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Apr 1, 2022; Jupiter, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Connor Thomas (86) delivers a pitch in the first inning of the spring training game against the New York Mets at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Since he's been in the same Triple-A rotation as Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson — two lefties who are former first-round picks — for the better part of the last year, left-hander Connor Thomas tends to get overlooked. However, the 2019 fifth-rounder has arguably been the most consistent pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization since the minor leagues returned from a lengthy hiatus last May, and he clearly has some sort of major league future, whether it's as a starter or reliever.

The 23-year-old Thomas posted a 3.10 ERA with a .269 opponent batting average, 92 strikeouts and 30 walks over 101.2 innings following a May 25 promotion to Memphis last year, and he has continued to command the strike zone and keep runs off the board this season. Over eight appearances (six starts), the 5-foot-11, 173-pounder has a 3.65 ERA. While he gives up a lot of contact and has allowed opponents to hit .271 against him, he does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground — he ranks fourth in the International League with a 57.4% ground-ball rate — and has given up only three homers in 37 innings. The Georgia Tech product isn't necessarily a strikeout artist and has punched out 36 hitters this year, but his command is stellar, and he's issued only six walks.

Thomas has been exceptionally good of late, striking out 17 and allowing just two earned runs over 12 innings spanning his two most recent outings. He isn't yet on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, but with Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz on the injured list and Oli Marmol saying the Cardinals will "see what makes sense moving forward" regarding Jordan Hicks' role in the rotation, the left-hander could be in line for a major league starting opportunity sooner than later.

STANDOUT PERFORMERS

Springfield Cardinals (Double-A): Third baseman Jordan Walker has basically done everything right since making his pro debut last May. Even the best prospects often take time to master a level, especially when they're younger than the majority of the competition, but Walker hasn't stopped hitting while climbing from Low-A Palm Beach to High-A Peoria to Springfield over the last year.

Walker, a 2020 first-round pick out of Decatur High School in Georgia, slashed .317/.388/.548 between Palm Beach and Peoria last season. He's experienced similar results this year in Springfield, hitting .304/.410/.486 with 39 strikeouts and 22 walks in 166 plate appearances. He turned 20 on Sunday, but it's hard to imagine that he'll stay in Double-A much longer if he continues to hit like this.

Walker has less power than you'd typically expect from a 6-foot-5, 220-pound hitter — he had 14 homers in 82 games last year and has gone deep four times this year with Springfield. It's likely that he'll be able to take advantage of his size and hit for more power as he ages, but for now he makes up for the relative lack of homers with an exceptionally polished batter's eye and impressive speed (10 steals in 13 attempts this season).

With Nolan Arenado likely holding down third base in St. Louis for the foreseeable future, it's highly probable that Walker will begin his major league career at a different position than the one he plays now. He might not have the defensive skill necessary to stick at the hot corner long-term, anyway — he has 12 errors in 30 games at third this season. As Walker gets closer to the big leagues, it should be interesting to see whether the Cardinals start giving him reps at a different position. He's probably too big to play up the middle, and with Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan and perhaps Alec Burleson, the Cardinals have a lot of starting-caliber options at the corner infield and outfield spots. One thing seems rather certain: If Walker continues to hit like he has for his entire professional career, the Cardinals will eventually find a spot for him in the lineup.

Peoria Chiefs (High-A): Left-handed reliever John Beller is one of several undrafted free agents who signed with the Cardinals following the shortened 2020 MLB Draft and have enjoyed tremendous minor league success. While his 4.59 ERA didn't jump off the page last year in his pro debut at Low-A Palm Beach, Beller displayed a clear ability to fool hitters, racking up 98 strikeouts in 80.1 innings with a .244 opponent batting average. He did have some command issues, walking 44 batters.

The Cardinals promoted Beller to Peoria this season and converted him to a multi-inning relief role. The 23-year-old USC product has taken his game to a new level in that role, posting a 1.83 ERA with 25 strikeouts, an incredible .130 opponent batting average and just five walks in 19.2 innings spanning nine outings. While the 5-foot-11, 175-pound lefty doesn't have elite fastball velocity, his breaking stuff is extremely impressive.

Beller still has a long way to go, but with his combination of excellent movement, endurance (seven outings of at least two innings this season) and an ability to put away both lefties (.125 opponent average) and righties (.133), he has a lot of upside as a left-handed bullpen option.

Palm Beach Cardinals (Low-A): Right-hander Jose Moreno, who has been in the Cardinals organization since 2017 but is still just 21, seems like he could be putting it all together after struggling in his first two seasons in the United States. Moreno, a native of Altagracia de Orituco, Venezuela, put together two solid seasons in the Dominican Summer League before arriving stateside, but he struggled to adjust as an 18-year-old pitching in the Appalachian League in 2019, posting an 8.33 ERA and a 2.26 WHIP over 13 starts. After missing the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moreno's inconsistency continued last year with Palm Beach, where he had a 5.53 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP in 23 appearances (16 starts). Though he averaged well below a punchout per inning in his first three pro seasons, Moreno turned into a strikeout machine in 2021, racking up 102 Ks in 81.1 innings.

This season, while repeating the Low-A level, Moreno has retained his strikeout stuff and has figured out how to effectively limit contact. He has 33 Ks in 29 innings and has limited opposing batters to a .214 average. As a result, he has a 0.62 ERA over nine games (four starts).

Moreno's command is still a fairly significant issue, and he's issued 20 walks this season. If he can improve that skill the same way he's boosted his strikeout rate and learned to limit contact, though, he's still young enough that he could develop into a legitimate prospect.