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2008 Draft Preview- Part One.

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A couple quick things, before the main meat:

I don't think the Twins did very well in the Santana deal. I don't know exactly what the other packages being offered were, exactly, but I think the Yankees' package, if accurate, of Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and another mid level prospect was quite a bit stronger than what Minnesota ended up with. I think this may have been a case where a team outsmarted itself. The Twins were trying to wait on teams to get antsy and up their offer sheets. The problem with that strategy is that, if you choose to employ it, you have to be willing to go into ST, and even the season, without making the move. Eventually, you'll get what you want; you just have to wait it out. Unfortunately, it looks as if the Twins themselves got a little panicky at the lack of movement, and made a move for a lesser group of players than they could have extorted from a team that was desperate to stay in a race, or who had an injury come up in the spring, that sort of thing. I also think this is a case in which the Twins took less, possibly significantly less, to move the player further away from themselves. I understand that reasoning to a certain extent; there is some logical basis to it. I think teams tend to put too much emphasis on it, though. Especially when moving a player outside your own division, the talent you receive back should be enough to compensate for whatever that player should be able to do to you. If that's not the case, then maybe you should reexamine the deal. Again, I don't think that Minnesota played it's cards as well as it could have.

All that being said, I don't think it's an absolute disaster for the Twinkies. I really like Carlos Gomez a lot. He's got 70 speed, a cannon of an arm, and enough bat speed that he should hit for better than average power. I think he'll do a great job in center for Minnesota. In fact, if you look at the Twins' outfield, they may have one of the best corps of flycatchers in baseball for the next 3-4 years. Michael Cuddyer in left, Gomez in center, and Delmon Young in right is a terrific trio. I actually like what they've done in the OF this offseason.

The pitchers are a little more of a mixed bag. Deolis Guerra has a massive upside, but he's really, really young. (I think he'll turn 18 this March!) Kevin Mulvey is at least interesting; he has a deep repertoire that he can throw for strikes, but his velocity, which was consistently in the low 90s up to 96 at Vanderbilt, is more in the 87-91 range now. A guy who seems to lose stuff like that is very worrisome to me, no matter how good his other pitches are. Philip Humber I'm just not impressed with. He hasn't been the same pitcher since his TJ surgery, and I don't think his stuff is coming back after this long. He's got a really nice curve, but that's about it. I hope the Twins know something I don't, but it looks as if they took far less than a fair return for the best pitcher in the game. It won't be a complete loss; they did get some talent back. Just not enough, in my opinion.

One of my personal favourites, John Marecek, has resurfaced on the radio on 550. He was doing Sports Night last night, and I can only hope that he's going to be hosting it on a more or less regular basis. We may finally be free of the Non Stop Noise Machine and his cohort Mike Claiborne. One can only hope. Congratulations to Mr. Marecek on the new gig; I for one am delighted he was able to stay in the market. We need more intelligence and humour on the airwaves, and less volume, confrontation, and utter contempt for the audience.

I'm not sure when the standard paradigm for sports talk radio shifted to where it is now, but it's absolutely horrifying. There seems to be an attitude right now that the personality on the radio has to have an adversarial relationship with his audience. Is this one of those Jim Rome things that I just didn't realise was as bad as it is? I've tuned in to the aforementioned KTRS before, searching for Cardinal news and discussion. Instead of intelligent debate, I'm subjected to the schtick of one John Hadley, (the non stop noise machine I referenced earlier) which consists entirely of this line:

"I told all of you. I've said it all along, but none of you wanted to listen to me. You guys kept calling me, saying..."

And so on. It's an absolute wasteland. Thank whatever powers there may be that it's not the only forum for discussion these days; I really don't think I could handle very much of what comes from mainstream outlets anymore. It's sad when Kevin Slaten is one of the least rabid things you'll encounter. Alright, enough of my soapbox proselytising.

I'm starting my draft previews this week. I know it's early, but I want to break it up into pieces, and I think now is actually a pretty good time to start working on them.

There are a handful of things in life that I'm really passionate about. Analog audio media. Art deco and midcentury modern architecture. The decline of the American male's sartorial sense. And, unfortunately for me friends and family, the baseball draft is quickly moving up the list, from simple hobby to full blown obsession. I say 'unfortunately', because I rarely shut up about things I'm really interested in, and I'm sure none of them really need to hear my opinions on anything else. Luckily, I have an outlet for at least this one subject. Now, if I could just find some sort of forum of people to listen to me ramble on and on about those other things...

Over the next couple of months, I want to profile some of the players that we could see the Cardinals take in the 2008 first year player draft. As I said, I'm not going to do the whole thing as one giant lump post, the way I did with my draft retrospectives. For one thing, trying to assemble all the scouting reports together would make for one hellaciously unwieldy post, and, two, to be perfectly honest, doing it this way saves me from having to come up with a new topic every week, no matter how slow the news cycle has been. So you see, it not only makes sense, it's also a nice, lazy way to do it.

