Housekeeping: I'm excited to be able to finally announce this, because it's been in the works for a while: This month SB Nation is launching its new regional hubs—here's Arizona, as an example—and I've been tapped to edit the St. Louis edition. It launches June 15. The immediate goal is to offer more breaking news and broader pieces there while keeping VEB (as well as our sister-blogs, Turf Show Times and St. Louis Game Time) free to do less SEO and more analysis, long-form work, and doggerel.
The other goal is to bring our St. Louis blogs a little closer together, and to that end an informal—for you; I think I'm being issued some kind of festive SB Nation logo polo—meetup is planned in St. Louis on June 15, from 6 to 8 at Schlafly Tap Room. I won't be able to make VEB day this year, because I have to get myself situated for graduate school, so I hope to see as many people as I can there.
Day one of the Cardinals' 2010 draft offered something for all temperaments.
Do you like hitters who fall due to signability issues? Zach Cox was all over the place in mock drafts, and Keith Law liked him, so there's that. He falls into the distinctly unexciting subset of top draft hitters that in previous classes has produced Brett Wallace and Daric Barton (who managed to be exciting anyway because of his borderline Dominican age relative to league)—he hits line drives but shows off less power than his size and skill would indicate, he's worked a lot on his strikeouts, etc. But production takes a lot of different forms, as even Daric Barton himself has recently proved. Hitting for a high average with a lot of doubles and 15 or 25 home runs, like, say, the 2008-2009 version of Matt Holliday holds as legitimate a claim on a .900 OPS as any other method. If he can stick at second base he will have made Daniel Descalso's day much worse.
As for what happens if Cox ends up a third baseman for good, Freese seems like a fixture right now but drafting for need is bad news for baseball teams. So much can happen—to players on each side of the divide—between a draft and a Major League debut that it makes sense to pick the best player available and worry about blocked traffic at a position when it comes to that. And while it's nearly as foolish to choose based on prospect-list need, I'm happy most of all that the Cardinals have a top position-player prospect to replace the departed Wallace, the graduated Rasmus, and the faded Jones.
Do you like traditional Cardinals draft picks? Are you looking for another in the long line of Ottavinian, Lambertian right-handed college pitchers with "electric" fastballs, grounder tendencies, and spotty command for a collegian? To the members of this refined admiration society the Cardinals offer Seth Blair, the 46th pick in the draft, who sits 90-93, has thrown mid-to-high-nineties at least once, and struggles with command of all three-to-four of his pitches.
He's small for a right hander, so no matter how successful he is we'll always have to deal with the possibility that he gets Jess Todd-ed sometime in the high minors. But as the most signable of the Cardinals' three day-one picks this trip to their traditional stomping grounds was necessary for the more adventurous picks that sandwiched it. My hope—and presumably the Cardinals'—is that he signs quickly, blows through the low minors with his stuff, and then gets the chance, in the high minors, to correct it. (Secondarily, I hope he's more successful upon blowing through the low minors than Chris Lambert or Adam Ottavino.)
Do you like exotic high school pitchers? Tyrell Jenkins, replacer of Joel Pineiro, has a chance to be the second guy in Major League history named Tyrell and has a football scholarship offer on the table from Baylor. He's tall and skinny, he throws hard or will In The Future, etc. With high school pitchers we are at the mercy of scouts and projectability; I can tell you what he's supposed to throw now, but what I'm really saying—and what the Cardinals are really drafting—is that when people watch him it looks like he will be better than he is now. I can't tell you much about the player, but I approve of the draft mindset that produced his selection. I also dig the leg kick.
But for now, we wait. For the usual look into the Luhnow mindset I offer this link from the Globe-Democrat.
After the jump, a look at a draft we've now officially had one year to evaluate. Ladies and gentlemen, the Shelby Miller Draft: Year one.
Round one, pick 19: RHP Shelby Miller: Immediately after Moneyball came out, featuring the incomparable Billy Beane laughing at teams so foolish as to acquire Jeremy Bonderman, et al, high school pitchers were a pariah. Since then, scout acceptance at stathead birthday parties has increased by 200%, and the selection of signability-worries Miller with a first round pick usually devoted, in my mind's eye, to college pitchers who throw 88 mph fastballs directly at hitters' bats, was a cause for widespread Viva El Birdos celebration.
Two months into his full-season debut he's done nothing to spoil our fun. His last two outings, coming at the end of May, were both mediocre and short, which brought on a mild case of teenaged pitcher-derived injury paranoia, but according to Luhnow-via-Rains his rushed starts (and the scrubbed one thereafter) were less about his arm than reordering the rotation and working through some bullpen sessions.
That aside, he's doing all the things a young flamethrower is supposed to do. His control is imperfect, and he's been hit around on occasion, but his walk rate's just 3.3 per nine innings and his strikeout rate is all that was promised and more—12.6 per nine innings, 54 in 38 and two-thirds.
He's just 19, and as a pitcher that means his main problems are matters of survival, and not development: he needs to stay healthy and hard-throwing for another three years.
(Say, let's feel terrible for a minute! Remember the Cardinals' last great high school hope, Rick Ankiel? At this moment in his career he had struck out 75 batters against 16 walks in 49 innings. In AA.)
