Baseball players in a dugout
Jordan Walker could become a big part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ core group at some point next season. He continues his development in the Arizona Fall League. (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

OPINION |

What we love about the playoffs in sports is also what we hate about it. Whether it’s baseball, football or basketball, our teams spend months earning their way to postseason reward, and then it’s over in a blink.

It’s been a week since the St. Louis Cardinals were eliminated by the underdog Philadelphia Phillies in about 30 hours. It was a bad time for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to slump and an even worse time for closer Ryan Helsley to burp up a ninth-inning lead in a best-of-three series.

Making this even more disappointing was the abrupt way it ended for Cardinals icons Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. Pujols, in particular, gave fans so many thrills as he turned back the clock in the second half of the season while surpassing 700 career home runs.

St. Louis lineup will look different in 2023

The 2023 Cardinals are going to have a different look without those two future Hall of Famers and possibly another as Adam Wainwright ponders his return for another season. A new, younger core group will have to lead the way and that core will include more and more of a Springfield Cardinals influence.

The playoff roster included 11 former Springfield Cardinals this season, the most-prominent roles played by Helsley, Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan. Springfield alum Juan Yepez had the biggest hit against the Phillies, a two-run pinch-hit home run. Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman struggled, but remain big pieces of the future at ages 23 and 22 respectively.

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The next crop of Springfield Cardinals on target to reach St. Louis are still playing this fall, in relative obscurity in the Arizona Fall League. Top prospects Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn headline the seven Cardinals playing in the AFL and those two are the most likely to reach St. Louis at some point next season.

Walker thriving in move to outfield

Walker, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who’s the No. 6 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB.com continues to transition to the outfield. He’s been playing right field and center for the Salt River Rafters and has two home runs in six games, including a 431-footer earlier this week.

Walker is the most-exciting prospect to come through the Cardinals’ organization since Oscar Tavares in the early 2010s. The 20-year-old spent the entire 2022 season with Springfield and hit .308 with 19 home runs, 68 RBIs and 31 doubles in 119 games. He never went more than two games without a hit and also stole 22 bases in 27 attempts.

Walker spent the final six weeks of the Texas League season in the outfield and was impressive defensively as well. He had one outfield error in 31 games with nine assists. His throwing arm has impressed in the AFL, registering a 99.5 mile-per-hour throw to nail a runner earlier this week. It was the hardest throw by a St. Louis outfielder since such metrics started to be recorded in 2015.

A baseball player runs off the field
After making the transition to Double-A in 2022 with the Springfield Cardinals, Masyn Winn continues his rise at the shortstop position. (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

St. Louis sees AFL as a ‘finishing school’

During a recent appearance on The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9, 99.9 FM, I asked long-time St. Louis Cardinals beat writer Rob Rains to project Walker’s timeline.

“I think he’ll be here in ’23, it’s just a question of which part of the season,” Rains said. “A lot of that may depend on how he plays in the Arizona Fall League.”

The AFL has been a launching pad for Cardinals prospects in recent seasons.

“All you have to do is look at the rosters from the previous year,” Rains said, noting that Donovan, Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, Andre Pallante, Yepez and Zack Thompson all were in the AFL in 2021.

“They consider it as sort of a finishing school,” Rains said of the AFL. “Those guys are right on the edge of being ready and able to play in the big leagues.

“The guys you’re seeing out there this year, which includes Walker, Masyn Winn and Tink Hence, they may not all play in St. Louis next year, but they’re getting really close.”

Hence is a highly regarded 20-year-old pitcher who spent last season at the Class-A level. He could be a marquee prospect assigned to Springfield’s roster at the start of the 2023 season.

Winn continues to impress

Winn’s road to St. Louis will be affected by how the Cardinals approach the shortstop position next season. They’re likely to cut ties with 2022 opening-day starting shortstop Paul DeJong and make Edman the full-time shortstop. 

But if Winn, who already has the defensive skills to play in the big leagues, continues to develop offensively Edman could slide back to his Gold Glove position of second base.

Other 2022 Springfield Cardinals playing in the AFL include pitchers Kyle Leahy and Ryan Loutos, along with catcher Pedro Pages. 

We’ve said it before and it continues to ring true. The beauty of Springfield Cardinals baseball is getting to watch guys up-close at Hammons Field who will soon be contributors at Busch Stadium. 

This time next October, perhaps Walker will be coming through in the clutch and helping the Cardinals advance deep into baseball’s autumn in a playoff run that lasts weeks and not hours.

Possible 2023 St. Louis batting order

By next September, the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup could be composed mainly of former Springfield Cardinals. A look at one possible batting order:

SS – Masyn Winn

1B – Paul Goldschmidt

3B – Nolan Arenado

LF – Tyler O’Neill/Brendan Donovan

RF – Jordan Walker

DH – Nolan Gorman

2B – Tommy Edman

CF – Dylan Carlson

C – Andrew Knizner

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton