Ugh. I really don't much feel like writing about the Cardinals this morning. It's just a frustrating team to watch right now, even as the rational part of my brain tries to tell me this is just a down stretch, that there's nothing terribly wrong with the team. Certainly nothing so wrong as to require drastic measures to fix. Sure, the center fielder has been one of the worst regulars in all of baseball this season, Pete Kozma is still the starting shortstop in spite of a .286 on-base percentage, and the pitching suddenly looks like the leaky boat we were all afraid it would be, but drastic measures are probably still a little too...drastic. For now.
It wouldn't be nearly so worrisome, of course, if the Cardinals played in virtually any other division in baseball. As bizarre as it it to try and wrap one's mind around, though, the National League Central is an absolute gauntlet this year, and the Redbirds' .598 winning percentage just isn't good enough. The last two weeks have been a real kick in the balls, and it's not much fun to talk about.
Still, I was trying to come up with a good angle to discuss such a disheartening stretch of baseball this morning, and I suddenly remembered I never got around to conducting my shadow draft for this year. I had planned on doing one right after the draft, along with a progress report on previous shadow draft efforts, but it completely slipped my mind until now. So, rather than cast about for potential center field replacements or argue Ryan Jackson and his .800+ Pacific Coast League OPS should get another shot in the big leagues, I'm going to do my shadow draft today.
You know, I don't know how everyone else feels about this latest iteration of Viva El Birdos, but I have to say, I really miss the divided post format. The new front page looks nice and everything, but I really miss having the ability to write an introduction, then jump into whatever I actually want to talk about. Oh, well.
First things first. Going back to 2011, the last time I actually did a shadow draft. (I thought I did one last year, but can't find it anywhere, so apparently I didn't. I had planned on doing this every year.)
First round, I went with Henry Owens, a high school lefty over the Cards' pick of Kolten Wong. Owens is currently pitching in High A ball for the Boston Red Sox, and doing quite well. His strikeout rate is over 10 hitters per 9 innings (10.47, to be exact), and his FIP is a very solid 3.39. He's still walking more hitters than you like to see, at 3.96 per 9, but the stuff and youth point to big things for Owens. I think Owens could be a star, and I feel extremely good about this pick.
Round Two: I agreed with the Redbirds and picked Charlie Tilson, the high school outfielder the Cards went well over slot to bring into the system. Tilson has played well enough as a pro, but a shoulder injury last year made it a lost season, and the power numbers have been very slow to come around. He will play the entire 2013 season as a 20 year old, and is sitting on a .716 OPS in the Low A Midwest League as we speak. I still like what he offers long term, but anytime a player comes up with a major injury, particularly to something as touchy as a shoulder, it clouds the projections quite a bit.
On the other hand, the player I wanted most here in the second, but backed off of because I didn't think he was signable in the second round was a high school catcher named Austin Hedges. He did in fact sign, with the San Diego Padres, and is currently putting up a 111 wRC+ in High A, also as a 20 year old. I can't go back and change my pick, but...
Round Three: The Cards took C.J. McElroy, continuing their run of athletic, somewhat undersized outfielders that began with Tilson, while I went with Derek Fisher, another high school outfielder who ultimately went to the Texas Ranger in the sixth round. Unfortunately for me, Fisher chose to go to school at Virginia rather than turn pro, meaning I essentially punted this pick. (In reality it was protected, so I would have gotten another shot in 2012, but since I forgot to actually do a draft last year it doesn't count for much.) For what it's worth, Fisher is putting up an .888 OPS for Virginia in his sophomore season, and should be a fairly high draft pick next June.
McElroy, on the other hand, hasn't exactly set the world on fire with his performance to date either. He did have a stretch early last season when the returns looked pretty encouraging, but his overall season line didn't live up. He is a basestealing machine, but beyond that I'm not sure the skillset really offers a ton of future promise. Hopefully I'm wrong.
