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Drafting a Masterpiece

Well, the game didn't go so well last night, but I'm much more optimistic about the draft.

I've already committed my thoughts on the walkoff that Motte gave up to paper(well, technically, to bandwidth), this morning, so I'm not going to rehash that whole deal. The offense continues to struggle, but I was actually encouraged by what I saw from them last night. This wasn't getting shut down by a career minor leaguer; Josh Johnson is a hell of a pitcher, and the Cards put quite a few runners on base against him. Then again, my cautious optimism should probably also come with a qualifier, as they were unable to put the knockout punch on Johnson early, and there were still several innings in there that if you went to get a beer at the wrong moment, you likely thought the Marlins were being allowed to bat twice in a row. So baby steps, I suppose.

I do, however, have quite a bit to say about the draft, and what the direction the Cardinals took may mean in the long run. I shall attempt to keep it brief, as the draft starts back up in a little over an hour, but we all know that brevity is not my strong suit. We'll see how it goes, I suppose.

First off, I have to tell you, I think the prime time draft thing was a complete and utter disaster. What am I basing this on? Honestly, very little, as I haven't seen any sort of ratings numbers or anything, but last year, I switched with lb so that I could have draft day, and ended up with a double header and the draft all on the same day. I feel tethered to my computer now, but nothing like that particular afternoon. Still, even with not one, but two Cardinal games on that same day, the morning thread had over a hundred comments, and the draft thread after the Cards took Wallace at 13 had almost 300. (By the way, I had completely forgotten that last year's draft fell squarely in the middle of what I like to refer to as VEB's "David Bowie period.")

Last night's draft thread, on the other hand, garnered a measly 62 comments. First off, I'm curious if any of you have any insight; was the draft coverage here not as good this year, was it because several other places were doing live draft things, or what? Largely, though, I think the evening time slot is just terrible for the draft. I don't know why I think that, only that I do.

Onward to the actual picks themselves: first off, let me tell you how excited I am that the Cards took Shelby Miller. Was he my first choice? No, nor was he my second choice, honestly. I was on the badwagons of Chad James, the high school lefty who went one spot ahead of the Cardinals to the Marlins (Couple more days like yesterday, and I could really start to dislike the Marlins), and Matt Hobgood, who went off the board way earlier than I expected, to the Orioles at #5. But frankly, the main reason I wasn't all over Miller was because I didn't think there was any possible way he reached the Cardinals' drafting spot. Miller was the second highest rated high school righty, right after Jake Turner, and I hadn't heard constant talk of signability with Miller, so I believed he would be gone several spots before the Cardinals.

Funny thing is, when Miller was there, I barely even noticed. I was still upset by the Marlins/ James fiasco, and was loudly cursing the people of Florida with all the wrath I could conjure up- and trust me, it's a pretty shocking amount. I was certain that, with Purke and Matzek and Turner and Wheeler and James all gone, the Cards were going to end up with, oh, say, Rex Brothers, and I was prepared to be pissed. No offense to Mr. Brothers, who is a lovely human being and a hell of a dancer, I'm sure, but I see him as a reliever down the road, and just not the sort of game-changing talent I was hoping for.

But then- wonder of wonders!- the Cardinals called out the name of the other wunderkind, the one I had completely forgotten about, and I completely forgot how angry I was supposed to be.

So, what's so great about this guy? (As I am so fond of asking)

Miller has probably the most electric arm in the draft, outside of that Strasburg kid.

What Miller brings to the table for the Cardinals is that classic, front-end starter stuff, something this system has been badly lacking for quite some time. I like the term smoke artist, personally; just has a nice ring to it, you know? His fastball is clocked consistently in the 93-94 range, and has been as high as 98. He pairs the heater with a curve that is wicked nasty at times, though it isn't at all consistent at this point. You want a comp? Easy. Kerry Wood. Tall, thin, with off the charts stuff. Can you tell I really like this kid?

There are some issues, of course, as Miller's command isn't a strength (also sort of Wood-like, no?), and he doesn't have a changeup to speak of at this point. Of course, the lack of a changeup isn't really all that surprising; very few high schoolers in general have much of a change of pace anyway. It is the kind of thing you want to keep an eye one, though.

The other thing I love about Miller, after reading Rick Hummel's piece on the Cards' first day draft picks, is his attitude. Some might complain about him being overly cocky, or perhaps even arrogant, but I like that. At eighteen years old, how many of us were anything but convinced of our own invincibility? And pardon my french, but I like a little bit of Fuck You in my pitchers. It's the reason I love it when Motte throws a fastball and follows it off the mound, snatching the ball out of the air when the catcher throws it back to him. Miller is eager to get into pro ball, eager to start moving up the ranks, and eager to start blowing hitters away. Cocky? Absolutely. But as a Cardinal phenom righty from an earlier age once said, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."

There's some video of Miller over at the MLB draft page, but not nearly enough for me to make any real call on his mechanics. I like what I see of his tempo, and his arm action looks good from that short little clip, but it isn't nearly enough to draw real conclusions. So, I won't.

