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2009 Draft Preview #8

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. So nice to see you all again. How've you been?

Me? Oh, alright, I suppose. Hey, Cards won last night, so things ain't so bad, right?

First, a word about Joel Pineiro. Ho-lee shit. Really, Jo-El? Of all the possible outcomes of last night's game, I certainly didn't pick three hit shutout as the one I was banking on. What's really rather startling in looking at Pineiro's season so far is that, in strict terms, at least, it's for real. He's sporting a 3.48 ERA, and a 3.37 FIP, so it isn't as if he's getting lucky with batted balls and the like. In fact, his BABIP actually seems a little high, at .306. So we can wait all we like for Pineiro to come back down to earth, but if he continues to pitch exactly as he has so far, it may very well not happen.

Now, of course, there is also the issue of whether or not his peripherals are, in fact, sustainable. That FIP is the product of two things; a ridiculously low walk rate of 3.2% and a HR/FB rate of just 3%. Now, it's been written here and elsewhere that his home run rate will likely increase, and I really can't argue with that. Even pitching in a park that suppresses power (non-Rasmus division), only 3% of a pitcher's fly balls leaving the park just isn't something that's likely to continue. The walk rate? Well, that one's a little bit tougher. Seeing as how Jo-El has always had very good control, it's entirely possible that the walk rate is the one area that isn't likely to regress any time soon.  Tough to say for sure, of course, but seeing as how it's basically the one and only area that Pineiro has consistently been an above average pitcher for pretty much his entire career, I wouldn't bet on it elevating a whole lot going forward.

Second of all, a word or two about Khalil Greene. We all read the story in the P-D yesterday, I'm sure; there was a fairly lively debate about certain aspects of the story right here. It's pretty remarkable, really, how little sympathy I've seen in most quarters for a guy who is clearly in a lot of pain, struggling badly with some pretty serious issues. Over at the Post boards, there was a lot of bashing going on, with the common sentiment seeming to be that the guy is a bitch, a bum, a whatever, and should really just get off the roster and maybe consider offing himself. Bernie thinks he should retire because he's just not that good of a player. I'll just leave that one alone in order to avoid saying some very nasty things that don't need to be said. Over at Gateway Redbirds, there was some talk of someone, either Greene himself or the front office, I'm not sure which, covering their asses. I'm not entirely sure I'm taking that last point the right way, but combined with a lot of the other stuff I've read, it kind of seems as if some believe this problem is being fabricated to cover up for Greene's awful performance thus far, and, by extension, the failure of the front office to build a proper team of contenders, handing us instead San Diego's castoffs.

Well, this is my thought on it: if the things we read in the Post yesterday are true, then Khalil Greene has no business being on a baseball field at the moment. It seems that this whole thing isn't being treated as a medical issue, with the team issuing statements and stories being printed. It's being treated more as, "Oh, Khalil just needs a day off, get himself straight. He'll be fine."

I have a pretty serious problem with that, truth be told. My whole life, I've struggled with some fairly serious mental issues, and at no point did a simple day off ever really fix anything. Playing Khalil less, picking your spots with him, is not going to help him any. Every day that he isn't in there, he's going to be thinking about why he isn't in there, and it's only going to get worse. The worst thing about being so stuck in your own head isn't that it's painful, it's that there's really nowhere else to go. Hell, most of the problems I developed as time went on, various addictions and the like, all stemmed from that original, desperate desire to be someone, anyone, that wasn't me. To be anywhere else but trapped inside my own head, with no possible hope of escape.

We have a few psychiatric types on this board, so I'll defer to their opinions on the matter, but given just the sorts of people that I've known in my life, it seems to me that once an individual crosses the line and begins inflicting actual physical harm to themselves as penance or punishment or simply for the sensation itself, the issue has gone from being one of being too wound up, or a little overanxious, or stressed out, to a much, much more serious problem. Letting someone who is hurting himself on purpose because he can't handle failure continue to just go on doing so is just foolish.  I dated several girls back in school who were constantly cutting themselves, and let me just put it out there as simply as I can: this sort of thing does not improve on its own. Once that line has been crossed, the person doesn't just magically decide that things aren't so bad one day.

I wish Khalil the best, but I don't see this getting any better until he steps away from the game and get the help he needs. Trying to go out there and perform is just going to make things worse.

Okay. Enough of that. The draft is nigh, and I must try to get a few more of these reports in before the big day.

Yesterday, over at Future Redbirds, erik had a very nice little article about why you shouldn't draft a high school pitcher in the first round; I highly recommend you check it out. Good stuff as always from the FR godfather. And in the spirit of erik's post, I decided to lead off my profiles today with a high school pitcher.

Didn't see that one coming, did you?

Anyhow, beyond simply being perverse,  I also had a point to doing this, and my point runs thusly: I don't really particularly care if the Cardinals draft high schoolers, collegians, or miscellaneous players. What I do care about is the fact that the Cardinals lack top-end talent in their system, particularly of the pitching variety. What the Cards have done a remarkably good job of is developing literally dozens of about the same sort of player. They have back end starters and middle relievers in droves, but really very few players that project to be any more than that. It's easily the most glaring weakness in the system, and one that I really hope the Cardinals attempt to fill in this year's draft. Whether that's a prep school wonder, or a power arm out of college, I simply don't care.

