Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the St. Louis Cardinals.
2022 Organization Summary
Triple-A Memphis: 73-77
Double-A Springfield: 68-70
High-A Peoria: 56-76
Single-A Palm Beach: 67-61 (Florida State League East Division winner)
FCL Cardinals: 25-29
DSL Cardinals: 33-26
Overall: 322-339 (.487 winning percentage, 19th among MLB organizations)
Cardinals Organization All-Stars
Catcher: Julio E. Rodriguez
Rodriguez posted one of his best seasons yet. The 25-year-old tallied career highs of 11 homers, 50 RBIs, 33 runs and 47 walks in 68 games for Springfield. Rodriguez’s unlocked patience and power led to his best OBP (.387), slugging (.436) and OPS (.823) at full-season ball. From behind the plate, Rodriguez threw out 28 percent of would-be basestealers while allowing just five passed balls. In November, the Dominican backstop elected free agency.
First base: Brady Whalen
After spending parts of three seasons at Single-A, Whalen finally advanced to Double-A where he truly locked in. The left-handed hitter batted .333 with just nine strikeouts in 18 August games to start his Springfield tenure. And while he cooled slightly in September, the strong finish led to a career-high composite .291/.370/.459/.829 slash line in 101 games for Palm Beach, Peoria and Springfield.
Although it took six seasons to get there, the 24-year-old put himself in a good position to shine at Triple-A and beyond in 2023. After Whalen elected free agency in November, the Giants signed him to a Minor League deal on Dec. 13.
Second base: Nick Dunn
Dunn started the season back in Springfield, but this time as a fifth infielder. But when he finally started getting regular playing time, the left-handed hitter showed what he could do. With his season reaching its peak in July with a .981 OPS, Dunn remained consistent through the rest of the campaign. The 2018 fifth-rounder out of the University of Maryland flashed solid defense at second while posting a career-best .271/.379/.391/.770 slash line. Dunn also showed improved patience at the dish, working a 13.3 walk rate and an 8.9 strikeout rate.
“He's worked extremely hard,” said Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque. “And yet the big thing he brings to the table is his contact skills, and he's got great discipline at the plate.”
Third base: Jordan Walker
Walker entered his second pro season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 30 overall prospect with a projected MLB eta of 2024. But with a consistently hot bat and the ability to confidently change positions, he’s now baseball’s No. 6 prospect with a realistic chance to get a good look at big league camp this upcoming spring.
At 20, Walker showed five-tool potential by hitting .306/.388/.510/.898 with 19 homers and 68 RBIs in 119 Double-A games. The 2020 first-rounder led Cardinals Minor Leaguers with 100 runs scores while swiping 22 bases in 27 attempts. What impressed the organization most is the way he doesn’t run into slow stretches. Walker went hitless in back-to-games in which he started just once all season.
“He may get beat on an occasional at-bat, not have the at-bat he wants, but when he comes back up, he could do some real damage,” LaRocque said. “He's going to be right back into it. He very rarely has the kind of day where the first at-bat affects the next three at-bats; that just is not him.
“And so he has the ability to set aside what's been done previously and stay focused on the moment, and he's very good at that. Defensively as well.”
The Cardinals talked to Walker about moving to the outfield early on in his career with Nolan Arenado holding down the hot corner at Busch Stadium, and this year he began that transition. The 6-foot-5 prospect played 31 games on the grass -- spending the majority in right -- and made just one error.
Shortstop: Masyn Winn
Winn started the year with back in Midwest League, but after posting a .970 OPS in 33 games, he was off to the Texas League. The Cardinals’ No. 2 prospect took some time to adjust, but got hot in July, highlighted by a selection to the All-Star Futures Game. At the showcase, Winn drew national attention when he put his best tool on display – his arm. The 20-year-old broke a Statcast record with a 100.5 mph throw from short.
Winn is also electric on the basepaths, utilizing his plus-speed to swipe 43 bags in 48 chances and lead the Cardinals organization with eight triples across High-A and Double-A. As Winn's bat catches up to his speed and defense, the Cardinals like seeing him at the top of the lineup. The 2020 Draft pick hit .283/.364/.468/.832 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs across the two levels.
It only took until June 2 for Gómez to tie his career high with 19 homers. And that was just the beginning. After spending seven years in the Rays farm system, Gómez was signed by the Cardinals on Nov. 5, 2021. In the new organization, things clicked for the 24-year-old as he advanced from Springfield to Memphis en route to a Minor League-leading 39 homers.
