TDG’S Triple Play: St. Louis Cardinals!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Greg Hoogkamp (@GregHoogkamp) and Andrew Jurewicz (@amoney2727), follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.
Dylan Carlson, Age: 24, Position: OF
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The former first round pick debuted with all the promise that comes with being the top Cardinals prospect and a top-10 overall prospect and a 60-grade future value. He had his best minor league season in 2019, where he hit 26 homers and stole 20 bases, mostly at Double-A. That really turned up the heat on his prospect status; and then the Cardinals played him in 35 games during the covid shortened 2020 season.
It was a forgettable debut season, but that he did it at age 21, was a big deal. Next, his 2021 season firmly put him on the future star path. Playing in 149 games and accumulating 619 plate appearances, the switch-hitting Carlson hit 18 homers, had 144 Runs + RBI, and slashed a respectable .266/.343/.437.
Things have Changed
While that 2021 season was a great jumping off point, it only produced a 113 wRC+. 2022 came and Carlson produced a league average 100 wRC+ while appearing in 122 games and battling hamstring and thumb injuries which landed him on IL. Still, there were some bright spots; Carlson lowered his K rate to 19% from 25% the season before while maintaining a 9% walk rate. But only eight homers a .236/.316/.380 slash line will not do.
Tangled Up in Blue
I was hoping that his baseball savant page would yield happier results; but 108 plate appearances doesn’t qualify him for this season and 2022 (and even 2021) doesn’t have much red at all (mostly defensive). Part of the issue with Carlson is he did a lot of learning at the big-league level, and that does not work for every highly touted prospect. Carlson has only played in 142 games above Single-A, and 108 of those were at Double-A.
Entering his age 24 season, Carlson should be improving, but he is not. As of this writing he is slashing an even worse than last season .230/.278/.350 while hitting only two homers in 32 games. He also has not played since May 14th, due to a left ankle injury. Even so, Carlson had hit 7th or 8th in the lineup when he was playing. He will start a rehab assignment this week.
Given a 50-grade hit tool with a 55 potential when a prospect by FanGraphs, Carlson had a career minor league average of .262 with a .352 OPS. His MLB numbers are worse, a .246 average and .320 OBP. He was given the same power grade, and we saw little of it in the minors as well; only 48 homers in 1498 at-bats, or one every 31 at-bats. His splits are also looking worse; as a lefthander he is hitting only .226 in 885 career MLB at-bats. Though Carlson is much better as a Right-handed hitter against lefties with a .304 batting average.
Simple Twist of Fate
The hype around Carlson, seems to me due to the fact that the Cardinals were aggressive in promoting him, and him joining the team for the shortened 2020 season. Maybe he spends all that season at Triple-A instead, thus giving him more at bats at that level, which it appears that he needed all along. With the way Cardinals outfielders prosper after leaving the organization (Randy Arozerena or Adolis Garcia, for examples), Carlson fans may be hoping a trip out of the Lou happens sooner rather than later. Only rostered in 47% of Fantrax leagues, it appears many leagues have no use for him (though, for what it’s worth, he is rostered in every one of my Dynasty leagues).
There are so many players vying for time in the Cardinals outfield, and while it is a bonus that Carlson can play centerfield well, if he does not hit, he will not play. It’s possible the Cards trade him, or he becomes a platoon player, or he spends the rest of 2023 at Triple-A figuring it out. There’s a lot of options, but none that I see help his fantasy teams in the near term.
Matthew Liberatore, Age: 23, Position: LHP
Analysis by: Greg Hoogkamp
“Leather and Lace”
There aren’t many 6’5″ left-handed pitchers around, especially starting pitchers; Matthew Liberatore is one of the very few. He was drafted in the first round (16th overall) of the 2018 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. When he was drafted, his scouting grades were above average across the board. He didn’t have the big fastball like a lot of first rounders; his velocity sat mostly in the low 90’s but could touch 95mph. What he did have was a traditional four pitch mix which he commanded very well, extremely rare for a high school pitcher.