Round Four: The Cards went completely off script, taking Kenneth Peoples-Walls, a high school shortstop literally no one had ever heard of at that point and was a definite long-term project. He spent two seasons in the Gulf Coast League, and is currently seeing his first real action in short season Johnson City right now. The good news: his OPS is currently .876, he's apparently crazy fast, and he's still playing shortstop. The bad: his BABIP is .500, he's walking in less than 5% of his plate appearances, and still has absolutely no power. Still super young, of course, so there's plenty of time to see what he turns into.
Me? I made the pick I'm probably proudest of in my imaginary draft, taking Nick Delmonico, a high school catcher, who I had considered picking up a couple rounds earlier but passed on until now. I don't know if it was bonus demands or something else that pushed Delmonico down, but I believed in him, and to date it looks like I was right. Oh, the Baltimore Orioles were right, also; they were the ones who drafted him in real life.
Delmonico will turn 21 in nine days, is playing in High A, and is putting up a 142 wRC+ with a .270 ISO and 14.0% walk rate. On the downside, he is no longer catching, playing primarily first base but also seeing time at third. Still, I think the kid is going to end up a big-time hitter at the major league level, and I'm just pleased as punch with my pick.
Round Five: I took a kid by the name of Chris Marlowe out of Oklahoma State, a RHP with a big fastball and a small frame I projected into relief work. He ultimately went to the Giants and hasn't been particularly impressive in pro ball. His strikeout numbers were good last year, but he walked too many. This year, he isn't walking as many, but the Ks are way down. Not a great pick for Scouting Director Aaron, unfortunately. The real-world Cardinals picked up Sam Gaviglio, the finesse-y righthander who is at this point the pitcher most likely to be confused with Seth Manness if someone is trying to remember who all these guys are.
So how did I do overall? Pretty well, I think. I'm extremely pleased with my first and fourth round picks; to my eye I've got two potential stars on my hands, and I think I actually outdrafted the real-life team. Of course, my guys were also both big overslot signings, so there's that to think about. Tilson could still turn out to be a very good player. Third and fifth rounds I got pretty much nothing out of, so my enthusiasm is being tempered quite a bit. Still, I think I did pretty damned well for my imaginary Redbirds.
Now, as for this year. Five rounds deep again, players still on the board when the Cards picked. Let's rock.
Round 1, Pick 19
Actual Pick: Marco Gonzalez, LHP, Gonzaga
Shadow Pick: Philip Ervin, OF, Samford University
I don't hate the pick of Marco Gonzalez. Not at all. He wouldn't have been my choice (well, obviously, since I chose someone else), but I think he should end up a very solid pick for the Cardinals down the road. I'm thinking Mark Buehrle. Not an ace-level pitcher, but a solidly above-average guy who can put up a lot of innings at a pretty high level of quality. I like that.
That being said, I'm going with Ervin because he was one of my favourite players in the whole draft going in. I think he's a potential 20/20 guy at the major league level, and he has the range and arm to be a plus defensive center fielder as well. I compared him to Tim Raines at the time of the draft, and while that's a completely unfair comparison to make for a player in college, I'm standing by it. I like this guy a lot, and the prospect of watching him ascend to stardom with the Cincinnati Reds is borderline sickening to me.
Round 1, Pick 28
Actual Pick: Robert Kaminsky, LHP, St. Joseph Regional High School (New Jersey)
Shadow Pick: I'll take Kaminsky twice.
Cards love him, I love him. I said I would dance naked in the streets if the Redbirds got him, and I did. It was on the news. It was a good day.
Round 2, Pick 57
Actual Pick: Oscar Mercado, SS, Vivian Gaither High School (Florida)
Shadow Pick: Jon Denney, C, Yukon High School (Oklahoma)
I'm not a believer in Oscar Mercado's bat. The Cardinals clearly are, and I'm forced to hope they're right and I'm not. At the very least, the kid absolutely can pick it at shortstop, so the bar for his offense is quite low. Still, I'm not a believer in Oscar Mercado's bat.
