JUPITER Florida – A successful franchise can sometimes be equated with a successful player development system.
Oliver Marmol, the Cardinals’ first-year manager, knows.
“That is the elixir of life for the next few years. … We’ve done a good job within this organization, coming up from the inside and preparing the boys,” said Marmol, a former Cardinals minor league player himself.
Some prospects in the St. Louis system will be making their major league debuts this year. Other intriguing prospects are further down the pipeline.
From Low-A Palm Beach to Triple-A Memphis, here are some fascinating Cardinals perspectives:
Top prospects: Infielder Nolan Gorman, Utilityman Brendan Donovan, Outfielder Alec Burleson, Infielder Juan Yepez, Catcher Ivan Herrera, Right-handed pitcher Zack Thompson, Left-handed pitcher Matthew Liberatore
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LHP Connor Thomas: Behind Liberatore, Thomas had the second most innings (101 2/3) for Memphis in 2021. What could benefit the 23-year-old in 2022 and beyond is his ability to fill in the batting zone, as evidenced by his .660 batting percentage over three years in the minors.
“The next step in its development is consistency,” said Memphis manager Ben Johnson. “He has everything he needs to serve in the big leagues and serve well. … There is no question that he will soon be helping the Oberliga here.”
1B Luke Baker: He makes noise with the bat. A season ago, Baker finished leading the Springfield Cardinals in home runs (26) and RBIs (68). He was second among qualifying Central Division Double-A hitters in terms of batting percentage with a mark of .530, behind Royals prospect MJ Melendez (.628).
Top prospects: Third baseman Malcolm Nunez, outfielder Jhon Torres, outfielder Ryan Holgate
RHP Connor Lunn: Lunn led Peoria Pitchers in innings with 120 1/3 in 2021. Like Thomas, Lunn is an effective strike thrower that limits walks. Lunn lowered his free passes per nine innings from 2.95 in 2019 to 1.50 last year. He also limited batsmen to a .292 percentage on base.
SS Delvin Perez: After two straight seasons of 20 or more steals, Perez had the 10th most hits (103) in the Double-A Central in 2021. A strong aspect of Perez’s game is his in-game batting average. Average BABIP factors for balls in the field excluding home runs and strikeouts. Perez, 23, finished the game with the 10th-highest BABIP among qualified Double-A Central batters at a .344 mark, suggesting some regression may be in order but also that he’s hitting the ball hard. In comparison, outfielder Tyler O’Neill’s .366 BABIP was the fourth-best among qualified MLB bats in 2021. Fewer swings and misses could help Perez in an all-or-nothing year.
Top prospects: Infielder Masyn Winn, infielder Jordan Walker, right-handed pitcher Michael McGreevy
RHP Gordon Graceffo: If Graceffo’s development path is anything like his fastball, he’ll be in a hurry to be in the majors. Graceffo, a fifth-round draft pick last summer, wears a fastball that sits in the high 90s and he hit 100 mph in backfield spring training games.
“(Graceffo) came very well prepared,” said Gary LaRocque, director of player development. “He came to spring training and was immediately ready for whatever spring training offers and then you can see it in the work that he put in and the innings that he threw. So we are satisfied with his work performance.”
LHP Levi Prater: Though his 2021 ERA might not show it (6.72 in 68 1/3 innings with Palm Beach), the 22-year-old showed some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in the entire Low-A Southeast. Prater hit 104 strikeouts – good for fourth place in the division – and finished his rookie pro season with a 31.2% K-rate. To put that in perspective, according to Fangraphs, Jack Flaherty had the highest strikeout percentage among the Cardinals’ qualified pitchers in 2021 at 26.1.
Top prospect: Outfielder Joshua Baez
IF Adari Scholarship: Grant, signed as an international free agent in July 2021, could become just the ninth player from the Bahamas to reach the big leagues if he works his way up there. At 18, he came into spring training as one of the younger Cardinals prospects.
“Every day he’s had the opportunity to be on the Triple-A roster, he’s about to be pitched in the major leagues – all part of his experience. And part of that is development when he’s first starting out,” LaRocque said.
RHP Edwin Nunez: 20-year-old Nunez lit up the radar gun in his freshman season as pro baseball, throwing the 109 fastest pitches Statcast recorded for Palm Beach Pitchers. He hit just over 101 mph, according to MLB Pipeline.