The First-Year Player Draft is coming up in a hurry; one week and one day from now teams will be making picks, rather than sitting there quietly while all the people who don't know shit about shit -- people like me, in other words -- speculate wildly about which players which teams like and all that other stuff.
In other words, it's crunchtime for the bullshitters, meaning that I'll be using today's thread to wrap up some loose ends. Specifically, I've got a bunch of guys I'm going to write up in extremely abbreviated fashion, if only so that when picks start coming in you all can check out the scouting reports here. Call it shameless traffic baiting, or call it dedication and thoroughness, whichever you prefer.
Anyhow, first up I have a few players who will almost certainly go higher than the Cardinals will pick, most likely in the top five to ten picks. I've written up most of what I expect to be the top ten already, but these guys slipped through the cracks, either by me simply missing them with my demographic groupings or because they were already high enough at the beginning of this process that I saw nearly no chance they would get to the Redbirds and thus were relegated to lower priority status. Either way, here are the scouting reports for posterity.
Top 10-15 Players
Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (FL)
6'1"195 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
Rodgers came into the spring as the top prep shortstop, top prep player, and highest-ceiling bet in the draft. One week out from the day of truth, he's still pretty much all of those things.
Rodgers has a wide base of tools that puts me in mind a bit of Carlos Correa, the all-around superstar shortstop prospect for the Houston Astros. Rodgers isn't as big as Correa, giving up a couple inches of height, but the overall physical tools are comparable. He's at least a 55 runner, and that's the only tool I would put less than a 60 on. In other words, Brendan Rodgers can literally do it all, and at a very high level to boot. He has superstar talent, and if it were me picking at the number one spot, he would probably be the player I would go with.
It's hard to write much of a scouting report on Rodgers, honestly, because it only takes so many words to say the guy is good at pretty much everything. He could still fail, of course; every young player could, if the bat doesn't come along or injuries become an issue or whatever else. But the sheer breadth of the tools, the quality of athleticism, and the positional aspect all give Rodgers an unusually high floor for a high school player, not to mention a ridiculous ceiling. Probably the only really negative thing I can think of to say about him is he seemed like a real dick on Being: Liverpool.
via Baseball Factory:
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
6'2" 220 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
Funkhouser was always a power arm with a big fastball/slider combo, limited feel for pitching, and a changeup that only occasionally showed up. Early this spring, it looked as if he had finally taken that next huge step forward, as the command that had been most properly described as shaky for most of his college career improved markedly, and he was suddenly rocketing up draft boards, with the occasional mention of 1-1 being a possibility.
Recently, the stuff has backed up a little, as the velocity has dropped to 91-93, down from the 95-96 he was consistently showing early in the spring, and the offspeed pitches have been a little flat as well. At his best, he still shows a 60 grade fastball and 55-60 slider, but I don't like the delivery, I don't think he's a great athlete, I don't think the changeup is all that effective in pro ball when hitters see 93+ on a regular basis and can catch up to it, and he still isn't nearly as efficient as I want from a top five guy.
Every year it seems there's at least one player, usually a pitcher, in the top 5-10 range that I personally don't get at all, and wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole if I were a scouting director picking at the top. Funkhouser is that guy for me this year; I think he's a bust, and the team picking him ends up ruing that decision for a long time to come.
Anyone want to bet it will be the Rockies? Seems like the sort of thing that happens to them.
Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
6'4" 190 lbs, B-Right, T-Right
Harris took a big step forward this year, and boosted his draft stock from early second rounder to potential top ten overall guy by bumping his velocity a shade and diversifying his portfolio.
There's a nice, hard sinking fastball here that runs in the 91-94 range, and hitters struggle mightily to lift it. Harris's slider was always his go-to secondary pitch, a mid-80s offering that he could overmatch right-handed hitters with at the collegiate level. Where his changeup was a decidedly below-average pitch and he never really featured a curveball before, though, Harris has markedly improved his overall repertoire, and now his changeup could probably be a 55, he has a curve in his back pocket that rates a 45-50 but plays up because of the variety of pitches he throws, and his slider is deadlier than ever thanks to no longer being his lone offspeed weapon.
