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2011 Draft Preview Number One: Taking the Long View

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Good morning, folks. As I'm sure you gathered by the title of this here post o' mine, we have now reached the point in time where I begin posting interminably about the June draft and you're all forced to sit there and read it. We're just about five months out now, and the college and high school baseball season will be cranking up before too very long. It's time to get started on these if I'm to cover a decent number of players.

Today I'm actually not interested in talking about specific players in any great depth; rather, I thought I might begin this year's draft series with a bit more of an overall look at the Cardinals' system from the standpoint of positional strengths and weaknesses and how those match up with what this draft may have to offer.

First, though, before I get into that, I have something else which is kind of bugging me this morning. On Monday afternoon I wrote a post for the RFT doing my yearly roundup of what I felt were the best advertisements from the Super Bowl. (Spoiler alert: it was a bad, bad crop overall this year.) As I always do, I attempted to embed each of  the commercials in question in the post for easier viewing.

Well, here's the thing: this year, apparently Snickers decided to go after someone who posted their newest commercial on Youtube, because the embedded video on the RFT site is now gone, replaced by a message about copyrighted material and blah blah blah. Nothing we haven't all seen before, of course; companies occasionally take notice when their material is being tossed around for free, and they occasionally then decide to take steps to protect their property. Right? Right.

Here's the thing, though: the material Snickers apparently decided to try and protect from unlawful viewing was an advertisement. The only point of an advertisement is to be seen. The only way it generates any sort of revenue is if people see it and decide to buy the product in question. This isn't a record that people are downloading instead of buying, or a pirated movie people aren't going to the theatre to see. It's a commercial. Technically, any and all appearances it makes in any format Snickers didn't have to pay for is free advertising. I was under the impression free advertising was a good thing for the company receiving said free ad space.

I thought it kind of odd when I tried to simply embed the commercial from the Snickers channel on Youtube I was unable to, but I didn't really pay a whole lot of attention to it. But this morning, when I saw that the video had been taken down entirely, I couldn't help but think the whole thing bizarre.

Now, I will say this: Snickers put some additional content from Richard Lewis (incredibly irritating additional content I would recommend steering clear of, by the way), on their channel, so I suppose the thinking might be that they want people to see the additional stuff they paid for and put together, but that still just doesn't make any sense to me. Who cares if people see the whole advertisement if it's just a means to an end to sell your product? If you're making a sales pitch for a time-share in a hotel lobby and someone jumps up in the middle of your pitch and demands to know where they sign up, you don't then yell at them to sit down and listen to the rest of your speech before they even think about giving you any of their hard-earned money.

In essence, Snickers is deliberately making their commercial harder to see, and for the life of me I just can't figure out the logic behind such a move. Considering so much of modern advertising is focused on trying to figure out how to tap into the viral, this sort of thinking seems almost impossibly backward. Maybe there's ad revenue being paid to the owners of certain Youtube channels if they drive enough traffic? Or does Snickers think if they make it hard to see their ads people will want to eat their candy bars even more because not just any old Joe on the street can find a Snickers commercial? I just don't get it, and I would appreciate it if someone smarter would explain to me how or why it makes sense.

Anyway, enough of my rambling complaints, down to business. The 2011 draft promises to be one of the deepest in years, with both impact talent and depth to spare. Last year's crop was a notably thin one (though I think the Cardinals managed to do remarkably well for themselves in the early rounds), this year's is stacked to the rafters. Whether that pans out in terms of talent that actually develops is anyone's guess, of course, but as of right now this looks to be an historically strong draft.

The Cardinal system, meanwhile, is as strong as it has been in years, though it's very bottom-heavy in terms of impact talent, by which I mean all the high-ceiling players seem to be in the lower levels right now. The higher levels are still populated with mostly marginal players, guys who will almost certainly be useful players at the major league level, but very few who project out much better than that. To be honest, most farm systems are a little like that, as a big part of what earns a prospect the high ceiling tag is simply that we haven't seen him fail and display his limitations yet. The St. Louis system is more extreme than most, though, due to several years of conservative drafts, followed by a recent trend of much more aggressive bets, including an increasing number of signability players the Cardinals have gone above slot to bring into their system.

System Positional Strengths

First and foremost of the Cardinals' minor league strengths has to be right-handed relief. Again, it's not uncommon for a system to be strong here; after all, you can always find a dude who throws hard to get three guys out in the sixth inning, especially if you aren't picky about him being a righty. Even by those standards, though, the Cards have an unusually stout stable of relievers, as has really been the case for several years running now. Players like Adam Reifer, Eduardo Sanchez, and Fernando Salas could all figure into the 2011 picture at some point in time, and the system is riddled on down from there with live-armed righthanders who could contribute some valuable relief innings in the next few years.

Starting pitching from the right side is a mild strength as well, with guys like David Kopp and Lance Lynn close to the majors, and the gems of the system down below. (Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Tyrell Jenkins.) Still, with so much of the exciting starters at the lower levels, this isn't an area you want to bank on too very much.

Jeff over at Future Redbirds wrote not long ago that he felt third base was a weakness in the system, but I would disagree. I think the presence of two players you have to feel confident about making it to the big league level has to make the position a strength. Both Matt Carpenter and Zack Cox are pretty good bets to contribute in the majors, and really both could be ready by, say, September of 2012.

Oddly enough, first base is somewhat of a strong point for the system, as the Cardinals have collected a pretty good menagerie of hitters without positions. None of them cast the same sort of shadow as Numero Cinco, of course, but who does, really?

