As the St. Louis Cardinals hope to spend much of October advancing in the National League playoffs, their top two prospects will be honing their skills in the Arizona desert.
Both Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn are scheduled to participate in the Arizona Fall League beginning later this month, where baseball’s projected future stars gather to get better.
Just another step in the process
Winn said it’s just another step in the process on the road to Busch Stadium after a stellar season at Double-A Springfield for the 20-year-olds, who were drafted by the Cardinals in 2020.
“I think about the playoffs and getting that World Series ring,” Winn said during Springfield’s final homestand at Hammons Field earlier this month.
“This has been a lot of fun, for sure, playing in Springfield this year,” added Walker. “We learned a lot.”
Duo ranked in top 55 prospects by MLB.com
Walker not only is the Cardinals’ top prospect, but he’s also ranked No. 6 by MLB.com among all minor-leaguers, with Winn checking in at No. 53. The duo were roommates and best friends off the field as well, mirroring their climb up the Cardinals’ organizational ladder.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Walker hit .306 with 19 home runs and 68 RBIs. He led the Texas League with 100 runs and also stole 22 bases in 27 attempts. Walker just missed becoming the first 20/20 Springfield Cardinal (20 home runs, 20 stolen bases) in club history.
Walker played third base the first two-thirds of the season before moving to the outfield, where he made only one error in 31 games. He showed off a strong arm with 10 outfield assists in the relatively short time out there.
Springfield manager Jose Leger said Walker’s consistency at the plate stands out. Walker never went more than two games in a row without a hit and only went hitless in back-to-back games three times.
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“It’s amazing how that kid can recover from a bad game,” Leger said of Walker. “He is very mature for his age. He knows what he needs to do at the plate and he works.
“His defense, we saw at the beginning when he was playing third base, he struggled a little bit there,” Leger added. “He was making throwing errors, but he worked at it and he got better and his backhand plays got better, too. He cleaned that up.”
Walker moves from third base to outfield
Leger said he wasn’t surprised by Walker’s smooth transition to the outfield because of his natural ability and work ethic.
Walker quickly put his mind to excelling once he was moved to the outfield. With Nolan Arenado playing third base in St. Louis, it’s obvious that the path to the big show is now enhanced.
As Leger said from the beginning of the season, if Walker proves he can hit, the organization will find him a spot to play. This season proved that Walker could make adjustments at the plate against better pitching.
“Learning Double-A pitching has helped me progress,” Walker said. “It let me know what I’m good at hitting and it’s also helped me know what I’m not so good at hitting.
“Making those adjustments in the offseason and working toward my goal of getting to the league, this has really been beneficial to me.”
Winn shines defensively
Winn joined Walker at Springfield in early June after starting the season at High-A Peoria. The 5-10, 180-pound shortstop excelled on defense, showing off one of baseball’s strongest arms while making only six errors in 84 Double-A games.
Winn was less consistent at the plate than Walker, hitting .258, but showed surprising pop with 11 home runs. He also stole 28 bases in 33 attempts after going 15-for-15 in steals at Peoria.
“When we talk about Masyn, he’s really good at shortstop,” Leger said. “He’s exciting to watch, with that arm and with that energy he brings. He gives you good at-bats, but has some ups and downs.
“Sometimes he goes on a cold stint, maybe three or four games without hitting and then he makes up for it going 3-for-3 with a couple of walks. He’s exciting to watch on the bases, too.”
Winn’s maturity takes a huge leap
Winn said his maturity level took “a huge leap” while in Springfield.
“The players themselves, physicality-wise, are a lot better,” he said. “The pitchers, you have more guys throwing 98 or 99 and with better off-speed stuff. Just the experience of being around these older guys is the biggest thing for me. It’s been really nice.”
He smiled when asked about his power and if that might have surprised people.
“I think I honestly have more in the tank,” Winn said. “I used to hit a lot more bombs. Now we’ve shortened up my swing a little bit. I’m hoping over the next few years, while putting on some more weight, I’m hoping I might be able to do that a little more consistently.”
Expect more power from Walker
Future power is something expected from Walker, who hit some prodigious bombs in the second half of the season. He’s starting to get more comfortable with the launch angle and is projected as a future 30-home-run guy in the big leagues.
“I can’t lie, it’s nice to see them go over the fence,” Walker said. “But catching a barrel is all that matters to me. If I’m getting 110-plus exit velos, I’m happy with that no matter if they’re going over the fence. But seeing the ball go over the fence does feel good.”
Duo stays healthy during long season
The full Double-A schedule also was a proving ground for Walker and Winn after both played fewer than 100 combined in 2021 at the Low-A and High-A levels.
Both said they felt good as the season wound down and credited the Springfield strength and training staff with helping them hold up physically. Winn also pointed to the minor-league pitch clock and quicker games with helping.
“It’s like 30 minutes less a game,” Winn said. “That’s days throughout the whole season that you’re not standing on your feet. That’s also a big thing for making our bodies feel nice.”
Added Walker: “I really do appreciate how fast the games go by. When Masyn and I get to the big leagues, it’s not going to be that much of an adjustment for us.”
You notice that Walker said “when” and not “if.”
“I’m excited for what the future brings for them,” Leger said. “It’s going to be amazing.”