I'm writing this Tuesday. I have some spare time and this is easier than trying to fit a post between things on Wednesday morning. So if something drastic has happened overnight you'll just have to discuss that amongst yourselves instead.
I'm also writing this just a few hours after the Prince Fielder signing was announced. Nine years, $214 million. Wow. He's four years younger than Pujols, but I'm not sure I would be any more comfortable betting a decade's worth of paychecks on a guy with Fielder's build than on Albert. I'm also a little curious what the Tigers plan on doing with all of their first base/DH combo hitters; Victor Martinez will be out this season, sure, but it isn't as if he's going to magically be able to catch again -- or play any other position for that matter -- when he comes back in 2013.
Still, the spectre of facing Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder back to back in the lineup should be enough to give any American League pitchers screaming fits of night terrors. Unless the Royals' prospects all mature and start producing at career peak levels at the same time this season, I think the Tigers are going to run away and hide with the AL Central. That's an horrific division with one super team.
Anyhow, I was already planning on doing a draft preview this week, but in honour of Prince leaving the division I'm going to feature a troika of players who offer a toolset the Cardinals' minor league system is a little light on at the moment. I speak of power. Big time, over the fence power. Thirty homer a year power. Chicks digging it power.
The Cards' system, flush with power arms, is a little soft on power bats. Matt Adams has plenty of power potential, of course, and it's tough to say just what kind of ceiling Oscar Taveras might have. Beyond those two, though, the Cardinals' top hitting prospects are mostly guys like Kolten Wong and Zack Cox, players with an outstanding ability to barrel the ball but who lack either the stature or the swing to produce true home run pop. There are a few players like Kyle Conley, who managed to put 13 over the fence in just 305 plate appearances while playing in the hitter's graveyards of the Florida State League but did so as a 24 year old and has yet to prove he can stay on the field, who show up at the margins of sleeper lists and the like, but players with that profile are really no better than a lottery ticket.
Last year the organisation perceived a lack of athleticism within the farm system and moved to address that need by taking speedy athletes like Lance Jeffries, Charlie Tilson, and C.J. McElroy. Right now there's a fairly apparent lack of mashers. Whether the Cards will take that into consideration and try to shore up a need through the draft is really anyone's guess, but hey, I've got to come up with some kind of bullshit narrative to help organise these scouting reports, right?
Christian Walker, 1B/3B, University of South Carolina
6'0", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Chris Walker is pretty much your prototypical middle of the order hitter. Highly thought of coming out of high school back in 2009, he was drafted very late by the Dodgers thanks to what looked to be an ironclad commitment to South Carolina. In the three years since, Walker has done nothing to diminish the perception of him as a big-time power prospect.
If you're looking for a true home run hitter near the top of the draft, Walker is your man. He put on a show at the Powershowcase event in Tampa his senior year of high school, the same event that first made Bryce Harper such a household name. His swing is explosive, with a short stride and the kind of hip torque that can make a ballpark seem small in a hurry. Pure power isn't all Walker brings to the table, though, as he's shown a solid approach at the plate and the ability to hit the ball to all fields.
Walker has the strong, stocky build of a running back, leaving him little room to grow any further. Physically, he's pretty much a finished product. He has the range and quickness to handle third base for now, but his likely future is at first. He is a plus athlete, with outstanding feet and an arm which was clocked in the upper 80s in high school. It's possible some team could select him with an eye toward playing him at the hot corner, but such a situation would likely fall into the, "Until he proves he can't do it," category. Call it the Brett Wallace Exception.
If Walker is somehow still on the board when the Cardinals make their pick in June I would be almost certain he's the pick. He fits ideally into the Zack Cox/Wallace demographic the Cards have plumbed before and would represent an outstanding value. However, with a strong spring Walker will almost assure himself of a draft status which will likely keep him from getting anywhere near the Cardinals' hands. He puts me in mind of Bryce Brentz of the Red Sox, but I think Walker should show better on the plate discipline front, particularly in the strikeout department.
Victor Roache, OF, Georgia Southern University
6'1", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Victor Roache may have the best raw power of any player in this year's draft. He led all of NCAA baseball last year with 30 home runs, and that came in the first year with the new, power-sapping bats.
