In January 2022, the Cardinals signed an exciting young outfielder from South Korea by the name of Won-Bin Cho. Cho had already built up a strong presence on social media, meaning he'd garnered more interest than most international prospects. He showed exceptional power for an 18-year-old, although he never made MLB Pipeline's top 30 international prospects. Cho was widely regarded as the most interesting high schooler coming out of South Korea.
The Cardinals also signed Jonathan Mejia, a much more highly touted international prospect, around the same time. However, it was Cho who received more attention from fans. Since coming stateside, Cho has delivered on that hype. Less than two years later, he ranks 13th on the Cardinals' top 30 prospect list, and he's poised to make another jump in 2024. Of the 12 prospects ahead of him, only Leonardo Bernal is younger. Most evaluators agree that he has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect in the system. He also has the best bat flips of any prospect in baseball!
Cho started slow, playing in just 26 games in 2022. He smacked just one home run, leading to increased concerns that he could struggle to switch from metal to wooden bats. However, he enjoyed a breakout season in 2023, dispelling many of those concerns. In 105 games with Single-A Palm Beach, Cho's numbers improved across the board. He slugged a respectable .389 and hit .270. Cho's left-handed swing has been described as simple, and evaluators believe that his 6'3 frame will only become more powerful.
His .765 OPS is especially exciting when considering the fact that the ballpark and league he played in often suppresses offensive numbers. An OPS of .765 is impressive for a teenager in the Florida State League. Cho's most exciting gains came in the plate discipline department. He drew an astonishing 64 walks in just 452 plate appearances, contributing to a .376 OBP. Once he begins to add strength and power, he could become a very, very dangerous hitter. With strong plate discipline, solid bat-to-ball skills, and emerging power, Cho has a decent chance at becoming a regular on an MLB roster.
For all of Cho's offensive potential, he could also be a star in the field someday. In 2023, he played all three outfield positions. He played the lion's share of his games in right, but he made 19 starts in center. Considering the lack of organizational depth in center field, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals handle his defensive development. He's a good runner right now, but will probably slow down enough to move out of center.
There's no reason to rush that change though, meaning he may continue to see some time in center as he works his way into the upper levels of the system. Cho pitched a little bit in high school, meaning he has the arm to fit long-term in right field. He projects as an above-average defender, though it's very early in his career to make those kinds of predictions.
Where Cho is assigned to begin the season will provide a lot of clarity regarding the organization's plans for his future. During our latest episode of the Noot News Podcast, a listener asked when we can expect to see Cho in St. Louis. If they decide to start him at the Double-A level, it would demonstrate a commitment to aggressively promoting him. In that scenario, he could reach the majors at some point in 2025. Unfortunately, that's the less likely case. Instead, the Cardinals will probably assign Cho to A+ Peoria, though there remains a chance they send him back to Palm Beach to begin the 2024 season. In either of these scenarios, a more reasonable ETA would be late 2026 or early 2027. You can check out our full conversation about Cho in the video below (32:00 min mark).
The only negative about Cho at the moment is volume. There's a lot to like, but the sample size is very small at the moment. Another season will give us plenty more to talk about! Cho remains one of the organization's most exciting prospects. If all goes well, he'll continue to move up the Cardinals' top 30 list. Notably, he's just one of the many exciting young position players in the system.
It's going to be awesome when Cho joins a lineup containing Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Arenado, Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Victor Scott II, and Thomas Saggese. Now, before you leave this page, enjoy this video of a 16-year-old Won-Bin Cho blasting baseballs into the night.