ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 1: Reliever Fernando Salas #59 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on May 1, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Pirates 10-7. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Okay game last night. A win, anyway. Of course, it isn't enough to simply win nowadays. We wish to see NL Central teams crushed, driven before us, and to hear the lamentations of their women, which last night's game did not really accomplish. Perhaps some moderate lamentations for Charlie Morton, I suppose, but not the kind of wailing and rending of garments I prefer to see when it is Pittsburgh standing at the other end of the proverbial blade.
I'm officially not at all worried about Fernando Salas. A friend of mine at work and I were discussing the early bullpen issues for this team the other day, and he was of the opinion that Salas is toast. At the time, I demurred, thinking Salas hasn't been great, but to say he's toast is probably overstating it a bit. He'll work out of whatever funk he's in.
Well, out of curiosity I went and looked at Fernando's actual numbers this season, and they actually showed something very different from what I expected to see. I thought he was pitching okay but not at all in line with what he did last year; the reality is he's been just as good this season as last, only the results have yet to come in line. He's striking out nearly 12.50 hitters per 9 innings this season, even better than last year's 9.0 K/9, and while his walks are also up this season, from 2.52 to 4.15 BB/9, he's still sporting a better than 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. His FIP and xFIP this year are 3.06 and 3.30, respectively, compared to 3.16 and 3.62 last season. By most objective measures, Salas is pitching at least as well this season as last.
So why do his numbers look so gruesome? Well, that FIP of 3.06 is accompanied by a 7.27 ERA that is mostly the result of a stunningly high BABIP and an extremely low strand rate. Fernando's BABIP so far this season is .481, which is, well, probably not going to continue. (And no, before you check, that .481 is not a typo.) His strand rate of 66.3% is also exceedingly low, and likely to move toward a more normal number.
Now, I will say this: Salas is giving up a lot of hard contact early on. His line drive percentage is an horrific 35.7%, meaning he probably isn't getting hugely unlucky, just getting hit hard. However, the high strikeout rate suggests there's nothing wrong with his actual stuff this year, with the possible exception of where exactly he's putting said stuff. I think his location will improve as the season goes on, and there's been no real downtick in the quality of his arsenal.
Long story short: Fernando Salas is going to be alright. I'm just hoping he gets alright pretty soon.
Another batch of draft reports, this time focusing on a grab bag of position players, is right after the jump.
Even with the emergence of Kolten Wong as a fast-rising bat and Oscar Taveras trying his damnedest to prove he belongs near the top of not only Cardinal prospect lists but national ones as well, the strength of the Cardinals' system is still mostly on the pitching side. Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyrell Jenkins...all four are pitching prospects whose projections, at least on the high side, would place them either at the front or near the front of a major league rotation. Projecting a pitcher, any pitcher, to function as a bona fide number one is risky business, but all four have the kind of talent that just might warrant those kinds of lofty ambitions.
With that being said, while drafting too heavily for need is never a great idea, I wouldn't be surprised if that imbalance informs the Cardinals' drafting stategy this year. You always hope to get the best value out of any given pick, regardless of what position the player might play, but let's face it: if you system is loaded in one area and thin in another, there is a certain value to be obtained from filling a need. Keeping that in mind, here are three players, all of whom fall on the positional side of the equation, any of whom could very well slot in to the thinner, more opportunity-rich side of the Cardinal farm system.
Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy (Florida)
6'2", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Albert Almora is one of my favourite players in this draft, largely because of the position he plays. He is, at the moment, a true center fielder, which places him way over on the left side of the defensive spectrum, just where I like to see a player.
Almora is largely projection at this point, possessing a frame easily capable of taking another 20-30 lbs without seriously compromising his athleticism. Even so, he already shows plenty of power potential, enough to dream on at the very least. He's a plus runner, though not an absolute burner, and has a long, loping stride that makes him faster first to third than out of the box. Those same long strides allow him to chew up large chunks of real estate in the outfield, and his arm is above average for center.
I like his swing well enough, though I'm not crazy about the way he starts his hands. His first movement with the bat appears to be up and away from his body, a little bit like the way Colby Rasmus triggers his swing, and I would really prefer to see him keep his hands more connected to his frame. Even so, he has a solid swing plane and good bat speed and has already shown a willingness to hit the ball where it is pitched to all fields, rather than simply trying to yank everything to the pull side. Depending on what video footage you watch, he sometimes utilises a high leg kick and sometimes not; I'm usually just fine with a leg kick, but he seems to drift a little too much to me when he's working it. Then again, that's the sort of thing which usually smooths out with added size and strength, so I'm not overly concerned about it at this point.
The main concern with Almora is whether or not he'll slow down as he grows and fills out. He has the instincts and speed to play center at a very high level for now, but there is always the chance he loses a step or two as he gets bigger, in which case he might be forced to an outfield corner. He still has the arm to play right, and the power projection is there he could still be a valuable player even in left, but let's face it: the equation is much different if you believe he'll play in center versus if you see him relegated to a corner spot.
