Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
In case you missed it, the Cardinals signed Ron Villone yesterday. I honestly don't know if there's ever been a move, in the history of baseball, that actually made less difference to me than this one. He's 38, so we're not getting any younger, but there aren't any comparable players knocking on the door, and neither of our in house options is a mortal lock, so whatever. I hope TJ doesn't get displaced, but otherwise, I have absolutely no real opinion on this. Riveting commentary, eh? That's what you come here for.
There's been an awful lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth the last couple of days over the Matt Clement revelation, particularly in the wake of Bernie's column. Lb said Monday that Bernie speaks for a lot of fans and their frustrations, and I can certainly understand that. I'm frustrated with the Cards' continual problems with finding healthy, somewhat effective pitchers to take their rotation turns on a regular basis. However, in this case, there are a couple of things that I think are being overlooked in the hooplah:
One, team physicals do not include throwing sessions or radar guns. Giving a guy a physical tells you whether or not he is healthy and sound in a very general, medical way. It does not give you much of an indication as to how effectively he's going to be able to throw a baseball. It sucks that it appears Clement is behind where everyone hoped he was, but a medical exam of his shoulder wasn't going to reveal that bit of information, no matter who did it.
Two, the comments made by Mozeliak and the Cards' staff all ran along the same lines. "He's healthy, and we think he has a chance to come back and pitch effectively." Nowhere in there is it explicit that he was going to start the season on opening day. Of course they hoped he would, but physical rehabilitation isn't always a straight line. There's still a chance Clement will come out and be effective, we just know that he's going to need some extra time and work in spring. Maybe he didn't do his work over the winter and that's why he's behind; I have no idea. But the Cards did their due diligence here; again, no physical exam involves having someone throw a baseball.
There has been a lot of talk about 'insurance' since this situation came up, both in Bernie's column and pretty much everywhere else. I'm very divided on this notion. On the one hand, I understand the idea that you hope to have some sort of backup plan when Plan A is a rehabbing pitcher almost two years from being effective. Also, an insurance policy pitcher brought in could very well become a valuable trading chip later in the season when, hopefully, there aren't enough rotation spots for pitchers coming back on to the roster. On the other hand, I look at the concept of an insurance policy for this team, and I have to laugh a little bit. Do you really need to insure this? How badly do you need renter's insurance when you have a spool coffee table and milk carton chairs? Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, unless Matt Clement was going to be worth approximately twelve or thirteen wins this year, (and I sort of doubt he was) he was not going to be the difference between winning the division and a fifth place finish. I think you'll need 92-93 wins for the Central this year, and I don't think Clement was going to be the magic bullet that got the Cards there. At the very least, there will be some extra ST innings to be given to some of our up and comers; who knows, maybe some of those spring innings will turn into summer innings. Bottom line, I'm excited for the baseball season to begin, but I wasn't optimistic enough about the Cards' chances of contention to think that now the ship is going down. Matt Clement is much more deck chair than iceberg.
Alright, on to part three of my June draft Preview. This week I'm going to look at some Collegiate right handed pitchers.
The 2008 draft promises to be a very deep, very solid one, in many different areas. Nowhere is this depth more apparent than in the ranks of college right handers. I did some actual research for this post, (horror of horrors) largely because the sheer number of players I needed to look at was a little overwhelming to just try and sort through in my head, like I usually do these things. I have four pitchers I want to take a look at, and several other names you may want to pay attention to, and I could probably fill another entire post with guys I just couldn't fit in here. As I said, in spite of the lack of an overwhelming favourite to go first overall this year, the depth of talent in this draft is outstanding. Let's start close to home, shall we?
Aaron Crow, RHP, University of Missouri
6'3", 195 lbs.
So, what's so great about this guy?
Crow has been a steady, reliable, solid starting pitcher for the Tigers the last two years. Last season, he threw 117.2 innings, second in the Big 12 and fourth all time in school history. He's shown above average command of a solid, if unspectacular, repertoire. The reason he may be the first pitcher off the board, though, has very little to do with what he's done so far at MU.
Last summer, in the Cape Cod League, Crow absolutely exploded. His velocity, which had previously sat in the 90-91 range, jumped up to sitting consistently at 93-96, and his mechanics took a serious step forward as well. He was the most dominant pitcher on the Cape, winning the ERA title, (0.67) and the Robert McNeese Award as the Most Outstanding Prospect, voted on by scouts. Most impressive of all, Crow continued to approach hitters in the same, intelligent, efficient way he had before, combining the pitchability of his 90mph self with his brand new heater in the mid 90s.
On the mound, Crow throws an outstanding fastball that sat in the 93-96 range last summer. He reportedly touched as high as 98 once or twice. His fastball also features good, lively movement, and he keeps the ball down very effectively. He throws a solid slider, and a very good changeup, both of which he can spot for strikes. He also began incorporating a cut fastball into his repertoire last summer to give him another weapon. He's had underwhelming strikeout numbers in the past, and a lot of people aren't sold on him because of it. To me, though, he looks like a little bit of a late bloomer physically, a guy who learned how to pitch when he had average stuff, and now has the repertoire of a true power pitcher. He's also slightly smaller than the prototype, but his athleticism is undeniable. There's not much not to like about Crow, except this: when the Cardinals go on the clock, barring something unforeseen happening to Crow, he will have already been gone for a while.
