SAN DIEGO — Regardless of the moves they make in the coming months to fill obvious vacancies, the Cardinals intend to reach spring training with one assured opening.
An opportunity will await prospect Jordan Walker.
“He’s an exciting player,” said John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations. “He does something that I think everyone agrees is a skill. He hits the ball hard, and he hits it often, and usually that translates to being able to do it here.”
Walker, who turns 21 in May, thundered through Class AA with a .898 OPS for Springfield, and when invited to the elite Arizona Fall League, the right-handed hitter from Georgia greeted advanced pitching with a .925 OPS and a .558 slugging percentage. The Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2020 has vaulted from their top prospect to one of the top prospects in all the minors, and he’ll head to spring training with more than a non-roster invitation. He’ll have a chance to win a spot on the opening day roster.
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During internal meetings with the front office, Mozeliak has mentioned to his staff the wish to keep that avenue open, to be prepared for that possibility.
“Who knows what’s going to happen next year?” he said.
Drafted as a third baseman, Walker increased his range this past season by playing all three outfield positions, and he focused on the outfield while in the Arizona Fall League. The Cardinals see him as an option for either corner outfield spot, especially as he’s filled out his 6-foot-5 frame with increased size, strength, and weight (around 250 pounds). The Cardinals had Walker take a run at the outfield so that there is a way for him to share a lineup with cornermen Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, two of the top three finishers for the NL MVP.
The Cardinals have not made non-roster invites to spring training official, though Walker will receive one, and the team also plans to have shortstop Masyn Winn in camp.
They represented the Cardinals in the Futures Game.
The new collective bargaining agreement has a mechanism in place that rewards teams that promote top prospects to the majors and keep them there all season, all in an attempt to avoid service time manipulation. Walker earning that chance and the Cardinals playing him could net them a bonus draft pick for 2024.
The World Baseball Classic will open some playing time for Walker and other players as regulars leave to compete in the international tournament. The Cardinals will have the opportunity to test Walker against some of the top pitchers in their corner of Florida, to see how the 20-year-old fares and responds to starts against such right-handers as the Mets tandem aces, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
In 119 games this past season for the S-Cards, Walker had 19 home runs, 51 extra-base hits and 68 RBIs. He struck out 116 times in 461 at-bats, and he was one of the most consistent hitters when it came to hard contact rates and exit velocity. In an Arizona Fall League game, he had a single that left his bat at 112 mph and a go-ahead RBI single that left his bat at 110 mph. His first two homers of the AFL traveled 423 feet and 434 feet, respectively.
There have been a handful of position player prospects who come to spring training with a chance to win a spot on the opening day roster, including Dylan Carlson and Kolten Wong in most recent years. Walker will draw comparisons to the late Oscar Taveras. An outfielder with power potential and an advanced bat just like Taveras, Walker is viewed as a young player who could make such a ruckus in spring training that the Cardinals cannot keep him out of the opening day mix. A few players have done that coming from other organizations (remember Ryan Ludwick’s spring?), but a Cardinals rising prospect to do it? To leap from lower affiliate to a strong spring and the majors? That was Albert Pujols in 2001.
“Sharing a bit of optimism for my personal self,” Mozeliak said of Walker’s entry into spring training. “I think he’s going to be a really exciting player to watch this spring. One who when you think about young players going into camp, I can think of two players in my career that had what that’s going to look like. He’s that type of player.”
Putting pitcher in PitchCom
This spring training, teams will be permitted to experiment with a new device from the creators of PitchCom, the pitch-calling tech that was in wide usage this past season to allow catchers to push-button call games and avoid sign-stealing attempts.
Pitchers will have the chance to wear the keypad — and call their own games.
The technology and device has not yet been approved for regular-season play, officials said, but the investors and MLB personnel showed the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday the keypad designed for pitchers. Several veteran pitchers requested the chance to have the pitch-calling device so that they could direct the catcher — or respond with an alternate pitch instead of just shaking the call off. Pitchers can wear the smaller, lighter version of the catcher’s keypad on their belt, and their pitch selection will broadcast to the hearing devices worn by the catcher and other players on the field.
With feedback from the pitchers and teams, Major League Baseball will determine at some point in spring if the pitcher’s device will be approved for game use in the season.
The PitchCom system used in the majors this past year with catchers using the keypad to call games will be used at Class AAA levels in 2023. That will get the catchers and pitchers used to the technology that was used by all 30 big-league clubs in 2022. The Cardinals were the last team in the majors to adopt its use.