clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2014 Draft Review One: Persons of Interest (Again)

The first of two parts reviewing the Cardinals' 2014 draft haul, focusing on an octumvirate (that's a thing, right?), of players the author finds to be more interesting than the madding crowd in general.

A late-round Cardinal draft success, before it was the cool thing to do.
A late-round Cardinal draft success, before it was the cool thing to do.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The draft is over, ladies and gentlemen, and I'm rather sad. The inevitable post-holiday depression has set in; the realisation that no matter how good your Christmas was, even if you totally got all four Masters of the Universe vehicles you asked for and Blaster Master and the Hero Quest board game your grandma lied and told you Children's Castle was out of so please don't be disappointed, Christmas is over, and the antici........pation is always better than the event itself. The waiting is always better than the getting, because dreams stop where reality begins.

Nonetheless, we carry on; there is baseball to be played and written about. And, hey, if I start doing draft previews again this year as early as I did last year (which I may or may not do), then there's barely six months until the whole cycle starts over again.

I've already written down my feelings regarding the Cardinals' first two selections, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty, and a few days on, I still feel much the same. I'm excited about Flaherty's upside and potential future, and I'm excited to watch Luke Weaver zoom through the system, Wacha-like, and equally terrified his arm may not even hold together that long. I'm still bitterly angry at the Milwaukee Brewers for drafting my favourite guy, forcing me to watch him blossom for a division foe, and the Boston Red Sox for taking my other favourite guy, forcing me to watch him blossom into a bearded douchebag.

Having said my piece regarding the first two selections, I thought to dig a bit deeper into the draft today, and rather than a do a long, rambling writeup about the direction the Cardinals went, I'm going to break this into scouting reports the same way I do the previews. Eight players the Redbirds selected who I find interesting, for one reason or another, and what reason I have for that interest. Next week I'll wrap up my draft coverage for 2014 with my annual shadow draft, in which I make my own selections against what the Cardinals did, as well as reviewing how my past shadow draft classes have done.

First, though, a general thought about this year's class. Do you remember the Wendy's commercials from the 80s, with the woman yelling, "Where's the Beef?" at various fast food employees? Of course you do. It was a cultural phenomenon. If you're too young to remember said ads, google it. Also, get off my lawn. (To be honest, I don't really recall the advertisements themselves, only tons of people spouting the catchphrase in various situations when I was a child. I wonder if there was ever an adult film parody of those ads made. Seems like a ripe area for exploration.)

Well, when I peruse the list of Cardinal draftees this year, comparing the names to my own notes and researching the players I had no notes on (of which there were many; the junior college ranks, which El Birdos plumbed fairly heavily this year, are remarkably difficult to get much info on), I'm forced to ask a similar question: Where's the Upside?

Okay, so it isn't as memorable as the original line, and much less likely to become a catchphrase anytime soon. (Aside from possibly being used as part of some asshole MBA's powerpoint presentation on what he feels is an overly conservative investment plan.)

(I use parentheses a lot, don't I?)

Regardless of my question perhaps lacking in catchphrase-ability, I think it's a fair point to bring up all the same. Aside from a few rather specific examples, I see this draft class as being fairly thin on real upside, with a ton of high-floor types making up the bulk majority of the picks the Cards made this year. I'm a fan of Dan Kantrovitz; I think he's done a pretty remarkable job taking over for Jeff Luhnow and keeping the pipeline at least mostly moving without an enormous dropoff in the quality of the system. Even so, I feel his drafts so far have been pretty risk-averse, trading heavily in mid-tier college talent at the expense of players who just might, someday, have a chance at real impact. Then again, at the time of the draft I felt Michael Wacha was one of those mid-tier college talents, so take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you like.

Let's get to the players, shall we?

Ronnie Williams, RHP, American Senior HS (Florida)

Picked: Round 2, 68th Overall

6'0", 175 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

Two words: 1) arm 2) speed.

