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2009 Draft Preview #7

I don't really have a whole lot to say about the ballgame last night, choosing instead to subscribe to the axiom our mothers repeated endlessly to us as children, the one about what you should do when you don't have anything nice to say.

Let's face it: the Cards played ugly, weak baseball against a Phillies team that came in extremely hot, and the results were predictable. What most stood out, of course, was the poor quality of the plate appearances for the Cardinals. After all, they did get shut down by Joe F. Blanton (and yes, the F stands for what you think it does), and his slow, straight fastball of wonder. And before anyone says it, yes, Blanton did a relatively nice job of locating his pitches. Nonetheless, the big culprit in the game was the hacktastic performance of El Birdos at El Plato. One would hope those sorts of results would put to rest all this talk of hitters needing to be aggressive we get from both manager and media, but somehow I doubt it. Sigh.

Oh, and can we all just agree that if any of us ever see Jayson Werth out in public, it is our civic duty as St. Louisans to slash his tires? I remember a couple of seasons back, there was a fair amount of talk 'round these here parts about trying to pick up Werth. If you were one of the people on that bandwagon (honestly, I don't recall my position, though I think I was in favour of it), then you get a gold star for prescience. Congratulations.

Anyhow, enough about that. Does it suck to lose? Sure does. Does it make me think the sky is falling? Not any more than I normally do. The Cards are facing their first bona fide slump of the year; now let's see if they can pull themselves out of it. Ordinarily, one would look at the next opponent, see that it's Pittsburgh, and thank the powers that be for the slump buster, but we've all seen what happens when the Pirates come to town recently. Blech.

Onward to my next round of draft prospect reports. Today we'll be taking a look at a slate of three left-handed pitchers out of college programs, a draft demographic that I think could very likely attract the Cardinals' interest this year, given the organisational need for lefties.

And check it out; I've even remembered to include the links to parts 1-6!

Huh. Now that I look at it, I've gone awfully heavy on the college players, haven't I? Oh, well, the Cards pick mostly collegians anyway; why shouldn't I profile more of them?

Before I get started here, I would like to point you toward the excellent college player updates that fewgoodcards is doing again this year over at Future Redbirds. Pretty much every collegian who really matters as far as the draft is tracked over there every Monday, making it one of the most convenient resources for the draft-obsessed, such as myself.

Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt University

DOB: 26th December, 1987

6'4", 195 lbs.

Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

 You guys remember Brian Matusz, the left-handed pitching prospect out of San Diego State last year? Well, if you're looking for the most similar pitcher in this year's draft, it just might be Mike Minor. Matusz probably had Minor in the velocity department, by a couple miles at the most, but otherwise, they're remarkably similar pitchers.

Your classic pitchability left-hander, Minor throws his fastball comfortably in the 90, 91 mph range, and has touched up to about 93 at times. His heater has that extra little squiggle that lefties always seem to have, allowing him  to minimize hard contact. Minor's changeup may be his best pitch, and is probably already a legitimate out pitch, at least against right-handed hitters. He throws it with the same arm speed and release point as his fastball, and it has solid depth and fade. His command of both his fastball and changeup have allowed him to strike out right around a batter per inning in his college career, while walking less than 2.5 hitters per 9 innings.

Minor doesn't have a really good breaking ball at this point, though he does throw two that are usable at least. His slider has long been his go-to breaker, and it has tight rotation, but not a whole lot of depth. Last year, while pitching for Team USA in the qualifying rounds, he started tinkering around with more of a curveball, and while it's still loose and a little sloppy as of now, it has the potential to become the better breaking ball in the long term.

 One of Minor's best qualities in college has been his ability to limit the longball, a testament to his ability to finish pitches and create movement. He gave up less than 1HR/9IP in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.

This spring, Minor hasn't been quite as impressive as he was thought to be coming in. His record stands at 4-4, 3.93, with a 79:24 strikeout to walk ratio in 73 innings. The strikeout rate is a little higher this year, which is promising, but the walks are up just a shade as well. He's probably been passed by  Rex Brothers as the top college lefty in this year's draft, but is still easily a first round talent. If he's around at 19 (and I believe he likely will be), I could certainly see the Cardinals taking him. He reminds me a bit of another lefty out of Vanderbilt, Jeremy Sowers, one of my pet prospects who has had trouble translating his minor league track record of success into major league victories. Both are tall, lanky lefties with good but not overpowering stuff who command the zone remarkably well.

Minor's Draft Video (by the way, MLB, if you're listening, can we please get embeddable video, at least on the draft tracker? Pretty please?)

Andrew Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State University

DOB:  3rd December, 1987

6'4", 205 lbs.

Baseball Cube Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

If Minor is the pitchability, finesse lefty of this draft, and Rex Brothers is the raw, stuff heavy guy, then Oliver splits the difference, marking the midpoint between the two.

