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2008 Draft Preview pt. 4- Release the Bats!

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Winter has finally come to this corner of the world, and I, for one, couldn't be...

Wait a minute, that's not right. It's March, you say? That's weird, I could have sworn I just saw eight and a half inches of snow on the ground in my front yard. I've lived in St. Louis my whole life, and I never can quite get used to the weather here.

The Cardinals played a game yesterday. They sucked. Pretty much the whole team sucked. Colby Rasmus was good. Jason Motte was good. Brian Barton and Juan the Ageless One both collected a couple of hits. Otherwise, wow.

Anthony Reyes was pretty bad. His performances the last two games demonstrate pretty powerfully an old axiom in baseball: "never fall in or out of love too early in the spring". I was certainly guilty of it after his last start. The kid's back. Cy Young votes, here we come! Well, that was maybe a tad premature. Burying him after yesterday's game is premature as well. Hopefully he can put that performance behind him and build on what he's done well so far this spring. He hasn't walked anybody. He hasn't collapsed completely with guys on base. I'm still rooting for the guy. For whatever it's worth, he's still feeling optimistic. Hey, if nothing else, at least he won't have to face Melvin Mora very often when the games count.

Not really a whole lot to say about the game. Bad day all around. Forget it, move on. Team needs to do it, and I plan to do it.

Today, I wanted to take a look at some players who are all going to be drafted for the same reason. Their bats. There are several players who will all go in probably the first half of the first round this year who are remarkably similar. All are outstanding hitters with significant questions about their overall athleticism and long term defensive positions. Despite those questions, these guys have such great offensive capacities that those doubts are blips on the radar, rather than stumbling blocks. Without further ado, let's take a look.

Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Vanderbilt University
6'2" 225lbs.
DOB: 6th February, 1987
Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?
Pedro Alvarez has, for the last year or so, been seen as the favourite to go #1 overall in the 2008 draft. In fact, I was originally not planning on profiling him at all, due to the fact that there was literally no chance he would get anywhere near the Cardinals' drafting slot. However, his situation has changed a bit. He broke a bone in his hand in his first AB of the season, and is expected to miss a sizable chunk of the season, at least six weeks. I doubt that this will be enough to drop his stock enough for the Cardinals to have a shot at him, but it's really tough to say at this point. That's a pretty fair chunk of the season he won't be on the field, and other players could easily move past him with big spring performances. Plus, when he comes back, he could very well struggle. We've seen in the past players struggle to get back on track with the stick after hand or wrist injuries. As I said, I still don't expect him to be on the board at 13, but I figured I had better do a profile on him just in case.

When he's healthy, Alvarez is probably the best all around hitter in this year's draft class. He has solid plate discipline that has improved significantly through his college career, a solid, short stroke that generates above average bat speed, and good loft. There are really no questions about his offensive capabilities. He's been seen as a first round pick since a huge freshman season, putting up a .329/22/64 line with a .456 OBP, and has consistently reinforced that notion since.

On the other side of the ball, there is quite a difference of opinion on Mr. Alvarez. At the moment, he's a smooth, capable defender at the hot corner, with great hands, a strong arm, and adequate range. He runs well enough, but is by no means a burner. The real questions come down the road. He's already a pretty big boy, and there are a fair number of scouts who think he'll continue to fill out, slow down, and end up at first base. Looking at his body type, I don't think that's completely unfounded speculation. If he does move to first, his hands, the best part of his defensive package, should allow him to excel, while covering for the areas he's not quite so good in.

Bottom line, Alvarez is a tremendous talent, and whoever takes him should end up with a dynamic run producer. No matter what position he ends up at, (and I haven't quite made up my mind on what I think yet) he has more than enough stick to make an impact. I see a little bit of Manny Ramirez in him, and some team is going to be very happy to call his name on draft day.

Yonder Alonso, 1b, University of Miami
6'2" 215lbs.
DOB: 8th April, 1987
Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?
If Alvarez is the best overall hitter in the draft, then Alonso is probably the most polished. The first thing that really jumps out at you is his plate discipline. He drawn 145 walks in his 687 college at bats, compared to only 113 strikeouts. He has a .325 career average to go along with that batting eye. Bottom line, the guy knows how to hit. He has less power than Alvarez, and employs more of a line drive, gap-to-gap approach than swinging for the fences. He has a flowing, graceful stroke from the left side, and he centers the ball well. Alonso is a fairly decent athlete, having stolen, I believe, 12 out of 14 bases last season. However, his conditioning has been questioned in the past, and it appears to be an ongoing issue. His defense profile is similarly questionably. He plays pretty well over at first, but is never going to win any Gold Gloves. There have been a couple of attempts to audition Alonso in the outfield, at third base, and even briefly at catcher, (can you imagine those offensive numbers from a catcher?!?) but so far, those attempts have mostly reinforced that he belongs right where he is.

Alonso's power production has also been a source of some scrutiny. He has a big, powerful frame, but, as I said earlier, utilises an approach much more conducive to hitting for average and gap power than a ton of over the fence power. There is some thought that he'll grow into it, that hard contact will turn into home runs down the line, but that's not always the safest assumption to make.

