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Holiday Wishes. Tidbits. the Draft, Two.

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The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special was on television last night. I really enjoy watching the Charlie Brown holiday specials, although I do have to admit the Thanksgiving one was probably the weakest of the autumn/ winter specials. (I'm as ardently non religious an individual as you're likely to find, and even I get all warm and fuzzy when Linus starts quoting Bible verses at the end of the Christmas Special.) I've always liked the Thanksgiving holiday itself, also. There seems to be a lot less that can go wrong or be perverted with a holiday that basically just calls for a little bit of reflection, a little bit of appreciation, and lots of food. Not a bad deal, all in all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. If you're travelling, please be careful. Regardless of what you're doing, I hope you get at least a moment or two to consider the positve things in life. I'm not a very positive person in general, but when I stop and look at the big picture, the world is almost incomprehensibly beautiful. Try to see it, at least a little. Life is much too long not to take what joy you can find.

As for the world of baseball, and recent events:

The Cardinals added five players to the forty man roster. Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Mark Worrel, and Mike Parisi are all pitchers, with Parisi the only starter of the group. Jarret Hoffpauir, one of our favourite topics of conversation around here, was also added. Andy Cavazos and Brian Falkenborg were removed to make room. I'm really excited to see Worrell's name on there. Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's a world beater, but I've seen him throw several times, and I love his delivery. I have a thing for pitchers with sort of odd motions anyway, and his is very odd. Overall, I like the move of stockpiling and protecting relief talent, as it gives you very nice flexibility to add to the pen as needed. McClellan's a local boy, I'll be rooting for him.

Everyone is saying that the recent events involving Alex Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers indicates that players are really starting to wise up to Scott Boras's way of doing business. I don't buy it. In these particular cases, both players saw that Boras wasn't getting them what they really wanted. Rogers wanted to stay where he was, rather than playing the market; almost the exact same situation came up in one of Andy Benes' last years with the Cardinals. Benes' wife stepped in and made sure a deal got done to stay in St. Louis; it looks as if Mr. Rogers did pretty much the same thing. ARod saw how badly they had overestimated the market for his services and decided he had better cross back over the bridge he had just set fire to, before it fell into the river entirely. Players will still flock to Boras to get the pay day, and then there will always be some who don't want to leave a good situation, or go into a bad one, over a little extra money. I don't think it changes that much on Boras' side in the long run. I could be wrong, though.

I like the Jason LaRue signing. He's a nice defensive catcher, he definitely has shown the capacity to hit better, (or at least with more pop) than Gary Bennett, and he's not costing much. ($850,000) Backup catcher is never an impact move, but I think the Cards did a nice job of picking up a solid role player to complement the team. Not too bad.

Last week, I started covering Jeff Luhnow's drafts with the Cardinals. I started with his first, the 2005 edition. I'll continue that this week with 06, after the jump.

First off, I'd like to correct a couple of omissions on my part from last week's post. The esteemed Mr. Borowsky emailed me, making his case for me to have included Mike Parisi in the possible hopes to help redeem the 2004 draft. He assumed I just didn't think Parisi had a chance; that's not the case at all. I just flat out forgot all about Parisi. You see, I don't draft these things or anything, I just sit down and type them as you see them, making it up as I go. So I'm bound to miss some things, and Mike Parisi was one of them. From the scouting reports I've seen, Parisi has a nice fastball with some pretty good sink, a very good curve, and not much else. Some other pitches have been tried in his repertoire, with pretty limited success. His upside is probably relatively modest, but I think he could at least be as good as Brad Thompson. It may not sound like much, but every 6th starter/ swingman you're not paying FA market price for is that much more cash you have to throw at someone who can make a real impact. Particularly after reading some of the positive things Dyar Miller had to say about him a couple of days ago in conjunction with everything else I've heard, Parisi seems to be at least be worth paying attention to in Spring Training next season. My apologies for the omission, Mr. Parisi.

The other one was brought to my attention by a commenter last week. Kenny Maiques was a 37th round pick in 2005. He spent all of 2005 and most of 2006 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, (four days before the draft, by the way) and closed games for Quad Cities this year. He was outstanding, setting new records for saves both for the Swing and the MidWest League as a whole, if I remember correctly. The Cards are thinking about moving him back into a starting job in 2008, the role he occupied in his junior college career. Maiques is actually one of my favourite guys in the system; you can see a little bit of Roy Oswalt in him. He's not real big, he throws hard, great breaking ball, (although Maiques throws a slider, not a curve) and he really just sort of leaps off the mound at the hitter. I love the aggresiveness in his overall use of his body. His arm action has been questioned in the past, but he's cleaned it up since entering pro ball, and hopefully, that will help to keep him healthy. I apologise for the oversight to Mr. Maiques as well.