There was a great video of Crow pitching over at Cape Prospects, but sadly, last year's material has been taken down. However, the video is still up over at Future Redbirds. (It's also up at YouTube, but I would rather increase FR's traffic) There's a video sidebar on the main page, hit the blue arrow under it for 'more'; the Crow video is in there. I really like this kid's delivery, great aggressiveness, excellent leg drive, clean arm action. He does have a little wrap with his wrist at the back of his motion, but I don't see that as a huge deal. If it's a difference maker, I'm sure it could be fixed. You should check the video out; I love dissecting stuff like that.
Jacob Thompson, RHP, U. of Virginia
DOB: 19th November, 1986
So, what's so great about this guy?
Thompson may be, statistically, the best pitcher in the entire draft. In 2007, he threw 114 innings for Virginia, going 11-0, with a 1.50 ERA and a 101:32 K/BB. He then followed that up with 21 innings for Team USA, making 5 starts and ending up 1-2 with a 1.27 ERA, holding opponents to a .178 BAA. (How do you lose two games w/ that ERA?)
Thompson has great size on the mound, to go along with solid command. He has an average fastball, sitting in the 87-91 range, touching about 93. His best pitch is a 12-6 curveball that's unusually sharp. He has a decent changeup that he locates well, but isn't a swing and miss offering by any means. His delivery is straight over the top and is smooth and repeatable.
Thompson is all about polish on the mound. He doesn't overpower hitters, but he gets solid results. He may not have a huge ceiling, but he's probably a pretty solid bet to turn into a no. 3, possibly no. 2 starter. I think he compares almost perfectly to Greg Reynolds, another polished righty that the Colorado Rockies took #2 overall in the 2006 draft out of Stanford. Both should be reliable, better than average pitchers who munch up innings but never win Cy Young awards. I'm not big on these kinds of picks, but predictability isn't the absolute worst thing in the world.
Brett Hunter, RHP, Pepperdine University
6'4" 215 lbs.
DOB: 27th May, 1987
So, what's so great about this guy?
Brett Hunter has one of the best overall arms in the entire draft. He has both started and relieved in his career at Pepperdine, and has had nice success doing both. He's been a preseason All American the past two years, and is almost guaranteed to go in the top 15-20 picks in June.
There is some question as to what role Hunter is better suited for. He has a nice, deep repertoire suitable for starting, but his mechanics and delivery seem, to some at least, to point toward a long term role in the bullpen. He throws a fastball in the 92-96mph range in relief, along with a plus curveball that he can throw for strikes or bury to get swings and misses. As a starter, he also throws in an acceptable, but underused changeup, and dials back his velocity into the 90-92, maybe 93 range. He gets better movement on the ball in this range, though, and is able to get more efficient outs.
The big question mark for Hunter tends to center around his delivery. He has a jerky delivery, with some definite effort in it. He also has a very high, obtuse angled leg kick that somewhat resembles that of Trevor Hoffman or even Francisco Rodriguez, though his delivery isn't nearly as violent as KRod's. The lack of smoothness and the effort in his mechanics leads many scouts to believe he'd be much better suited for the bullpen. I'm not totally sure, but I would tend to agree with them on this one. Either way, starter or reliever, Hunter has a dynamite arm and should move very quickly through a farm system, particularly in a 'pen role.
Zach Putnam, RHP, University of Michigan
DOB: 3rd July, 1987
So, what's so great about this guy?
Zach Putnam is the definition of a two way threat. He's quite possibly the best pitcher in the Big 10 this year, and one of the best slugging outfielders on days he doesn't take the mound.
Putnam has a different frame from most of the other guys on this list. He has a shorter, more muscular, athletic frame more reminiscent of Jake Peavey or Tom Seaver. He's much more physically mature than most, also, meaning there's very little projectability left to him.
Putnam throws a heavy sinker in the upper 80s/ lower 90s range, topping out at about 93mph. Despite his rather pedestrian velocity, the pitch grades as a plus, according to most scouts, because it has such late, hard movement to it. He also throws a very good changeup, and a slow curveball that rates as average or maybe a tick above, with some potential for improvement. Zach can be a handful on days when he's got all of his pitches working, but he's not overpowering in the mold of a true power pitcher. He has very clean, athletic movements in his delivery, and he fields his position beautifully. Picklefork, commenting over at Future Redbirds a while back, compared him to Micah Owings of the DBacks for his hitting prowess, mid rotation potential, and all around game. I think that's a pretty fair comparison. I also think he compares in certain ways to Jake Peavey, and in other ways to our own Tyler Herron. His repertoire, on paper, looks a lot like Herron's, but he has better pure movement. On days when he has all his pitches working, he can tear apart a lineup, moving the ball in any and all directions. I think he has a little higher ceiling than Herron, but I also think it's a decent comparison. Probably a #3 starter ceiling, but he could turn out better than that, just based on his ability to induce weak contact. I'm having kind of a tough time getting a read on this kid. At the very least, he is a strike thrower.
