Here we go again. Another overly hyped prospect. Another startling disappointment. Another detour in the development of a young talent. Another swing and a miss or groundball out.

This is believable and unbelievable at the same time.

We can’t believe it could happen again, but it’s happened again. So we have to believe the problem is real.

This is part of the new so-called “Cardinal Way.”

And it shows us just how much they’ve lost their way.

The evidence was already there, of course. The Cardinals went into Wednesday’s game with a 81-105 record since the start of last season. But the hits keep coming. Or “not” coming.

Before Wednesday’s game, the Cardinals optioned right fielder Jordan Walker – their potential franchise cornerstone – to Triple A Memphis.

Walker was failing at the plate this season, batting .155 with no homers and one extra-base hit in 20 games. After getting hits in consecutive games for the only time this season, Walker was 3 for 27 (.111) with a 33 percent strikeout rate since April 8. He was all but sinking into the sand in the batter’s box.

As part of the shakeup, the Cardinals demoted left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson to Memphis. He packed a 9.53 ERA for the trip.

Walker and Thompson were first-round draft choices. Thompson was chosen 19th overall in 2019, and Walker was taken off the board with the 21st selection in 2020.

The acclaimed St. Louis draft of 2020 – which featured Walker, shortstop Masyn Winn, pitcher Tink Hence and corner outfielder Alec Burleson – has produced minus 0.5 WAR at the major-league level so far. And Hence, while abundantly talented, is still pitching at Double A Springfield but likely will move up to Triple A soon.

Because they’ve won so much and refuse to go for a total rebuild that would destroy the roster and guarantee an extensive stretch of hopeless, consecutive seasons, the Cardinals haven’t been in the best draft position along the way. That  has put them at a disadvantage and limited access to Top 10 overall draft choices.

Because of their pitiful 2023, the Cardinals will have the seventh overall selection in the 2024 draft. It’s been a long time. Working our way backwards, St. Louis hasn’t had such an early spot in the first round since drafting outfielder J.D. Drew No. 5  overall in 1998, pitcher Braden Looper No. 3 overall in 1995, hitter Dmitri Young No. 4 overall in 1990, and outfielder Paul Coleman No. 6 overall in 1989.

That said, the Cardinals have had plenty of first-round and second-round draft choices in recent years. Going back to 2015, and through 2021, the Cardinals have used premium draft picks on the following players:

Outfielder Nick Plummer.

Pitcher Jake Woodford.

A long-forgotten hitter named Bryce Denton.

Shortstop Delvin Perez.

Pitcher Dakota Hudson.

Outfielder Dylan Carlson.

Infielder Nolan Gorman.

Pitcher Griffin Roberts.

First baseman Luken Baker.

Zack Thompson.

Outfielder Tre Fletcher.

Pitcher Tony Locey.

Walker, Winn, Hence, Burleson.

Pitcher Michael McGreevy.

I didn’t cite any of the players/pitchers drafted in 2022 and 2023 because it’s too soon to evaluate them.

Just look at the 2017 draft. The Cardinals drafted 40 players. The only dudes to reach the majors – with basically no impact – were outfielder Scott Hurst, infielder Kramer Robertson, pitcher Jake Walsh, catcher Irving Lopez, and reliever Kodi Whitley.

Of all the players/pitchers I’ve mentioned here, there are genuine reasons to have a positive outlook on Gorman, Winn and Hence. Walker and Carlson have plenty of talent but are disappointing. That’s especially true of Carlson, but he has time to turn it around. Walker has limited big-league experience compared to Carlson.  Burleson could evolve into something more than a platoon piece, but what is his ceiling? McGreevy was drafted 18th overall in 2021 but is still stuck in Memphis and has a 5.54 ERA early on this season.

On the list of all of the pitchers I’ve included here, how many have truly helped the big club? Hudson for a while. Woodford here and there. Whitley for a brief spell. Thompson’s future is fuzzy – in large part because the Cardinals can’t make up their mind on using him as a starter or reliever.

Once upon a time the Cardinals were widely respected for their ability to develop young pitchers, but they’ve lost the touch. And that’s why they’ve been forced to overpay starters (Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz). That’s why they’ve had to send out a trade-deadline search party for older, stopgap starters (Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, J.A. Happ). That’s why the team rushed into the market for three free-agent buys this past offseason for starters Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson.

All of this desperation came from the organization’s poor record in drafting and developing pitchers in recent years. The Cardinals drafted too many pitchers that have gone bust – or gone away.

There is hope for Hence, and Gordon Graceffo. There are reasons to be enthusiastic about two pitchers acquired at last summer’s trading deadline: Sem Robberse and Tekoah Roby. Other prospects – Ian Bedell, Quinn Matthew and Cooper Hjerpe – could emerge in time. But we’d be naive to assume anything.

That said, I’m certainly not giving up on Jordan Walker. There’s no reason to. He’s very talented, has played in only 137 big-league games, and won’t turn 22 years old until next month. But I don’t understand how such a talented hitter can crater so severely in the first month of his second season. Another reset at Memphis should help him. And when he figures it out, he’ll be a star that lasts.