Look at it this way. I don't know how many of you here might be golfers, but I am. And in golf, there exists something called a scramble. A scramble is when a team of players, either 2, 3, or 4, all hit shots, the best shot of the group is chosen, and then all members of the team hit their next shots from that spot.

Well, see, there's a certain strategy to playing a scramble, particularly when it comes to the tee shots. When preparing to hit a tee shot, a team should set the order up a certain way. You want the most consistent, straightest driver of the ball you have to hit first, and the longest, hardest swinging, riskiest driver to hit last. The idea is to get a shot in play, then let the high risk guy swing his little heart out and try to hit one to the moon. He sends it off into the woods, no loss. You already had a shot in play. He gets hold of the ball in a big way and breaks off a 300 yarder, fantastic. You're in great shape now.

Up until now, the Cardinals have been that first guy, taking safe, accurate swings at the ball, and mostly putting it into play. They have plenty of drives that are safe right now; the time has come to really take a swing at one.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, East Paulding High School, Georgia

DOB: 30th May, 1990

6'4", 175 lbs.

MLB Draft Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

Wheeler just may have the most electric arm in the draft this year outside of that dude out in San Diego that everyone's so obsessed with. There are two big high school right-handers in this year's draft, with Jacob Turner the likely earlier pick, but don't sell Wheeler short.

Wheeler's story pretty much starts and ends with his fastball, to be perfectly honest. He's got an outstanding one, with velocity sitting in the 91-94 range, topping out about 95. Even more remarkable than his velocity, though, is the movement he gets on the pitch. Wheeler throws from a low three quarter arm angle that creates a ton of sink and run on his heater. In fact, while there's been a lot of talk about him being similar to someone like a Ryan Madson, I actually think that Jake Peavey provides an excellent comparison in terms of raw stuff and delivery. The bodies aren't all that alike, but the results, to my eye, very much are.

After the fastball, Wheeler's arsenal is much less impressive. He has a breaking ball that's usually termed a curve, but it's very slurvy and inconsistent. Looking at his arm slot, I think there's a pretty good chance that a team trying to develop Wheeler likely switches him to a slider. He also throws a changeup, but has barely needed it to this point. I will say this, though: I got to see some video of Wheeler pitching in the Perfect Game showcase, and I was actually impressed with a couple of the changeups he threw. He telegraphed the pitch, slowing his arm considerably, but the pitch had wicked tumble to it, fading well off the plate to the third base side as it dropped.

The concerns about Wheeler are mostly centered on his delivery and his command. The thing about the command is that I think a pretty big part of the issue there is that he doesn't repeat his delivery all that well, flying open with his shoulder and landing inconsistently on his plant foot. Clean up the delivery, and I think the command follows. On the other hand, his mechanics themselves are a bit worrisome. Again, much like Peavey, Wheeler has the same elevation of the back elbow and long, slinging arm action. I haven't seen any slow motion video, so I hesitate to make too many judgements about his mechanics, but to me they look a little risky. Note I'm not saying they're bad, as I think his delivery is a huge reason why his stuff is so effective; I'm saying that they look to me to be somewhat high risk.

Some video for your perusal:

 

 There's also a better video over at Takkle, but I can't embed that one, unfortunately.

My personal feeling on Wheeler? To be honest, he's actually grown on me. Early in this process, I wasn't overly fond of him. Didn't really like his delivery, pretty raw compared to the big three of prep pitchers, stuff like that. But the more I've watched him, and the more reports and things I read, the more I like him. He certainly has the kind of arm that could pay huge dividends down the road, but there are still legitimate concerns. Given the choice between him and, say, Andrew Oliver, I would have to take Oliver, who I love, but it would be a very close choice at this point.

 Mychal Givens, SS/RHP, H. B. Plant High School, Florida

DOB:  13th May, 1990

6'2", 180 lbs.

MLB Draft Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

Remember Tim Beckham, the #1 overall pick from last year's draft? Well, Givens is sort of like a slightly more raw version of Beckham, particularly in the bat department. The upside to Givens is that he's also drawn a fair amount of attention as a pitcher, so there's that to consider as well.

Much like Beckham, Givens is an extremely athletic player who fits well in the middle of the diamond. He has good speed, though probably not elite level, and a very good first step burst. His hands are soft, and his arm is, well, his arm is probably his best tool, to be honest. And that's where the pitching comes in.

Off the mound, Givens has hit up near triple digits, and has shown a nasty slider at times as well. To look at his delivery, on might very well think of Octavio Dotel; that's the first guy that came to mind for me, anyway.

The thing about Givens is that there is some real question about how much he's going to hit. While he has plenty of natural strength, he also has an ugly, inefficient swing that doesn't seem to produce a whole lot of leverage. The doubts about his bat, combined with his remarkable arm strength, are the reason there is so much talk about teams possibly preferring him as a pitcher to a position player.