I have two problems with Jon Harris: one, he's going to be picked very early, and two, his arm action is really bad. He's not a full Inverted W guy, but the back elbow is pretty high, and the timing is just awful. An extremely late arm, a slider-heavy approach, and a starter's workload are a combination that scare me for a guy's long-term future. I think Harris has a chance to be very good as a workhorse starter in pro ball, but I think it's also going to be a short, start-and-stop career, sadly.
Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS (TX)
6'0" 200 lbs, Bats Left, Throws Left
Someone here in the comments the other day actually mentioned Trent Clark; something along the lines of, "The Cards should draft Trent Clark, and center field will just be taken care of for the next decade." I think it was in Eric's center field farm inventory post, but I won't swear to it.
I have to say, I'm not sure I agree with the commenter's opinion regarding Clark. He runs well, and there's very little doubt he'll play center field in professional ball. The rest of the tools, though, I'm less impressed with than the majority of the industry.
Clark has excellent contact skills, and when you look at the numbers in terms of his size, it seems like he should be able to turn that contact into solid power. I have my doubts, though. I don't know how accurate those numbers are, but even if they're 100% correct, Clark doesn't look nearly as strong to me as you would expect a guy who weights two bills to look. I'm not a fan of the swing; it's a slappy sort of affair that I don't believe will ever translate into real pop without a major overhaul. In other words, I think Trenton Clark will put the ball in play, but I don't think he's going to do much beyond that.
The glove is intriguing. He can chase down balls in the gaps, and gets high marks for his instincts in the field. The arm is fine for center; it's neither a boon nor a curse, just...fine for center field.
If asked for a comp for Clark, the guy who honestly comes to mind for me is Charlie Tilson, the speedy center field prospect the Cardinals took in the second round in 2011, the year they took Kolten Wong with their first pick. (Tilson was also the first of a long line of undersized speedsters in the outfield the Cards drafted that year, none of which have contributed anything of value yet.) I very much liked Tilson at the time, but I also thought he could add strength and improve his power potential going forward. That hasn't happened, and it's looking more and more likely it isn't going to. Clark is a little bigger than Tilson, but I see him going the same slap-hitting way, and I don't think the ceiling is nearly as high as I want from a player expected to be off the board before the first round is even half over.
Okay. With those four players written up, I think I've now covered every player likely to go in the top ten or fifteen, with one possible exception, who will be part of the final group of scouting reports this coming Wednesday. And, spoiler alert, that particular player is a guy I don't like all that much, either.
Now, moving on, I've got maybe half a dozen more players of at least moderate interest, at various positions both on the field and on the draft board. The first guy is a near-slam dunk first rounder; the rest are almost definitely not.
Other Persons of Interest
Donny Everett, RHP, Clarksville HS (TN)
6'2" 220 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
Everett has shown one of the better fastballs of any high school player this spring, and has done so pretty consistently while those around him of both the prep and collegiate varieties have been struggling to maintain their performances. His stock has improved some since the beginning of the season, though he hasn't just flown up boards like some others, which surprises me a bit.
Everett is a strong, thick-bodied kid who's already filled out like a power pitcher, and that's exactly what he is. He's been up as high as 98 with his fastball, though that's not really the usual for him velocity-wise. He typically works at 93 or so, and complements the heater with a power slider that makes him nasty against righthanders. His changeup needs a whole lot of work to be anything more than a show pitch, but that's to be expected from a high school kid with a big arm. The arm action isn't my favourite, but there are definitely worse deliveries to be found in this draft class, and I think Everett could have enough value in the relatively short-term future that I wouldn't shy away from taking him based solely on the mechanics. (I also wouldn't put him on the DO NOT TRADE list, either, though, if you take my meaning.)
