port st. LUCY, FL — Before he could make his welcome to St. Louis and continue his sparkling rise to Jordan Walker as the Cardinals’ best player in a generation, manager Oliver Marmol first had a question.
In the manager’s office at Roger Dean Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with Walker sitting across from him and bench coach Joe McEwing nearby, Marmul asked the 20-year-old outfielder what he thought was his “best tool.”
He said: I don’t think about things too long, good or bad; I just moved on to the next thing, and that’s what helped me,” Marmol recited. “It just confirmed why he was ready.”
Walker will want to remember what happened next for a long time.
Marmol told Walker he will be on the Opening Day roster when the Cardinals begin the season Thursday at Busch Stadium against Toronto. Possibly in the starting lineup at one of the outside cornerback spots, Walker catapulted from Class AA to the majors. Before his 21st birthday on May 22, Walker will be the youngest Cardinal to make a major league debut since slashing Rick Ankiel’s curveball at age 20 in 1999.
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Entering spring training, the Cardinals wanted to make way for Walker to make his way to the majors from the start, and despite a stellar finish to the spring the 6-foot-6, 250-pound right-handed talent was always one of their standout players.
“He went in and (we) made it clear that it was about competition, and if he proves he’s ready he’ll have a real chance,” Marmol said. “Being able to sit across from him and pay homage was amazing. … That (being able to get going) is the break once you get into the big leagues. Yeah, you have to be able to hit and compete and play defense and do all the things he does. It’s when he does.” Things get tough, when you face adversity and you encounter certain obstacles and people start to question your ability — to cancel the noise and keep doing your job. I think he has that ability.”
“He’s opened a lot of eyes at this camp,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “He’s someone who has benefited from not having other people here. When you consider that two-thirds of the pitch in the[World Baseball Classic]created a lot of innings and hits for him, and he made the most of it.”
Between Saturday’s doubleheader games, the Cardinals finished off their planned 26-man roster with a series of meetings and moves that confirmed additions — and some departures.
Veteran utility man Taylor Mutter, 33, has been added to the 40-man roster and Opening Day roster after an impressive spring training. The Cardinals also want to keep him for quarterback depth as backup shortstop Paul DeJong starts the year on the injured list. Freshman Alec Burleson stepped into the squad — just hours before he was dropped to thwart a Mets turnaround at Clover Park in a 4-4 tie Saturday night. Juan Yepez, who hit the Cardinals’ only homer last October, was drafted to Class AAA Memphis.
The Cardinals also selected lefty Genesis Cabrera and Jojo Romero to Memphis after each pulled off the team’s 3-2 victory Saturday afternoon over Miami in Jupiter, Florida. The team also assigned Andrew Suarez to minor league camp.
This installs Zack Thompson and Packy Naughton as the team’s left-handed relievers in the bullpen and confirms that Andre Pallante and Chris Stratton will be the last right-handed pitchers added to the bullpen. Ryan Helsley, Giovanni Gallegos, Jordan Hicks and Drew Verhagen were already (obviously) heading north.
Marmol called the left-hand derby his “toughest call”, and put off finishing the decision even after seeing how Saturday afternoon’s game turned out.
“You look at guys who’ve all competed really well (and there’s) only two spots for them, and when you look at Cabby’s body of work, we trust him and we love him,” said Marmol. “At the end of the day, Naughton and Thompson used the offseason really well. If you look at Thompson going down the curve that’s what we want him to do. His passing is several miles an hour, that’s going to open up his game. We felt like we were going to give those two guys a chance, and we’d see if we got it right.”
The Cardinals will cap the 13 pitchers allowed on the 26-man roster, and the 13 players will also include backup catcher Andrew Kneisner. Nolan Gorman is positioned to be the designated hitter and sometime second baseman. Brendan Donovan will start there and backup Tommy Edman at shortstop. The Cardinal stressed that if Walker is in the majors he is in the lineup, and the rookie will get playing time on the court alongside Lars Nutbarr, Tyler O’Neal and Dylan Carlson.
In meetings, Marmul stressed that Opening Day is one slate and not the slate that will conclude the season or even move the team into contention. It’s a start.
“Whoever doesn’t make the club is going to contribute at some point,” Marmul said a few hours before telling Walker. “That’s the whole point of having options and being able to have some depth. We want to make sure — are we missing anything with the message that we’re being sent by the people we’re taking, which are the 26 that we’re taking?”
One of the camp’s most impressive young players, shortstop Massen Wien, punctuated his spring training by putting up an impressive double play Saturday night. He dove to his left, scrambled to his feet, touched second on his own, and threw a laser first to get Francisco Lindor into a step. Winn learns he’s headed to Class AAA Memphis – having pushed his mission forward with a strong camp.
“I think I deserve to be in the big leagues and I will be there one day,” Wayne said.
Drafted in 2020, Winn and Walker are now the best of friends. Wayne was on the team bus when he received a text from Walker about meeting up with Marmol.
“I jumped up and down, punching the seat,” Wayne said. “I almost shed a tear for him. He’s 20 and about to do whatever he wants.”
Mutter’s addition filled out the 40-man roster. The Cardinals will move later this week to make room for the addition of Walker.
Walker, the 21st overall pick in 2020, would be the eighth player the Cardinals had on their roster before his 21st birthday. This list includes Ankiel, Steve Carlton, and Rogers Hornsby. At Class AA Springfield this past summer, Walker hit .306 with a 0.38 on-base percentage and a 0.510 ERA. He had 19 homers and 22 steals, vaulting towards the top of every potential ranking in the industry. The Cardinals called him their best overall prospect since he forced his way to the Opening Day roster with strong springer Albert Pujols.
At the Grapefruit League’s mid-table, Walker led in average, hits, hits, and extra base hits. Since his right shoulder slid into second base, his roaring start has subsided but remains impressive. He takes .508 slow and .816 OPS in the last two games of the show. Off the field, the Cardinals saw encouraging metrics — and clearly responded to some frustrated hitting and swinging over pitches sinking from the area.
“We could talk about his tools all day,” Marmol said. “These guys don’t play if you can’t handle some of the pressure. So, it’s not to the degree of pressure he’d have at a big-league level, but it’s an example of what he has the most. See how he responds, and I feel like he did it really well.”
“You have to see things aren’t going to rush him, and he deserves a shot,” Marmol later added of the fast-growing rookie.
extra rulesFastball Hick hit 104.6 mph in the fourth inning on Saturday night against the Mets. It’s the fastest pitch measured by Statcast in regular season or spring training since 2018. … Nolan Arenado went 1-for-3 on his own in the Cardinals afternoon win over Miami, putting his spring batting average down. to . 579. … Maafi Stratton hit a scoreless 1 2/3 innings in the Cardinal’s first game on Saturday and fired a surge of pace that caught Marmul’s attention. Stratton, who was re-signed after being acquired by trade last July, has struck out three and could see a multi-inning role from the bullpen. He touched 95.4 mph with his four-seam fastball, and his slider hit 89.6 mph, 1.2 mph more than his average. … Lefty Bressin Mautz, the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2022, struck out all three batters in a ninth-inning tackle to save in the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory over Miami. “If that doesn’t serve him as a confidence booster as he goes into his season,” Marmol said. “So much fun to watch.”
“Alcohol enthusiast. Twitter ninja. Tv lover. Falls down a lot. Hipster-friendly coffee geek.”