I had done a tiny little bit of research on Williams way back in the beginning of my draft reports, but at the time he was still a mid-round draft guy who primarily threw in the 88-90 range and had concerns on him regarding his size. At that time, I considered putting him in a preview, but ran out of room, filed him away for a future persons of interest piece, and then promptly forgot to keep him in mind.

When I heard his name called as early as the second round on Thursday night, I groaned inwardly, thinking this was the price the Cards were paying for drafting Flaherty; that Williams was strictly a bargain-priced draft pick, made to free up money. Then I actually looked the kid back up, and discovered that he wasn't the same guy I had briefly looked into back in early February.

Williams blossomed this year, adding some strength to his frame over the offseason (not unlike Nick Gordon, the shortstop prospect taken by the Twins fifth overall), and just generally began to fill out as a seventeen year old does. His velocity took a big step forward, as he went from touching 92 once or twice an outing to sitting comfortably at 93 and clocking as high as 97. He generates that velocity with a fantastic arm action, as well -- at least, as much of it as I can determine without a whole lot more video -- and actually commands his fastball most nights. It has a little cut to it, similar to the four-seamer of Carlos Martinez, and is really all the weapon he needs most outings. Which makes it all the more unfair he's developed one of the better high school curves outside of guys like Aiken and Toussaint. Back when I scouted him initially, the breaking ball was a slurvy mess, mostly just slow, that only avoided getting crushed because high school hitters aren't so good with anything that isn't string straight. This spring, though, Williams refined the pitch into a true curveball with excellent depth that flashes plus-plus at times, though he has yet to master locating the pitch consistently.

He throws a changeup as well, and while you still don't hear much about it, his arm speed makes me think he could have a really good one down the road. There's plenty of time to worry about that, of course; he's eighteen and fresh out of high school. Changeups can wait.

I'll be honest: this is probably my favourite pick the Cardinals made in the first ten rounds, and maybe my favourite overall. I love athletes who pitch, and I love smaller guys who throw gas, and Williams is absolutely both of those things. My only real problem with this pick is I looked at the guy too early in the draft cycle, and never revisited him, so I missed him getting some buzz headed in.

Andrew Morales, RHP, UC Irvine

Drafted: Competitive Balance Round, 74th Overall

6'0", 185 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

Remember a moment ago, when I said I thought at the time of the pick, that Ronnie Williams was the price the Cardinals paid for drafting Jack Flaherty? Well, I was wrong about that one. Andrew Morales is the price the Cardinals paid for drafting Jack Flaherty and his high price tag. Morales is a college senior, which means he might as well have tattooed NO LEVERAGE across his forehead. He'll be an easy sign, save the club some money, and allow them to take a run at a few of the other guys they went after who will have to be bought out of other commitments.

That being said, Morales is by no means a dumpster-dive with little chance of making it in pro ball. He doesn't have great upside, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him pulling on a big league uniform within the next two years. He won the Big West Pitcher of the Year award this year, and there's enough stuff there to think he could move up quickly in pro ball.

Morales isn't a hard thrower, necessarily, but his fastball sits in the low-90s consistently, and he locates it in the lower portion of the strike zone well. It's a little straight, but he commands it well enough to not get plastered. He mixes in a solid changeup working off the heater, and it has nice fade down and to the third base side.

By far his best pitch is his curveball, a nasty low-80s offering that he can shape and locate pretty much at will, dropping it in for strikes early in the count or burying it to try and induce an empty swing. I'd feel comfortable slapping a 60 on the pitch most of the time, and if you happened to catch his performance against Oklahoma State to put Irivine into the CWS, the pitch was even better that night. That was a 70 curve, and the Cowboys' players were helpless to do anything with it.

Morales improved every year of his college career, beginning at a community college and moving up to UC Irvine, all while positing career bests in strikeout rate (9.44K/9), batting average against (.182), and earned run average (1.53), as a senior.

I don't like Morales's arm action; his arm comes through very late, and so I worry about his long-term health. Given the fact he possesses one well-above average pitch, though, perhaps there's relief work in his future, which could help to keep him healthier longer than if he was deployed strictly in a rotation.