“Let me count the ways”
Liberatore has had his ups and down during his minor league career. In 2018 Rookie ball and 2019 Low-A respectively, he had great success. In 106 IP he had a 2.59 ERA with 108 K’s and just .223 BA against. In January of 2020 Liberatore was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals as the key return piece in the Randy Arozarena deal. A couple of months later, the minor league season was canceled due to COVID so Liberatore’s debut with the Redbirds would have to wait. The Cardinals were aggressive with his 2021 assignment as they sent him to Triple-A, completely skipping Double-A. Things did not come as easy for him in Memphis as he posted a 4.04 ERA in 2021 and in 2022 the struggles got even worse as his ERA ballooned to 5.17. The main reasons for the weaker performance in those two seasons were that his ground ball rate dropped several points while his home run rate jumped. The former number 37 prospect (preseason 2021) on MLB Pipeline had lost some of his luster.
“That made me stronger”
Over the course of the off-season, the Peoria, AZ native added some velocity on his pitches and it made a big difference in his results during spring training. Unfortunately for Liberatore, there was no room in the veteran-laden Cardinals rotation and he was sent back to Triple-A. His third stint with the Redbirds has been a completely different story for Liberatore and his new found velocity. In 46 innings opponents are hitting just .226 off him and he has put up a 3.13 ERA to go along with a 30.3% K rate and a 9.2% BB rate. He has maintained his velocity bump through the first two months of the season as well; his 4-Seam fastball is now sitting at 95.3 mph (93.8 in 2022), his Sinker at 95.7 mph (92.8 in 2022) and his slider at 87.7 mph (85.9 in 2022).
“I need to know”
The Cardinals stumbled out of the gate this season and a lot of the struggle has come from poor starting pitching. Liberatore was called up on May 17th and made two starts (sandwiched around a one inning relief appearance) with mixed results (11 IP, 6 ER, 9 K 6 BB). The key for Liberatore will be to maintain his velocity gains all the way through his starts. If he can do this, he should have a much better chance at more consistent success. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on in your leagues.
Masyn Winn, Age: 21, Position: SS, Level: Triple-A
Analysis by: Andrew Jurewicz
The St. Louis Cardinals crushed the 2020 MLB draft. Their first three picks turned out to be Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, and Tink Hence; an organization that knows how to get the most from its development program really has some exciting names to look forward to. Let’s check in on one of the prospects I have stashed in a couple leagues, Masyn Winn!
Winning Me Over
Drafted in the 2nd round (54th overall) in 2020, Winn had the potential to be a two way player with a set of impressive tools and athleticism which included an MLB caliber arm from the shortstop position. You might have seen this clip of Winn absolutely unloading for a 100+ mph throw at the 2022 MLB futures game. While that kind of arm would be a tantalizing talent from the mound the Cardinals are focused on his development at the shortstop position for the future after a successful 2022 campaign hitting .283/.364/.468 across two levels reaching Double-A due to improved his swing metrics for more contact and power. Seriously though, the athleticism with Winn is no joke, he’s been ranked as the best athlete in the Cardinals system every year since 2021 by Baseball America. With these tools it’s easy to dream of him putting it all together and contributing at a high level.
Is your team Winn now?
Winn opened the 2023 season at Triple-A Memphis shortly after his 21st birthday and is a little more than five years younger than average age at this level; definitely impressive in my opinion he’s competing at Triple-A for his age. Through 54 games (264 PAs) he’s hitting .254/.322/.371 with six HRs and 12 SBs. While we’d all like to see a higher OPS it is encouraging that he’s holding his own against the level of competition. Most likely he will play out the entire year in Triple-A and start off 2024 there again, while setting himself for the starting shortstop job for the Cardinals for the future (aside from if any major injuries were to happen).
Patience is going to be important for those keeping Winn on a roster as he’s likely still a few years away from becoming an impact player. If your squad is close to or in the middle of a rebuild I like the idea of holding onto him as a piece of the puzzle to turn around your squad. However, as the mid-season trade market heats up if you’re in a win now he’s a piece that should get the attention of other dynasty managers and get what you need for your own squad to make a run. As I mentioned before I roster him in a couple leagues and that includes situations in both the rebuild and win now so I’ve got some decisions to make. My advice is to make good choices! Also his middle name is Blaze…fire…why isn’t he on your team!?!