Watching Everett pitch, he puts me in mind of Chad Billingsley or Jeremy Bonderman, similarly strong-bodied fastball/slider guys with less than ideal deliveries who managed to occasionally dominate when things were going well. If you're asking my opinion, I think Everett could get to that level. If I'm choosing between somewhat similar talents this year, I probably like Mike Nikorak a little better, both because I prefer the arm action and the complementary pitches to those of Everett. But I definitely think Everett will end up being worth the 15th-25th pick it will probably take to net him. He's a Vanderbilt commit, so signability might be a thing, but screw those guys. They don't need any more pitching talent.
via Jheremy Brown:
Luken Baker, 1B/RHP, Oak Ridge HS (TX)
6'4" 245 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
Baker is the top two-way guy in the draft this year, showing big-time raw power in the batter's box and big-time power stuff on the mound.
The opinions are pretty split on Baker, but I prefer him on the mound. He's raw as hell, but he can already work in the mid-90s with his fastball in short showcase stints, and doesn't lose a ton of velocity starting for his high school team. It's a really nice delivery, too; he throws like a guy who hasn't yet been converted to pitching full-time and taught tons of bad habit, which I love. He throws a slider and changeup, both of which show potential, but neither of which is anything more than promise at this point, which isn't surprising from a guy who, again, has yet to really focus in on the mound as his future home.
Baker is a big sumbitch, and he hits like a big sumbitch, putting together some hugely impressive showings at various showcase home run derbies in his high school career. As big as the power is, though, and as rare as it is in the game as a whole, I'm not a huge fan of Baker as a hitter. It's a pure pull-side slugging sort of swing, and his contact skills reflect that kind of approach. He's not a great hitter, really; it's just that the power potential is so enticing. He's also a mediocre athlete, which counts against him in my book regardless of whether he's pitching or hitting, but it's particularly glaring in the field, where he's limited to first base and isn't exactly Keith Hernandez over there.
A team could take Luken Baker in the second round and try to mold him into either a hitter or pitcher, and feel confident there's enough raw material there for him to possibly succeed either way. For my money, though, I see the velocity, the clean arm action, better control than you expect from a guy with so little experience, and some feel for both spinning and slipping the ball, and I want him on the mound, learning to chew up innings like a next-generation Lance Lynn.
Kolton Kendrick, 1B, Loranger HS (LA)
6'3" 205 lbs, Bats Left, Throws Right
Okay, first off, that 205 for the weight is just...no. Not a chance in hell.
Kendrick is a big pop-up guy this spring; I had heard the name once or twice, I think, but hadn't really done much looking at him up until recently. He's made big strides this year, growing into his body and hitting for ridiculous power, which is just the sort of thing to get the attention of every scout around as you head into the draft.
I'll be honest: I still haven't honestly scouted Kendrick nearly enough to give a full accounting of him I'm entirely comfortable putting my name to. It's a bad body, he's not a great athlete, and he's limited defensively, but holy hell can he hit the holy hell out of the ball. He's a pure pull power lefty slugger type; lots of swing and miss, eminently shiftable, but when he gets hold of a pitch it doesn't stand a chance.
Like I said, I've only got a little on Kendrick. Not nearly enough to give a full writeup. But, I'm including him here as a late helium guy with one great tool and a super fun batting practice video for you to watch. Enjoy.
via Kathy Kendrick:
(my favourite is the very first one. That ball is gone in a blink.)
Juan Hillman, LHP, Olympia HS (FL)
6'2" 180 lbs, Bats Left, Throws Left
Juan Hillman doesn't have the sexiest profile in the draft, but there's some promise here in that solid-at-everything-and-just-always-performs sort of way. You know how they give out those Most Dependable awards to various car companies? Juan Hillman is the pitching equivalent of that. If a Honda Civic were a pitcher, it would probably be Juan Hillman.
