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Kolten Wong And MLB Draft Strategies

Here's why the Kolten Wong pick is better than the Pete Kozma pick: There are MLB Draft strategies that could reasonably justify the pick. With Pete Kozma—and Chris Lambert before him—the Cardinals seemed to take players who represented the worst of every strategy; Kozma was young and far away from the Major Leagues and he combined that with a low upside that had at least one contemporary scouting report, as I recall, calling him a future utility infielder. If you want polished players close to the Majors, at least take the ones that grade out as future starters and do it in the near future; if you want high school projectability, take a guy with some tools. 

Wong is all the way in the safe-pick direction, but safe picks have value when they actually seem safe; Wong put up great numbers in college, improving after the bats were supposedly deadened this season, and like Zack Cox before him there's a nice second base career path that involves doing the Skip Schumaker thing better than Skip Schumaker. (In Wong's case it seems like that might be average defense with better secondary batting skills than Schumaker.) 

I've never turned down a high-upside prep pitcher, but this system is defined primarily, at this point, by its two high-upside pitchers; past Zack Cox the position-player situation is dire, and while I don't think you should ever draft for Major League need the Cardinals faced a system, ahead of the draft, that would look almost entirely barren if the next lottery-ticket high schooler didn't pan out—and they faced it with no supplemental picks.  

I'm still looking for the next impact hitter to reach the system—I didn't think Zack Cox was that guy last year, and I don't think Kolten Wong is that guy, either. But I've managed to block out all the scouting report cruft about his scrap and hustle, his ability to make things happen, by thinking about his ability to produce those words' sabr equivalents. Let's say I don't care whether or not Wong has the ability to make things happen by diving head-first into the on-deck circle; he still has a chance to be the kind of player who creates value by not making bad things happen. If he fills the WAR ingredients on Baseball Reference with +5s across the board I can't complain. 

That said, I'd like some upside somewhere—whether internationally or in the later rounds of the draft, it would be nice to see some of the money the Cardinals won't be spending on supplemental picks go to good use on somebody we can dream on in Johnson City or the Dominican Summer League while Wong hits .300/.400/.400 in the Quad Cities. 

(Incidentally, while we talk about the Fernando Viña comparisons, can someone tell me how a guy who hit like this in the minor leagues put together those 2000 and 2001 seasons? At that rate of improvement Pete Kozma would hit 25 home runs as the surprise starter at shortstop in 2012.)

(Please, Cardinals, don't be relying on that at shortstop in 2012.) 

Meanwhile, back in the 2010 MLB Draft:

Zack Cox (25th) has been pretty good! But that's all. After an awful start in Palm Beach he put together a hot streak that got him moved to Springfield; in Springfield he stayed hot for a moment and then cooled off. To date he's hitting .314/.372/.417 in his age-22 season. If you want to compare him to our last not-quite-exciting top hitting prospect, Brett Wallace hit .293/.367/.455 between AA and AAA and also struck out considerably more often than I was anticipating. 

Still not sure I like Cox given the price the Cardinals paid, but it looks like he'll stick at third base. 

Seth Blair (46th) was the Cardinals' latest experiment in selecting not-as-polished-as-you'd-think college starters, and so far he's looked a lot like a not-as-polished-as-you'd-think high school starter, with 30 strikeouts and 28 walks in 36 innings for Quad Cities. 

Tyrell Jenkins (50th) was The High-Upside One in the 2010 draft's *NSYNC cover band. He hasn't yet made an appearance in his age-18 season. He's due to make a short-season appearance when those clubs open for business. 

Jordan Swagerty (75th) has fared much better than his ASU stablemate, putting together a 30:2 K:BB ratio before he moved on to high-A Palm Beach. Like Jess Todd before him he's putting up dominating numbers in the low minors as a starter while he awaits the seemingly inevitable return to the bullpen. 

Samuel Tuivailala (106th) hasn't made an appearance since cratering in his age-17 debut in the GCL. 2011 level, position, and pronunciation TBD.

Cody Stanley (139th) is putting up a solid-and-unspectacular season in the Quad Cities, hitting .281/.341/.419. That he's a catcher and that he's 22 in the Quad Cities probably cancel each other out. 

Nicholas Longmire (169th) has had better years. 

John Gast (199th) has been average, but that pick-off move is still pretty awesome.