My bottom line on Givens is this: I like him better as a shortstop, because I think his glove alone gives him the potential to be a solid player, and he has the physical tools to grow into an impact hitter, as well. At 6'2", he's very much in the mold of the bigger, Cal Ripken sort of shortstop, and could easily end up right around 200 lbs. by the time he's done filling out. He could very well end up Troy Tulowitzki, or his bat could just never develop, and he could end up a utility player that lives on his glove. As a pitcher, I think he would end up in short relief, rather than starting. Either way, I like Givens pretty well, and I would like to see the Cardinals take a player at a premium defensive position, but honestly, he isn't at the very top of my wish list.

 

 

 Matt Hobgood, RHP, Norco High School, California

DOB:  3rd August, 1990

6'5", 240 lbs.

MLB Draft Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

Matt Hobgood is a big, physical pitcher. A power pitcher's power pitcher, if you will. While he's only an inch taller than Zack Wheeler, one look at their frames, and you'll notice an immediate, and startling, difference.

Along with that big frame, Hobgood brings a fastball to match. He throws his heater in the low-90s consistently, and can crank it a bit higher when he needs it. He is able to hold his velocity deep into games, one of the benefits of having more present strength than most high schoolers. His  curveball is one of the better breaking balls you'll see in the draft, especially in the prep school ranks, with tight rotation and hard break in the 80 mph range. His changeup lags a bit behind his other offerings, but is stronger than that of most pitchers his age.

Beyond just the raw stuff, Hobgood is also extremely competitive, and pitches with a chip on his shoulder, as they say. In fact, he can sometimes get overly aggressive and pitch out of control, but that's happened less often as his career has gone on. He attacks hitters with his heater, and shows absolutely no fear. In short, he's got that sort of bulldog mentality that has characterised many of the Cardinals recent draftees, guys like Jess Todd and Lance Lynn.

Speaking of Lance Lynn, Hobgood has a similar build, though not quite as, ahem, mature yet.

Now for the best part. I really, really like this kid's delivery.

 

 Okay, first off, I love the tempo. He's aggressive and quick, and doesn't have any breaks in his rhythm from beginning to end in his delivery. Second, he drifts through the balance point, building momentum as he goes rather than stopping and then pushing toward the plate. Third, from what I can see of his arm action, I like what I see, though as always, I hesitate to say anything really definitive on that front without the benefit of slow motion video. I like the high glove hand, and the aggressive step toward home plate. In fact, the only thing I don't like in his delivery is how stiffly he lands on his plant leg. I would like to see a softer landing, and more finishing down and with his back more parallel to the ground, though those are the sorts of things that could easily be worked on with coaching. (And even without changing anything, I'm picking some fairly small nits here.) If you want a comp on the delivery, he actually reminds a little bit of a really big, less extreme version of Tim Lincecum. That's right. I just compared Hobgood, at 6'5", 240, to Lincecum, at 5'8", 160. (And yes, I know what Tim Lincecum's baseball card says. It's a damned liar.)

 In short, I think that Hobgood is one of the really great, well, not under the radar, precisely, but slightly less hyped guys in the draft. He isn't getting the sort of press that either of the two big lefties, or Turner, or Wheeler, for that matter, are getting, but I think that maybe he should be.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and actually say that I think Hobgood might be a good darkhorse candidate for the Cardinals to pick at 19. They've shown a proclivity for bigger, more physical pitchers the past couple of years, with Lynn being one of the biggest examples (what an awful pun), and Hobgood certainly fits that mold. Moreover, I think he fits very well with the philosophies that Brent Strom espouses, in terms of his mechanics. If there is a high school pitcher in this draft that the Cards would seriously consider taking, I actually think that Hobgood just might be that guy.

Alright. 'Nother one in the can. With the draft mere weeks away now, I'll probably do nothing but draft posts from here until the day comes and goes.

The past installments:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

And finally, as someone over in the feedback fanpost said how much they enjoyed it when I include random things such as song recommendations in my posts, I leave you with the Baron's song picks of the week.

 Slow Club, "Christmas TV"- I'm not going to lie and try to tell you I was so cool that I already had this record or anything; no, I heard on the Chuck season finale. You want to feel good about something in life? Listen to this, and I almost guarantee that you will.

The Divine Comedy, "A Lady of a Certain Age"- Okay, look, I can't really describe this one to you. Suffice it to say that it's the sound of a song written by the sort of person who would use the phrase in the title. Got it? Good.

Little Joy, "The Next Time Around"- Also known as Fabrizio Morretti's new band (Morretti is the former drummer for the Strokes), this record is a little like what the Strokes themselves might have sounded like if they had grown up somewhere warm and sunny on a collective farm.

One last thing. I know that I haven't addressed the return of Chris Carpenter anywhere here. I'm deathly afraid of being the guy that jinxes it, so I'm just going to pretend like it's a totally normal thing. Capisce?