Mid-season prospect ranking launches Cardinals' Tink Hence toward the top of the list

The Cardinals may finally have a home grown front-line starter on their hands.
St. Louis Cardinals Photo Day
St. Louis Cardinals Photo Day / Elsa/GettyImages

It's been a long time since the St. Louis Cardinals had a pitching prospect that was truly amongst the best in all of baseball. According to Baseball America (subscription required), Tink Hence belongs in that conversation now.

In their recent prospect list refresh, Hence jumped 62 spots on their top-100 list and is now the 22nd-ranked prospect in all of baseball. This also makes him the fourth-best right-handed pitching prospect and fifth-best pitching prospect overall on their list.

Hence has been one of the more exciting prospects in Minor League Baseball for the past few years, but the Cardinals' conservative build-up of Hence has added caution to talent evaluators as they waited to see what Hence could do with a true starter's workload. As the 2024 season has progressed, Hence has gone deeper and deeper into games, and his stuff continues to impress to the point that Baseball America even tweeted out that he could be the best starting pitching prospect left in the minors now that Paul Skenes has been promoted.

In 10 starts for Double-A Springfield this year, Hence has a 3.14 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 51.2 innings pitched while posting a 1.08 WHIP in the process. He's still not quite close to being a Major League call-up candidate, as it's clear he still needs more time to work on stringing together multiple starts in a row where he goes 5+ innings and does not come out the next start erratic. Once Hence is able to do that consistently, I'm sure he'll receive the call to Memphis, and he's tracking for a debut at some point in 2025.

From a bigger-picture perspective, this season has really shown how incredible the Caridnals' 2020 draft class could end up being. In that draft alone, the Cardinals picked up Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Alec Burleson, and Hence, giving them a chance at walking away with four very valuable big leaguers in a draft that was so odd for teams given the pandemic. The Cardinals' slow build-up of Hence has been wise for his development, and we may finally see the fruit of that labor pay off in the next 12 months.

I highly recommend checking out Baseball America's full list if you are subscribed, and if you are not already, it really is worth consideration as they do some really informative analysis of prospects and MLB draft coverage. You'll see how a few other Cardinals faired in their recent rankings, as there were a couple of prospects who took a hit in their ranking, while left-handed starter Quinn Mathews has made his own meteoric jump into the top 100.

The Cardinals' need for in-house developed starting pitching has been massive for a while. They continue to have to go out and spend on veteran arms to patch together their rotation, with over $60 million invested into that group for the 2024 season alone. Quality pitching coming through your own system provides depth when injuries happen, but also allows the Cardinals to allocate money to other parts of their roster when someone like Hence or Mathews is able to claim a rotation spot while making less than $1 million that season. Sonny Gray and Lance Lynn are the "cheapest" starters among their five-man group at $10 million, but Gray's contract rises to $25 million and then $35 million the following two seasons.

Help is not quite to St. Louis, but we seem to be nearing the day when their top pitching prospects can finally contribute in a meaningful way.