Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
In a draft where college picks were the story, the Cardinals were content to look further out. St. Louis snagged high schoolers with its first three of a Draft-high seven picks -- a group it has already signed completely.
The Cards were balanced in the abbreviated 2020 Draft, nabbing three position players and three pitchers as well as one intriguing two-way player. They added more experienced depth in the back half of their selections, finishing this year’s event with four straight collegiate picks.
St. Louis may have found a future left side combo for the infield in its first two selections: high school third baseman Jordan Walker in the first round and shortstop/right-handed pitcher Masyn Winn in the second. Pitchers came off the board with three of the Cardinals’ next four picks to join a pair of outfielders in rounding out the group. Despite the shortened Draft only being two days, the whirlwind process felt familiar to St. Louis brass.
“I’ve still hit that wall,” Cards assistant general manager and director of scouting Randy Flores told MLB.com. “As far as the exhaustion level, it’s tough to place it on a scale. I don’t think there’s a 20-80 scale for being tired, but there is really just a great appreciation for the tremendous amount of work that went into this. ... I think that now with the Draft format now shifting to the $20,000 bucket, the work is not done. There also is a lot of uncertainty as far as the onboarding process and physicals, etc., there are still some things to work through.”
First Round: 3B Jordan Walker (No. 21 overall)
Walker’s best on-field tool is his 60-grade power from the right side and from his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. The Decatur (GA) HS product projects to have it all, and his new club loves its first-rounder’s acumen both on and off the field.
“Jordan was someone our staff felt was improving rapidly in a short time,” Flores said. “I’d say his aptitude, drive, and work ethic are attributes which make us excited to have him in our system and work with.”
According to MLB Pipeline’s evaluation, scouts are split on how Walker’s bat will develop due to length in his swing and pitch recognition issues, but the Cardinals see an impact offensive profile in the making.
“The jump from high school baseball to professional level pitching is large and it never takes a break, meaning the day-to-day, non-ending battle of facing high velocity, tight spin, and various arm slots can be a difficult adjustment for any player, but especially for a high school prospect,” Flores said. “That being said, our player development staff and hitting curriculum will prep him and provide a baseline to serve as a foundation for his development.”
As with many young infielders, the defensive future for the young slugger is up in the air, but St. Louis’ plan is to keep Walker at third base. Walker joins a system that already has two third basemen among its top ten prospects -- Nolan Gorman and Elehuris Montero -- but the Decatur (GA) HS product brings his own impressive skillset to the conversation.
“[Director of player development] Gary LaRocque and our player development staff do a tremendous job at providing instruction and training for all our players,” Flores said. “And their excellence covers a wide spectrum of player types, from the emergence on the domestic side of a collegiate player like Tommy Edman, to the development of a high school player like Dylan Carlson. So, I think Jordan will quickly see the resources available to fuel his growth, including seeing how the players you mentioned (Gorman and Montero) go about their business.”
Second Round: RHP/SS Masyn Winn (No. 54 overall)
Winn is listed as a shortstop in MLB.com’s official Draft Tracker but comes to the Cardinals as a two-way player with electrifying talent on the mound, in the field and at the plate. According to MLB.com, the Cardinals initially debated taking Winn simply as a shortstop but couldn’t deny his presence and repertoire on the mound.
“Well there’s a lot to be excited about,” Flores said. “First off, Masyn is a true baseball player. But what’s interesting about your question is that the development for all players is unique this year because of the COVID environment. But for a player as unique as Masyn, Gary and his staff will begin to work in constructing physical and skill training that permits him to stay on a two-way path for as long as possible. A quote that Gary often says, and that I find more and more true every day, is ‘the players will let you know when they’re ready,’ and I think that statement rings true in regards to Masyn’s two-way development as well.”
Two-way players have been growing in stature in recent years with Shohei Ohtani captivating fans with the Angels since arriving from Japan and Brendan McKay climbing the ladder with the Rays. Winn’s story is similar to that of 2017 first-rounder Hunter Greene, who was a SS/RHP at his California high school before being taken by the Reds, who have now made the righty into a full-time pitcher.
At short, Winn may be undersized at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds but is a steady fielder and projects as an above-average hitter for the position. On the mound, he’s got lightning in his right arm, reaching 98 miles per hour during last October’s World Wood Bat Association World Championship. The Cardinals also love his two above-average secondary pitches, a high spin rate curveball and solid changeup.