Hillman works around 90 with his fastball, and can run it up to 92 at times. More importantly, he puts it where he wants it far more often than your typical high-schooler, specifically keeping it capital D Down. He throws a solid-average curve that could use a little more depth and a little more power. There's a changeup, also, with excellent deception, good arm speed and differential, and a little bit of fade to it. In other words, he's got three pitches, all of which you might look at and say, "Yeah, that was pretty good," with a nod and a shrug, indicating both mild positivity and a distinct lack of being wowed.
And really, that's exactly what Juan Hillman is probably going to be. He likely won't wow anyone with the raw stuff, but he's got enough pitches to start, enough quality pitches to perform, and a delivery I don't worry about. In other words, if you want excitement, look somewhere else. If you want a high school kid with a good chance to be a starting pitcher in the major leagues, then might I suggest to you a nice, dependable Honda Civic? Er, Juan Hillman?
via Cubs Prospect Watch:
Breckin Williams, RHP, M-I-Z-Z-O-U
6'0" 190 lbs, Bats Switch(!), Throws Right
I really, really like Breckin Williams, you guys. In fact, if I'm considering only college relievers I believe will remain relievers in pro ball (essentially disqualifying Tyler Jay, specifically), Breckin Williams is maybe my second-favourite college reliever in the draft this year, trailing only David Berg from UCLA. Maybe third; I like Brandon Koch from Dallas Baptist quite a lot also.
Williams throws two plus pitches: a running fastball with two-seam action that sits around 92-95, and a wicked cutter that's equally effective going away from right-handed hitters and swerving in on the hands of lefties. It's one of the better complementary pitches in the draft, honestly, and has allowed Williams to put together an outstanding run of success closing out games in the SEC.
There's not much projection here; Williams basically is what he is, nearly a finished product at this point. That's both good and bad, of course; he should move quickly, and the pitfalls are relatively few. On the other hand, he isn't going to get bigger, or throw harder, and he likely won't add much to his arsenal. Which is why it's lucky he's already really good. He's a Missouri guy, and he belongs in a Cardinal uniform.
via Mizzou Network:
Junior Harding, RHP, Chipola Junior College (FL)
5'11" 165 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
Junior Harding is maybe the most intriguing junior college arm in the county, at least among the names I'm familiar with.
He's small. That's why he's in junior college, rather than toiling away in the minor leagues for some team or pitching for a major college program. (He was committed to South Carolina, but I don't think it was a great situation scholarship-wise.) That being said, the arm is big, and that's what I care about.
As a starter, Harding can get it up to 97. He's probably not a starter. Not because he's small; I think pitcher height is one of the most ridiculously overrated pieces of information in all of baseball. No, he's probably a reliever long term because the delivery will probably force it. (He actually looks a little like Tyler Clippard recast as a power pitcher to me.) And also the fact he's really only got the one pitch that works day in and day out for him, at least right now.
He'll spin a curveball, and occasionally he'll spin a good one. It's a below-average pitch for now, though, because he's wildly inconsistent with it. Maybe it improves with professional coaching, maybe it doesn't. If he could develop a real weapon to complement the heat, he could close. If not, the ceiling is a little lower, but a guy who can bring it the way Harding can still has a shot at success.
Personally, I'd like to see the team who takes Harding try to develop him as a fastball/changeup guy, rather than just going for the traditional breaking ball. The way he extends down the mound, coming after the hitter as aggressively as any pitcher you're likely to see, non-Jordan Walden jumpman division, I feel like a changeup or a splitter would be just devastating.
I like this kid. He's only eighteen, and he can throw in the high 90s. It's not a great delivery, but there's a dominant bullpen force just sitting there, waiting for the right team to come along and snatch it up and polish it and make it shine.
Austin Byler, 1B, Nevada
6'3" 225 lbs, Bats Left, Throws Right
Austin Byler offers a package of big-time power, plus defense at first base (he converted from third, where he was just adequate, and shows the kind of footwork at first you might expect from that sort of player), and what should be an extremely reasonable price tag, the result of him returning to school for his senior season after being drafted last year.