Round two, pick 67: Catcher Robert Stock: Of course, Ankiel was a year younger than Shelby Miller was at draft-date—he was Robert Stock's age when Stock decided to head, early, to college. Subsequently, a rough time at USC left Stock, an ex-super-prospect, on the board for the Cardinals' second pick, and given his excellent start in Johnson City we should be glad that we had Niko Vasquez busily pointing out how treacherous the full-season debut could be for a rookie league superstar.
Life in the Quad Cities hasn't been great for Stock, whose prospect status as a position player comes with the warning that continued struggles will lead the Cardinals to convert him into a pitcher, which is where many teams saw the most potential coming out of college. After his .322/.386/.550 start in Johnson City he's hit .211/.335/.286 in low-A Quad Cities; his catching continues to receive excellent marks, and he's just 20, but he should be advised that those are Jason Motte/Casey Mulligan numbers.
In May he finally hit the ball with a little authority—seven doubles, against his two in April—but a .211 batting average is just untenable, even if he were slugging .300. The one thing keeping his line from disaster is a massive jump in his walk rate. He's now walking more than twice as often as he did before in Johnson City, 25 times against 133 at-bats. That would be a concern if he were striking out a lot, but at 21% his strikeout rate is almost identical to his stint in rookie ball. Stock's got a reputation as a good percentage player—he calls a great game, he's an excellent catcher, he was a precocious leader in high school and college—and having noticed that the ball doesn't do anything when he swings his bat at it he appears to have gotten less aggressive.
He's 20 years old; all there is to do now is hope he improves, because it's too soon to draw any long-term conclusions from his performance to this point. The Cardinals can give him another year after this one to work on this hitting thing; if it doesn't work out he'll only be a year older than the average college pitcher draftee.
Round three, pick 98: Joe Kelly: The Baseball America quote blockquoted by Future Redbirds when Kelly was drafted has some great hindsight material in it: "Strictly a short relief man, Kelly is an aggressive hurler who wants the ball in pressure situations."
The Cardinals may still think this in the long run—he's too innings-limited right now to really tell about his stamina—but for the moment Kelly is a part of the Quad Cities' tandem starter system. As a short college reliever, as opposed to just a college short reliever, the immediate Cardinals comparison is to Jess Todd, who looked like a solid starting prospect in the minor leagues until the team abruptly made him a full-time reliever. But Kelly's a short guy with high fastball velocity, which makes him a more stereotypical short reliever.
Wherever he ends up he's been effective in 2010; he's got 36 strikeouts against 10 walks in his 44 innings to go with a 2.54 GO/AO ratio, and at 22 (a young 22) he's probably too good to spend all year in low-A.
Round four, pick 129: Scott Bittle: Well, you can't get them all right. Bittle's the closer with the borderline-Mariano fastball who the Cardinals picked up for a song because his shoulder was about to fall apart. This Spring, his shoulder fell apart! It was decided he didn't need surgery after first experiencing shoulder inflammation in February, but by April things had apparently soured and the surgery—on his joint capsule— was performed anyway. His return time hasn't yet been estimated.
I still like this pick—it was aggressive, it was a risk, and because of the small bonus the Cardinals' only loss was the opportunity to take a fourth rounder, who might not sniff AAA anyway.
Round five, pick 159: Ryan Jackson: In an interview this year for the mothership Jeff Luhnow called Jackson a "throwback shortstop", which is Luhnovian for "the team isn't sure he can hit."
And they're right to not be sure he can hit! At 21, coming out of college, he entered short-season Batavia and promptly hit .216/.297/.241, with five extra-base hits in 245 at-bats. He still isn't hitting for power this year, having made his full-season debut in the Quad Cities, but he's at least drawn some walks; he's up to .263/.374/.354. Slap-hitters with good walk rates tend to lose those walk rates as they move through the system, so Jackson, a one-tool player, needs to develop at least a little power or average to stay in consideration as a future starter. For now, he looks like a defense-first utility infielder if he hits enough to stick in Memphis.
Beyond the first five picks lay still more interesting players, among them third baseman Matt Carpenter (13th round), who's flirted with .400 since being moved to AA Springfield last month. Right now, between Palm Beach and Springfield, he's hit .332/.439/.472, with more walks than strikeouts. He's not without his concerns—he's 24 already, so his hitting makes him something of a homegrown David Freese, and that's not a lot of power for a third base prospect—but his .380/.436/.540 introduction to AA has given him the momentum a college hitter needs.
Scott Schneider (20th round) is another short right-hander taking full advantage of the Quad Cities' tandem starter system. After crushing Batavia upon signing in 2009—47 strikeouts to 25 hits and 8 walks in 39 innings—he's been excellent in 2010; he's got 53 strikeouts, one an inning, to 15 walks.
But 2010 is too soon to know about most of the players the Cardinals picked; many of the players are just now getting ready to populate the rosters of rookie league Johnson City and short-season Batavia, who begin play on June 22 and June 18. By the end of the season we'll know which of the undifferentiated short-seasoners have already begun to make us hyperventilate.