St. Louis Cardinals: The difficult path for prospect Luken Baker

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 15: Baseball player Luken Baker attends The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 15: Baseball player Luken Baker attends The 2015 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images) /

Luken Baker is a rising prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system. But due to the arrival of Paul Goldschmidt and three current third base prospects, Baker may find his rise to the major league obstructed.

First base prospect Luken Baker has been an under-the-radar piece in the St. Louis Cardinals system since being drafted in 2018. He has been overshadowed by his fellow 2018 draft pick, Nolan Gorman, whose stock is rapidly rising the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

However, the 6′-4″, 265lb, Baker is beginning to raise eyebrows after his first year in the Cards minor league system. During 2018 in Rookie/Low A ball, he hit for a slash line of .319/.386/.460 with four home runs and 22 RBI’s in 45 games. He didn’t show his complete power potential last year, but the Cardinals know it’s there.

At TCU, Baker was named ‘Big 12 Freshman of the Year’ after hitting 11 HR’s and 62 RBI’s with a .379 BA in 67 games. Baker’s sophomore and junior years were cut short by injuries, but still showed power and a solid contact rate when he was healthy. In 2017, he hit eight home runs in 47 games, and in 2018, he hit nine home runs in 31 games.

In spite of the injuries, the St. Louis Cardinals liked what they saw and selected him as 76th overall in the 2018 MLB draft. Baker was assigned to the GCL Cardinals and promptly batted .500 in eight games. He was then promoted to the Peoria Chiefs in Low A and hit .288 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 37 games.

The potential is there for Baker to hit a lot of home runs and it will interesting to see what kind of season he has in 2019. Nevertheless, there are obstacles in his way on how far he can advance in the St. Louis Cardinals system. Fair or not, he has little control over these obstacles, and they are not of his own making.

Obstacle 1: Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals in a trade on December 5, 2018. The first base position is settled for 2019 and that doesn’t affect Luken Baker this year. How it impacts Baker is whether the Cardinals sign Goldschmidt to an extension.

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If the Cardinals sign Goldschmidt to a five-year deal, that would lock up first base for the foreseeable future and could make Baker’s career path in the organization fuzzy. However, if the Cardinals and Goldschmidt can’t come to terms and the power hitting first baseman leaves after 2019, then the path to first base becomes open again for Baker.

Luken Baker is currently projected to arrive in the major leagues in 2021-2022. Even if Paul Goldschmidt is signed by the Cardinals to a three-year extension, this shouldn’t impede Baker’s progress to St. Louis. In fact, signing Goldschmidt to a three-year extension would give the organization time to develop a player such as Baker to be a future first baseman for the Cardinals.

Obstacle 2: Gorman, Montero, and Nunez

Wait, you say. Aren’t they third base prospects? Yes, they are, and could impede Luken Baker’s progression to St. Louis. All three could be converted to first base.

Nolan Gorman, Elehuris Montero, and Malcom Nunez are among the Cardinals top prospects. They seem to be in everyone’s top 10 prospects list for the Cardinals organization. Derrick Gould lists them as the top three prospects in his ‘Bird Land 7’ list.  Gould’s ‘Bird Land 7’ list is the best prospects who have yet to hit the major league.

Nolan Gorman (18) was the Cardinals top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and immediately made an impression with Johnson City in the rookie league and Peoria in the A league. In a combined 63 games he had a slash line of .291/.380/.570 with 17 HR and 44 RBI’s. The left-handed hitter is expected to arrive in the majors as early as 2020.

Elehuris Montero (20) was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2014. In 2018, Montero begin to put things together in both Low A and High A ball. The right-handed hitter, had a combined slash line of .315/.371/.504 with 16 HR and 82 RBI’s in 127 games. Montero is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2021.

Malcom Nunez (17) was signed out of Cuba in 2018 and assigned to the DSL, where has opened many eyes. In 44 games he had a slash line of .415/.497/.774 with 13 HR and 59 RBI’s. The right-handed hitter is expected to be assigned to the states in 2019 and maybe start working out at first base. Given his youth, Nunez is not projected to hit the majors before the 2022 season.


So this is the challenge for Luken Baker becoming the everyday first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Even if Paul Goldschmidt is not extended, there still are three highly regarded third base prospects who could be converted to first. All three are currently ahead of Baker in the prospect listings, and may get first shot at first before he does.

However, trades could be made that would clear the path for Baker and allow him to advance in the Cardinal system. Also, the addition of the DH to the National League would open up opportunities in the future for this young prospect.

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No matter, keep an eye on this talented right-handed hitter in 2019 and see how far he advances. Who knows, maybe even as early as 2020, we’ll get a look at Luken Baker in St. Louis.