Major League Baseball’s offseason is underway, and that means everyone is thinking about the future. In most cities, that means next season; in some, though, it means the bigger picture, the next three to five years. You’re either selling wins or you’re selling hope, the old saying goes. We here at CBS Sports like to provide as much hope as we can around this time of the winter by evaluating each team’s farm system.
Of course, that doesn’t mean every team has an equally good farm system — some, as you’ll find out throughout this process, are lacking in that respect. It does mean, nevertheless, that CBS Sports will be spending the next couple of months examining the top three prospects in each organization. We define “prospects” as retaining their rookie eligibility for the 2024 season, so if a young player is missing that’s likely why.
These lists and evaluations are formed following conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development types. There’s also firsthand evaluation and bias thrown into the mix. Keep in mind that player evaluation is a hard task, and it’s fine if you disagree with the rankings. These are opinions, and they have no real bearing on the future. You can check out our winter top 25 list by clicking here.
With that in mind, let’s get to it by dissecting the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. Masyn Winn, SS (22 years old)
- The short version: Tooled-up shortstop who struggled in MLB debut.
- MLB ETA: Debuted in 2023
Winn arrived in the majors last August, once it became clear the Cardinals were going to miss out on the playoffs and could use the remaining games to audition younger talent. Alas, Winn’s big-league introduction didn’t go as planned. He batted .172/.230/.238 over 137 plate appearances, seldom making authoritative contact. (Whereas he cleared 105 mph in Triple-A nine times, his maximum exit velocity in the majors was just 103.9 mph.) There’s still plenty to like about his game overall. He posted above-average contact and chase rates, and he projects as an above-average shortstop with a massive arm. We suspect that his next spin in the majors will go much better. Still, it’s probably fair to think that he could benefit from opening next season in Triple-A.
2. Tink Hence, RHP (21 years old)
- The short version: Small frame, big arsenal righty still building workload.
- MLB ETA: Late summer 2024
Baseball sometimes operates on the availability heuristic: it’s not real until it’s real. Hence is learning that the hard way. He’s on the smaller side — listed at just 6-foot-1, 185 pounds — and the Cardinals have brought him along slowly with respect to his workload. Last season set a new career-high in innings, nearly doubling his previous high. He threw 96 innings. It stands to reason that Hence is not going to be ready to hold down a steady spot in the big-league rotation until 2025 at the earliest. He has a high ceiling nonetheless thanks to a high-quality fastball-breaker combination. Expect his stock to soar if he can stay healthy and productive over 100-plus frames in 2024.
3. Thomas Saggese, INF (21 years old)
- The short version: Well-rounded infielder with strong performance record.
- MLB ETA: Spring 2024
Saggese, acquired from the Rangers as part of the return on Jordan Montgomery, might end up being a better player than he is a prospect. That is to suggest that he’s consistently outperformed expectations, to the extent that there might be something under the hood that the eye test doesn’t capture. Saggese projects to be an above-average hitter with enough defensive versatility to ping-pong between second and third as needed. This may prove to be sweet on the profile, but that’s the catch with this type: you risk being too high (or low) on them until they force your hand. We think Saggese has done just that.