The St. Louis Cardinals are consistently good. They’ve had one losing record this century (2007, 78-84). A large part of that continued success is they draft and develop players well. While the pitching in the minors isn’t great with a couple of exceptions, they have a few serious bats that will contribute at the major league level within the next year. They also have an intriguing two-way prospect who will be worth monitoring as he develops and rises through the system. Let’s take a look at the Cardinals’ top 5 prospects.
Make sure to check out all of our other MLB Team Top Prospects.
#1 – Dylan Carlson – OF
Carlson doesn’t have a weakness in his game. His minor league stats didn’t look all that impressive in his first couple of years of pro ball, but Carlson has been playing older competition since 2016 as a 17-year-old. In 2019, he broke out and showed off his excellent power-speed combo, blasting 26 HRs and swiping 20 bags in 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He has excellent pitch recognition and also some natural loft to his left-handed swing. While he doesn’t get as much from the right side of the plate, he can certainly barrel a few up.
Ranked number 13 on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects for 2021, Carlson will be the starting right fielder this year for the Cardinals. While his defense is above average and his speed plays in centerfield, St. Louis has gold-glove-caliber Harrison Bader there right now. Carlson will have time this year to ease into a starting role after his cup of coffee last season. He won’t be asked to play center and won’t be tasked with being the primary run producer for the Cardinals with Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt there. This could be a big year for the switch-hitter from Elk Grove, California. Don’t be surprised if he is the National League Rookie of the Year when the season ends.
#2 – Nolan Gorman – 3B
The most powerful prepster in the 2018 draft was selected with the 19th pick by the Cardinals. Gorman immediately jumped into pro ball and hit 17 HRs in 63 games in 2018. The following year was a little tougher, but Gorman still managed 15 bombs and 30 doubles in 125 games. The power is obviously not a problem, the strikeouts are. While he has been playing older competition, the Cardinals slugger is still striking out at nearly 30 percent and he hasn’t even hit Double-A yet. Gorman doesn’t have to sell out for power as his quick wrists and bat speed produce enough naturally. He will have to make more contact as he moves up the ranks.
Defensively, Gorman has improved. He is also working with infield guru Jose Oquendo at second base this spring to open up a path to major league playing time. The early returns are that he looks athletic enough to improve moving left and right. Gorman has always had soft hands and a very good arm. If he improves his lateral movement, there is no reason he can’t stick at second base. Expect to see Gorman up in 2022.
#3 – Matthew Liberatore – LHP
Liberatore was drafted 16th overall in 2018 by the Tampa Bay Rays. After being traded to the Cardinals for Randy Arozarena in January of 2020, the tall lefty gets to work in camp with childhood friend Gorman. Liberatore pitched well for the Rays as an 18-year-old in 2018 with a 1.38 ERA and 37 K’s in 32.2 IP. In 2019 he pitched for Bowling Green (A-ball) and looked very good with a 3.10 ERA and 76 K’s in 78.1 IP. He also keeps the ball in the yard having allowed just two home runs in his 111 innings of minor league work.
Liberatore has an excellent four-pitch mix and controls them all well. His fastball sits 92-95 and his curve is a 12-6 hammer with good vertical movement. The curve also has a solid velocity differential from his fastball (12-15 mph) which makes it hard for the hitter to square up. His changeup is solid and he locates it well to neutralize right-handed hitters. His slider is a work in progress but could develop into an above-average fourth offering. Liberatore is a 6’4 lefty who could still add a few pounds to his 200-lb frame and he will likely spend the season at Double-A developing that slider and refining his control. If he does that, this kid will be an ace alongside Jack Flaherty for the foreseeable future in St. Louis.
#4 – Ivan Herrera – C
Herrera comes in as the 10th ranked catcher prospect according to MLB.com. He is also the second-youngest in the top-10 (Francisco Alvarez, Mets). An international signing out of Panama, Herrera, like many Cardinals prospects, has moved up quickly. In 2019, his first full season of pro ball, Herrera impressed with a slash of .284/.374/.405 and nine HRs. Add in another 10 games in the Arizona Fall League and the 20-year-old catcher has shown excellent plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills with only 76 K’s in 397 PA’s (19.1 percent).
Herrera has a short, compact stroke and barrels the ball well. Has some power upside as he develops especially if he turns on one. Defensively is where he has made strides. Of course, working with Yadier Molina doesn’t hurt, but the Cardinals also have to love that Herrera has thrown out at least 30% of would-be base stealers at every stop. The Cardinals are hoping he continues to improve his blocking and game-calling. With this year likely being Molina’s swan song, St. Louis is in good hands moving forward with Andrew Knizner and Herrera behind the plate.
#5 – Masyn Winn – SS/RHP
The two-way player from Kingwood High School in Texas intrigued the Cardinals enough to draft him 54th overall last year. He has a riding fastball that sits 94-96 that may hit triple digits with another couple of years of growth. His curveball is a tight one and he throws it 78-82 with excellent late drop. His changeup is average but could develop into a solid plus pitch. Let’s remember that the kid will only be 19 years old in just over a week.
When Winn isn’t on the mound his tools are there as well. He obviously has the arm. He also has the range and quickness to stick defensively at shortstop. Winn’s bat is a big question mark. He has some pop and will probably develop more power as he fills out. Pitch recognition and making his swing a bit more compact will be what Winn needs to work on. Time will tell how he handles pro ball. The physical tools are there and this kid will be interesting to watch wherever the Cardinals decide to play him.
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