I had a tough time making this pick. I liked Kevin Ziomek, the Vanderbilt lefty who went one pick after this to the Tigers, and I nearly pulled the trigger on him. In the end, though, his arm action scares me just enough I moved on. I like Jordan Paroubeck, a high school center fielder who went to the Padres in the second competitive whatever the fuck round, at pick 69 overall. I also like Tyler O'Neill, the high school catcher/utility player from Canada, who ultimately went to Mariners in the third round, and was sorely tempted to pick him.
In the end, though, I took Jon Denney because he might actually be my favourite of all the high school catchers drafted this year. It was one of the deepest, strongest demographics in the draft, and guys like Reese McGuire and Nick Ciuffo both went in the first round, heading up the class. For my money, though, Denney has the highest long-term ceiling of any, with an ability to stay behind the plate and a bat that should make him a premium player at the position. He actually went to the Red Sox at 81, making him another player I'm going to have a very tough time rooting for throughout his career.
Round 3, Pick 93
Actual Pick: Mike Mayers, RHP, Ole Miss
Shadow Pick: Stephen Tarpley, LHP, Scottsdale CC (Arizona)
I think the Mayers pick is a solid one for the Cardinals. Not the highest ceiling, most likely, but a guy with a good idea of what to do on the mound and a really nice changeup. El Birdos have shown an ability to get good results from these sorts of pitchers in the recent past (Lance Lynn, anyone?), and while I don't expect him to suddenly come up with a 3 mph bump on his fastball, I do think Mayers could make it to the big leagues as a back end starter.
That being said, I love the arm of Tarpley, who can run his fastball into the 95 mph range from the left side, and I can't pass up his ceiling. He throws two solid breaking balls, and his slider in particular I think could be very good down the road. He went five picks after the Cards' selection to the Orioles, and I could see him turning into a number 3 starter on a top-quality club without any trouble at all.
Round 4, Pick 125
Actual Pick: Mason Katz, 1B/2B, Rice University
Shadow Pick: Zack Collins, C, American Heritage High School (Florida)
I do not like the Mason Katz pick, at all. That said, it's a fact of the current draft rules that teams have to find some below-slot picks here and there if they want to go for the gusto with others, so I can't really complain too very much. However, I'm not going to try and figure in those sorts of strategic moves with my own draft, beyond the question of whether or not a give player will actually sign. Just too complicated.
Zack Collins was one of my favourite players in the whole draft. He lasted until the 825th pick, somehow, and went to the Cincinnati Reds. (Aargh!) He's not a catcher, probably. I think he hits, though. A lot. So I'm picking him here, largely just to get him on my follow list so I can look super smart in a couple years when the Reds have yet another top prospect in their system. Damn their eyes.
Round 5, Pick 155
Actual Pick: Ian McKinney, LHP, William Boone High School (Florida)
Shadow Pick: Bobby Wahl, RHP, Ole Miss
The McKinney pick is a solid one, I think, although I admit I had only a passing familiarity with the name before the draft. Still, one of my favourite pitchers in the draft was still on the board here, and so I have to pop him. Wahl went to the Athletics just a few picks after this and signed for an overslot bonus of $500K, still what I consider a bargain-basement deal. Of all the players who dropped significantly in this draft, Wahl's fall may be the most puzzling. Plenty of the players who went lower than they were expected to were players of the high school variety, guys with high bonus demands, things like that. Wahl was really none of those things. I honestly have no idea why he lasted until the fifth round, but I'll take my good luck and run with it.
I'm going to stop here, saying I would probably agree with the Cards' picks in both the sixth and seventh rounds. I like both guys a lot, and think Chris Rivera's ceiling is quite a bit higher than Oscar Mercado's. I'm also thrilled with Collymore in the tenth and Farinaro in the eleventh. Nick Petree out of Missouri State in the ninth round is intriguing, though I'm not sure he would have been my selection there.
Next year I'll do this again, and we'll see if my 2011 class looks as smart then as it does today. I've got my fingers crossed.
Have a happy Independence Day everyone except Aranthor, who should really be drinking and feeling badly. Okay, Aranthor, you can have a happy fourth of July or whatever it's called over there too.
Everyone go listen to Three Finger Cowboy's "4th of July", because it's the best song related to this particular holiday ever recorded.