The ceiling for Morales isn't the highest. He's not a guy with overwhelming stuff. But, he's a pitcher who has honed his craft, has a great breaking ball, and isn't going to shy away from big situations. You could do much, much worse in looking for a money-saving strategic pick than a guy like Andrew Morales. For instance, I will say I'm more excited about Morales than I am Austin Gomber, the lefty out of Florida Atlantic in the fourth round, despite Gomber being a far more heralded player.

(There is one particular curve, at ~2:05, that you may want to pay special attention to.)

Darren Seferina, 2B, Miami Dade CC

Drated: Round 5, 165 Overall

5'9", 175 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

One of those junior college guys I mentioned earlier being so hard to track down info on, Seferina forced me to interact with actual people to get a scouting report on him. (I actually do that a fair amount, but prefer to be thought of as some sort of ghost in the machine that does nothing but produce amateur scouting reports.)

Seferina has above-average speed, plays a solid second base, features remarkable bat-to-ball skills, and very little in the way of power. If Kolten Wong was righthanded, he would probably be Darren Seferina. Actually, Seferina probably has even a little less pop than Wong; more like what we've seen from Wong in the majors so far, rather than what he showed on his way up the ladder.

Still, there's something about a .407/.475/.504 batting line and more walks than strikeouts that's very intriguing, even if the level of competition makes those stats relatively meaningless. There isn't a ton of upside here, but it wouldn't take much imagination to see Seferina turning into something roughly akin to Greg Garcia over the next few years.

Brian O'Keefe, C, Saint Joseph's

Drafted: Round 7, 225 Overall

6'0", 210 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

Brian O'Keefe was not one of the catchers I most wanted in this draft. However, he was one of the most productive, and I can certainly get behind that.

O'Keefe has improved markedly at the plate over his years at St. Jo's, posting a .941 OPS this year with 20 extra base hits (7 HRs), in 246 plate appearances. He's another guy who walked more than he struck out this season, so it appears the Cardinals are continuing forward with prioritizing bat control guys in their offensive philosophy.

Unfortunately, I've never gotten to see O'Keefe play, even on video, but he has a reputation as an excellent receiver behind the plate to go along with his offensive prowess. Take that for what it's worth; I can't really speak too much to that with personal knowledge, obviously. He was projected most places to go a couple rounds higher than this, as well, so there's a decent value proposition taking him at this spot.

Another limited-upside collegian, O'Keefe follows what I identified earlier as a somewhat frustrating trend, but even so, he's a player whose combination of defensive reputation at a premium position and plus production with the bat could make him more than roster filler in the long run.

Justin Bellinger, 1B, St. Sebastian's HS (MA)

Drafted: Round 11, 345 Overall

6'6", 236 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

Back when I wrote up my preview post on the best high school bat-first (or bat-only, if you want to be slightly less charitable), prospects, I had four guys in the queue: Braxton Davidson, Handsome Monica, Kel Johnson, and Justin Bellinger. In order to narrow it down to three players (because that's my format; really no other reason), I had to lose one. I picked Davidson because I had to; he was the best high school bat in the class, even if I think Michael Chavis might be a little better pure hitter (Davidson has the power edge), and one of the top three bats in the whole draft for me. I chose Handsome Monica because, really, how do you not write the report on a guy named Handsome Monica? Which left me with the choice of Johnson or Bellinger. I ended up going with Kel Johnson because I thought it was interesting he was home-schooled, and because I thought he had a chance to play somewhere other than first base as a pro. Thus, Bellinger was the odd man out; the one big high school bat I didn't really cover.

Guess which one the Cardinals picked. Go on, guess. Of course they did.

So if I'm wandering around, accosting random people on the street with a shrill, "Where's the Upside?" as I've posited I will be doing, they need really only point to Bellinger in order to send me scurrying away, having been soundly spanked by the surprising depth of knowledge of the amateur draft shown by a random stranger. He's a first baseman only, but the offensive upside is so great that the position really doesn't matter. Though, for the record, he actually shows pretty good actions at first base, and at least in very limited viewing (primarily a couple of Perfect Game events), he picks it pretty well on throws over.