“Everybody works at different timetables,” LaRocque said. “Some players mature at different moments. And once he started and had that level of confidence, then he just kept going. It's a real credit to him, to his work ethic.”
The Venezuelan outfielder’s unleased power demanded a spot on the Cardinals’ Top 30 prospects list, even if his hit tool and defense were in question. Of course with great power, comes a great many strikeouts, but even with a 35 percent strikeout rate, Gómez was still providing value at the plate with a .294 average and a .371 on-base percentage – both personal highs since he played Rookie ball in 2015.
Someone Gómez and Walker will have some competition with at big league camp next spring is Burleson, who cracked the St. Louis lineup in September. MLB’s No. 88 overall prospect raked for the Redbirds with 20 homers, 87 RBIs and a .331/.372/.532/.904 slash line in just his second pro season. With the consistent bat, Burleson earned his first cup of coffee. And while the left-handed hitter did not post the same strong numbers in The Show, he immediately plugged into the lineup, working a walk and scoring on a Yadier Molina dinger in his first plate appearance.
Burleson spent most of his time in the International League in left, but when he got called to the Senior Circuit, he filled in more in right while also taking reps at first.
“He's a threat every time he comes to the plate and he loves the challenge,” LaRocque said. “He worked hard, came early last year in January to Florida on his own to work on his defense. So not only was his offense the thing he takes tremendous pride in, but he was going to work to improve defensively.”
After getting his first taste of the Majors in 2021, Hurst responded in 2022 by improving every aspect of his bat. The left-handed hitter produced a career-high .399 on-base percentage and doubled his personal best by swatting 10 homers in 90 games for Memphis. His .286 average, .434 slugging and .833 OPS were his best marks since 2018. What’s more, Hurst showed improved discipline with an 18 percent strikeout rate and a 15 percent walk rate.
Hurst is a strong center fielder, who can also shine in the corners, providing even more outfield depth for the Cardinals.
Left-handed starter: Matthew Liberatore
It was almost like a storybook the way Liberatore got called up to St. Louis the same weekend as his childhood best friend, Nolan Gorman. But getting to The Show is just half the battle with the southpaw spending the rest of the year shuttling between the IL and the NL. But amid the travel, Liberatore showed flashes of what made him one of the most promising left-handed pitching prospects just a few years ago. The 2018 first-rounder led the Redbirds with 116 strikeouts against 41 walks in 115 innings.
Although Liberatore was tagged with a 5.17 ERA in 22 Triple-A starts, LaRocque said they are not concerned given his age. After being drafted out of high school, then sitting out the canceled 2020 Minor League season, Liberatore jumped straight from Single-A to Triple-A at the age of 21, then made his MLB debut at 22. The Cardinals are also encouraged by the way Liberatore studies the game and prepares for each start.
And while it might seem like a dearth of dominant left-handed pitching this year in the farm system, the Cardinals took steps to change that, selecting southpaws with their first three picks of the 2022 Draft.
Right-handed starter: Inohan Paniagua
After being sent back to Palm Beach, Paniagua quickly showed he was ready to move on. The 22-year-old went 6-4 with a 2.18 ERA in 17 starts, utilizing a sinker and a curveball before getting promoted to Peoria. And while the challenge of High-A led to a few inconsistent starts, Paniagua showed his talent could translate to the higher level, carrying a no-hit bid into the seventh for the Chiefs on Aug. 14 against Great Lakes.
In total, the Dominican Republic native went 8-6 with a 2.81 ERA, 145 strikeouts and 39 walks across 137 2/3 innings in 25 starts. Paniagua's ERA, along with his 1.05 WHIP and .212 opponents average led all qualified Cardinals pitchers.
“Pitchability [stands out]. He competes in the strike zone, challenges hitters really well, quickly and has enough stuff in the strike zone,” said LaRocque. “Certainly at the A-ball level, he distinguished himself right away, and he wants to be on the mound.”
Honorable Mention: Tink Hence notched a 1.38 ERA with 81 strikeouts against 15 walks in 52 1/3 innings for Palm Beach.
Reliever: Andrew Marrero
After getting a taste of pro ball in 2021, Marrero returned to Palm Beach and became nearly untouchable. The UConn product notched a 1.27 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 21 walks in 35 1/3 frames across 32 appearances. Marrero entered games as early as the third, but primarily served as the Beach Birds’ closer, converting 11 saves in 13 opportunities.
Marrero’s fastball sits around 92 mph, but he can dial it up to 95. The right-hander also mixes in a slider to keep hitters off balance.
Kelsie Heneghan is a writer for MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.