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2016 Draft Preview 0.2: Ghosts of 2013 -- An Origin Story

The second installment of the draft preview for 2016 sees three returning players from ages past, including one favourite coming around for a second tease of the author.

Marco Gonzales, the Cardinals' own first-rounder from 2013, from whence today's draftees hail.
Marco Gonzales, the Cardinals' own first-rounder from 2013, from whence today's draftees hail.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Hope everyone out there is still above water. Myself, I'm not too worried about my home actually flooding -- if my house ever floods, someone should really have been working on an ark for a very long time already, considering I'm quite high up -- but if things get much worse, I may very well not be able to go anywhere beyond basically the end of my street. Hopefully that's not the case.

Anyhow, what we have here today is the second origin special on the 2016 draft. Last time, we covered three players returning to the draft this year after having been taken in 2015, but who bypassed signing in favour of community/junior colleges, allowing them to immediately take another shot at being drafted in 2016. Today, we'll be looking at three players who went a more traditional route, heading off to four-year universities after the draft way back in 2013, attending classes and playing ball for three years. We have a pitcher with outstanding stuff but who might be damaged goods, an outfielder who very much was damaged goods back at the time clubs had their first shot at him, and an intriguing college bat attached to a defensive question mark who just happened to be one of my favourites three years ago, and remains among those illustrious ranks now after wearing the U for awhile.

In lieu of a long intro this week, I'm going to jump right in and keep this post relatively lean and breezy, he said, knowing it would likely never happen.

Ryan Boldt, OF, University of Nebraska

6'2", 212 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

At the time of the 2013 draft, Ryan Boldt was an extraordinarily intriguing prospect. He was lightning-quick, creating havoc on the bases in showcase events and tournaments anytime he showed up, and could run down anything hit within the same zip code as his position in center. He was one of those pure athletes, a bundle of twitchy energy, all sinew and explosive muscle, that was easy to dream on. Think of the way Jose Reyes looked early in his career. Ryan Boldt had that kind of instant-on athleticism, and there were projections of him as a five-tool monster, or at least four tools and enough power to play. His junior year of high school, there was conjecture about Boldt possibly creeping into the first overall conversation, and his senior season was going to be incredibly important.

Unfortunately for Boldt, at the time of the draft itself, he was also an injured young player, having hurt his knee early in that very important senior season, and he fell out of consideration in the early going. A player so known for his speed can often take a slightly larger hit than usual when a knee injury occurs, and Boldt definitely fell into that unforgiving assessment. The Red Sox took him in the 22nd round and tried to sign him, going well over slot, but he ultimately decided to honour a Nebraska commitment, thus ensuring the first name brought up as a comp for him would forever be Darin Erstad.

In the years since his moment as early darling of the draft, then injured afterthought, Boldt has done the most boring, predictable thing he could have: he's turned into exactly the middle of the road version of himself. Gone is the hyperathletic, quicksilver streak; his speed recovered well enough from the knee injury, but he is nowhere near the 70+ grade runner he was in high school. He still plays center field for the 'Huskers, and will likely stay there in the pros, but no longer possesses the wheels that made him a potential impact player both on the bases and in the field.

He's also filled out as part of that slowing-down process, but hasn't really added the kind of power it was hoped he would. Boldt isn't a slap hitter, by any means, but his offensive game is much more geared toward contact and gap power than dynamic, over the fence pop.

Which isn't to say all the changes in Boldt's game since his first trip through Draftland have been negative. He has developed into a very strong contact hitter, and has plus plate discipline as well. His strikeout to walk ratio in his freshman year at Nebraska was close to 1:1, and his sophomore season it was exactly 1:1. He's disciplined and smart at the plate, rarely getting himself out, and if he makes it to the big leagues, you'll likely hear the words, "Professional Hitter," bandied about in short order in reference to him. He's no longer a plus-plus defender, chasing down balls in the gaps with that amazing speed, but is fundamentally very sound in the outfield, and has excellent instincts that, combined with that slightly above-average speed should allow him to remain in center field over the long haul.

There are similarities in Boldt's game to both Jon Jay, in that he's a lefty-swinging high contact hitter capable of playing center field at a reasonable level, and the college/low minors version of Stephen Piscotty, whose own strikeout to walk ratio tended to hang around 1:1 and who seemed perfectly content to spray line drives around the field, rather than trying to drive the ball more aggressively for power.

The ceiling for Boldt is probably fairly limited, but the floor is also probably extremely high. He plays a premium defensive position, will hit for a high average and middling power, and has already performed at a major college program for multiple years. In short, the 2016 version of Ryan Boldt may not be anywhere near as exciting as the 2013 edition was, but he is also as sure a thing as a club is likely to find in the draft this year. The tools aren't dreamy, but he's going to perform, and that performance will probably see him taken very early on when draft day rolls around.

via George Bianchi:

Matt Krook, LHP, University of Oregon

6'3", 205 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

The most notable player not to sign in the 2013 draft had to have been Phil Bickford, the flamethrowing righthander taken in the top ten by the Blue Jays. What made him notable was obviously the high draft status, almost hard to imagine in terms of a player not signing, but also the nebulous personal and personality issues that seem to surround Bickford, whose road since 2013 has been circuitous, to say the least. However, he was eventually drafted by the Giants eighteenth overall just this past summer, out of a West Coast community college, bringing at least the amateur part of his saga to a close.

The runner-up for the dubious prize of Most Post-Draft Drama in 2013 was almost certainly Matt Krook, who was selected by the Miami Marlins with the 35th overall pick, then found himself embroiled in a spot of controversy, made far more titillating by the fact it was the Marlins, which is always good for at least a 20% boost to the absurdity of a given story.

