwaukee three good players -- Fingers, [Ted] Simmons and [Pete] Vuckovich -- for David Green [and three other players], and two years later, we wind up playing them in the World Series.”
Herzog considered Sutter to be one of the most selfless and stellar players he ever managed, telling numerous stories about the closer being willing to go multiple innings for the good of the ballclub. Herzog thinks of Sutter as being one of the great pioneers of the closer position.
“I consider Bruce to be the most dominant relief pitcher in the history of the game,” Herzog said candidly.
Yadier Molina, a career Cardinal who spent the past 19 seasons behind the plate in St. Louis, said it meant a lot to him to not make the final out of the team’s Game 2 loss to the Phillies in the Wild Card Series.
That was a distinct possibility when Molina -- who grounded out to end Game 1 -- came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2. As he’s done so many times before, Molina served the ball out into right field to keep the rally alive. Here is a look back to Molina’s single in the final at-bat of his career.
George Hendrick (19) and Darrell Porter (12) were the only players with double-digit home runs on the 1982 Cardinals. Lonnie Smith (eight), Keith Hernandez (seven) and Gene Tenace (seven) were the only other players close to hitting double-digit home runs that season.
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