Q/A with Cardinals insider John Denton of MLB.com one week from Opening Day
By Josh Jacobs
We got an opportunity to chat with MLB.com's John Denton about all things St. Louis Cardinals
With Opening Day being just a week away for the St. Louis Cardinals, we wanted to take some time to chat with someone who follows the team closely about how Spring Training has been going for Cardinals' prospects, what to expect from the Opening Day roster, and the Cardinals' starting pitching situation. Cardinals Insider and MLB.com's John Denton talked with me on the phone Wednesday night about these topics and more.
Here is my conversation with John Denton.
Josh Jacobs: Obviously the number one topic among most fans is Jordan Walker. He started off camp on fire but has cooled off a little bit. What have been your impressions of Walker so far this camp? Do you think, as of today, he'll be making the Cardinals' Opening Day Roster?
John Denton: You know, in so many ways, the kid seems like he's too good to be true. I mean, he's 20 years old. He's built like a tight end and he runs like a wild receiver, and he hits it like Albert Pujols. It feels like 2001 all over again. The kid has never spent a day in Triple-A but he hits and he hits and he hits and he just forces his way onto the roster. What he has done so far is incredible.
Like you said, he has cooled off a little bit. I asked Oli Marmol about that today and Oli said "It just proves he's human". I just think the kid's talent is too undeniable. I think the Cardinals see that this is a young guy on a collision course for greatness. His father went to MIT, his mother went to Harvard, and his mother got her master's from Washington University in St. Louis. The kid had a 3.9 GPA in high school, he had a scholarship offer to Duke, and his nickname in high school was the resume, it just seems like this kid was built in a factory somewhere because he's perfect in so many ways. I don't think you can leave him off the Opening Day roster. I think they realize that his talent is just too great.
Jacobs: You said he seems like he's been built in a factory somewhere and brought up a lot of great things about him. A lot of fans have been hesitant to get too excited about Walker because they've felt disappointed by a Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman, what are some other things that separate Walker from Cardinals prospects in recent memory?
Denton: I think it's his maturity. This is a kid who's 20, yet he seems like he's 30. He's patient, humble, and intelligent, and when you see him at the plate, he's not a guy who is hunting for home runs. He's not a one-trick pony who's cheating on a fastball and trying to pull it 500 feet. He hit .300 every month in Double-A but one last season, so he's as much a base hitter as he is a home run guy. I don't think he's ever going to be a home run guy, but I think he could be a 15-18 home run guy his rookie season because he's so patient and smart at the plate. He doesn't get fooled that often and his maturity is off the charts. So I think those factors give him a chance at success right away.
Jacobs: So speaking of Carlson, that Cardinals outfield competition is really crowded, which is a good problem to have. How do you see the outfield shaking out then if Walker is making the Opening Day roster, and how does Oli Marmol balance playing time between the main four [Walker, O'Neill, Carlson, and Nootbaar] as well guys like Yepez and Burleson?
Denton: Yeah it makes it tricky, no doubt. We've seen the only position that Tyler O'Neill has played all Spring Training other than DH has been center field. I think he's going to be your Opening Day center fielder, it's a position he wants to play, and it's a position that he can play. Personally, I think Dylan Carlson is the best defensive option in center field. But it looks like now, if Jordan Walker starts Opening Day, if Jordan Walker makes the team he's got to play every day, and that means he's going to play left or right field four, five, six days a week. So you're going to almost platoon the other three. Oli Marmol showed last season that he's going to play the players that have the best matchups against the pitchers that day. I think it's just going to come down to the kid is going to play, and the other three are going to have to be okay with being a DH some of the time and platooning some of the time.
Jacobs: Another youngster that has been turning heads this spring is Masyn Winn. So what has the talk been from the Cardinals' coaching staff and front office around Winn at camp?
Denton: You know, the rankings have Jordan Walker at number one and Masyn Winn at number two, but the more and more we see, it may be more "1 and 1A" because Masyn Winn has really impressed. They knew he had the cannon of a right arm, and they knew he had a flashy glove, but they didn't know he was this advanced at the plate. He had an opposite-field home run one time, he had a 435-foot home run the other time, and he had a three-hit day where he was a home run shy of the cycle. This kid, you know Jordan Walker is 6'5 and 250, this kid is 5'11 and 180 and he has provado that is bigger than Jordan Walker. He's good and he knows he's going to be great. He knows he doesn't have a shot at making the roster this year, but he's going to be great too. It's been cool to see Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, two guys who were drafted together in 2020, they were roommates in Single-A, they were roommates last year in Springfield, how they kind of lean on each other, push each other, and motivate each other.
