SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The 2022 St. Louis Cardinals span the age spectrum. On one hand, they have three of the oldest players in baseball: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. On the other, they have rookie sensations Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez.
It's a blend of the past, present and future in St. Louis these days.
The past was certainly bright. The present looks like it might.
As for the future, the Cardinals' prospect pipeline is far from dry. And that trio of rookies I just mentioned could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to impactful, homegrown position players coming up through the system.
There's a duo at Double-A in Springfield who has some big talent and even bigger dreams.
If you know any current Cardinals minor league prospect, it's likely Jordan Walker. And for good reason.
The 6-5, 220-pound third baseman is absolutely obliterating Double-A pitching this season, hitting .311 with a .911 OPS, seven home runs and 27 RBIs coming into Sunday.
He's made the jump from High-A to Double-A look easy when it absolutely isn't.
“I wouldn’t say easy. It’s definitely really, really difficult," Walker said. "These pitchers are something different. They’re really good. The main difference between the pitchers and High A and these pitchers, they throw everything for strikes. Off-speed and unpredictable locations. You would get a 3-0 slider sometimes. In High A it was a little bit different. You would get those fastballs, you would more predictable counts and predictable pitches."
The 20-year-old prospect ranked by MLB.com as the 25th best in baseball spent some time with the big club in spring training to start this year and said there was one thing in particular that really stuck with him.
“They would be joking around with the guys but when they’re in that cage or when they’re on the field they’re locked in. They all knew what they needed to do to get ready," Walker said. "They all knew how they’re supposed to go out there and work. I feel like seeing that really gave me a clear idea of, ‘Oh this is what it takes to be a big leaguer’. So that was a really good learning experience for me.”
The looming Walker takes up a lot of real estate on the left side of the Hammons Field infield for the Springfield Cardinals. And now, he's getting to share that left side of the infield with one of his best friends.
Shortstop Masyn Winn is currently ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Cardinals' system. Winn is hitting .315 with a .912 OPS, five home runs and 16 stolen bases coming into Sunday across High-A and Double-A this season.
Winn and Walker have been honing their defense with help from the best in the business, Cardinals roving instructor and coaching legend Jose Oquendo.
“At first it was really tough love. He was the first real coach who was hard on me in pro ball. And It was tough to get used to and now it’s just really a good bond," Winn said of working with Oquendo. "He comes out here and we get work in and he tells me what I need to know and what I don’t. We get to work and it’s a lot of fun.”
Winn was originally drafted as a two-way player out of high school in Texas, but the organization has decided to utilize his rocket arm at shortstop instead of on the mound.
“I think if we see me on the mound again it’s probably because I didn’t hit the best. So I’m hoping we don’t go back there. Maybe in the future a little Yadi and Albert Pujols type thing getting on there later," Winn laughed.
Walker and Winn were both a part of the team's 2020 draft class, going 21st and 54th overall, respectively. They've known each other even longer than that, going back to their prep days.
But let's just say it wasn't quite the fairytale friendship at first.
”I met him the first time at a prospect event in high school and I was like, ‘Man this dude’s a weirdo,’ to be honest," Walker laughed. "But then, as soon as we got to the alt-site, we clicked together and ‘he’s not so bad.’ But my first impression of him was that he was a clown, and he’s still a clown but he’s a good dude and I’m excited to play next to him.”
Now, the top prospect duo is inseparable. They're catch partners, roommates and fierce NBA 2K competitors.
They also give some great scouting reports on each other.
“If you’re gonna pitch to him, I think you got to be perfect and even if you are perfect you’ve got to hope for a little bit of luck. Honestly just because he’ll hit anything really," Winn said of Walker. "You think you can sneak a high fastball by him and he’ll just do what he did last night and walk it off. So I personally wouldn’t know what to throw to him. And I’m very confident on the mound and I wouldn’t know what to throw to him.”
“His arm definitely does stick out, but if you see BP he has some power to him, too. People don’t think he would have any but when he gets into a ball it goes really far. So I think that’s a little sneaky, dark horse tool of his," Walker said of Winn. "But he’s an all-around guy. He can hit, field, obviously great arm and really fast, but I think is power that people don’t know about too well.”
But make no mistake. Walker is pretty confident about how things would go if it was Winn on the mound and him in the box.
“Oh, that’s a home run. Absolutely. We talk about this all the time. I’ve been wanting to face him ever since. But in all honesty, it would be a tough at-bat. We joke around all the time but I would be a tough at-bat. But I think it would be a tough at-bat for sure," Walker laughed.
They're still just 20 years old, but that doesn't mean this pair hasn't thought about stepping onto the field at Busch Stadium as big leaguers.
“I imagine stepping into that batter's box all the time with all the Cardinals fans in the stadium. So I think about that all the time and I’m, really excited to get my opportunity and I want to keep working so I hopefully can get my opportunity soon," Walker said.
“I think it’s obviously going to be a little bit overwhelming. Going out to shortstop there… Lots of great shortstops, lots of great defensive players there in that org. So it’s gonna be a great feeling. I can’t wait to walk out there in front of the fans and everything. I just saw Nolan Gorman go up there and got a very warm welcome. So I’m looking forward to that for sure, especially at the shortstop position," Winn said.
And if they have it their way, these two friends will be together all the way on their baseball journey to Busch Stadium.
“I think it would be something really fun to watch. It’s like Yadi and Pujols coming up and playing so long together… and Waino. I think me and Jordan coming up through the ranks together, he’s a little bit ahead of me, but I think in the long run we’ll have a lot of games together under our belt. That’ll be a lot of fun for the fans and a lot of fun to play, too," Winn said.
"He’s a great dude and a really good friend. So traveling up the system with him would be a dream come true. Then hitting the league with him, that would be something different that would be really special," Walker said.