Ah, college right-handers. Is there any other draft demographic which, aside from one or two super elite names at the very top of the queue, elicits such a resoundingly 'meh' reaction? Even the most dependable, pitchability-infused, high floor, low ceiling, dull as dishwater college lefty brings far more interest, if only on account of a damning genetic abnormality and possible satanic connection. (Seriously, folks, they're called sinister for a reason. Don't ever, ever trust them.)
A right-handed pitcher in college is just...boring. Sure, you get the occasional Justin Verlander or Stephen Strasburg, but most of the guys belonging to this particular demographic are most definitely not that exciting. Of course, there's also guys like, say, Michael Wacha, whom I freely admit I found profoundly uninspiring as a draft pick at the time of his selection, but has looked like a very different pitcher in pro ball than he did at Texas A&M.
Then again, the Cardinals are currently filling two rotation slots with predictable, dull players who belong to the college right-handed pitching contingent; despite my lack of enthusiasm for the Wacha pick and continued, somewhat irrational wish to see Lance Lynn return to the back end of the Cardinal bullpen, the former is one of the hottest names in all of baseball right now and the latter has been worth 6.0 WAR over the last two seasons. It may not be the most exciting draft demographic, but it's one that has been very good to the Cardinals in recent years.
Oddly enough, if there was one year in recent memory I would really prefer to see the club go in a different direction, though, I think this would be it. The 2014 draft is crazy deep in pitching talent, but the bulk of it is actually in the high school ranks, I feel. Most of the college pitchers this year have something about them I don't like, whether it's a lack of performance, a weak repertoire, or a mechanical red flag I feel pushes them over the line of acceptable risk.
And so, with that less-than-ringing endorsement fresh in your ears, let's get to the scouting reports, shall we?
Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
6'1", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
The first thing you're always going to hear about with Nola from the NOLA is how advanced his feel for pitching is. You're going to hear about his pitchability, a bunch. Like when Budweiser was making a big deal out of drinkability a few years ago, hoping no one would realise 'drinkability' was code for, "doesn't take like fucking anything." And just like said ad campaign, the pitchability with Aaron Nola is the most damningly faint praise you could imagine, as it usually is. Pitchability is to pitchers what grittiness is to short, white, marginal position players.
And I'm here to tell you it's bunk. Well, at least in the case of Aaron Nola.
Aaron Nola is not just a feel pitcher. He's not a guy with middling stuff who gets by on smarts and command. Not that he lacks either of those things, mind you; Nola does, in fact, have intelligence and command and feel to spare.
But he also has really, really good stuff. Much better than he gets credit for.
He doesn't light up radar guns, exactly, but he throws plenty hard enough, working 91-93 consistently with a fastball that features some of the best run and sink you're going to see in this or any other draft. College hitters have had zero luck squaring the pitch up, and I have all the confidence in the world that will likely continue in pro ball. Even better than his fastball is Nola's changeup, an extremely nasty offering that features both deception in the form of excellent arm speed and hard, fading movement down and to the third base side. Each of the past two years, the Cardinals have drafted pitchers with their first picks who featured the best changeups in their respective draft classes. If you're looking for the guy who fits that bill in this year's class, Nola just might be it.
He throws a slurvy breaking ball as well that doesn't quite know what it wants to be when it grows up, but at times the pitch has shown good movement. All of his pitches play up because, while certain writers of draft reports might bristle at the description of him as a pitchability guy, he absolutely does have the kind of feel and command of his repertoire that could allow him to zoom through a minor league system.
The downside with Nola is almost entirely mechanical. I actually like the arm slot he works from, a low three-quarters slot that adds a ton of movement to his pitches, but his arm is also very late coming through, which unfortunately for me puts him squarely in the risky category. He reminds me a bit of both Jake Peavy and Mike Leake in various ways, for better and for worse.
There's every reason to think Nola will be off the board by the time the Cardinals make their first selection in June. His performance is too good, and some team looking for a safe, fast-moving pick will likely snatch him up early. Then again, he's not the biggest guy, and his delivery falls into the unorthodox category, so he might slip. Honestly, I have a tough time figuring out exactly where Aaron Nola is going to go in the draft. I also have a tough time deciding whether or not I would make him my pick were he to still be on the board. He's actually a guy I'm hugely high on, as I think he's going to be much, much better in pro ball than the #3 starter ceiling being kicked around for him, but I also don't think he's a very good bet at all to stay healthy over the long or even medium term. It's a shame, too, as I think whatever team selects him is going to look very, very smart for as long as his arm holds together.