Jacobs: Do you think there is any kind of pathway or legitimate shot that [Masyn] Winn has toward coming up to St. Louis at any point this year?
Denton: The only way he comes up is if Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, or Nolan Gorman get hurt. He said it the other day, "I could go 50-50 with 50 bombs in my next 50 at-bats" and it's not going to happen when you have Tommy Edman, who was a Gold Glover at second base, and Brendan Donovan won a Gold Glove last year. He's realistic, he knows what's in front of him. But if one of those guys were to go down, if the team were to deal Paul DeJong, that could open some doors for him. But like we said with Jordan Walker, if [Winn] comes up, he's got to play every day. He can't be the DH. He's can't be a sprinkle-in to play here or there guy. He's got to play five or six days a week. The opportunities just aren't there yet. Give him a few more games in Triple-A, then if you have an injury, you can bring him up. Otherwise, it's a waiting game.
Jacobs: One last thing on prospects. MLB Pipeline just released their Farm System rankings this evening and had the Cardinals ranked as the ninth-best system in baseball. So what are some names you are watching in the Cardinals' system right now, outside of a Walker or Winn?
Denton: Alec Burleson has had a great camp and was a part of that 2020 class. He's hit a lot of balls at people, but here lately, he's starting to find holes. The Cardinals really want to find a place for Alec Burleson. They want to find a place for Nolan Gorman. The left-handed bats are such a commodity in this league. They have a heavy right-handed roster with Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras. They need left-handed bats, and if Paul DeJong starts the year on the Injured List, then I think Burleson has a shot at making the roster.
And then one more is Tink Hence. Tink Hence is the fourth piece that came from that 2020 draft. He's an electric arm. Another kid who is mature beyond his years, a kid who knows he's going to be great at some point. You know, he his 99 [MPH] this year, he went right at Pete Alonso and got Alonso out. He is a guy who has unlimited potential, he's just got to work and build up his innings. I think he threw 56 innings last year in Single-A, he'll probably start this year in Peoria. If he gets over 100 innings, then by 2024 I could see him competing for a spot in the starting rotation.
Jacobs: You mentioned Burleson in that equation for DeJong's spot. Do you think if DeJong starts on the IL, that is Burleson's spot to lose? Or do you see that potentially going to a [Taylor] Motter, [Kramer] Robertson, or someone else?
Denton: Taylor Motter has been impressive. He's been a lot more athletic than they realized. They knew he was kind of a scrapper and he could hit the ball but they didn't realize he could play all of these positions. In any other camp, Taylor Motter might have been the story of this camp, but he's going to float under the radar because of Walker and Winn showing out every day. But since Burleson hits left-handed, you can never have enough left-handed bats coming off the bench late in games, pinch hitters, that sort of thing. I give it gives Burleson an advantage. They felt like Burleson, last year, swung at too many pitches. This year, they've got him waiting on the pitches he can do damage with and he's hitting the ball as hard as anyone in this camp, maybe other than Nolan Gorman.
Jacobs: Well I've got two more questions for you John. I know no one can predict the future, but many are anticipating that the Cardinals will need to make a move for pitching, more specifically, front-line pitching, before this year's trade deadline. As we stand now, do you think this front office is going to be willing to make a splash this summer to compete with the top clubs in the National League?
Denton: There's so much to happen between now and then, I don't think the roster that they have now will be the roster they finish the season with. The Cardinals showed last year that they will go out and address needs if they have them. Maybe the payroll didn't jump as much as most fans wanted, but John Mozeliak and Bill Dewitt both said that "Hey, there is money to go out and make fixes and add to the team at the trade deadline". Last season, going out and getting [Jose] Quintana and [Jordan] Montgomery, those were two big additions that pushed them over the edge. They have depth in the farm system, they have talent in the farm system. They even have people at the Major League level where there is depth that they can deal from. I don't think that the rotation they have now will be the one they end the season with, and that'll mean going out in August and getting someone.
Jacobs: Before we wrap up our conversation tonight, I really wanted to hear if you had a bold prediction for the Cardinals in 2023?
Denton: [Laughs] It's funny, I'm working on season preview stuff, and my bold prediction is one of the categories I had to do, so I said not only is Jordan Walker going to win the NL Rookie of the Year award but I think he's going to be a 20/20 player. I think he's going to hit twenty home runs and steal twenty bases in his rookie year. I hope that's bold enough for you.
Jacobs: Love it. John, thanks for your time tonight, I really appreciate you carving some time out.
Denton: Sounds great man, thanks a lot. Take care.
You can follow John Denton on Twitter (@JohnDenton555) and catch his stories as he covers the team daily on MLB.com.