Alright. Entering the 2006 draft, the Cardinals faced a draft without the absolute windfall of picks they had enjoyed in 2005. They picked only once in the first round, and the last pick at that. I wouldn't trade the higher draft pick for the best record in baseball that year, but it does make a little tougher to nab an impact talent, particularly one who's close to the bigs. The team did have a supplemental first round choice. They picked twice in the second round, then had a sandwich pick after that round as well.

We discussed last week that the extra picks at the top of the draft in 05 may have made the Cardinals more comfortable taking some gambles. We can see right off the bat in 2006 that that assumption holds at least some water. With their first pick, 30th overall, the Cards took Adam Ottavino, a junior out of Northeastern University.

At first, I wasn't a big fan of this pick. I had immediate flashbacks to the first pick in 2004. Another college righty from a school in the Northeast. Another guy with velocity, but control issues. Another guy who, despite being a college pitcher, was seen as being very "raw", relative to his age. Another guy with mechanical questions. Great, I thought. Chris Lambert v. 2.0. The more I heard about Ottavino, though, the more I liked the pick. He put up mediocre numbers in college, but was occasionally dominant. He threw against the Red Sox in Spring Training and struck out one guy, breaking the other two hitters' bats. He has great velocity, sitting at 93-94, touching up to the 97 mark. He also had a lot of filling out to do, meaning he had a real chance to add to his power package.

Now, a year and a half later, I'm back to being more pessimistic on Adam. He definitely has the stuff, but his control has been very shaky since he entered pro ball. The main reason for these problems, and an occasional tendency toward the long ball, are related to his delivery. He's much too passive for my tastes with his lower body, meaning he's trying to develop too much power with just his arm. Even worse, he tends to tilt back in delivery, allowing his center of gravity to shift too much, leading to pitches up in the zone and poor command. (for the record, when I say he leaves a pitch up as if it's a bad thing, I mean it's a bad think when he leaves a ball up that was supposed to be down. There's a real art to pitching in the upper part of the zone, and you'll get killed if you're not trying to elevate on purpose.) He has a very good slider, and some scouts have said he'd make a good reliever. I'm down on him largely because of his delivery; I'm just not a believer in him. I hope I'm wrong.

In the supplemental first, the Cards took Chris Perez. This was a very nice pick. Perez, despite his control problems, has proven to be one of the lest hittable pitchers in the game, posting ridiculous BAA numbers. Chris has flown throught the system as well, ending this year in AAA. He needs to tame the movement on his fastball a little bit, but he's very nearly ready to contribute to the big club right now.

Both of the Cards' first round picks here were college pitchers. We can see an attempt to improve the depth at that position, but we can also see how the strategy differed markedly from the previous draft. In 2005, there were several picks right up in the first round or two, enabling the team to be much more aggressive, without worrying so much about guys possibly making it. Here, they felt they couldn't afford to gamble with top tier talent, and it shows. Now, don't get me wrong, they still came away with some attractive talent, but you can clearly see the difference in approach when you compare Rasmus, Herron, McCormick, etc., to Ottavino and Perez. In the former, you're looking at high upsides, often with significant risks to match. In the latter, you still have good upside, but you're looking more at guys with longer track records, with more statistical indicators, from major college programs. Both the ceilings and the floors of the latter group are more moderate than the 05 draftees.

In the second round, the Cards had two picks. With the first, at #55, I believe, they took Brad Furnish, a left handed starter out of Texas Christian University. Furnish is one of my personal favourites, with a big, Rich Hill like curve, above average velocity for a lefty, and a changeup that looks as if it could develop into a pretty good pitch. He throws his heater in the 88-92 range when he's healthy, touching 94. He did have some cleanup work done on bone spurs in his elbow late in the year, though, and we've seen how all that can work out. So, for the moment, Furnish looks very promising, but there are some question marks.

Furnish, to me, is very interesting. At the time, he was seen as a bit of an overdraft. He was widely projected to go in the 4th round, and the Cards popped him early in the 2nd. I haven't seen too many comments regarding him, but the few I have indicate that the Cardinals identified something in him that they really liked and weren't willing to take the chance on waiting that he might be snatched up by some other team. This is doubly intriguing, because Furnish is a heavily flyball oriented pitcher, working up and out of the zone with his fastball to get popups and Ks, while using his curve as a setup pitch. He's directly opposed to the organisational philosophy, and yet they reached to get him. I find that fascinating. So far, Furnish's performance has been strong, but the injury now clouds his future. Hopefully, he's healthy, and we can see some more evidence as to whether or not the Cards really did overdraft him.