I'm going to do about 3-4 players at a time, trying to group players together who are of a similar type. I'm not doing them all in a row; I'll do them randomly, here and there, as we move closer to the draft. I would like to profile about 15-18 players total, maybe a few more. I think that should be enough for me to cover most of the players we should pay attention to as possible draft picks for the Cards.

The Cardinals pick at #13 this year; it's their highest draft pick since 2000, when they took the unfortunate Justin Pope. One can only hope they use this selection more wisely than they did that one. Thirteenth overall is an interesting spot; there should be at least a couple of top 5-7 talents that fall, due to signability concerns, team needs, the moon's gravitational pull, whatever. That being said, in a way, I almost wish the Cards had been even a little worse last year, and squeaked into the top 10. I would feel much better about their chances of landing a real impact talent at, say, eighth, than at thirteen. Oh well. They're picking at thirteen, and there's nothing to be done about it. They also have a supplemental first round pick, at number 37 overall, as compensation for Percival signing with the Devil Rays. Thank you, Percy. You'll always have a special place in my heart.

There's one player in particular that I absolutely cannot make up my mind about. So, I thought I would start with his category. We're going to kick it off with three collegiate, left handed pitchers.

Brian Matusz- LHP, University of San Diego
6'4" 200lbs.
DOB: 11th February, 1987
Player Page

Matusz is probably the best lefthanded pitcher in the draft this year. He had a great career in high school, then surprised many people by going to college, turning down a contract offer from the Angels.

So, what's so great about this guy?
Matusz has a really great combination of stuff and command. He's often compared to Mark Buerhle, due to some similarities in their styles, but Matusz's stuff is better than Buerhle's. He throws a fastball that sits in the 88-92 range comsistently, topping out at 94 occasionally, with great movement down in the the zone. He commands his fastball well, moving it to all parts of the strike zone. He throws a curveball that's average or maybe a tick better, and he does a nice job of spotting it. His best pitch is his changeup. He throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball, and it has a nasty finish to it, fading and tumbling out of sight. He's got great size, (that 6'4" frame should be able to hold some more mass) great athleticism, and repeats his delivery beautifully.

In 232 college innings, Matusz has struck out 277 batters, against 83 walks and 193 hits. That's an excellent sign that this guy has the stuff, the control, and the aggressiveness to be an impact pitcher in the major leagues. He may not have the big time velocity you would expect from a staff ace, but he projects to pitch toward the front of a rotation, and soon.

Really, the only problem with Matusz is that there's very little chance he's still around when the Cardinals pick. Plenty of things can change between now and June, though. If he has a lackluster spring, he could fall just far enought for the Cards to grab him. If he does, I would suggest they take advantage of the opportunity. I know I've said I'm much happier about picking high school kids early in a draft, but Matusz is too talented to pass up if he did manage to fall as far as pick 13.

Cole St. Clair-LHP, Rice University
6'5" 225lbs.
DOB: 30th July, 1986
Player Page

Cole St. Clair is an interesting case. He's a college senior, and has served as the Owls' closer. Still, there's a pretty large faction in the scouting community that thinks he's a starter waiting to happen, due to his three pitch repertoire. St. Clair suffered a biceps injury in the early part of 2007, keeping him out of games for quite a bit of the year, and depressing his stock. He was selected in the 7th round by Cleveland, but chose to return to school for his senior year.

So, what's so great about this guy?
St. Clair is a big bodied, slinging left hander. He throws his fastball in the low 90s range, touching up to around 95 at times. He has a putaway slider in the mid 80s that has unusual depth. Intriguingly, he also has shown a plus changeup occasionally, but the pitch remains inconsistent, as he doesn't throw it very often as a reliever. He further complicates matters for hitters with an odd, funky delivery, with a long pause at the top of his leg kick. (I've seen video of it, but can't find anything decent at the moment. If anyone knows of a good clip, I would appreciate the link help.)

St. Clair has been extremely hard to hit in his college career. In his 176 innings, he's only given up 105 hits. Along with that, he has walked 54 batters, and- get this- has struck out 231(!).

While he's been very good as a stopper in his collegiate career, a lot of scouts don't see his stuff profiling well as a closer in pro ball, and project him in more of a starting role. If he could develop some consistency with his changeup, and prove he could handle the workload, he would make a very intriguing draft pick.

There are a couple caveats. One, I'm not particularly crazy about drafting pitchers from Rice. Now, that may sound a little odd, but the number of pitchers who have been drafted out of Rice, and needed surgery shortly before or after, is astounding. I don't know if they overwork pitchers, or if they're teaching some little mechanical lesson that's causing problems, but I don't like the Owls' track record at getting their pitchers injured. St. Clair has worked primarily out of the pen, though, so that's maybe a little less of a concern. He has an odd delivery as well, though, with a lot of movement and slinging arm action. To me, St. Clair has to be considered at least a bit of an injury risk.