Even more exciting than who Miller is, though, is what Miller represents. In spite of how irritating I found Strauss' recent piece about the scouting department, there were some accurate criticisms contained therein. The Cardinals, in recent years, have shied away from just these sorts of picks, and the results are pretty easy to see. There are plenty of Lance Lynn type starters in the system, guys who are very good bets to contribute, but aren't going to sit on top of a rotation. Shelby Miller is that monster talent that so many of us (myself included), have been stumping for the Cardinals to take. Luhnow himself, when asked about the surprising direction in the first round, had this to say:

"I felt like this was a year we could take some younger kids and some higher risks and ... let our system and our own people do what they do best, which is to take raw material that has a really high upside and turn it into a finished product."

That's just the sort of philosophy the Cards need to take at this point, I think. They've built up some real depth at several positions, and the impact of a single miss at this point isn't going to make or break the system. When Luhnow began running the draft, that wasn't the case at all.

So what do I think about the other two picks the Cards made last night? Well, I'm certainly not as excited about them as I am Miller, but each has something to offer, I think. Robert Stock, the catcher out of USC, may have the most intriguing background of any player in the draft this year; he was essentially Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper was Bryce Harper. Stock left high school early to attend USC, only to find college pitching harder to eat up. He's a catcher, he hits from the left side, has outstanding athleticism, can hit 95 off the mound, and already has three years of college under his belt at age 19. What's not to like?

Apparently, the Cardinals are going to give Stock the chance to catch first, and convert him to pitching full time only if it looks like he isn't going to cut it with the bat. To me, that's probably the best approach they can take: as a pitcher, he would have a great arm and a solid breaking ball, but as a catcher, he offers a package that you rarely see behind the plate. Much like Blake Murphy from last year's draft, Stock could easily be described as a five-tool catcher, a phrase that, to be honest, barely exists in the English language.

Bottom line on Stock, I'm not sure this was the best player available when the Cardinals picked, but I have to give them points for the outside the box nature of the pick. This one has the potential to pay off in a big, big way, or be just another failed experiment.

As for Joe Kelly, I really like him, though he isn't a slam dunk, by any means. His numbers are ugly, and he's always been more hittable than someone who throws as hard as he does should be, but there's no question about the kind of talent he has. He throws just as hard, if not harder, than what Miller does, and has a breaking ball that rates a plus as well. He even has a nice little changeup, though in what little game footage I've been able to dig up, I've only seen about two of them. I profiled Kelly briefly a couple of weeks ago, and thought he would make a good 2nd round selection, as the Cardinals have had success drafting hard throwing college relievers. To get him in the 3rd is just a bonus.

Draft is getting ready to start up again, so I'm going to cut this short, but so far, I have to say I really, really like what the Cardinals have done. They brought in some huge upside with both Miller and Stock, and a pitcher in Kelly who, depending on what they want to do, could either start or relieve. (For the moment, it looks like they're wanting him to start, but I still see him as a 'pen arm in the long run. Just my opinion, though.)

I'll try to keep this updated as more picks come in.

And with their fourth round pick, the Cards take Scott Bittle, he of the freak cutter. Good pick here, though this is an awful lot of pitchers. Still, I'm beginning to look mighty smart on this draft. (Read what I wrote under Craig Fritsch)

A previous report on Bittle.

Fifth round: Cards take Ryan Jackson, shortstop out of Miami. Good pick, as he was thought to go in the 2nd or 3rd round by most sources.

My thoughts on Jackson

Virgil Hill is the sixth rounder, out of Los Angeles Mission College. I know absolutely nothing about this guy; I'll see what I can dig up.

Alright, Virgil Hill is a center fielder with a power/ speed combo, who put up some monster numbers for a small school. He was selected by the Athletics last year in the 32nd round. Good, good upside pick here. Sort of like a small school version of the Reds' Drew Stubbs, if you ask me.

Seventh round- Cards take Kyle Conley, a senior right fielder out of the U of Washington. Blech. He's a big, lumbering guy with a lot of power, but big holes in his swing and little speed. Will likely move to left or first base down the line. Awesome. We just drafted a right-handed Chris Duncan. I say again, blech.

Eighth round- Jason Stidham, SS, Florida State University Got to say, I'm surprised he has time to play baseball in between making all those Transporter movies.

Tampa Bay just took my boy Brett Nommensen at the end of the eighth round. I'm going to go crawl into a bottle of scotch.

Ninth round- Nick McCully, RHP, Coastal Carolina U Alright, enough with the college righties already! Maybe a nice high school third baseman, break up the monotony a little?

Tenth round- Cards take Hector Hernandez, a LHP out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. A high school lefty? That will break up the monotony quite nicely, thank you very much.

Eleventh round- Allen Ahmady, 1B, Fresno State. Tremendous on base skills and ability to hit for average, but less pop than you typically look for in a first baseman. I like the kid, saw him in one of the regional rounds. A little undersized- 5'11", 195.

Round 12- Patrick Daugherty, LHP, Pearl River community college.

Round 13- Matt Carpenter, 3B, Texas Christian University

And that's it for me for right now, everybody. I'll try to update this some more this evening, after the rest of the picks are in, but I've got stuff I have to do now. Take care.