To be honest, the story of how Matt Krook didn't sign is fairly straightforward; the post-draft physical revealed something in his elbow the Marlins didn't like, at which point they decided to renegotiate the contract, with Krook stuck in the role of Billy Dee Williams, only without all the other stuff that makes life as Billy Dee Williams look like the best ride anyone's ever been on. It could have been simple, or at least quiet, but because it involved the Marlins, there was leaked info, accusations of strongarm tactics, accusations of dishonesty, accusations of being a whiny little, well, you get the idea. It was the Marlins, and so it got messy. It should be noted that, after taking his ball and heading home off to the University of Oregon, Krook did, in fact, end up having Tommy John surgery as a freshman, missing much of his first two years of college ball. So, you know, the Marlins were apparently correct to have concerns.

Krook got back on the mound this past summer, taking part in the Cape Cod League and impressing there. His velocity was back roughly where it was pre-surgery, with a fastball sitting in the 90-93 range consistently. He also showed the arm speed to spin his curve effectively, showing glimpses of the same 60 future grade bender he possessed in high school. He pitched only in relief, so it was short stints as he worked his way back to full strength, but the stuff at least was very encouraging.

There's a changeup, as well, that shows occasional depth, but Krook has yet to really develop a proper feel for the pitch. He rarely needed it in high school, and hasn't pitched enough in college to make any real improvement with it. He will need to refine the change and push his overall command beyond even where it was prior to surgery if he's going to remain a starter; otherwise, it would be easy to see him fitting in well at the back end of a bullpen based on the strength of his two best pitches.

Krook has a great, stereotypical pitcher's frame, a fastball with above-average velocity for a lefty, and a potentially plus or even better curveball. It's not hard to squint a little and see a Jon Lester type pitcher in the offing, particularly if he could possibly refine his change or perhaps swap it out for a cut fastball or some other completmentary choice. The fact he's already had arm surgery, and thus is already working on wearing out his replacement elbow, will probably be a sticking point for some clubs (and would be for me, to be honest), but it's also possible a team could see him as undervalued for that reason.

For my money, I'll pass on Krook, at least for the general area of the draft one would likely have to spend a pick to to get him. In this draft, I can find arms I like better early on, where his long track record and potential would likely require him to be taken. That being said, I could see selecting him as a short-term value play, counting on the handedness, college status, and impressive present one-two punch to make him valuable, and thus possibly tradeable, much sooner than many other selections one could make. Sort of a pitching side Brett Wallace, if that makes any sense.

via Alex Botts:

Zack Collins, C/1B, Miami

6'2", 210 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Ah, and now we come to the player of these three that I want. And, in fact, a player I have coveted for the last three years, ever since the Cincinnati Reds took him in a late round and made only a modest effort to sign him. Even further back, actually; from the time I initially scouted him, I have found Zack Collins to be one of the most intriguing bats in all of amateur baseball.

Back in 2013, Collins was a questionable-body slugging high school catcher, and I loved the way he swung the bat.Beyond that, I had tons of questions and reservations, including being very doubtful he would stick at catcher long term, thus in all likelihood relegating him to the defensive ghetto of first base. Even so, I thought he was a good bet to produce well above-average power numbers, and to get on base due to an extremely patient approach and discerning eye.

Since that time, Collins has gone on to play baseball at Miami University, alma mater of Jon Jay, bastion of collegiate scruples when it comes to the athletic department (ahem), and member of the brutally competitive ACC. The ACC isn't quite to the level of the SEC, in terms of consistent quality up and down the schedule, but it's not that far off. And while playing for The U, Collins has continued to catch, played nearly every day, come rain or shine, and produced with the bat at a level that's impossible to ignore.

In his college career, Collins has played in 127 games, covering 565 plate appearances. His overall line during that time: .300/.437/.573. He has slugged 26 home runs, to go along with 28 doubles and eight triples, all while hitting in the mildly pitching-friendly Alex Rodriguez Field in Miami. He's produced a .273 ISO. He's walked at a Votto-esque pace of 17.5%. He's kept his strikeouts under control, as well, whiffing in 19.6% of his plate appearances, in spite of an absurd number of deep counts. In other words, Zack Collins has produced well above-average power numbers, and has gotten on base at a high clip due to an extremely patient approach and discerning eye.

I really wish someone on the Cardinals would have listened to me and just drafted this kid in the fourth round or something and paid him to skip Miami.

I still feel Collins fits best at first base going forward, where his hands would play up, but the fact he's managed to remain at catcher so long is a testament to his work ethic. He's gotten in noticeably better shape in college, both slimming down and gaining muscle, and that conditioning work has paid off behind the plate. Still, he's a marginal defender at the position, and considering the quality of the bat, a move to a position where he can move quickly and concentrate on hitting -- i.e. first base -- is probably for the best.

For now, Collins still seems to be a little underrated in most places covering the draft, but I expect that to change this spring as the college season gets underway and offensive producers begin moving up draft boards to teams looking for immediate contributions. I would be delighted if he managed to reach where the Cardinals are picking, and overjoyed if they called his name. He's as close as any player in this year's draft to Kyle Schwarber, and I believe he could make a similar impact in short order.

In other words, I still covet Zack Collins now, in 2016, the same way I did back in 2013. If I'm making out my dream draft board for the Cardinals right now, he's one of the names at the very top.

via Andrew Krause:

Well, that's it for me this year, everyone. I'll be back on Sunday with the top ten of the prospects list, god willing and the creek don't rise (I don't often get to say that, but it most definitely applies here), and then next Wednesday will probably roll out my first batch of early favourites for this draft cycle. Unless there's actual news, in which case I may feel obligated to write about that. But, we'll see. Until then, have a lovely, safe New Year's.