There's some definite swing and miss to Byler's game. There's also a whole bunch of walks, and a whole bunch of home runs. If only there were some easy term to describe a player who does those three things a lot... He's a below-average runner, but not a Molina-grade issue. His arm was the biggest limiting factor for him at third base, as it just doesn't have the kind of oomph you want from a player at the hot corner, but it's fine if he's playing over at first base or in left field.
The bottom line on Austin Byler is this: you're betting on the power, and betting on it because it's a reasonable bet to place with a big potential payoff. I don't see him hitting for a high average, as he's always going to be a lower-contact guy, but the on-base skills and power are very real. I'd absolutely bet on him in rounds 5-7 for a modest bonus, spread a little of the extra money to whatever high-upside risk I can snag in the eleventh round, and hope that Byler can slug his way up the ladder. I like him.
Bryan Hudson, LHP, Alton HS (IL)
6'7" 205 lbs, Bats Left, Throws Left
And so we come to the last player of the day; I would like to write up a few more, but this is already two hours late and nearly 4000 words long. There's just never enough time to get it all done, you know?
I'm finishing on a high note, though. A very high note, in fact.
What we have here is a local kid, right across the river from St. Louis, with talent that equals nearly any high school pitcher in the nation. He's not quite as polished as many of the others, which isn't surprising considering he's Adam Wainwright-sized and still learning to live in his body, but Bryan Hudson's ceiling is fantastic. I actually managed to get to an Alton game not too long ago to scout him in person; I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you when I say I wasn't the only person there with a notebook who was clearly focused on the tall drink of water taking the mound in a jersey that already features a pair of birds as the logo.
Hudson puts me in mind of Henry Owens, the tall left-hander with the monster curveball I wanted the Cardinals to take in 2011 over Kolten Wong. Owens is in Triple A for the Red Sox right now, striking out the world but struggling to fully harness his stuff and limit his walk rate. The situation being what it is, I can honestly say I'm glad the Cardinals went the way they did, even if I still believe Owens will get it figured out and pitch in the big leagues before long.
But back to Hudson. He has a monster curveball of his own; it is both the defining feature of his arsenal right now and the sort of pitch that draws audible 'ooohhhh's from the crowd when he breaks off a good one. The combination of spin, shape, and sheer verticality thanks to the release point granted by a 6'7" frame makes the pitch practically unhittable to high schoolers.
The fastball is firm enough for Hudson right now, but not anything to write home about. I sat near a scout with a radar gun, and he averaged around 87-88 most of the outing. He bumped 91 a couple times, and did a nice job of working the pitch down, with that steep angle we hear so much about with Michael Wacha. In fact, everything is an angle with Hudson; there are advantages to a frame like his, and being able to create steeper angles than your average pitchers is one of the big ones.
I saw a pitch that looked like a changeup, but I wouldn't swear to it. It was slow and dropped a bit, but it wasn't a fully-formed thing. And there was only the one. That's okay, though; Hudson doesn't need a changeup right now. He can learn it once he needs it. I really like his delivery, also, although having yet to find any high-speed video I reserve the right to change my mind down the road. For now, though, I love what I saw from him.
At this moment in time, Bryan Hudson is a top, umm, seven high school pitcher in this class for me. There are certainly bigger arms in terms of velocity, and guys more mature physically, and guys more polished. But I saw a very good delivery, a body that can handle half another person's worth of weight, an arm that's already quick enough to spin a curveball that was downright beautiful at times, a steep angle coming into the plate that could create some real problems for hitters at any level, and a kid that looked for all the world, to my eye, like a future star. Reach a tad in the second round, take him in the third, steal him in the fourth. Actually, considering he's a high schooler, you'd probably need to grab him in the third to make sure the pick is protected. Speaking of, don't the Cardinals have an extra third round pick this year? Interesting...
Okay, folks. One more proper preview to go, and then wrap it all up in a bow next Sunday. Then on Monday, the actual draft. Not much longer now.