“Our scouts were impressed with his quickness, bat speed, and his high-energy approach on the field,” Flores added. “There’s an aggressiveness to his game that is natural and fun to watch. On the mound, scouts say he almost adopts a different personality – calmer, more businesslike – where he features elite arm speed and feel for several off-speed pitches that bode well for future development.”
So of course the question must be asked: if Winn the pitcher faced Winn the hitter, who would, uh, win?
“You’d have to ask him,” he said. “My answer would be that it depends if Masyn tells himself what’s coming.”
Competitive Balance Round B: RHP Tink Hence (No. 63 overall)
While just 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and only 17 years old, Hence put himself on the map during strong showcase performances last fall and went to the Cardinals after the second round. The Watson Chapel (AR) HS product mixes a mid-90s fastball with a slider that is graded above average and a serviceable changeup.
“The great thing about Tink is that our scouts rave about his commitment and aptitude,” Flores said of the young righty. “That being said, there are no easy answers in onboarding high school arms. So Tim Leveque, our senior minor league pitching coordinator, and his staff will build off the best practices in developing our other young arms who have come through the system like Jake Woodford, Jordan Hicks, and Jack Flaherty.”
Round 2C: OF Alec Burleson (No. 70 overall)
While the Cards are excited to work with Winn as a two-way player, one of college baseball’s two-way stars will join their system as a hitter first. Burleson, from East Carolina, was off to a strong start this year at the plate, batting .375/.440/.547 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 17 games before the pandemic wiped out the college season. On the mound, he went 13-5 with a 3.47 ERA in two-plus seasons for the Pirates, but the Cardinals love his profile in the field and at the plate.
Third Round: LHP Levi Prater (No. 93 overall)
The latest workhorse to come out of Oklahoma, Prater was the first of back-to-back arms the Cardinals nabbed in the third and fourth rounds. In his junior season with the Sooners this year, Prater was elevated to being his team’s Saturday starter and, over the course of his two-plus season collegiate career, posted a 3.56 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 154 1/3 innings. Prater has experience in a number or roles, pitching in 53 games and making 22 starts. The southpaw just squeaked into Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft Prospects list at No. 198 and gets his best marks for his slider and changeup, both 50-grade pitches.
Fourth Round: RHP Ian Bedell (No. 122 overall)
Roughly 450 miles northeast from Prater’s university in Norman, righty Bedell was making a name for himself at Missouri. The Tigers righty turned heads last summer with a brilliant Cape Cod League campaign, making six starts for Wareham and going 4-0 with a 0.59 ERA and 36 strikeouts against just three walks in 30 2/3 innings. That came on the heels of a sophomore year spent largely in relief for the Tigers during which Bedell saved five games and posted a 1.56 ERA over 40 1/3 innings. Bedell’s fastball, curveball and changeup are all above-average pitches. The selection was especially meaningful to Bedell, who grew up as a Cardinals fan.
“In the case of Bedell and Prater, our staff felt that had the collegiate season continued, they would have progressed to the point of not being available where we selected them,” Flores said. “Levi provides a deceptive left-handed angle, combined with competitiveness and the stuff to match. Ian brings a throwback approach to the mound, commanding and mixing, and we are optimistic he is a tick or two away from really taking off.”
Fifth Round: OF LJ Jones IV (No. 152 overall)
The Cardinals wrapped their selections with a wild card pick in Jones, who appeared in just two games during the 2019 season at Long Beach State due to injury and just 14 this year before the end of the collegiate season. Still, his body of work spoke volumes to the Cardinals. In 58 college games, Jones batted .315/.365/.436. The Chula Vista, California native can also move around defensively, spending time at first base and in the outfield with the Dirtbags.
“Although there was not the typical bulk of performance or in-person scouting opportunities with LJ, there was agreement with our scouts and analytics group that he possessed potential in the batter’s box,” Flores said. “With so few scouting looks available, where he plays on defense will be worked through in his first few professional steps.”
One thing stands out about the Cardinals’ 2020 Draft: balance. Youth and experience, pitching and hitting, and a group of tantalizingly talented prospects. While challenges stand out for every organization in attempting to incorporate young players during pandemic-forced restrictions, the Cardinals know they have time with prospects like Walker, Winn and Hence while their collegiate picks will arrive in the system with shorter roads ahead to reach St. Louis, even without a normal first year in pro ball under their belts.