I was listening to the BIIIIIIG 550 in my automocar last night (sorry, but that's just the way I hear it in my head), and Jeff Luhnow was on talking minor leagues. It was really interesting stuff; almost worth enduring John Hadley, as a matter of fact.
What I was most interested in was Luhnow's take on the catchers the Cardinals currently have in their system. He spoke in glowing terms of both Steven Hill and Tony Cruz, both of whom are players converted to catcher from other positions. From what I could gather, it sounded as if Hill and Cruz are going to be sharing roughly equal catching time at Springfield this season, and they'll be the only ones there. I wonder how often you see a team on which both regular catchers are converts from other postions. It can't be a very common thing, I wouldn't think.
Regardless, I have to admit to being very intrigued by the notion of Steven Hill actually playing catcher full time. In case you aren't familiar, Hill is one of those guys in the minors who just hits and hits and hits but doesn't really have a position. (He's the 2012 version of Allen Craig, who is the 2010 version of Mark Hamilton. Know what I mean?) Apparently he's shown enough behind the plate that the Cards' minor league brass feels comfortable playing him back there on a more or less regular basis.
There was plenty of other stuff discussed; a little bit about Francisco Samuel trying to get his head right, some discussion of Allen Craig's lack of playing time at third, and one other note I thought was really interesting. Joe Kelly, a personal favourite of mine from last year's draft, was mentioned by Luhnow when Hadley asked if there were any minor leaguers who had made a big impression yet. The Cards are still planning on developing Kelly as a starter, which i was skeptical of at first, but is probably the right move considering the relative values of starters and relievers. I'll be watching Kelly closely this year; he has one of the most electric arms in the whole system.
Anyhow, enough about that. Three more draft blurbs for your consumption after the jump.
Three position players, all collegians. Directly into the fray we go.
Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton
6'0", 180 lbs
DOB: 14th May, 1989
So, what's so great about this guy?
Okay, first off, I'm more than a little disappointed that when I googled Christian Colon to get his player page from CSF, I didn't get any funny results. I thought somewhere on the first couple pages would be something brilliant, but literally nothing. Sigh.
Anyhow, as to the actual player Christian Colon, he's one of the top middle infielders available in this year's draft, especially among the college crowd. He's produced good numbers throughout his collegiate career, and has done so while playing at a top program in a tough conference at a premium position. Given such a resume, there's no reason to believe Colon won't hear his name fairly early on draft day, and he should have a fine professional career. He won't hit for much power, but he's hit quite enough for a shortstop to this point, with outstanding contact skills. He was captain of Team USA last summer, so a leadership role is nothing new to him. He has outstanding makeup and draws raves for his clubhouse presence.
Now, with all that being said, I'm not a fan of Colon, to be perfectly honest with you. First off, I'm not a big fan of his swing. I've seen worse, but I've certainly seen plenty I like a whole lot better. Second, while most believe he can stay at shortstop as a pro, there are some questions about his foot speed and range, leading to speculation second base might be a better fit. He has little power, is a tick below average at best on the bases (and I mean it when I say at best), and while his arm is good enough for the position, it's not really more than good enough.
When praise is heard for Colon (there's a sentence you don't hear every day), it generally focuses on his instincts, his baseball IQ, his heady play. In other words, he's a whole lot of intangibles. Don't get me wrong; guys like that are great to have on your team. The problem is, he reminds me a whole lot of another Cardinal draft pick, only a collegiate version. I speak, of course, of Pete Kozma. Colon is basically a less athletic version of the Koz with three years of college ball under his belt.
If Colon is the pick on draft day, I won't lead an angry mob, but I'm also not going to be particularly pleased. The Cardinals already have a couple guys like this in their system; Ryan Jackson, selected in the draft last year, is a similar sort of player, but with an infinitely better glove. They have better options at second base as well, in my ever so humble. I'm sure Colon is a fine player, and having Mark Loretta around isn't at all a bad thing, but he just doesn't represent the kind of upside I hope to see the Cardinals go for in the first round this year.
Bryce Brentz, OF/1B, Middle Tennessee State University
6'0", 185 lbs
DOB: 30th December, 1988
So, what's so great about this guy?
Bryce Brentz likes to hit. That's really all there is to it. What, you don't believe me? Fine, I'll prove it. His OPS in the 2009 season was a cool 1.471. He hit 28 home runs in just 261 plate appearances. His overall batting line looked like something you might post in Baseball Simulator 1.000: .465/.541/.930. (Baseball Simulator 1.000 was my favourite baseball video game ever, by the way, because it had magic in it.) So trust me, Bryce Brentz likes to hit. Hell, I would too if I could put up numbers like that.