Catcher is one of the strongest positions in the entire system, though most of that strength is in the low minors. Bryan Anderson, while seemingly invisible to Cardinal management, does look to have the makings of at least a pretty decent backup catcher somewhere with a slightly less dogmatic view of the position. Cody Stanley, drafted just last year, looked very solid in a short-season look. Players like Luis Castillo and Audry Perez have a ton of potential far off in the distance.

Finally, athletic outfielders are a strength of the system, but there is a real dearth of flycatchers who boast much in the way of polish. Tommy Pham is not only the most exciting name of the group right now, being the player who seems most likely to have turned a real corner, he also seems to be the scion of the Cardinals' outfield prospects, representing all that is good and bad about them. Lots of speed, lots of strikeouts, lots of raw-but-not-yet-game-usable power.

System Weaknesses

The middle infield is, let's face it, a wasteland. Dirty Dan Descalso is at the top of the depth chart at second base, and he's really more of a backup/utility guy in all likelihood. Shortstop is even worse, with Donovan Solano the first name you come to as you move down the line from Ryan Theriot. (I literally just threw up in my mouth typing that sentence. Sweet Jesus that's bad.) Actually, I suppose Tyler Greene is technically first below Theriot on the depth chart, but we've been over the inexplicability of Tyler's career already ad nauseum. Plus, I'm looking at prospects, not graduates. So, middle infield. Gaping hole. Pete Kozma still one of the best MI prospects in the system. Oy.

As well as the Cardinals have done finding and developing pitchers from the right side, they've been just that miserable at coming up with some sinister help. Jaime Garcia was fantastic in his rookie season, but it looks like it might be a while before we see another left-handed pitcher on his way to the majors. John Gast, one of my favourite prospects for this year, looked awfully good in limited duty after being drafted, but he's quite a ways off and will need to prove he wasn't just beating up on less experienced opponents. Beyond Gast, Hector Hernandez has potential but is Betelgeuse far from the majors.

Really, that's about it. Both shortstop and second base are just gaping holes, and the Curse of Ankiel still seems to be messing with the Cardinals' attempts to find some southpaws, but other than that there aren't any spots that immediately stand out as big problems.  A polished outfielder capable of playing right field in the near future would be a fantastic complement to the Cards' crop of gifted but unpolished talent at the lower levels. However, given that two of the three starting outfield gigs are filled for the foreseeable future, I wouldn't put an emphasis on outfield help. One revolving door isn't going to kill a team if they can find relatively solid production at most other areas.

Draft Strengths

This is a pitching heavy draft in a big, big way. Kind of unfortunate, given the Cardinals' needs, but there should be plenty of other talent to choose from if they want to go in a different direction. Of course, you don't draft for need in baseball the way you do in the NFL, so positional considerations work differently, but still.

There's a very good chance the best players available when the Cardinals go on the clock will be predominantly pitchers. Arms, both college and high school, are extremely plentiful, but tilted decidedly toward collegiate. There are several lefties with first-round talent in this year's class, so that could help the Cardinals out in terms of matching need to value. My personal favourite is probably Daniel Norris, a high school lefty from Tennessee, but he'll probably go off the board well before the Cardinals get a shot at him.

Probably the more intriguing piece of the puzzle, at least from a Cards-centric point of view, is the fact this draft looks very promising in the middle of the infield. There are three, possibly four, players projected to go in either the first or supplemental rounds who play shortstop or second base. More could move up as the spring goes on, or some of those at the top now could certainly fall off the board (see Martinez, Harold 2008), but guys who play premium positions tend to have a bit more staying power than some of their peers when it comes to draft rankings. Right now the cream of the crop looks to Francisco Lindor, a shortstop out of Florida, but there are plenty of other intriguing names as well. Personally, I'm a big fan of Phillip Evans, a high schooler from California. He looks more like a second baseman long term than a shortstop, but I really like what little I've seen of him so far.

The early rounds, at least, also look to be heavy on outfielders, with a nice blend of different types of players. Until I really start digging into more in-depth looks at the guys in the outfield, though, I wouldn't really like to say who would be a good fit or even exactly what type of player a given name is. I just haven't done the research yet on enough of those guys.

So, what to do?

Well, as always, it's tough to really go wrong picking the best player available and ignoring position or needs. If you take the most talented player (or the one you think will end up the best, which isn't always the same thing), you'll usually find a spot for him when the time comes. Given the developmental curve of players in the minor leagues, trying too hard to draft a player to fill what you currently perceive as a future need is treacherous stuff indeed.

That being said, premium positions carry a lot of weight, and it just so happens the premium positions match up well with what the Cardinals have none of. Drafting a middle infielder early on definitely wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Of course, there's also always pitching. It may be a tired old truism, but you can never have too much pitching. Looking at the breakdown of players, there's a pretty high chance the Cards' best option when they pick just might be a pitcher, and I would be completely okay with that.

Regardless of what direction the Cardinals ultimately go in with their draft picks, we know where the holes are in the system, and so do Luhnow and Company. You can't be a slave to positional needs, but they should certainly inform you decisions, even if only as a tiebreaker. Knowing what the Cards need, and knowing what's likely to be on the board in June, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see them draft a player in the middle of the diamond.

Next week I think I'll do a chat thread if I can swing the time to sort of celebrate the opening of spring training. The week after that will probably see the first proper draft preview with scouting reports on three players whose names I've pulled out of my ass.

The Baron's Playlist for the 9th of February, 2011

"Sing For Me" - Fiery Furnaces

"Romantic Rights" - Death From Above 1979

"Oh My God" - Cults

"Late In the Day" - Supergrass (love the video for this; it had pogo sticks)

"Playground Love" - Air

"Fernando" - ABBA

"Custodian Discount" - AFX