Luke Weaver, RHP, Florida State
6'2", 160 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Luke Weaver has exceptional arm speed. Now, that doesn't mean he's the absolute hardest thrower in this year's draft, but it certainly puts him among that number. He's topped out as high as 98 at times, and works pretty consistently at 92-95. The pitch has good, though not great, movement, and he generally puts it where he wants. It's an easy plus pitch, maybe even a little better, and for my money is better than the respective heaters of some other pitchers with more highly-regarded fastballs like Tyler Kolek or Jeff Hoffman.
The same arm speed which makes his fastball such a weapon makes his changeup an equally effective pitch, as Weaver sells his offspeed stuff beautifully. The pitch doesn't have quite the movement of Nola's change, but still sinks nicely, with more of a splitter-like action at its best, and is extremely deceptive. Unlike Nola, though, whose breaking ball just needs a little love and refinement, I could almost see calling Weaver a two-pitch pitcher right now. He throws a slider, but it's nowhere near the level it needs to be, existing almost solely as a show-me pitch at the moment. Perhaps it will develop with professional coaching. Perhaps he would do better trying a curve. Or, perhaps, the lack of a consistent breaking ball is going to be something that really holds Weaver back from what he could be. Only time will tell, I suppose.
Mechanically, I like Weaver's lower body a lot, but he's got a high back elbow that worries me. It's nowhere near the worst delivery out there, but it's also certainly not the best, either. He's also extraordinarily slight of build, which may or may not factor in to future durability, but it's something to think about.
I like Weaver. I don't love him, but I like him. He's got arm speed you can't teach, and a two-pitch repertoire right now that could make him a very effective reliever in pro ball even without further development, I think. How well he develops a breaking ball could very well be the ultimate determining factor in exactly what his ultimate ceiling is. The Cards' first round pick is probably a little high for Weaver, in my ever so humble opinion, but if he's sitting there when their supplemental pick rolls around, he'd be a very tempting target.
Michael Cederoth, RHP, San Diego State
6'6", 215 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
That part just a couple minutes ago, where I said Luke Weaver isn't the hardest thrower in the draft this year, but he's in that elite group? Well, meet the pace-setter for said group, Michael Cederoth. The only collegian who throws harder than Cederoth this year is probably Nick Burdi, the Louisville closer I profiled in a previous preview, and unlike Burdi, there is at least some thought Cederoth could remain in a starting rotation long term.
Cederoth tops out at 99 mph with his fastball, sitting in the mid-90s, and he gets solid downward plane on the pitch as well, as he works downhill from a very high release point. Even so, the pitch is a little on the straight side for me, but when you can reach the upper-90s it covers for plenty of ills.
Unfortunately, the fastball is really all Cederoth has most days, as he has yet to develop much of anything in the way of secondary pitches, preferring instead to approach hitters in a very Dragonball Z manner, endlessly powering up and going hard, harder, hardest. His slider is supposedly the most advanced of his offspeed offerings, but I personally have very little confidence even that is going to end up a really useful pitch any time soon. He throws a changeup that is both too straight and too hard, and a curveball that I actually think has a chance of being the better of his two breaking balls but still needs a ton of work to approach average.
I also, somewhat sadly, hate Cederoth's delivery. He has a high leg kick, but an extremely short stride, and he lifts the ball with his elbow. He's also prone to some pretty severe control problems at times, leading to both elevated walk totals and a tendency to get hit much harder than one might think looking at the radar gun. The combination of less than ideal mechanics, a big fastball but very little in the way of complementary pitches, and a lack of command over what pitches he does have all lead me to see Cederoth as more of a relief candidate long term than a starter, and I'm not sure even as a reliever I'm really that big a fan. Personally, I would likely just steer clear, no matter what the radar gun might suggest he's capable of.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is another draft preview in the books. I'm thinking of doing a bit of a roundup soon, recapping some of the players we've looked at and setting forth some still-early preferences. I'll talk to you again soon.