Brentz has loads of power, a short swing, and great hands. Really, the only thing that worries me in his offensive profile is a relatively low walk rate. It's not bad, necessarily, but you would think a guy hitting near .500 would get pitched around a bit more often and would see a higher ISO discipline number. Or maybe I'm worrying needlessly.
Beyond being a great hitter, Brentz is also no slouch in the field. His range is just average, but he has a big-time arm suitable for Ankielian exploits in right field. He's hit as high as 93 mph off the mound, although there seems to be little consideration of him as a pitcher at the next level. (I think that .930 SLG might have something to do with it.) I've seen him listed as being a first base prospect several places, but I honestly can't think of any reason why a team would move a player with his skillset to first. Brentz has a well-defined, strong frame, with broad shoulders. He's probably already maxed out physically, but there's little reason to believe he can't be effective at the next level.
As I said earlier, my only real concern with Brentz is that he doesn't seem to like to walk a whole lot, but that's probably a bit too nitpicky. There have been questions about the level of competition he's faced, as he attends a fairly small school, so there could be a bit of an adjustment curve.
Personally, I like Brentz. The Cards have plenty of outfielders in the system already, but he's a prototype right fielder, with a big arm, big bat, and enough range to be a solid defender. In a draft depressingly weak on positional talent, Brentz is one of the few players who projects to possibly be special down the road.
Zack Cox, 3B, University of Arkansas
6'1", 215 lbs
DOB: 23rd September, 1988
So, what's so great about this guy?
Zack Cox is another player a bit in the mold of Bryce Brentz, in that he's not going to kill you in the field, but it's his bat which is going to get him drafted and carry him through the minors. Unlike Brentz, though, Cox doesn't have light-tower power, even though he's certainly big enough to suggest the ability to hit the ball a long way.
What Cox does have, though, is pure hitting ability that should get him drafted plenty early. His stroke is solid, with good bat speed, and he uses all fields. I've seen his swing referred to as short, but I would quibble with that. There's a bit of armsiness there. He's polished and understands the strike zone, and doesn't get himself out very often.
As I said before, one would expect him to have more power based on his stocky, mature frame, but it just doesn't seem to be in the cards. There are those who expect him to develop power based on his ability to make hard contact, but I'm not sure I buy into that. I call that line of thinking the Oakland Power Projection, because we heard it for years with players like Daric Barton and Travis Buck, and it doesn't seem to happen. Plenty of those types of guys turn out to be very good hitters, but rarely do they develop anything resembling plus power.
Apart from his bat, Cox really lacks another plus tool. His speed is a touch below average, his defense is just alright. He has a fairly strong arm, but it isn't a cannon by any means.
When I look at Cox (a phrase I seem to open conversations with an alarmingly large amount of the time), I see him as sort of a bigger version of Dan Descalso. Like Descalso, Cox is a lefty-swinging college third baseman who it's been suggested would benefit from a move to second base as a pro. (For the record, I think that would be an excellent idea if he can handle it.) Both of them are players with just averagish sort of tools, but excellent pure hitting skills. Cox is considerably bigger physically than Descalso, but otherwise I think the comparison is an apt one. The one other difference I see is that Descalso was a 3rd round pick; Cox may already be off the board when the Cards' pick comes around. (I think that says a bit more about the quality of position player in this draft than it does the two players' relative merits, to be honest.) Baseball Beginnings, a fantastic scouting site in and of itself, likens Cox to Blake DeWitt a bit, and I think I like that comparison a lot too. Physically, they're probably even more similar than Cox and Descalso.
In the end, I think Cox could have a very nice pro career. His bat will translate well, I believe, and his experience in a top college conference should help him make a fairly smooth adjustment. I don't know that he has the juice to be a star player, but I could see him as a very solid contributor on a good club, especially if a move to second base were to take.
I will say this, and I mean no disrespect by it: it's becoming more and more clear to me as I research these things this year that if the Cardinals are serious about spending in order to bring in upside with their early draft picks this year, at least the first rounder is overwhelmingly likely to be a pitcher.
Also, I would like to apologise for thinking the name Colon is so funny. You should see my brother and I whenever the pitcher Roman Colon is mentioned on a baseball telecast. It's like watching a Beavis and Butthead rerun.
The Baron's Playlist for the 24th of March, 2010 -- Grab Bag
"3000" - Dr. Octagon
"Up From the South" - The Budos Band
"Midnight Blues" - Charlie Rich
"Come on You Slags" - Aphex Twin (the word slags always reminds me of Tony Harrison)
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
"God Answers Back" - Clem Snide
"Sleep On the Left Side" - Cornershop