Oliver's stuff is solid, starting with a fastball that he works to all corners of the zone at 88-93, with a little more in the tank if he needs it. He's very impressive working off the fastball, as he can throw it down in the zone working to contact, then elevate it to throw it by hitters late in the count. Over at Brewerfan, they compare him to Chuck Finley, and I think that's a pretty good comparison. Unlike Finley, though, Oliver doesn't have great complimentary pitches yet. He  throws both a changeup and a breaking ball, but neither one is really a consistent weapon at this time. I say breaking ball because it can morph from a curve to a slider, and is pretty slurvy either way. The times I've managed to see him on video, it looked more like a curveball, but regardless of which way he chooses to try and develop it, the thing is going to need a fair amount of work.

The changeup is a little better, with good arm action, but it's fairly flat. If he telegraphs it even a little, it tends to get hit. Hard. Personally, looking at his arm action, I would be interested in seeing what Oliver could do with a split-finger pitch, but that's just me.

The other thing that stands out about Oliver is that he's in a little bit of an odd situation. He recently won a court case against the NCAA and got reinstates at Oklahoma State, after there was some question as to whether he violated rules in talking to advisors. It's sort of complicated, honestly, but it all boils down to this: Oliver is pitching now, the lawsuit seems to have maybe affected his performance this spring, and he is now a Scott Boras advisee. So, you know.

With the complications, I fully expect Oliver to still be on the board at 19 as well. He came into the spring ranked right behind Mike Minor as the top college lefty, with some pundits actually having him a little higher. (I liked Minor a shade better, just because of the outstanding walk rates, but they're both remarkable pitchers.) He would certainly be a more difficult and involved signing, one would think, but a team drafting him could very well be getting a #2 starter for years to come.

 Here's a pretty great scouting video of him over at Baseball Beginnings, which I just found while looking for video of Mr. Oliver. Good, good stuff.

Rex Brothers, LHP, Lipscomb University

DOB:  18th December, 1987

6'1", 205 lbs.

Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

First off, how weird is it that probably the three best left-handed pitchers in this draft were all born within a month of each other?  That's just odd.

Anyway, while both Minor and Oliver have been hurt by their performances this spring, Rex Brothers is a serious helium guy. He came into the season rated the 77th best  prospect by Baseball America, but is now seen as an almost sure-fire first rounder, and maybe the first college lefty off the board.

Brothers has a big, big arm, especially for a lefty, working consistently in the  low- to mid-90s, topping out as high as 97. He sits comfortably at about 93, and can hold that velocity deep into games. It's a four seam fastball, and features explosive, riding life that makes his heater a swing-and-miss offering at times. His best pitch, though, may be his slider. The term wipeout is thrown around a lot, but it certainly applies to the pitch in this case. Brothers' slider come in in the mid-80s, and has a hard, late break that makes it almost unhittable, especially when he locates it for strikes. With two pitches that already rate as pluses and have the potential to be even better, Brothers has the best repertoire of any of the lefties in this group.

What he doesn't have, though, is the same kind of pitchability the other two do. Brothers lacks a changeup, as he really hasn't needed one to this point in college. His control and command are also both below average, though he has made significant strides in that area, which is the biggest reason he has shot up the draft boards so dramatically. No longer strictly a thrower, Brothers is learning that velocity isn't everything, and isn't leaning on trying to simply throw everything by hitters when he gets into trouble. If he continues to mature and develop, he could turn into a dominant pitcher.

Brothers isn't real big, at only 6'1", though he is solidly built, and I wonder if his rather small stature, combined with a two-pitch repertoire and middling command, might make some teams look at him as a better candidate for relief. Sort of a lefty Jess Todd, if you will. Or maybe just a little like Daniel Schlereth from last year's draft.

Sadly, I can't offer you any video of Brothers, nor can I give you even a first-hand report of seeing him, as I haven't been able to find anything on him. The other two I've gotten a few looks at, at least, this spring, but Brothers, I suppose because he's out of a smaller school like Lipscomb, is much harder to find.

All three of these pitchers represent a possibility for the Cardinals at 19, though I doubt that all three will get there. I expect probably two of the three, though which two I wouldn't hazard to guess. The Cards' organisation has a serious weakness in left-handed starting pitching, and any of these three pitchers would obviously offer outstanding positional value in that regard.

We know that the Cardinals did have some interest in Christian Friedrich last year (or at least we have reports that they did, so take that for whatever it may be worth), but liked the bat of Wallace too much to pass up. Still, the profile of Friedrich fits well with what the Cards need, so we can transfer that over to this year's class. If another college lefty with the ability to stick at starting comes their way, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see one of these guys popped.