There is a candy machine in the break room where I work. Not one of the big, modern vending machines; we do have those, but I'm talking about the little ones with the glass jar on top showing off whatever treats are stored inside. Always benefiting something, usually related to The Children. I'm not sure what our candy machines benefit, but I'm sure it's a very worthy cause.
There are three candies for sale. Skittles on the right, Reese's Pieces on the left, M&Ms in the middle. Sometimes with peanuts, sometimes without. I respect Skittles, and enjoy them, mostly because the green Skittles are still lime. So many candies have changed my previous favourite colour into my least by going with sour apple as their flavour of choice for green. I hate fucking sour apple. So I like Skittles. I very rarely get them.
Somewhere along the line, someone told me chocolate is healthier than most other forms of candy, so I generally go with one of the two chocolate options. It also seems to help more in combating the headaches I get more and more frequently these days. So I donate a quarter every day to the cause, and I have a handful of either Reese's Pieces or M&Ms. A fairly even split between the two.
It's one of the very few non-alcoholic dietary indulgences I allow myself, and it's always kind of nice. (Alcohol calories don't work like real calories, thank god.) I take my handful of candy, and I split it up into little piles of colour, playing at Jim Crow, segregating my chocolate goodies by their shells. If it's Reese's Pieces day, I eat isolated candies until I have an even number of each colour, then eat them one by one, alternating between colours, always in the order brown-yellow-orange. When I have one of each left, I eat all three together in some sort of odd candy-related finishing move. M&Ms I break up by colour, then put into colour groupings. Red, brown, and orange go together; green, blue and yellow go into my more favoured pile. I eat two at a time (if they're plain, that is), one colour at a time, going through the autumn colours, then switching over to the blue-yellow-green side. Green are always the last; they taste the best.
It's an odd bit of ritualistic behaviour, and it never changes. I never eat coloured candy in a handful, with all the colours together, even when they all taste the same. I don't know why.
We're looking today at righthanded collegiate pitchers. The Cardinals tend to like these guys as a rule; it makes a fair bit of sense to cover them..
Ryne Stanek, RHP, University of Arkansas
6'4", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Ryne Stanek is This Year's Model of Michael Wacha. Tall, lanky righthander, solid to good but not great fastball, one plus complementary pitch, a serviceable second. Doesn't look like an ace, but should settle in to the middle of a rotation, safe pick, limited ceiling but high floor, yadda, yadda, yadda. You've heard this all before, right?
Still, there's something to be said for playing to type, and the Cardinals like this kind of guy. Lance Lynn was this guy, only a bit, um, wider. Wacha was this guy last year, only the changeup was the plus pitch, rather than a tight slider as is the case with Stanek. Adam Ottavino was not this guy, falling into that odd draft demographic of college-pitcher-with-more-stuff-and-potential-than-present-results. Call it the Mark McCormick demo if you like.
Here's the deal with Ryne Stanek: he may or may not be on the board when the Cardinals pick. His perceived safeness and a hint of projection left in his frame (though personally I think he just stays really skinny), could easily push him into the top ten. He could also fall lower if teams want riskier, sexier picks. It's really hard to say right now.
If Stanek is still on the board when the Redbirds pick, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear his name called. As impressive as the stable of pitching the Cardinals have already amassed is, I think they would jump at the chance to add another talented young arm, even if the endgame is only to flip him down the road a year or two for some resource they're lacking.
He works in the low 90s with his fastball, and keeps it down for the most part. His slider is one of the better breakers in the draft this year, and his change is workable. The slider isn't a true out pitch, at least to my eye, but it's pretty damned good all the same. Stanek also throws a curve, at least according to reports, but I have yet to see one I could definitively identify in the video I've seen of him. Ergo, I have to assume it's not a great pitch, as he either doesn't throw it much, or it doesn't scream, "Curveball!" upon viewing.
The best of Stanek may be above the shoulders, actually; he's one of those guys who never shows much on the mound, keeping his cool no matter the situation or his performance. He pitches like a veteran, you might say, if you wanted something really nice to say about him.
