Fantasy baseball managers love the prospects and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Jordan Walker is one of the better ones in the sport. Walker is only 20 years old and has yet to play at the Triple-A level, but his long home run in Sunday’s Spring Training game — a definitive, three-run blast in the first inning off veteran RHP Johnny Cueto (now a member of the Miami Marlins) — should pique the interest of fantasy managers, especially if he continues to hit and earns a promotion to the majors for Opening Day.

Walker is eligible at third base in fantasy for now, but is handling corner outfield duty for the Cardinals since they employ All-Star Nolan Arenado at the hot corner. He is barely a thought in ESPN redraft leagues (which now feature smaller lineups) as he is rostered in fewer than 5% of them. He is going just inside the top 250 of NFBC drafts, though and the statistical upside is impressive. Walker, a right-handed hitter, hit .304 with 19 home runs and a 10% walk rate for Double-A Springfield last season — and he stole 22 bases.

The Cardinals can be patient with Walker as they employ Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar as likely outfield starters, but Sunday’s game in Sarasota provided a glimpse of change. O’Neill, with a mere 26 career starts in center field (out of 405 games), played the position both Saturday and Sunday. He also hit second in Sunday’s game, and we should remember the 34 home runs he mashed two seasons ago. O’Neill is going to play somewhere and so is Nootbar, a left-handed hitter with a high walk rate.

The Cardinals will not give up on Carlson, a switch-hitter and natural center fielder, but he struggled to hit right-handed pitching last season (.633 OPS), so he is going to have to do better in order to secure his role. Walker, who played mostly third base at Double-A but then later in the season moved to right field, seems likely to hit. The Cardinals have options for DH as well, with Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman and others. This should be a loaded lineup, but Walker can still make his mark.

Prospects tend to get overrated in Spring Training, as most clubs are certainly aware what their early April lineup will look like and want to avoid any of their projected regulars getting hurt. Check out any box score, especially in February, and there will be myriad names that are far, far off the fantasy radar. Walker is clearly not part of that myriad. He hit sixth in Sunday’s lineup, which featured regulars Tommy Edman, O’Neill, Arenado and Gorman. The Cardinals want to see him at the plate and in the field. Fantasy managers should watch the results.

Other weekend thoughts

New York Mets rookie 3B Brett Baty may be in a situation similar with that of Walker in that the team, expected to be strong, can afford to be patient. However, it may not wish to be. Baty homered on Saturday. Now, he has only 26 PA at the Triple-A level and the Mets can utilize veteran Eduardo Escobar at third base. Still, Baty could make things interesting over the next few weeks.

The big Sunday baseball news featured the San Diego Padres and potential free agent 3B Manny Machado agreeing to a new long-term contract. It alters little for fantasy purposes. Those hoping that SS Xander Bogaerts might move to third base anytime soon (or that new OF Fernando Tatis Jr. would move back to the infield) can now hope for other things. This move may prevent OF Juan Soto, himself a free agent in two years, from sticking around long-term, but there’s no need to worry about that now. The Padres lineup appears set, except for DH duties, where newcomers Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter form a potential platoon. We will keep a close eye on that situation.

Speaking of Soto, two youngsters acquired by the Washington Nationals in last season’s trade looked good this weekend. SS CJ Abrams singled, doubled, and stole a base in Saturday’s game as the team’s leadoff hitter, and the team seems open-minded to the 22-year-old speedster securing a role at the top of their lineup. Abrams produced a .604 OPS over 302 PA between the Padres and Nationals last season, but he succeeded on only 7-of-11 stolen base chances. He can do better. Meanwhile, LHP MacKenzie Gore tossed a scoreless first inning on Saturday, and he may be the team’s top starting pitcher. It is not too late for Gore to become relevant for fantasy.

Houston Astros OF Yordan Alvarez did not play this past weekend and, according to manager Dusty Baker, has yet to even start swinging a bat as he deals with hand soreness that also plagued him last season. It did not seem to be much of an issue back then, however, as he hit 37 home runs and produced a 1.109 OPS, second in all of baseball to Aaron Judge. My take on Alvarez is simple: Ask me in two weeks. If he still is not swinging, I will take it more seriously.

Speaking of injury, new Arizona Diamondbacks OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. played with a wrist problem last season with the Blue Jays, which contributed to him hitting a disappointing five home runs. Gurriel had twice previously reached 20 home runs in a season with Toronto. It was thus a positive sign that Gurriel, who pronounced himself fully healthy, homered on Saturday. He also drew a walk as the No. 3 hitter in what could have been a 2023 lineup preview, batting between IF Josh Rojas and 1B Christian Walker. Gurriel may not be a top-30 outfielder (and therefore unworthy of attention in ESPN’s new standard leagues), but in deeper formats, let us remember his power potential.

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