The second pick in the second round came at the very end, at 74/75. The Cards took Jon Jay, an OF from Miami. Jay presents a very similar prospect as Furnish. A lot of teams saw Jay as a fourth outfielder. He's just an adequate center fielder, and he lacks the power to profile for a corner. The Cards, though, saw something in him and took him a round or two earlier than he was expected to go. The thing about Jay is, he hits like Tony Gwynn. This year he was hurt, and never got untracked, but in his debut he hit something like .342, with good on base skills, and enough speed to swipe a few bases. We see a little bit of an unconventional profile here for a guy who would most likely end up in left field, and yet his overall skill package should make him a premium talent.

The Cards also had a pick in the second supp. round, and they took Mark Hamilton with it. Hamilton is a 1b out of Tulane University. Hamilton is not a very good fielder, he doesn't run well, and he can't switch postions. What he does have, though, is power. Lots of power. He hit a home run during a workout, I believe, in Houston, that went over the train tracks in left field. Impressed? You should be more impressed. He's left handed. Mark also has a nice batting eye, in an Adam Dunn-ish sort of way. (He walks and strikes out both, quite a bit.) He's blocked in the system, but he's still a very intriguing player, either as a trade piece, or as a potential bench player for a few years while he's cheap.

In the second round, the Cards took three players who were all very difficult to rate. All three of them had certain facets to their gamess that seemed to place them high up in the draft, and all three had significant question marks. Here, we can see a definite, specific quality to the type of evaluation and scouting the Cardinals are doing. Overall, the returns on these three players have been quite good so far. Jay has been somewhat disappointing, as he got hurt this season and never really got a chance to show much of anything. Both Furnish and Hamilton have performed very well to this point, with Hamilton being a borderline top 10 prospect, and Furnish probably going in the 15-20 range. Again, the ceilings on these guys may not be massive, but their floors are pretty respectable. I think we're seeing a pretty strong pattern in this draft.

In round three, the Cards contemplated taking Tommy Pham, an uber athletic SS/RHP out of a Las Vegas high school. Pham's agent, though, oversold their bonus demands, and scared the Cards, as well as several other teams, off. (side note: Pham fired his agent after the draft) So instead, they took Gary Daley Jr. Daley is a RHP out of Cal Poly, I believe. (but don't hold me to that) Daley is a real head scratcher to me. He seemed like a pretty good pick at the time, hell of an arm, fastball at 93-95, big time curveball, major college product. However, Daley hasn't produced much at all since turning pro, with two very forgettable seasons under his belt, and some injury problems on top of that. He was ranked the 24th best college player in the nation going into 2006, (six spots ahead of Tim Lincecum, I believe) but things have really gone downhill for him since then. Like I said, I can't get a read on Daley. No idea what to think of the guy. Oh well.

Later on in the draft, the Cards continued to load up on college players. They continued to select guys with strong track records, and most of a pretty similar profile. They took a ton of small, high average/no power center fielders. Jim Rapoport, Shane Robinson, and Nathan Southard are all examples of this particular profile. This is the sort of thing that really puzzles me. They loaded up on a whole lot of low ceiling, 4th at best outfield type players. It sort of fits with the rest of the draft, though, I guess. They seemed to be focusing on trying to build depth with this draft, rather than going for the stars.

As for some of the other picks in the middle rounds, they took Eddie Degerman in the 5th out of Rice. He throws like Iron Mike, but he seems like he could be pretty useful as a reliever. They took one of their higher upside picks, Jon Edwards, in the 14th. He's a high school OF, with massive size, (6'5", 230) power to go with it, and a cannon of an arm. He could end up being a monster right fielder, or he could end up a bust. He's certainly one of the most interesting risks of this particular draft, though.

The Cardinals also took Tommy Pham, (remember him?) in the 16th round, gave him the same bonus they gave Daley, and brought him into the fold. After a year and a half, it's not looking so good for Pham. He's already been moved off of SS, (too soon, in my opinion) and he's hit so poorly that there have been rumours that the Cards might consider moving him back to the mound.

Isa Garcia -2b, 34th round
Mark Shorey- OF, 31st round
David Carpenter- C, 12th round

All three of these players had really great debuts, then failed to make much of a splash in their first full seasons. Again, all fit a pretty similar profile. Really, the Cardinals went heavy on depth in this draft, trying to build up the overall system after years of poor drafting. They did, however, make a pretty big splash with one late round pick.

