1 - Jordan Walker
The expectations for Cardinals' top prospect Jordan Walker were immensely high going into 2023, and he did not disappoint. Sure, his outfield defense was unplayable to start the season, but he improved drastically over the course of the year. At just 21 years old, Walker showed his ability to become the next homegrown Cardinals superstar. He struggled at times, but Walker proved to be a complete Major League-ready hitter as he slashed .276/.342/.445/.787 for a 114 OPS+.
With Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll, and Francisco Alvarez graduating at the start of the 2023 season, Walker was MLB Pipeline's number 1 overall prospect on May 14. Talents like Walker don't come around often, so the Cardinals need to extend him as soon as they can. When presented with life-changing money, young MLB players may accept a team-friendly deal to have their future secured. For example, Ronald Acuna Jr. accepted an 8-year $100 million extension following his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018. Sure, Walker didn't have an Acuna-like rookie season, but his talent and promise is evident.
Walker showed great resiliency in his rookie season, facing more adversity than the average top prospect. Even after a demotion to Triple-A, a Cardinals team that wildly underperformed expectations, and transitioning to a new position on the biggest stage, he held his head high and maintained very good numbers at a very young age. Even with his ceiling untapped, Walker was an extremely solid hitter for the Cardinals. With his elite exit velocities, we can only dream of what will happen if he fixes his launch angle problem and starts elevating the baseball.
With Walker's hitting and athleticism, a contract extension is unlikely to go poorly, even if done this offseason. If the Cardinals choose to wait on extending Walker, however, a breakout 2024 season could cause his price to skyrocket. If Walker does start elevating the ball and his home run numbers begin to spike, he may play himself out of the Cardinals' price range, causing the team to miss out on the prime years of a homegrown superstar.