Ever once in awhile you'll read something about Stanek being a candidate for the top overall pick, but I'm not buying it. I don't see the ceiling there, and even if a team wanted maturity and performance, they would go with the cheaper (by dint of no leverage), Mark Appel, I have to think.
I'm not super high on Ryne Stanek, honestly; I'm a sucker for ceiling, and this guy is more of a performer than a future dream. I'm also not super keen on his delivery, especially the cut off follow-through. Then again, I said many of the same things about Wacha last year around this time, and he's the darling of the organisation right now. So, what the hell do I know, right?
I honestly think you could do better than Ryne Stanek on draft day. Then again, you could a whole, whole lot worse, and I wouldn't shed any teams if he ended up in Cardinal red.
Jonathan Gray, RHP, University of Oklahoma
6'4", 240 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Jonathan Gray is the helium guy this year, the player who comes out of the gate like gangbusters in the spring and rockets up draft boards all across the land with his heretofore unexpected awsomeness.
Gray is a big, physical dude, and he's got the arm to match. He'll put up 98 on a fairly regular basis with his fastball, though his comfort zone seems to be more in the 95-96 range. The 98 and 99 readings are impressive, but they're not usually strikes. He just looks like he's overthrowing at that very top end.
Prior to this season, Gray threw a solid slider and an average, maybe a tick better, changeup. This year, though, he's tightened that slider into a nasty cutter that has just dominated opposing hitters, particularly from the left side. It's a fantastic pitch, one I would feel comfortable slapping a 70 future potential grade on. It's that good. The changeup is still solid, and the jump in velocity since last season (when he was more of a low-to-mid-90s guy), have pushed him way, way up in the pecking order.
As things stand now, Jonathan Gray will not make it anywhere near where the Cardinals draft. Funny thing about helium guys, though: they very rarely keep up the pace unabated until draft day. Gray has been utterly dominant this spring for the Sooners, but the fact is, he'll likely cool off before June rolls around. He'll have a tough start or two in a conference tournament setting, or something of the sort, and his stock will stabilize somewhere between where he was and where he looks to be heading right now. At least, that's my prediction.
The fact is, though, even if he does hit a bump or two in the road, this is a pitcher with a very big arm, and what looks at this moment to be a very high ceiling. If he's somehow still on the board when the Cards pick, I would pounce at the chance to take him and never look back. At the very least, his velocity and one dominant pitch could make him a closer in short order, though his full repertoire is almost assuredly too good to stick him in short work.
Bobby Wahl, RHP, Ole Miss
6'3", 210 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
I've saved the pitcher I like best on today's list for last, in spite of John Gray's pyrotechnic brilliance in the 2013 season. Bobby Wahl is a guy I'm extremely high on, and on my short list of favourite prospects in this year's class period at this moment right now in late March.
He's too tall to be Roy Oswalt (though I do think that listed height of 6'3" is, in this case, a little bit of an exaggeration), but there's something about the guy that reminds me of Oswalt all the same. Maybe it's the pugnacious expression, or the home state, or the way both of them get so far out in front of the mound when they throw. I don't know, exactly, but that's the guy I kind of go to here.
Wahl's fastball is a thing of beauty, a 93-95 mph offering that runs hard to the armside and saws off righthanded hitters left and, well, right. He doesn't throw as hard as Gray, but the movement on the pitch actually puts it ahead of Gray's heater for me. His best secondary pitch for me is a changeup (I'm also a sucker for a guy with a great fastball/changeup combination), that just disappears as it comes to the plate. It's almost too slow at times, but the movement is so good he still manages to be effective with it. (Think Pedro Martinez or Anthony Reyes, where the changeup functioned more like a breaking ball than an actual change of pace pitch.) His third pitch is a decent slider that could use some work, but shows plenty of promise all the same.
I like Wahl's ability to pound righthanders inside, and the change puts him ahead of either of the other two pitchers on this list in my personal preference list. He won't go nearly as early as either of the others, and that's also a rather exciting prospect. I like this guy for the Cardinals, a lot. Give me a choice between the three guys covered here today, and I'll grant you that Gray and Stanek both should go significantly higher than Wahl in the draft. And then I'll take Wahl every day of the week.