Cardinals prospect Luken Baker has shown flashes of a big bat during his minor league career, but how should the club handle the logjam at first base?
As Spring Training has gotten underway, St. Louis Cardinals fans are treated with looks at both the team of the present and prospects for the future. It can be exciting to dream about the potential of all players, but there always seem to be a few players that you just don’t quite know where to put them.
Enter Cardinals first base prospect Luken Baker.
Luke Baker was drafted No. 75 overall by the Cardinals in the 2018 MLB Draft out of TCU. Baker was known for his big bat during his college career, but had his junior season cut short by injury, leading to falling a bit in the draft.
Baker is the Cardinals’ No. 17 prospect, but is on the cusp of the MLB roster after slashing .249/.324/.530 with 26 home runs, 21 doubles, and 88 RBIs in 93 games. At 25 years old, Baker has little to prove at the minor league level.
The issue facing Baker at the moment is he is competing with All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and Cardinals’ 2021 Minor League Co-Players of the Year Juan Yepez and Jordan Walker. With this in mind, it will be very difficult for Luken Baker to find playing time on this roster at first base any time soon, and there are other, higher ceiling prospects in the system for the future. DH could be a landing zone for him, but the club also has a variety of bats vying for that spot.
There are a few options for Baker. First, which is not ideal for him, the club can stash him in AAA in case of an injury to guys like Yepez or Goldschmidt. This would give the club a bat in the wings if needed, and can help them get through stretches without their typical thumpers. Luken may also find another gear while playing in Memphis, and force his way into contributing on the major league club.
Another option that could be considered is using Baker as a trade chip to improve some of the roster’s current weaknesses, namely starting pitching. Although Baker is a lower tier prospect in the system, his potential as an impact bat as soon as this year could be an appealing part of a package for starting pitching help.
One test case for this scenario is to take a look at former Cardinals prospect Luke Voit.
Without a clear place on the roster, and becoming way too productive for the AAA roster, the Cardinals dealt Voit to the New York Yankees for relievers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. Gallegos has gone on to become one of the better relievers in baseball, while Luke Voit emerged as a key bat the the Bronx Bombers.
Voit was not a highly regarded Cardinal prospect, putting him in a very similar situation to Baker. It remains to be seen if Baker can develop into a similar kind of bat as Voit, but this goes to show it can be a bit risky giving up on productive first basemen like that. Although, St. Louis loved getting a top end reliever in exchange.
If the club is serious about improving another area of their roster, it would be worth looking at swinging a similar trade before or during the season. Even if Baker were to breakout for another club, St. Louis can be confident in their trio of Goldschmidt, Yepez, and Walker to carry the present and future of first base and DH.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Baker, but he is someone Cardinal Nation should be keeping an eye on.