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The long-overdue first installment of this year's multi-part epic.
First off, updating our little spring surprises competition from way back when, I think it's safe to say that, at the moment, Michael Wacha has a pretty firm grasp on the pitching-side breakout award right now. Not to say there isn't time for things to happen, of course; after all, we do still have the entire month of March to go. But, right now, the tall righty from A&M is oh so very zeitgeisty it's hard not to see him as the guy. Hell, the Mets' broadcast guys would probably sell the entire New York farm system right now to get their hands on the kid.
On the hitting side, it's tough to argue with the buzz of the man named Oscar. Again, it's all kinds of early, but you're hearing an awful lot about him. Not surprising, of course; it isn't often a guy comes into spring training with the kind of hype Taveras had swirling around him already, but the display he has put on so far has done absolutely nothing to abate the excitement of the HPGF types. He is the realest of all deals, and the only question at this point has to be just how long the Cardinals can wait before the guy forces his way to the big leagues. Oh, and the whole silly little question about where he's going to play, I suppose...
I'll keep updating this the rest of the spring, and we'll all make fun of each other at the end of March for being complete dumbasses. Okay?
Well, here it is, folks, at last: the first draft preview thread of 2013. Not even close to as early as I wanted to get started on these, and late enough I'll probably do nothing but previews from now until June, but that's okay. I probably enjoy researching and writing these more than anything else I do, with the possible exception of Matt Carpenter-themed poetry, though I can't really plan those so much ahead, you know? (Coming this summer: a version of "Childe Roland to The Dark Tower Came" featuring everybody's favourite second base candidate! It's gonna happen, people! "My first thought was, he walked on every pitch....")
The Cardinals will pick twentieth this year, one spot later than last. That's not at all a bad spot to be in hoping to add talent to the best farm system in the game; in fact, I've come to appreciate picking in the back half of the middle of the first round over the past few seasons. There seems to be an art to that pick, a flexibility that comes with watching how things shape up ahead of you that the Cards have learned to exploit quite wonderfully. Of course, they don't have the sufeit of picks this year they did in 2012, the embarrassment of extra selections which yielded such a mixed bag of returns.
The strength of the system is largely in pitching talent, both high-end talent and depth. Shelby, Rosie, Pac-Man (that's my nickname for Wacha, as in the noise of his last name), Joe Kelly, Carlos the Jackal, on down the list to guys like Tyler Lyons and Jordan Swagerty. It's a borderline ridiculous group of pitching prospects. Which, of course, lends itself to both dreaming and fear; there's nothing more terrifying in all the worlds than a pitching prospect, to the point TINSTAAPP is as much graveyard whistling as it is anything sometimes.
The weakness of the system is exactly what we're going to address today: power. As in, bats that are full of it. The Redbird system has a fair number of hitters, some of whom have extraordinarily intriguing profiles, but in terms of raw power potential it's still a fairly thin crop. Taveras obviously, followed by Matt Adams, and then...what? Carson Kelly has enormous raw power, but he's a long, long ways away. Patrick Wisdom is closer, and might be a good candidate for a Most Likely to Turn Into Allen Craig award, but on the whole power bats just isn't where the strength of the system lies. As much as I like and am intrigued by guys like Stephen Piscotty and Kolten Wong (that's right, I said it; I'm very intrigued by Wong), their offensive profiles are just not very sluggery.
So we start off our preview series with a trio of players who have big time power potential, including one old friend I would be delighted to see the Cards call on for a second time on draft day. In fact, let's just begin there, shall we?
Austin Wilson, OF, Stanford University
6'5", 245 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Hey, remember when the Cardinals selected Wilson in the thirteenth round a couple years ago? Wasn't that exciting? I sure thought it was, anyway; that momentary glimmer of hope that the Redbirds were somehow going to pull off drafting one of my favourite players in the entire draft about 400 picks later than he could have gone and actually manage to sign him.
Of course, we all know now it didn't work out that way. Wilson followed his commitment to Stanford University to campus, and Jeff Luhnow couldn't quite land one of his biggest prizes. Still, the flirtation seemed genuine, and I believe Wilson really did consider long and hard his option to go pro right out of high school.
At the time of the 2010 draft, Wilson was a supremely athletic outfield talent, with massive power potential in his bat, a howitzer for a right arm, and enough speed that there were a few whispers here and there he just might be a center fielder for someone. The more sensible views had him slowing down as he filled out and prototyping the right field position, but the ability to put a charge into the ball was never, ever in question.
Three years later, and things for Wilson haven't changed a ton in the bat department. He still has enormous power potential, and the potential for a whole lot of empty swings as well. Not even the Stanford Protocol (the one where they force everyone to slap the ball the other way, not the secret CIA experiments involving co-eds and LSD), has been able to tame Wilson's big-swinging ways. The contact issues are worrisome, but not damning, particularly when you look at the potential for 30+ home run power.
What has changed, though, if the projections for where Wilson will play. Coming out of high school, he was lanky-strong, with huge shoulders that gave everyone an idea of what he frame could ultimately look like; coming out of college, the body has gotten bigger, to the point there are some who believe he'll end up at first base in the end. He still has the kind of offensive profile that could get him drafted high, even if it's as a future first sackman, but I have to admit, I don't love him standing at first the way I do out in right.
Personally, I think he's still a corner outfielder, and one with enough arm you don't confine him to left field unless there's a damned good reason. (Say, another player named Oscar something-or-other.) He won't play center the way we might have hoped a few years back, but I don't see his mobility being such an issue he moves to statue land stretching for throws from shortstops anytime soon.