To me, the defensive concerns about Alonso are very valid ones. The questions about his power I don't put nearly as much stock in. I would like to hear from any individuals who have seen him play quite a bit, as I've only caught a couple of Miami games this year and last, but I see a little bit of Will the Thrill in Alonso. Beautiful batting stroke, good average, good enough power, and tremendous plate intelligence. I see great things from Alonso's bat. If he paid a bit more attention to conditioning and defense, maybe you could say the same about the rest of his game. For now, though, it looks as if his bat will have to carry him. I, for one, believe he's more than capable of hitting his way to the big leagues.

For what it's worth, I don't see any chance of Alonso falling to the Cards. There are several teams in the top 10 that would jump at the chance to get a hitter of Alonso's calibre, and if all else fails, there is no way the Athletics at 12 would be able to pass up a guy with this kind of plate discipline, even if they've already got a pretty similar player in Daric Barton.

Justin Smoak, 1b, University of South Carolina
6'4" 215lbs.
DOB: 5th December, 1986
Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?
Justin Smoak is a monster. He has huge raw power from both sides of the plate, and should drive in a ton of runs wherever he goes. He doesn't have the same kind of polish in his approach that Alonso has, and my not be quite as dynamic as Alvarez overall, but he probably has more power than either. He doesn't have to pull the ball to hit it out to any part of the park from either side. I cannot stress enough just how incredibly powerful this young man is.

That being said, he does have some caveats. His plate discipline is a little spotty, and he has struggled with wood bats in the past. He doesn't run well at all. At 6'4" and 215 already, he's even bigger than either of the other players we're talking about, and is probably the least mobile of the three. Although Smoak is a better overall athlete than he usually gets credit for, due to his size, I think he's strictly a first baseman or DH all the way. Of course, the same was said of Matt LaPorta last year, yet the Brewers are dead set on making him a left fielder, and we have our very own Chris Duncan...

Smoak is, in my ever so humble opinion, a pretty comparable player to Mark Teixera. I actually think he could be a better fielder than Tex, as Smoak has very good hands, throws left handed, and moves very well around the bag. He absolutely destroys mistakes, (again, similar to Tex) but isn't going to be an on base machine. I will guarantee, though, that a fastball left over the heart of the plate to Smoak will be quite a sight to behold as it leaves the yard. If he can keep his body from getting too big and soft on him, Smoak should be a truly fearsome presence in the cleanup spot for whoever picks him up.

Eric Hosmer, 1b, American Heritage HS, Plantation, FL
6'4" 210lbs.
DOB: 24th October, 1989
Here's a really nice article about Hosmer in lieu of a player page.

So, what's so great about this guy?
Hosmer is the only prep school player in this group, and may be the most intriguing. He may boast the best pure swing of any player in this year's draft class. By all accounts, his naturall offensive ability is off the charts. Hosmer displays true light tower power, but rarely swings as if he's trying to show it off, staying under control and in balance most of the time. For a kid of his age, his approach is unbelievably mature; he is truly a man among boys when viewed against most of his peers.

Hosmer has a sculpted, powerful frame that already looks like a big leaguer's. He throws lefthanded as well as batting from that side, and has touched 92mph off the mound as a pitcher. He has wonderfully soft hands to go along with his well above average, (for a 1b, anyway) throwing arm. That being said, most of the questions the other hitters here face also apply to Hosmer. He doesn't run well and is probably limited to first base by his lack of range in the field. There has been little thought of drafting him as a pitcher, both due to the quality of his bat, but also awkward mechanics that have caused some scouts to worry about his long term arm health.

In addition to those questions, Hosmer also presents a couple of other considerations teams contemplating drafting him would be well to be aware of. He has committed to play college ball at Arizona State, a strong program that players rarely commit to idly. Even more importantly, Hosmer is being advised by Scott Boras, and we're all well aware of how that tends to play out. Between the strong college committment and the presence of Boras, Hosmer is the most likely of this group of players to fall significantly in the June draft. He is a sublime offensive talent, but his potential price tag could very well end up causing some teams to look elsewhere, for an easier sign. Even so, I expect him to get picked up and bought out by one of the bigger payroll teams in the first round. I think Baltimore will probably focus on pitching, but Washington has been extremely aggressive in their recent drafts, and my be willing to pony up for a potential talent like Hosmer. If not the Nats, possibly the Rangers at 11 or the Dodgers at 15. Only time will tell if Hosmer is going to be worth what he'll most likely command, but he is an awfully special talent all the same.

Of this group, the only one I see a strong possibility of lasting until 13 is Hosmer. He comes with significant signability issues that could very well lead to a precipitous fall through the first round. If he is still there, the Cardinals would have to take an awfully long look at this kind of a rare talent. That being said, as good as his bat is, I would take a Melville, Harold Martinez, or Aaron Hicks over him, I think. I'm very big on drafting guys that play premium defensive positions, as I'm sure you've figured out by now.

Alvarez is a bit of a wild card here now, though. While I don't see him falling all the way out of the top 10, it's always tough to say what's going to happen to a player who has an injury their draft year. If he really struggles coming back offensively, he could start to slip, and at some point, teams are going to worry about him going back to school for his senior year to rebuild his draft status. How far could he end up falling? I don't know, but I do know that an awfully intriguing draft acquired yet another story line when his hamate bone snapped.

I think I've got about two more of these; I've already covered probably more players than I initially meant to. I hope you all are enjoying the series. In case you were wondering, I've put Great Moments in Redbird Future History on hiatus while I'm doing these, just due to the sheer volume of the material. If you like them, good news! They'll be back. If you hate them, good news! You'll still be able to ignore them.

Everybody take care of yourselves, and be careful out there, wherever you are.