Bat speed and strength are Roache's calling cards, as he takes a vicious hack at any pitch he deems worthy. He's capable of hitting the ball an absolute mile, both in batting practice and game situations, and has shown a capacity for hitting with wood as well. Roache hits from a widespread stance with no stride, only a toe tap for timing, and his pure hand speed jumps out at you immediately. He posted a .975 OPS in the Cape Cod League last summer, and we know what kind of value the Cardinals place on players who put up big numbers on the Cape.
The rest of Roache's tools all profile average or a little better, with an arm strong enough to make him an ideal right field candidate. He's an absolute physical specimen, chiseled and huge. The one physical concern with him is a broken ankle which required screws and a plate to repair back in 2010 and has caused some to question his speed after the injury. Even so, he runs well enough; he's just not a burner.
Unlike Walker, who shows the ability to hit the ball hard to all parts of the park, Roache has a tendency to sell out trying to hit for power, which leaves him vulnerable to offspeed pitches. His pure bat speed is good enough, though, that he should be able to learn to wait on the ball and drive it wherever it may be delivered.
Roache, originally from Michigan, has many of the same concerns attached as all cold-weather players. He's more raw at this stage of his career than are players from warmer areas, and the level of competition he's faced in college isn't the greatest. Still, his performance on the Cape should help to assuage those concerns somewhat, as he blistered the very best college baseball has to offer.
Roache is right in the Cardinals' wheelhouse this year I think, at least in terms of draft status. He's projected by most as a mid- to late first round pick, which would put him right around the Cards' draft slot. He offers power in spades, and his overall tool package make him a perfect fit for a corner outfield spot in the future. There have been some teams of late who have actually seemed to favour players who have yet to be exposed to high-level coaching and/or competition, with the thought that elite level development help could take said players' abilities to as-yet unseen heights, whereas players able to take advantage of the best coaching and playing at the highest levels are much closer to their ceilings already. It's an interesting philosophy, and one I'm curious to watch in the coming years. Whether the Cardinals are such a team or not I have no idea -- particularly now, under a new scouting director -- but Roache would seem to offer a remarkably good fit for the Cardinals in this year's draft.
Love the bat speed.
Richie Shaffer, 1B/3B, Clemson University
6'3", 205 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Of the three players covered here today, Shaffer is probably the player with the fewest holes in his game. Now, that's not to say he's the most highly thought of -- Christian Walker holds that spot in most people's minds fairly handily -- but Shaffer's game is more rounded than either Walker or Victor Roache. While I think Walker would only nominally be considered a third base prospect in the way Brett Wallace was, I've seen Shaffer play at third and I think he has a legitimate chance of playing there at the next level. Shaffer may not have the pure off the charts power of Roache, but he has a more intelligent, sound approach at the plate which could ultimately make him a better hitter.
Coming out of high school, Shaffer was a rail-thin middle infield prospect who showed the kind of occasional power which has been getting shortstops slapped with Cal Ripken comps since forever. Since that time he's filled out considerably and slowed down as well, moving inexorably toward the corners of the diamond. Along with the added bulk, though, has come bigger present power and the knowledge of how to apply it.
In his 2011 sophomore campaign, Shaffer posted a 1.015 OPS and a sterling 44:53 BB:K ratio. His 13 homers doesn't quite put him in the same company as the other two guys here, but his .262 ISO and 15.9% walk rate speak for themselves. He hit to the tune of an .846 OPS in the Cape Cod League last summer as well, showing plenty of potential to handle wood. (snicker)
I like Shaffer quite a bit. For one thing, I'm a sucker for people with that last name; for another I think there's a very real chance he'll play further up the defensive spectrum than either Walker or Roache without a huge dropoff in offense. He might be seen as a bit of a stretch at 23, or he might not. We're still awfully early in the process to make those kinds of assumptions. What I do know is this: the Cardinals are thin on bats, and Shaffer has what could end up a very, very good one. Whether that makes it a fit or not is beyond my ability to prognosticate.
The Cardinals have a question; any of these players could easily present an answer. Two of the three should still be on the board, depending on how things may change between now and June. Will one of these players hear his name called when the Cards go on the board? Only time will tell.
The Baron's Playlist for the 25th of January, 2012
"Falling For You" - Weezer
"Across the Sea" - Weezer
"(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right" - Luther Ingram
"World Keeps Turning" - Tom Waits
"Downtown Train" - Tom Waits
"You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will." - Bright Eyes
"The Calendar Hung Itself" - Bright Eyes
"Save for Me" - Theodore
"All I Ask" - Theodore