The National League Central is ascending, and nothing makes that clearer than MLB Pipeline's semiannual farm system rankings. After the No. 1-ranked Baltimore Orioles, the next four spots comprise teams from the NL Central: the Pittsburgh Pirates at 2, the Milwaukee Brewers at 3, the Chicago Cubs at 4, and the Cincinnati Reds at 5. The glaring omission is the St. Louis Cardinals, who rank 22nd.
Potential stars dot the landscape of the NL Central, from the rapidly ascending Jackson Chourio of the Brewers to the top pick of the 2023 draft, Paul Skenes of the Pirates. One of the reasons for the Cardinals' slide from ninth in the preseason to where they are now is the graduation of Jordan Walker from the list, who was among the top prospects in baseball before the season.
The Cardinals made the right decision by selling some of their assets at the trade deadline to bolster the minor leagues. Out of these acquisitions, infielder Thomas Saggese has impressed the most, hitting .363 over 91 at-bats with Double-A Springfield. Right-handed pitcher Tekoah Roby also has potential, but he has only made one start with Springfield after returning from injury.
The highest levels of the Cardinals' farm system have paled in comparison with the rest of the division after Walker's promotion.
The long-lambasted pitching development woes have come to hurt the Cardinals, as Tink Hence is widely seen as the only organizational prospect with the possibility to become an ace in the major leagues, while Gordon Graceffo's star has dimmed after a 4.40 ERA at Triple-A Memphis this season.
It's not just Double-A and Triple-A where the NL Central flourishes; the other teams in the division have deeper pools of players to call up when their top prospects inevitably make the major leagues. Hence and the recently promoted Masyn Winn are the only two Cardinals prospects on MLB.com's top 100 list. The Pirates have six players on the list, and the Brewers, Cubs, and Reds each have five, much of it courtesy of these teams having high draft picks for the last few years.
The Cardinals will be in unfamiliar territory next year, as they will likely have an early pick in the 2024 draft thanks to their abysmal performance this season. The Cardinals are a team that thrives on routine and risk aversion, so it's not out of the question that this drastic change could lead the team to fall on its face in the draft.
The division's likely imminent improvement makes the next few years vital for the Cardinals to figure out the best way to develop their talent and draft well. No longer the team the others aim to emulate, the Cardinals now need to keep up with the young guns in the division to avoid being a cellar dweller for the foreseeable future.