Still. This is unfortunate. In 117 games as a rookie, Walker batted .276 with a .342 and .445 slug. He had 16 homers and drove in 51 runs. Walker flourished in his final 30 games of 2023, batting .339 with a .392 OBP and .545 slug. Excellent numbers. Significant progress. He was headed to a breakout season in 2024.

And now this?

Walker isn’t the first young hitter to have an inexplicable downturn that spins him in reverse and back to the minors. And after a fast start in 2023, Walker was returned to Memphis early last season to make some corrections to reduce his high ground-ball rate. That decision turned out well. But that’s another reason why his offensive collapse is so unsettling.

Walker worked hard to improve his defense, and he looked fantastic at the plate late last season. And there was no real reason to anticipate a disaster offensively in the opening weeks of 2024. But here we are. It’s happened.

Why? The player obviously has a lot of responsibility for his own performance. Walker continues to beat pitches into the ground; his ground-ball rate is up to 50 percent this season. Is Jordan incapable of making quick adjustments? Is he resistant to suggestions to make changes? With his hitting, does he respond well to coaching?

Walker has batting coaches … and the Cardinals have several of them. I don’t understand why Walker couldn’t be fixed at the major-league level instead of going  into an all-out fade. It’s early in the regular season, but the Cardinals and Walker had an entire spring training to work on his stance and swing. That’s what hitting coaches are here for – to help hitters get right. But it’s up to the hitter to apply the lessons learned.

I’ll say it again: it was easy for fans and media to pile on former hitting instructor Jeff Albert, who became a convenient scapegoat after the 2022 season. But where is the accountability for the current group of hitting coaches? The hypocrisy is amusing.

How can a team have so many hitters go so cold and produce so little in the first month of the season? How can Nolan Arenado have only one home run in 101 plate appearances through Tuesday? Why is the St. Louis offense so pathetically ineffective, ranking 27th with an average of 3.42 runs per game?

Fans will blame the manager, Oli Marmol for Walker. That’s because they blame everything on Marmol. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do. He’s changed the lineup, moved hitters up and down. That’s why baseball teams hire, utilize and pay so many batting coaches.

If the Cardinals continue to fail, the temperature around Marmol will intensify — even with that two-year contract extension in his pocket. Not that Cardinals ownership and management is looking to throw the manager out. They obviously have no desire to do that. And the problems run much deeper than what fans believe they know about Marmol. He’s just on display — extensively — over 162 games, and that makes him the convenient pinata.

The other obvious question: Why do so many hitters leave St. Louis and do better elsewhere? This trend didn’t just start during Marmol’s time in the manager’s office. It goes all the way back to the Mike Matheny managerial regime, and outfielder Tommy Pham.

The list of hitters that attained a higher level of success away from the St. Louis organization would include Adolis Garcia, Randy Arozarena, Randal Grichuk, Lane Thomas, Ramon Urias, Marcell Ozuna and Richie Palacios. Harrison Bader had a phenomenal postseason for the 2022 Yankees. After two mediocre years (2022-2023) for the Cardinals, Tyler O’Neill hammered seven home runs in his first 16 games for Boston. Bro’Neill had only nine homers in 72 games for the Cardinals in ‘23. I’m probably forgetting a couple of other names.

It appears that Jordan Walker is the next test case.

As a group, St. Louis outfielders took the field Wednesday with a .188 batting average, .301 slugging percentage and three home runs in 239 at-bats. That’s preposterously awful.

Walker is still a substantial piece of this team’s future, and hopefully he’ll get straightened out and turn into an elite hitting machine. But if Jordan washes out and fails to become the player the Cardinals dreamed of, then something has to change. Many of you have been calling for change for a long time. Duly noted.

What is Bill DeWitt Jr.’s breaking point? When does he say ‘enough’ and rebuild the baseball operation? How many empty seats must he see at Busch Stadium before getting the message and growing alarmed?

We can choose to point fingers at any number of people: president of baseball ops John Mozeliak, GM Michael Girsch, the scouting operation, the analytics staff, the manager, the coaches, etc. But DeWitt is the boss. He is the leader. He enthusiastically keeps Mozeliak in place, and Mozeliak hires and fires managers,. Mozeliak answers to DeWitt — which means that DeWitt is ultimately responsible for the success or decline of the Cardinals. And there’s been a helluva lot more success than failure — it’s not even close — but that’s easy to forget or ignore.

For all of the incessant whining about payroll-payroll-payroll-payroll-payroll-payroll and ownership’s alleged cheapness, the actual truth is much different. DeWitt has wasted an enormous amount of money because of personnel decisions gone wrong, and high-profile contract blunders. And ballyhooed prospects are struggling to fulfill the hype.

I think Walker will be fine, and he will thrive again. But for now he’s just the latest example of this confusing, chaotic new Cardinal Way. And it isn’t working.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.