A mural decorates the scene outside Hammons Field, a map of Missouri painted powder blue with two red symbols: one small heart in the southwest corner and the legendary STL logo where the Colosseum of a baseball empire beckons.

In between them it reads: 214.7 miles.

The gap is as figurative as it is physical and for every minor leaguer it narrows or widens with each passing season.

Photo courtesy of the Springfield Cardinals

For Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn – 20-year-old phenoms ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the Cardinals’ prospects list by MLB.com – that distance is shrinking by the day.  They are no longer just dreaming about playing at Busch Stadium; bigger aspirations have taken hold.

“I think about playoffs, I think about pushing for a World Series ring,” Winn said outside the clubhouse during the final homestand last week.

“Especially with the team they have now – I think maybe next year or in couple years I can contribute, that will be a great time. We envision it a lot – we’re really trying to get a ring with this group of guys. We got a great group of guys and coming up with them is going to be a lot of fun – and just adding to the team they have.”

Walker and Winn are a textbook example of minor league players coming of age together.

Drafted in 2020 they spent that summer at the Cardinals’ alternative training site and portions of the next one at Palm Beach.  Promoted to Springfield in May, Winn moved in with Walker and success followed.

Walker’s multi-homer game on June 2.

Winn’s three-hit night and first Double-A homer on June 12.

Walker’s first walk-off home run at any level on June 15.

Winn’s two hits, two walks, and two stolen bases on June 22.

They represented St. Louis in the 2022 MLB Futures Game in Los Angeles where Winn uncorked a 100.5 mph infield throw that generated rave reviews in Hollywood and kept critics – like Dodgers’ infielder Justin Turner – talking about it more than a month later.

The highlights grabbed attention, but subtle improvements bred confidence too.

“Seeing sliders a little bit better from the beginning of the season,” Walker said. “I feel like at the beginning of the season I was really struggling with sliders in the dirt.”

Walker wanted to steal 15 bases in 2022 – he swiped his 19th of the season on Thursday. He’s on the cusp of reaching other preseason goals but with six games remaining, he’s staying mum.

Photo courtesy of the Springfield Cardinals

“I’m close to some, I don’t want to talk about them yet – I’m a big ‘I might jinx myself’ guy.”

Off the field, teammates gravitated to the Walker-Winn living room.

“Our apartment is usually a hang-out spot,” Walker said. “Brady Whalen, (Mike) Antico – we’ll all hang out and watch baseball games together.”

If you think Jordan is bluffing about watching baseball in his spare time, think again.

“All of us are trying to get to the league and I really want to get to the league too, so I’m going to keep working,” Walker said. “There’s definitely a few guys, I’m just like yeah, they’re about it too.”

When the MLB trade deadline passed, the apparent had become obvious: Walker and Winn are destined for St. Louis.

Next up though, a trip to the desert when the Arizona Fall League begins in October.

For pending minor league free agents Brady Whalen and Delvin Pérez, the autumn winds carry an uncertain future.

The pair of 2016 draft picks developed a fun but short-lived tradition while playing for Peoria in 2019.

“We would dunk on mascots on the road sometimes if they were vulnerable to it,” Whalen said. “And Delvin got up one time and knocked the guy a little bit, and we were kind of – we stopped doing it.”

Brady – a switch-hitting first baseman with gold-glove defensive skills – was a Midwest League All-Star for the Chiefs that season.

The last few years haven’t been so lighthearted.

The 2020 season was cancelled, and injuries limited Whalen to 67 appearances in 2021.

He was injured again this spring and on the shelf until May. Once healthy, the Cardinals sent the 24-year-old to Low-A Palm Beach – an experience that both humbled and matured him.

“I spent more time there than I thought I’d spend there,” he said.

“But it was really awesome for me to discover myself as a leader and be the older guy in a clubhouse where guys look up to you, where I could really set an example for younger guys – it was really a blessing for my career, honestly looking back.”

Whalen was promoted to Double-A in August and made a splash in his first 25 games. The Vancouver, Washington native boasts a .321 average, 26 hits and 13 RBIs plus several web-gems at first base.

The largest crowd of the season packed Hammons Field on Saturday night and Whalen broke the game open with a two-run triple in the fifth inning.

Born into a baseball family, Whalen is the youngest of three boys that all played professionally – Caleb in the Brewers’ farm system (where their dad, Shawn, is an area scout) and Seaver with the Rays’ organization.

That left little opportunity for the family to watch Brady play – until a few weeks ago in Northwest Arkansas.

“My dad and two older brothers flew out and surprised me our last road trip, that was one of the best experiences in my baseball career. I had a great series for them,” said Whalen, who went 9-for-22 with three doubles and six runs scored in the six-game set.

“I was pointing at them all series; I was fired up.”

Seaver’s career ended in Double-A Montgomery last season, and he’s since delivered words of wisdom to his little brother.

“All he wants to talk about, me enjoying the moment out here because it’s so special to be playing this game for a living and being able to build the relationships in the clubhouse that you do – so I feel like I have a different perspective on the game because of my family.

I’m just enjoying it every night.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505