Bellinger has capital P Power, capable of hitting a baseball as far as Uncle Rico can throw a football. He doesn't have to pull the ball to hit it out, either, as he hit a ball out to dead center in Petco last year during the Perfect Game home run derby that was probably the most impressive shot of the event.

The setup for Bellinger is pretty unorthodox, as he hits completely without a stride, legs spread wide, and he crouches down, looking very little like a power hitter until he actually swings. In that way, he and Kel Johnson are remarkably similar, as tall, lanky power hitters who don't look anything like power hitters in their setups at the plate. His swing coach is a coach in the Cards' minor league system, so maybe it shouldn't be a surprise he was the bat the club eventually selected. After all, if anyone would know his game it would be the guy teaching him to hit.

The long levers that give Bellinger such impressive power are probably also his biggest weakness, as with so many other extremely tall hitters he has some swing and miss to his game. The approach, though, is patient and mature, and should help him avoid being easily exploited by even higher level pitching. He's got room to add weight and strength to his frame, and what is currently 70 raw power could end up approaching Giancarlo levels is everything goes right.

In a draft with some real upside on the pitching side but very little high-ceiling talent on the position side of things, Bellinger stands out. If he develops, he could end up a perennial 35-40 home run threat, not to mention an approach that should lend itself to plus on-base skills as well. He's never going to contribute much value on the defensive side of things, and he can't run much at all, but that's not why you draft a guy like Justin Bellinger.

As for signability, I honestly have no idea how tough a sign Bellinger might be. He's certainly a bigger talent than the eleventh round draft position would suggest, and if he heads off to Vanderbilt he could be a first round guy in three years. But, I have to believe the Cardinals more than any other team would have an idea if he's signable or not, and I personally hope they find a way to meet his demands and get him into the system. There isn't a ton of upside in this draft, but Justin Bellinger brings a whole lot of what there is all by himself.

Joe Gillette, 3B, Scotts Valley HS (CA)

Drafted: Round 23, 705 Overall

6'2", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

Remember Kevin Padlo, the hyper-athletic third base prospect I was so enamoured of all the way back when I was doing my initial favourites posts for the year? Well, Joe Gillette is not all that far off from Padlo, athletically, though he certainly came into the draft a bit less heralded.

Gillette has the prototypical tools for a third baseman, from a cannon arm to tremendous reflexes that could make him a plus defender down the line. He runs well for now, also, though there's certainly the possibility he slows down as he ages and fills out. He's rangy enough to have played a large amount of shortstop in high school; that is not a possibility in pro ball, but it's nice to know what kind of athlete he is.

The questions I have about Gillette are primarily about the bat. He's shown some raw power in batting practice, as well as an ability to go to right-center that would make David Freese proud, but I have to admit, I hate watching Gillette swing. He seems to have some of that high to low thing in his swing, he barely loads his hands, and the whole ordeal really looks more like a slappy middle infielder trying to put the ball on the ground than a guy who, at least in theory, has more than enough size and strength to hit for real power. I feel like he's going to need to do a lot of work on that swing if he's ever going to advance up the ladder of professional baseball. If he ever does, though, the athletic ability could take him to some very high heights.

Bryan Dobzanski, RHP, Delsea Reg High School (NJ)

Drafted: Round 29, 885 Overall

6'4", 220 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

Dobzanski might be one of the very toughest signs the Cardinals took in this draft, as he has a commitment to Louisville that could be fairly expensive to buy him out of, and this draft slot doesn't offer a whole lot of ability to throw too much cash around, to be quite honest.

That being said, it could very well be worth it for the Redbirds to make as hard a push as they can to try and sign him, because the ceiling for Dobzanski could be considerable. In a lot of ways, he actually reminds me of Joe Kelly at the time the Cardinals drafted him. He's a much bigger physical specimen than Kelly, but as a multi-sport athlete (baseball and wrestling [not the fun kind]), he has yet to fully focus on pitching, much like Kelly, who had only been pitching for two years or so when the Cards picked him. Dobzanski has a somewhat similar delivery to Kelly, also, with a long, slingy sort of arm action that may not be pretty, but I actually prefer to see compared to the arm actions being taught to so many young pitchers currently. The Cardinals have shown some real success, I feel, in tightening up Kelly's deliver and improving his arm action, and it wouldn't at all surprise me if they took Dobzanski with an eye toward a similar trajectory.