In the 41st round, the Cardinals took Mitch Canham, a draft eligible sophomore catcher out of Oregon State. Shortly after the draft, Canham lead them to the College World Series title. The Cardinals had some preliminary discussions with him, but nothing ever really came close to materialising. So, this left handed hitting, plus offensive catcher went back to school for his junior year. This is the sort of thing that really upsets me with the Cardinals' drafting habits. They went for low ceiling, high floor talent for most of the draft, then took a really unusual talent late in the draft and didn't sign him. To me, any time you consider a player worth spending a draft pick on, you should sign him. Period. If you're not convinced he's worth bringing into the fold, don't pick him. If you don't want to match his price, don't pick him. When it comes down to it, as has been discussed here and elsewhere, the rate of return on the money you spend in the draft is exponentially greater than what you can get out of the FA market. I strongly disagree with trying to cut costs in the draft. When you consider that the team just gave Joel Pineiro $13 million dollars, and you consider that someone like Rick Porcello got $7 million, and the Tigers control him for around six years, the draft is by far the most efficient way to bring in the talent you need to compete and win. Alright, that's enough of my ranting. The whole Canham thing just irks me.

We can't be quite as sure of what the Cardinals got out of this draft as we can the 2005 edition. The track record for this group of players isn't as large, and what performance we can measure has come at lower levels, making it less valuable as a predictor. That being said, the 2006 draft focused on a different sort of player, and the organisation got a different sort of result. There isn't anyone in this group that has the kind of upside of a Colby Rasmus. There doesn't appear to be many players in this group that really even project to be big league regulars. However, there is still a certain amount of value in a draft like this. In a way, it almost appears that Luhnow and Co. were approaching building the farm system much the same way you would build a team. First, you establish your core, to have a solid base. Guys like Rasmus, Herron, possibly Anderson, Garcia, etc., form that high upside core of players. Then you try to fill in the rest of the roster with solid, if unspectacular, players. The 06 draft was very much this sort of draft. They took a lot of college players, many of whom the type who should move up the ladder quickly, to form a good secondary group of players to draw from. I have no idea if that was part of the thought process or not, but it's certainly interesting, to me at least, to consider.

We also have another group of data to consider as far as Luhnow's performance goes. This time around, they player it much safer at the top of the draft, going for fairly conservative, college players. However, the college players the Luhnow targeted, at the top especially, were an interesting breed. While most were products of major college programs, both Ottavino and Perez were more about potential ability, rather than current polish. So we have a bit of a hybrid here. Collegians, with a large statistical track record to be analysed, but players who were still seen as being fairly far from their ultimate ceiling.

To me, the best part of this draft was some of the early middle round picks. Guys like Perez, Hamilton, Jon Jay, Furnish, and even Degerman really appeal to me. I think that whatever exact method that Luhnow and his cohorts use seems to do a pretty nice job of identifying promising players who may be slightly underrated, the Cardinals appear to reach by a round or two to draft the player, and end up with a nice player in a good drafting position. There aren't any massive sleepers from this crop yet, like Maiques and Garcia from 2005, but the overall depth the team acquired in the middle rounds appears to be pretty solid.

That's it for this installment. I'll go ahead and do the 2007 draft next week, (although there are even less conclusions to be drawn) and then I think I'm going to work up an overall draft outline of what I would like to see, based on my personal preferences combined with what this group seems to be doing well. thanks. Again, I hope everyone has a nice holiday.

Til next time.

Update [2007-11-22 17:19:23 by the red baron]: Hey, thanks for the comments everyone. One of the commentors brought up Allen Craig and P.J. Walters from the 2006 draft. I had meant to include them, was considering the best order in which to include them. Unfortunately, I was a little pressed for time yesterday morning and ended up wrapping it up in hurry. (Yes, that's what I consider a hurry. I have major issues with brevity.) So, with all apologies for leaving the two of them out, both fall under the umbrella of the mid-round, middling upside college player. Both offer excellent depth at their respective positions, keeping with the overall direction of the draft. By far the best thing that the Cardinals did in the 2006 draft was to add a lot of these type guys, moderate ceiling, solid floor players. Craig in particular intrigues me; he seems like he might hit enough to be a real contributor. I've heard some varying reports on his defense though, so if someone knows how he is with the glove for sure, I would love the info. Hope everyone's having a nice holiday. Baron out.