I told you I was going to call this post Favourite Positions. I considered Various Positions, since I actually do like Leonard Cohen better than clumsy innuendo (though it's a really close call), but in the end clumsy innuendo was just too tough to beat. I tried, though. I really, really did.
So last week, I did my first of two posts on the players who sit, at this extraordinarily early date, as my very favourite players in the 2014 draft, covering a trio of pitchers I am extremely high on. This week, I'm looking at three positional talents I'm equally excited about. Well, actually, let me rephrase that: I'm not as high on these guys as I am on the pitchers, just because pitching is, and always has been, my first love in baseball. But relatively speaking, it's the same sort of thing; these are the position players I most believe in this year, the guys I would put my money down on if asked to.
But first, a quick addressing of some unfinished business from last week's post. The right wonderful Gus left a couple comments, asking about who was my favourite pitcher in last year's draft, and while another poster (I believe it was mattybobo, though it could easily have been one of our other various and sundry Matts), correctly answered that Rob Kaminsky was, in fact, my guy from last year's class (I was actually arrested for dancing naked in the street after he was picked by the Redbirds), I wanted to give a personal clarification to the question myself. I didn't do so in the comments last week because I was afraid that by the time I saw the question, the answer would very likely have gone unnoticed.
As for the other question posed, my opinion of Marco Gonzales, the Cards' first pick, I put forth my thoughts on him and all the other Cardinal draftees last year in my shadow draft post from July. The short version: I like Marco Gonzales well enough, I think he could be a very solid, very dependable big-league starter, something in the Mark Buehrle mold, but he wouldn't have been my pick at 19. I had my eye on (and continue to pine for), Phil Ervin, a center field prospect out of Samford University. I hope that post, and these answers, shed some light on things for you, Gus. (And anyone else who cares.)
Anyhow, as to today's players, it's kind of a mixed bag. We have one player the Cards have no shot at, one player they might, and one who may not be a first rounder at all, though predicting where players will ultimately go in the draft is a fool's errand. (Which is why I enjoy it so very much.
But first, I have to go with one honourable mention player: Michael Gettys, a high school outfielder from the state of Georgia who has, as they say, the loudest tools in this year's draft class. Hyper athletic, Gettys has as high a ceiling as any player you can imagine, but I decided to exclude him from this grouping based on three things: one, while picking for a need in the draft is almost never a good idea, I don't necessarily think it's poor practice to allow position to be sort of a tie-breaker, and the Cards' current glut of outfield prospects makes me think it's somewhat likely they may emphasize other areas this year, two, I already have one pie-in-the-sky player on this list with virtually no chance of making it anywhere near the Cards' draft slot, and I would prefer this to not be a, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if the Cardinals had, like, a way higher draft pick than they do, so they could totally, like, take the top guy and be even more awesome next year?", kind of post, so I'm limiting myself to one impossible dream amongst my favourites, and three, just because Gettys has the potential to be a monster, there are things not to love about his game. I won't go into depth right now, because I do plan on writing him up in a later one of these posts, but suffice it to say there's one really important tool I'm not entirely sold on with him.
Anyway, that's my honourable mention. Now on to the actual three. And less than 750 words in, too!
Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State University
6'1", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Trea Turner is fast. Very, very fast. Fast like he has permanent speed lines following him around, like a cartoon character come to life. Fast like if he had a really angry friend, their combined nickname would pretty much write itself. Fast like some other, third funny thing I can't think of right at the moment. He may not quite the crazy foot speed of Billy Hamilton, but honestly, he's not far off.
It's the speed that makes Turner an extraordinarily exciting prospect, in that old Joe Morgan talking about Jose Reyes exciting way, but what really makes him a potentially special prospect is the fact he should have no problem playing shortstop at a high level in the professional ranks. He has superlative quickness, outstanding range, a strong arm, and steady enough hands that there's really no reason to believe a position switch is in the future for him. And, as we Cardinal fans know all too well, shortstops...well, shortstops are fucking hard to find.
Funnily enough, Turner actually began his college career playing third base, moving to the shortstop position just this past season, and there are still some fine details to his defensive game that could use some smoothing out. Nonetheless, Trea Turner is going to play shortstop for a long time, because he's already good at it, and there's reason to believe he could very well get even better.
On the other side of the ledger, there are some questions about Turner's offensive profile. He's a solid hitter, and even shows a fair bit of power from time to time, but his approach could use some work. He isn't impatient -- just the opposite, in fact -- but he is prone to selling out for power, trying to hit a bases-empty grand slam when he should realise his best bet to make an impact is to work a walk, knock a single, lean into a pitch, whatever is necessary to just get on base. Now don't get me wrong; I think 95% of hitters could benefit from changing their idea of a hitter's job from, "to get a hit," to, "avoid making an out," but a player with Turner's skillset would do well to realise the best way to take advantage of his one game-changing tool is to just get on base by any means necessary. It's an almost nonexistent concern for me, to be honest; after all, this is a player who has walked more than he struck out in both of his first two seasons at NC State, but I feel I would be remiss not to point out the warts, such as they are.
Despite some mild concerns about the bat, I see no reason not to believe Trea Turner could be an extraordinary big league shortstop. He can play the position at a very solid level, he has some definite upside with the bat in his hands (and if he could add a little strength to an extraordinarily slight frame, the power could take a step forward as well), his plate approach is very, very good, and he has true game-changing speed.
The bad news? He's probably a top five pick in June, and the Cardinals don't have a top five draft pick. So, you know. Boooo consistent winning, I suppose.
Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State University
6'2", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
I will say about Max Pentecost the same nice thing I said about Kolten Wong at the time he was drafted, when explaining why I liked Wong, despite him not being my first choice for the Cardinals at the point they drafted him: Max Pentecost is a hitter. And what do hitters do? That's right, hitters hit. And I think Max Pentecost is going to hit.