The repertoire for Dobzanski is extremely limited: he throws a fastball that currently sits between 89 and 93, topping out at 94 occasionally, and....that's about it. He's learning to throw both a curveball and a changeup, but he's still very much in the early stages of developing those offerings. Right now, he's basically a pure arm strength and athleticism bet, a physical specimen who certainly looks the part and has the raw tools, but is just beginning to learn what to do with them.

To me, Dobzanski represents a really interesting question, that of how much it's worth to a team to develop a player on their own program, with their own coaches, rather than sending him off to college to be coached and taught and possibly abused by a staff whose philosophies might run completely counter to those of the team who would like to employ him. If he goes to Louisville, there's every reason to believe he'll be a much higher pick in three years, and almost assuredly a much different pitcher. If the Cardinals are serious about this arm, though, and the potential locked within -- and why waste the pick if your'e not? -- then it would behoove them to figure out some way of ponying up the dough to make sure he isn't being developed by those other Cardinals over the next few years.

Anthony Herron, Jr., Affton High School (MO)

Drafted: Round 32, 975 Overall

6'2", 195 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so exciting about this guy?

I actually saw Herron throw in person this spring. It's not the most common thing, of course, as I am in no way a professional scout who travels to see these kids, but seeing as how Affton is approimately twelve minutes from my house, when I spotted his name on a follow list over the winter I made it a point to check him out.

There were no guns in attendance -- that I noticed, anyway, so I couldn't get any velocity readings, but the hitters will generally tell you if a guy throws hard enough, and Herron threw hard enough that evening. He threw a breaking ball that wavered between a curve and a slider, though whether he was trying to throw two different breakers or just didn't have great command over one wasn't really clear to me. Whichever one was the case, there's clearly work to do on his breaking ball.

What I was really impressed with -- though slightly puzzled by -- was his other offspeed offering(s). I say puzzled because, at the time, I thought he was throwing a wildly inconsistent changeup that on some pitches looked flat and hittable, probably a 30 pitch, and other times was sharp and deceptive, just disappearing at the last moment, leaving hitters to flail helplessly at a pitch that just flat-out wasn't where it was supposed to be. As it turns out, though, upon further research, Herron actually throws two offspeed pitches, a regular changeup and an honest to god splitter, which was the nasty magic trick pitch I was so impressed with. The reports have him at 89-91, and that looks about right. I think there's more in the tank, too, as he matures, though I don't necessarily see him as ever being an elite velocity guy. What makes him such an intriguing pitcher for me is that split-finger pitch, as well as the breadth of his offerings. This is a kid with a feel for pitching that belies his age and experience level, and I have to admit to being awfully excited to see what he could do with proper professional development personnel guiding him on his way.

Herron has a commitment to Indiana State, but by most accounts it's not an exceptionally strong one. I'm always a sucker for the hometown kid getting to play for his boyhood team, and so I can't help but root for this kid to forego his college career at least for the moment to make a go of it in professional ball. At the very least, I could someday say you know, I scouted that kid in person when he was still in high school, and look at him now.

And that's the story of the 2014 draft for me. I'm disappointed, overall, with the results, as there is a real lack of upside by my estimation. Then again, the Cardinals seem to think they've got some insight into the junior college ranks the rest of us don't, and perhaps history will prove them right. Still, if I'm being honest, I don't see much in the way of potential star power in this draft; the guys I covered here compose the vast majority of what upside I do see.

I'll be back next week with the other half of my draft review, in which I stupidly hand out all the secrets to how I would do things. (Stupid because it makes it easier to mock me, not because my insights are worth anything and I'm just giving them away.) And after that, well, I suppose I'll just have to find something else to write about. Until then, everybody.