FanPost

Jake Woodford: My Savior of the Draft

I despised the Cardinals' selection of Nick Plummer at twenty-third overall in this year's draft. The Red Baron and I agreed that Walker Buehler would have been a better fit for the organization, as the system seems to be more suited towards developing pitchers than hitters. We all know that Plummer struggled in GCL, and while early performance is oftentimes not a clear indicator of the overall success of the prospect, I still don't feel confident with the state of his development.

So, after being disappointed with the first selection, I tuned in for pick two, praying that the Cards would take Jacob Nix, and not another high school position player. When Ryan Franklin arrived at the podium, I was confused when he announced a name that I hardly recognized.

Jake Woodford. The fifth high school pitcher taken by the Cardinals in the first round since Shelby Miller in 2009. Miller became a top prospect and made it to the All-Star team with the Braves. A year later, Tyrell Jenkins was taken, but injuries slowed his development. He was traded in 2015 and became the Braves minor league pitcher of the year. Rob Kaminsky was taken and traded to the Indians, but not before he too emerged as a top prospect. A year before, the Cardinals had taken Jack Flaherty, and he's become a top prospect as well.

A 6'4, he has the hight of a starting pitcher. Shorter than Wainwright and Wacha, but still satisfactory. He throws 94 MPH with movement, his slider is improving as he goes along and will definitely be a plus pitch with practice, and while his changeup and control are only average at this point, they too will likely improve.

Woodford was taken a year after Jack Flaherty, a fellow high school righty, and Flaherty performed well in Low-A Peoria this year and has since earned a spot on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects List. Now, Woodford isn't Flaherty. Everyone now knows that the Cardinals stole the Peoria ace at thirty-fourth last year. Jack has a higher ceiling, and the only thing Woodford has on him is his stamina. Really, Woodford's talent level is likely closer to that of Ronnie Williams, a second-rounder from 2014. However, given the track record of high school pitchers taken by the Cardinals in the first round, there's no reason to believe that Woodford won't develop similarly.

Next season, Woodford will begin in one of two places. He can take the Flaherty route and go straight to Low-A, and play his age-19 season there, or he can take the Williams route and go to Johnson City and spend a year in rookie ball. Given the Cardinals' track record with first-rounders, I believe there's a greater chance that Woodford will go to Peoria. However, fellow GCL pitchers Junior Fernandez and Sandy Alcantara have also performed well and deserve spots on that roster.

Fernandez and Alcantara both made the Baseball America list of GCL's top prospects, and arguably have higher floors and ceilings than Woodford. While the first-rounder had a 2.39 ERA and 21 strikeouts in limited duty for the club, both of his teammates both pitched much more, and Fernandez even made a quick appearance in High-A at the end of the year, performing well. While both other players may be more deserving of the spot, I think that if two of them can be in the rotation, it would be Woodford and Fernandez. I simply predict that Woodford would perform the best at that level. I'd love to say I used complex sabermetrics to come up with that hypothesis, but really, it was just a hunch.

Most mock drafts that you come across will not predict Woodford being a first-round pick, and a lot of people predicted he might have even dropped to the third round. And even among high school players, he was not considered to be elite. But has his early performance been equal with that of other high schoolers taken in the first round?

Kolby Allard was the first high school arm off the board, taken fourteenth by the Braves. He pitched in GCL for six innings and didn't allow a run.

Ashe Russell was taken by the Royals at twenty-first, and in eleven starts in Rookie ball, a whole level higher than anyone else mentioned here, he had a 4.21 ERA.

The Tigers took Beau Burrows at twenty-second, and in ten games, nine of which were starts, he compiled a 1.61 ERA and compiled 33 strikeouts in 28 innings. He was easily the best performer out of this class.

(Cardinals take Nick Plummer one pick after Burrows.)

Mike Nikorak, considered the best high school pitcher in the draft, had more or less a train-wreck of a season after being taken by the Rockies at twenty-seven. In eleven starts, he walked 32 batters and struck out just 14, and allowing an 11.72 and a .347 batting average against.

Michael Soroka was taken by the Braves one pick after Nikorak. He split his time between the Appalachian League and GCL, going a combined 34 innings and compiling 37 strikeouts with a 3.18 ERA.

The Royals took Nolan Watson at thirty-third, and in eleven starts he had a 4.91 ERA in Rookie ball.

Woodford was the next high school pitcher off the board. He is the subject of the article, so I'm not going to list his stats here.

Triston McKenzie became an Indian as the last high school pitcher taken in the first round. He played in Short-Season A Ball, and in four games, three starts, which included twelve innings, he struck out 17 and compiled a 0.75 ERA.

So Woodford probably checks in closer to the top if anyone ranked the performances of the first-round high schoolers taken. He wasn't Beau Burrows good, and not Mike Nikorak bad. However, many of these players were pitching in higher levels than him and have higher ceilings. That doesn't mean that, from my point of view (which I am trying really hard to make unbiased) I wouldn't take Woodford over some of them. He looks like another Lance Lynn to me and a lot of other people, and he's been very valuable to the Cardinals for the past few years.

If anyone just absolutely loves the pick of Nick Plummer, abuse me in the comments. I did not like that pick, but I liked Woodford's. I don't remember a huge first-round pitcher bust for the Cardinals since Seth Blair, and while that technically means that we're due for one, I just don't see that happening.

Woodford isn't Flaherty, or Reyes. He may be a better Lance Lynn. A lot of people don't like this pick, but I think it's the right one.