So is that all it takes for me to fall for a player? Well, no, it isn't, but it sure does go a long way, you know? But the thing is, Pentecost does plenty of other things, too; more than enough for me to really, really like him.
Defensively, there's really no question he can stick at the position long term, which immediately gives him a leg up on 99% of the players out there. He's very nimble behind the plate, and boasts a strong (but not elite, to be honest), arm that allows him to record above-average pop times to second. He moves well to corral wild pitches, and while his overall receiving skills are still a work in progress, he generally pulls good marks for his makeup, his handling of a pitching staff, and all those other nebulous things that seem so important to the catching profession.
For me, though, the best thing about Pentecost has to be the bat. His hit tool is his best tool, and he shows an innate ability to barrel up pitches consistently, hitting the ball hard more often than not. He doesn't hit for a ton of power, and his swing is very level, making me wonder how much power he'll ultimately possess, but in terms of hard contact and feel for the fat part of the bat, there aren't many other college hitters in this draft I feel are better than Pentecost.
He actually has solid-average tools pretty much across the board, including surprising speed for a catcher, and is very much cut from that new variety of catching cloth, more Buster Posey than Yadier Molina in terms of physical build. He also has some room left to grow and fill out, so there could still be a little more pop in his game eventually. Even if not, though, this is still a player whose bat I believe in.
Over the past few years, I've come to believe that, particularly in a prospect, the hit tool is probably the single most important. It's the rarest and most elusive, too. I think Max Pentecost is a hitter, and hitters hit. And a player who can hit is always going to get a shot. A player who can hit and just happens to play one of the most premium of positions is exactly the kind of player I want to see my team drafting.
As for opportunity to do so, it's tough to say whether Pentecost will be on the board when the Cards pick or not. If the draft was taking place tomorrow, I think he probably would be. For all the laurels I just heaped on him, the numbers for Pentecost his first two seasons of college have not been earth-shattering. I believe he's a potential plus hitter, but to this point in his collegiate career he has not yet put up the kind of monster statistics I think he's capable of. At this moment, I think he's a back half of the first round, maybe very early second round kind of guy. In other words, I think there's a pretty decent chance he would be available. On the other hand, I also happen to think there's a very good chance Pentecost is a big helium guy this year, as I think his hitting could very well take a big step forward his junior season. And anecdotally, it seems to me college catchers tend to be risers in the draft most years unless something goes really wrong, simply because the supply is always far short of the demand. That may be a completely incorrect assessment, but that's why I said anecdotally. If he has the season I think he will, he should move up significantly in the draft order, in which case I may have to wave goodbye to another of my faves.
Final note: Pentecost was an absolute monster playing in the Cape Cod League last summer, winning the league MVP award and finishing with an OPS near 1.000. In fact, he hit markedly better with wood than he ever has with the college bats; it's the only level he's really dominated to date. And we know how much the Cardinals love players with wood bat resumes...
Kevin Padlo, 3B, Murrieta Valley High School (California)
6'2", 195 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Kevin Padlo is the name on this list that you are very, very unlikely to be familiar with at this point. He doesn't show up on a whole lot of the top draft prospect lists. As such, he's kind of my pet sleeper prospect this year, and a player I'm going to be keeping an eye on all spring to see if he doesn't grab himself a big handful of helium balloons and start floating up into the consciousness of draftniks everywhere.
Padlo is an athletic marvel, a pure talent with strength and speed to spare. Particularly strength. He puts me in mind a bit of Brett Lawrie, as both are physical freaks who play the game in an all-out, high energy way that suggests a football mindset more than that of the calm, zenlike focus of a baseballer. That aggressiveness isn't always a good thing, of course; still, it's hard to complain too very much about a player who attacks the game with fire and a relentless hunger, even if those qualities must be harnessed for the player to ultimately excel.
Padlo has a very strong arm, plenty to play a plus third base, and he has the reactions and instincts of a future top-quality defender. His hands, too, are solid, though he is prone to defensive miscues at times, mostly of the over-aggressive variety.
With the bat, Padlo needs work on his approach, including but not limited to a setup at the plate which I think is less than ideal. Nonetheless, he can put on quite a show in both batting practice and games, particularly on the audio side of things. I hate saying it, because it's one of the very worst, hoariest old baseball tropes, but you can just hear the difference when he makes contact with the ball. The power is more of the raw than usable variety at this point, but the kind of contact Padlo makes should lead to plenty of balls over the wall down the road.
On the downside, Padlo is still very raw in a lot of areas. The defense I'm not concerned about, as that's the sort of thing I think a player can easily improve on with proper coaching. Offensively, though, I think there is some work to do there as well, and that seems to be a much thornier area to make changes. I don't particularly like Padlo's setup at the plate, specifically how deep he holds his hands at address, back almost outside his right shoulder. I would prefer to see him a bit more compact, his hands more forward prior to loading. Perhaps it's a small thing, but I'm just pointing out what I like and don't. Regardless, this is a player I think could have a cathedral-high ceiling at the hot corner, capable of hitting for a ton of power as he fills out further and playing plus defense thanks to extraordinary athleticism and a high-level arm. He's easily the furthest of the players I covered today away, but ultimately I think he could end up one of the real steals of this draft if he remains relatively unknown between now and June.
Okay, that's enough of me today. I had a few more things I wanted to say, but I'm tired of typing and running out of time to get this up around the slot we're shooting for. So, I'll end this here and be back next week. Take care, everybody, and I hope you're happy with where VEB is headed. I can't say I'm entirely thrilled with everything that has changed, but I think it's in good hands, at least.