As a college senior, St. Clair won't have a whole lot of leverage in the draft. That means there's a good chance he may sign for somewhat below slot. I'm not sure that should be a huge consideration, but it will factor in. Taking him, and bringing him into the fold for a little less might help smooth the way for a bigger financial reach somewhere else. Personally, I would be leery of taking him in the first round. The Cards have a surplus of relief arms, although mostly right handed ones. If you were absolutely sure he would stick as a starter, then even the medical history wouldn't worry me as much. If St. Clair were still sitting there in the supplemental round, I would call it a pretty nice pick. If he were taken in the second, I would say that the Cards stole him, even if they kept him in the pen. But in the first round, I think he would be a reach at 13, and I wouldn't like the pick there.

And last, but not least,

Christian Friedrich- LHP, Eastern Kentucky University
6'3" 208lbs.
DOB: 8th July, 1987
Player Page

Friedrich is the player I referenced earlier, who is giving me such trouble figuring out what I think about him. First off, check out the scouting report, as well as the video of his delivery, over at Cape Prospects. I'm not sure who the guy is that does that site, but he's done a really nice job on it. Great videos and nice scouting reports. He says he's looking to eventually land a job scouting professionally; I hope he gets the chance. He does good work.

So, what's so great about this guy?
Friedrich is known for basically one thing, and one thing only: the curveball. His curve is an absolutely devastating pitch, allowing him to carve up batters and rack up the strikeouts. In his college career, he's thrown 232 total innings. In those innings, he has allowed 153 hits, while striking out 307 batters. That second number is the one that really jumps out. A guy who can miss bats like that is doing something majorly right. His walk totals are a bit high, at 89, but that still only gives him a WHIP number slightly over 1.00. His curveball, at this point, already earns grades of 65 or 70. It's a true 12 to 6 downer that just disappears. After that, though, we start to see some problems.

There seems to be a marked lack of consensus as to exactly how good the rest of Friedrich's stuff is. I've seen scouting reports that have him in the 88-92 range, that claim he's touched 94 at times. I see a lot of reports that have him sitting around 88 or 89, touching 91. And I've also seen some, mostly more recent, unfortunately, that have him more in the 86-88 range. I'm not exactly sure what to make of all this. Regardless, I think it is pretty clear that he is not a hard thrower. He throws a changeup with nice arm speed, but the movement isn't anything to write home about. In fact, his movement in general, outside of that death from above curve, is below average, maybe average at best. Take a look at his mechanics in that video. He has an easy, simple, effortless delivery, with an extremely high release point. That delivery should make him durable, and allow him consistency, but he's never going to get much movement on the ball. From an arm slot that high, it's hard to throw a sinker, because you can't turn the ball over very easily. It's almost as hard to cut the ball; coming straight over the top like that, you almost have to pull straight down through the ball. The same holds true for a changeup; you can get nice speed separation, and maybe some sink, but not that nasty fade that really makes a great change. With his arm slot, Friedrich doesn't project to improve his stuff a whole lot. Fortunately, his curve may just be good enough to make up for it.

So we've got a player with a wicked curveball, a fastball with below average velocity and movement, a change that has great arm speed, but not a lot of life to it, and an easy, low stress delivery. In short, Friedrich is essentially a big tall version of Barry Zito. I wouldn't necessarily predict the same kind of success, but the similarities, to me, are striking.

This is where I start to have problems. Friedrich hasn't faced the best of competition in college, so that makes me a little nervous. However, he was dominant in the Cape Cod League, and that's as good a competition as a college player is likely to see. More than anything, it comes down to this. I love his numbers. Based on the numbers alone, he should have a really nice career. However, I fear his stuff. He's got one great pitch, and then it drops off in a hurry. How well is a mid- to upper-80s fastball going to translate to pro ball, especially one that's straight? I wonder if, after you drafted him, could you drop his arm slot down slightly, to more of a high three quarter delivery? It would improve his movement, make his overall stuff profile better. Then again, I don't like tampering with something that's working. I go back and forth on Friedrich; I really can't decide if he's good enough to pick at #13.

I think this is where I have to come down on Friedrich. I think, with the quality of his curveball, the absolute worst case scenario for Friedrich is a top quality lefty specialist. He's a very safe, solid pick, I think. He's got a nice ceiling, but his floor is even better. At 13, I think I could get behind Friedrich. However, I think there are probably other choices the Cardinals could make that would be better. I think I have to put him in much the same class as St. Clair. If he were still somehow sitting around at 37, I would snatch him up in a heartbeat. He's a perfect supplemental round pick. I doubt he will still be there, but stranger things have happened. At 13, I think I would look around and see better talents. At 37, he would be an absolute steal. Even at 13, though, in spite of my preference for more of a homerun swing, you could do a whole lot worse.

I'm not sure which of these players will be available when the Cardinals make their pick at #13. If I had to handicap it, I would say that St. Clair will still be there; Friedrich is probably about 60will/40will not, and Matusz will not. I'm usually strongly in favour of going with high ceiling, prep school players early on, but none of these players really turn me off as an early round draft pick. Especially at 37, I really like these players.