Another shout out to Picklefork: several months back, he called Putnam to be the Cards' pick in the first round this year. Personally, I think Putnam might be a bit of an overdraft there, but if he's sitting there at 37, I would be very happy with getting him.
If you have the Big 10 network, you should be able to see Putnam pitch quite a bit this spring; they broadcast a lot of Michigan games. Check him out.
Also, while gathering info on Mr. Putnam, I feel obligated to reveal that I found that someone, at least, thinks he's pretty easy on the eyes:
Safe for Work
Don't judge me.
All four of these guys are interesting, for different reasons. Out of this group, I really like Crow and Putnam. Unfortunately, Crow almost assuredly won't be available at 13, and I think that's a little high for Putnam. Tough to say, but I think there are better picks the Cards could make than one of the three that will still be there. Again, though, if Putnam is still around at 37, (and there's a very good chance he will be) I would be very pleased with the selection there.
There are a ton of RHP who will go high in this year's draft, and I couldn't cover them all in depth. Here are some other names of interest, and at least a quick little bit of info on them.
Ryan Perry- U. of Arizona
Perry is another pitcher who, like Aaron Crow, helped himself immensely on the Cape last summer. He threw in the 94-96 range, nearing 100, after having had some elbow issues earlier in the spring. He also has an OK changeup, he's working on a sinker, and has a solid but inconsistent low 80s slider. Perry has a violent, straight over the top delivery, and looks to be much better as a bullpen candidate than a starter long term.
Luke Burnett- Louisiana Tech
Burnett is a terrifying giant of a pitcher. He stands 6'8" and weighs in at 280 lbs. He uses his size to intimidate hitters, as well as his fastball that's usually in the 96-98mph range. Outside of power and terror, though, he doesn't really have a whole lot else to offer. He throws both a splitter and a slider, but neither one is anything to get excited about. He also has a maximum effort delivery that also seems to point to relief work down the road. If he could come up with some secondary pitches, he would be an elite pitching prospect. So far, though, that hasn't happened. Burnett has, however, garnered a few comparisons to Andrew Brackman, the Yankees 1st rounder last year, for both his size and velocity.
Aaron Shafer- Wichita St.
One of the best arms in the draft. Unfortunately, Shafer hasn't been able to stay on the mound in order to show off that arm very often. He had back problems in 2006, elbow issues last year, and has suffered a litany of other, minor maladies in between. He does have a fastball that's easy in the low 90s, touching 96, a devilish changeup, and a decent curveball. He pitched on the Cape last summer, but showed reduced velocity, in the 87-91 range. I have to say, I've come to almost completely distrust any pitcher who throws hard and has what are termed "effortless" mechanics, yet can't stay healthy. I want no part of this guy, personally. Call it Mark Prior II: the Revenge.
Kendal Volz- Baylor
Volz may just have the best sinker in the whole draft. He has nice size, standing 6'4", and uses it to generate solid downhill movement. He also throws a curveball that's average right now, but could be better down the road. He has very little in the way of a third pitch, but that isn't anything that isn't fixable.
Volz is especially intriguing because he's a draft eligible sophomore. He should be around later than his talent would dictate this season, just due to the leverage he would have in any negotiations. He would fit the organisation's philosophy to a 'T'; if they're serious about spending to bring in talent, Volz could be an absolute steal in a later round.
Brett Jacobson- Vanderbilt
Jacobson is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a baseball jersey. He's been on the radar since he was 15 years old, and was favourably compared in 2005 to other top prepsters such as Chris Volstad and Jeremy Hellickson by the Perfect Game staff here. He was drafted that year, but opted to attend Vandy instead.
Jacobson has a perfect pitcher's frame, (6'6", 205) a fastball in the low to mid 90s, a nasty slider, and a solid changeup. What he doesn't have is much in the way of results. Just in the Cape Cod League last year alone, Jacobson showed just how dominating he could be by striking out 15 batters in 6 innnings in a game against Orleans, before coming down with some elbow soreness that limited him to two more relief appearances after that. However, in that same league, batters hit .290 off of him, when the league average was .245. With Jacobson's stuff, he shouldn't be nearly as hittable as he has been up to this point. I don't know why he has been, but he has been. He's a tremendous arm, and could end up undervalued. I include him here because I think the Cards might be interested in him. He falls into the Mark McCormick and, to a slightly lesser degree, Clayton Mortenson school, of pitchers who underperform numbers wise, relative to what you would expect with the quality of their stuff. I have to admit, Jacobson is a personal favourite sleeper of mine; his upside could be huge, if someone could help him figure it out. Of course, the risk of him flaming out is also pretty significant, but I think the potential payoff could be worth it for him. Depending on what he does this spring, a second round pick, or maybe even a supp. first, though I'm not totally sure about that, could be well used on this kid.
All right, that's it. There are still several other pitchers in this category, but just too many for me to cover them all. As I said, this is a very deep draft, and right handed pitching from the college ranks may be the single deepest segment of the whole thing. Given the Cards' propensity to draft this exact demographic so heavily in the past, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see at least one, if not more, of these pitchers, end up in the St. Louis farm system.