Personally, I think Almora has a very good chance of not just sticking in center long term, but playing plus defense there. He isn't a switch-hitter, but the body type, power projection, and gliding, sneaky speed put me in mind a bit of the Cardinals' current right fielder, Carlos Beltran. In other words, I really like this kid, and he's actually one of my top position prospects in the draft this year. I would love to see him in the Cards' system.
Joey Gallo, 1B/RHP, Bishop Gorman High Schoool (Nevada)
6'4", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Joey Gallo may have the biggest raw power of any player in this draft. Victor Roache can hit the ball a mile when he's healthy, Stryker Trahan has shown moonshot potential at times, and Christian Walker can pound dingers with the best of them -- especially in batting practice... -- but Gallo has the kind of raw pop in his bat that makes scouts drool.
The swing is big and violent, but the bat speed is very real. Gallo has tremendous strength in his forearms and wrists that allow him to simply explode the bat through the hitting zone. He has nice loft in his swing as well, with just enough uppercut to put the ball up in the air and let his strength carry it to the far corners of the ballpark.
There are some questions about Gallo's ability to make consistent contact, but I'm not hugely concerned. He has a high enough baseball IQ that I expect his plate approach will be solid at the next level, allowing him to post solid on-base numbers even if his contact skills aren't elite.
Beyond the bat, Gallo is a fairly standard first base kind of prospect. He's played a little third in his high school career, as well as pitching, but first is in all likelihood his professional home. He has average speed, maybe a tick below, and that will likely slide a little worse as he matures. He does have a very strong arm, particularly when talking about a first baseman, and has what appear to be solid hands at the position. All in all, he has the tools to be at least an average defender at first and maybe better than that, but the bat is what you're really buying if you draft Joey Gallo. Which is okay, because the bat looks good enough to make it all on its own.
Gallo will likely be on the board when the Cards make their first couple picks, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see them take him. His bat could end up being very, very special, and he could end up an outstanding trade chip down the road even if the club ultimately lacks a roster spot for him.
Tom Murphy, C, University of New York at Buffalo
6'1", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Okay, just to get this out of the way: Tom Murphy is not an option for the Cardinals with one of their first two picks. He isn't rated nearly that high, tending to grade out in the 60s or 70s overall in terms of draft position. Really, he probably belongs in a persons of interest report, but I have a particularly fondness for the guy, so he goes here.
What I like about Murphy is very simple: he has all the tools to stay behind the plate in pro ball, but his bat carries a much better profile than you typical catcher. He's an outstanding hitter, with solid contact ability and an intelligent, patient approach at the plate that should hold up at any level. He started off this season like a house on fire but has cooled off lately, still managing a .327 batting average and .590 slugging percentage. He's shown an ability to hit with wood bats, as well, playing for Team USA last summer and showing quite well for himself.
Even better than his hit tool, though, is his power potential. Murphy has tremendous pop in his bat, truly rare for a player at his position, and can hit the ball out of pretty much any part of the park when he connects. He'll probably never be a middle of the order type of hitter, necessarily, but a dangerous number six guy? Absolutely.
Behind the plate, Murphy shows all the tools you want to see from a catcher, from a strong arm to nimble feet and soft hands. His bat tends to overshadow his glovework, but I think it's a mistake to focus only on what he can do standing at the plate and ignore his abilities squatting behind it. Honestly, I don't know how good his defense really is; there is exceedingly little video of him and catcher defense is a giant pain in the ass to try and assess anyway, but the physical tools are all in place I believe.
Murphy runs well enough, better than average for a catcher, but speed isn't really part of his game. There are some concerns floating around that he has let some early-season accolades and the approaching draft put him off his game a bit as the season has progressed, but that's nebulous enough I feel completely justified in discounting it.
What is a real concern to me is the level of competition he has faced. Coming from a cold-weather area, Murphy has the same kind of competitive quality questions that pretty much always plague baseball prospects from non-baseball hotbeds. Performing well with Team USA certainly mitigates those concerns somewhat, but not entirely. It's the same concerns people had about another of my favourite prospects from a few years ago, who also happened to be a small-school catcher, Blake Murphy. He had plus tools across the board, particularly from a catcher, and destroyed the competition in his league. But he never did make the adjustment to pro ball, and washed out after just a couple seasons in the farm system. Perhaps I should have been more cautious about a player coming into the pros from Coastal Carolina. (I think that was it.)
I really like Murphy as a supplemental or second-round pick. He plays a premium position and brings an unusually good power tool to the table. The Cards' new extension with Yadier Molina means they're not likely to be looking for a new starting catcher in the next few years, but grooming a guy with big-time potential without the pressure to move up might be a strategy that could pay off in a big way.
I like all three of these players, each for different reasons. Both Almora and Murphy play premium positions with the potential to hit like non-premium position players, specifically in terms of power production. Gallo plays the least premium position there is, but his bat just might be good enough it won't matter. Any or all of these players would make me happy come June, with my preference probably going in the order I listed them.
Another batch of reports in the books, folks. I'll probably be doing nothing but these from here until the draft to try and get in as many players as possible. I haven't done nearly as many as I would have liked this year.
Anyway, have a nice Wednesday, everyone, and I'll see you all next week.