If Wilson is on the board when the Cards pick -- which isn't at all a given, considering just how special his bat could be -- I would love to see them call his name for the second time, and finally consumate this relationship three years in the making. Sort of a romantic comedy kind of thing, something about The Friend Zone, perhaps.
Zack Collins, C/1B, American Heritage High School (Florida)
6'3", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
I'm just going to tell you right upfront what's so great about this guy: the swing. I love, love, love the way Zack Collins swings a baseball bat. Love. Seriously.
He's got an intelligent, mature approach at the plate for a high school hitter, power potential to burn, and the kind of easy bat speed you can't teach. I would draft the kid based on what I think he could do at the plate alone. Period. You won't hear me go on and on about a player without at least a fair amount of equivocation very often, but I am completely, totally, fully on board with Zack Collins' offensive future. Sure, I could end up looking like an idiot, like back when I thought Billy Rowell couldn't miss (sigh), but I could also end up looking pretty smart, like when I kept banging the drum for Aaron Hicks as a future star when it looked like he was going to end up getting the pitcher conversion treatment for a couple years there. Or when I espoused Christian Yelich as one of my favourite players another couple years ago. (Not to toot my own horn, but I feel like I've gotten markedly better at projecting players as the years have gone on, and I like to look back at guys I made what I think were good calls on.)
On the other hand, I don't love drafting a player with Collins' profile out of high school, especially not as high as we would be talking. I normally stay away from defensively-limited players in my tastes, and I don't buy him as a catcher long-term. Whereas I thought Stryker Trahan last year (another lefty-swinging high school backstop whose swing I adored), should have the athleticism and arm strength to stay behind the plate, I don't think Collins will end up there down the road. Maybe he's an outfielder, but I'm not super convinced of that, either. The foot speed just doesn't look great, particularly when you consider he's already a thick, mature guy and only projects to fill out further. For my money, he's a first baseman in the long run, and that's just not the sort of player I'm usually real keen on taking high up in the draft.
So, my dilemma: I think Zack Collins plays the most non-premium of all non-premium positions down the road, and that doesn't give him much wiggle room in terms of value. I want to steer clear. On the other hand, I just love the way he swings the bat. You can't learn how to produce the thunder; you can only hope to refine it if you have it. At least on the scale I believe he has the potential for.
I'll buy on Zack Collins. Future first baseman or no, I think he hits. And hits. And hits. And then hits some more. I'm buying what he's selling.
D.J. Peterson, 3B/1B, New Mexico
6'1", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
D.J. Peterson is one of the better pure offensive prospects in this year's draft class, a polished, powerful hitter from a big college program who has put up outstanding numbers already. Guys like that are tough to ignore, and often tend to move higher as draft day approaches, as teams shy away from the super-risky tools players and go for someone they think will produce going forward. Think of the Justin Smoaks and Brett Wallaces of the world, those types of players coming out of school.
He's got fast hands, a quiet, technically sound swing, and decent plate discipline to boot. You want numbers, this is your guy. A 1.223 OPS this past season for New Mexico, along with a 33/29 walks-to-strikeout ratio and 17 home runs kind of numbers. The guy crushes in college, and he kept it up playing for Team USA, giving him some solid exposure with wood. (Hmm. Gotta be a better way to say that. Oh, well.) He's going to get drafted, and probably decently high, by a team looking for a fast mover through the minors, a hitter who can either make it to the bigs or get flipped for a major league need in relatively short order.
Personally, I'm not as high on Peterson as I am the other two players here. He's played third in college, but I see him as strictly a first baseman in the professional ranks, and while the bat is good, I'm not sure I'm buying it as being major league first base quality. He has solid plate discipline in waiting for his pitch and taking a walk, but he's also prone to empty swings at pitches out of the zone, a weakness I think will become more pronounced at the next level. I believe he'll probably hit well enough to get to the high minors, but I'm not sure where his ceiling is.
There's another element at work here, and one I think is particularly interesting from the standpoint of someone following the Cardinals' drafting habits specifically. In recent seasons, we've seen a pronounced tendency by the Redbirds to draft hitters who have park factors working against them; i.e. Kolten Wong hitting in the hitter's graveyard that is Les Murakami Stadium, that sort of thing. I'm sure all teams pay attention to that sort of thing to an extent, but it seems particularly pronounced amongst recent Cardinal draftees.
D.J. Peterson put up his crazy offensive numbers playing for the University of New Mexico, which plays in one of the most hitter-friendly environments in all of college baseball. The desert air and relatively high elevation combine to push offensive numbers way, way up, which I personally think has to play into any consideration of Peterson's long-term potential. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying you avoid the kid because he does his hitting in a launching pad. I'm just saying numbers without context might actually be less useful than no numbers at all. I would be especially interested to see what the Cardinals' drafting peoples honestly think about his numbers translating to a non-New Mexico context, considering how strong their proclivity for park factors has been recently.
Overall, I wouldn't hate a guy like Peterson for the Cardinals, if only because I think he's a safe bet to bring some short-term value, especially as a trade chip for a club that already has their non-premium positions filled at the big league level right now. He's the kind of guy I could see being dealt for left-handed mid-rotation starter at the deadline in 2014, you know? But long term, he's not a bet I'm going to make, even though the numbers are very attractive.
Well, there's the first epic done and out of the way, folks. I really do enjoy writing these, and I hope you guys find them both useful and edifying. If not, well, just think of it as 2500 free words to waste time at work, right?
See you all next week, with another batch. Take care.
The Baron's Playlist for the Sixth of March, 2013