Updated: Feb 14
THIS IS THE PROSPECT PREAMBLE.
Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.
I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.
Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry)and Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.
I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.
The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.
Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:
KAREEM AND CARDINALS REEKS TOP 12
THIS HAS GONE ON TOO LONG. LET'S. GO.
1B Luken Baker
Age 26 Season (March Birthday)
Drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2018 Draft
Listed at 6'4, 280 (lol). Bats R, Throws R.
I will never fully give up on any prospect after one shitty season. Especially one shitty season at the highest level of the minors.
It was kind of a shitty year for Baker, though.
Still, we will not give up on a kid that strikes the ball as hard as Baker does, either. Especially when there is clearly more raw power in his swing and size than most of the prospects in the organization.
There's also this weird thing about Baker that I think is very hard to describe or quantify. It might be a little bit of a cop-out of an evaluation, and it might be an evaluator looking too hard for positives, but I don't believe that there is a hitter in the organization that "just misses" pitches the way that Baker does. At-bat after at-bat, Baker fouls off pitches of all types that he "just misses".
Some of these are moon shots crushed just on the foul side of the fair poll. Some of these misses are in the form of a pitch fouled directly back. What I feel confident in saying that I've observed these events at a much higher clip for Baker as compared to other prospects in the organization.
Obviously, if Baker can do more with these events, if he can time these pitches up better, then we will see this tree-sized man's offensive production revert back to (and possibly surpass) something similar to what we saw during that incredibly productive and promising 2021 Double-A season. Of this, I have no doubt of. Unfortunately, I'm not a hitting coach or a psychologist, so I'm going to be no good to you in providing the answer on how he's going to do that. it does seem to these untrained eyes - eyes that have watched Baker more than probably anyone over the last two seasons - that he has just a weeeeee lil hitch with his hands upon releasing his hand-load that I believe to be mental. Of course, there's a better chance that it isn't even real and I'm making it up. Again, I am literally just some asshole. You shouldn't even be entertaining me with your interest. One thing that I know for sure is that the torque in Luken's swing is a thing of beauty, and you'll pick up on it in every one of these gifs.
There were a few times during the season when Baker would show signs of putting it together the way that he did during the 2021 season, but those moments never lasted long enough to get too excited about. There were stretches where he'd be locked in and I was going to isolate those moments, but I'm deciding against it because it was never really consistent. Maybe Baker just needs to let it rip and say "screw the rest". At this point, I think that's what I'd like to see. Specifically against lefties because he was a fraction of himself against those sonsabitches during the 2022 season. He went from hitting 281/371/652 in 105 plate appearances during the 2021 season to hitting 214/259/382 in 143 plate appearances in 2022,
All of this complaining and recommending, and I've ignorantly ignored the fact that Baker still put up a 21 homer season with 14 doubles in 513 plate appearances during the 2022 season. I don't think that I'm giving him enough credit for maintaining his strikeout rate while having the decrease in production. I think that you can look at the decrease of his walk rate by about 2.5% and see that his BABIP was about the same as last year and get a pretty good feeling that Baker was just a little too aggressive too often at the plate, specifically against lefties like we touched on in the paragraph above. If he can be a little pickier at the plate we'll probably see that slugging percentage get back about the .410 mark, at least.
When Baker does make contact that finds it's way into fair territory, it's usually hit pretty damn hard. His average exit velocity on the season was 87.3 MPH, with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 105.2. Baker isn't overly aggressive about chasing out of the zone so that isn't the issue, it's just a matter of what pitches he goes after inside of the zone and what he does with those pitches.
Aside from his work at the dish, it's the same old song and dance for Baker as his write-up from last year. He's slow, but with good movement around the first base bag for his size. He displayed some really awesome skills defensively during the 2021 season, but those moments were less frequent during the 2022 campaign. Even then, with maybe a step backwards defensively last season, Baker has made some great strides there since entering the organization. He does some of the best scooping work at first of the many first base prospects that I've seen come through the organization over the years. At the moment that I write this, I can say that I would feel comfortable if Baker had to man first at the Major League level. I'm not going to say anything more in regards to that because we don't need that energy in the house that Goldschmidt built.
Luken Baker is a fine prospect that could find his way near the top 10 if he can rediscover some of that consistent slug that we saw him demonstrate during the 2021 season, specifically against lefties. In the interest of being candid, I'm almost certainly being too harsh in dropping him this far down the list. I am greatly looking forward to seeing Luken Baker prove me so wrong in 2023.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis