My friends, the draft, it is over. I am heartbroken, as I always am, when the season of scouting reports and mock drafts and wishcasting comes to an end, both because we are at a point of finality, of an infinitely limiting definteness, and also because I always like the version of the draft that took place in my head (the one where several other teams just gave me picks because I'm so handsome and charming), better than the one my favoured team ultimately took part in.
But, then again, the draft isn't really over; not at all. There's still discussion and analysis to be done, player grades to be perused. And then, of course, draftees simply become minor leaguers, so there is a continuity to the hope for the future that, I suppose, never really ends, only changes form.
I had planned on writing a monumental piece this morning, including reflections on what appears to be a course correction/adjustment in the club's drafting philosophy, followed by a number of scouting reports on various players taken by the Cardinals. However, I was unable to get started on the piece the last few days, having gotten weirdly busy, seemingly without any real cause, and so have decided that, by necessity, I'm going to split the draft review into three parts, rather than the two I had originally planned. Today, general thoughts. Wednesday. the scouting reports section. And then one week hence, next Sunday to be exact, I'll do my annual shadow draft, in which I make the picks the Cardinals should have made, if they weren't so sadly inferior next to my own intellectual titanism in the field of baseball, um, stuff.
Anyone who has followed the Cardinals on even just a casual basis over the past several years is probably fairly familiar with the way the club drafts. The Redbirds have made a habit of going heavy on pitching, especially of the college variety. The default setting for the club when it comes to drafting and development over the past several years seems to have been when in doubt, double down on an arm. There's been a heavy focus on performance and stats, also; the club has gone in for players like Marco Gonzales, Michael Wacha, and players of that ilk over pure upside bets. The results have mostly been very good, as well, although it becomes apparent rather quickly looking around the farm system that the push for arms has not been entirely without cost, considering the real lack of positional prospects to be found. Of course, the philosophy is always couched in the notion of best player available, and if the question were put to the scouting department this year, I'm sure the answer would be the same.
However, whether acknowledged or not, there seemed to be a different philosophy at work in this year's draft. Given the fact this year's draft class was seen to be largely devoid of high-ceiling offensive talent, the Cardinals seemed intent on going against the grain and trying to select as much of exactly that thing as possible. Nowhere was the emphasis on offensive talent more apparent than with the club's first pick, at number 23 overall, when the Cardinals passed on Walker Buehler, the Vanderbilt righthander with the wide base of pitches and advanced feel for pitching, in favour of Nick Plummer, a high school outfielder whose best tool is, by far, his bat. The Cards have made a habit over the past few years of drafting a ton of college righthanders, and one of the very best college righthanders available this year fell to them, far lower than his talent dictated he should have still been on the board. And they went another direction entirely.
In fact, the club went much heavier on high schoolers than in most recent drafts; a club known for taking college performers and scraping stats to find players likely to succeed seemingly abandoned the numbers for tooled-up prep kids. How much of that is a function of the club having a new scouting director in Chris Correa is very much open to interpretation. Personally, I doubt the Correa factor is the main reason for the change of course; it seems more likely the organisation as a whole looked around, saw where the weaknesses in the system were, and decided to push in that direction.
Interestingly enough, though, there also seemed to be a change in the type of hitter the club was looking for this year. Over the past several years, the Cardinals have leaned toward a hitting profile that looks a lot like a Jon Jay or Matt Carpenter type of player: plus contact skills, polished plate approach, and a somewhat limited power profile. The spectrum is a little wider than that, of course; Matt Adams is a very different hitter from Stephen Piscotty, but in other ways you can see how the club would like both of them, particularly in terms of contact ability.
This year, however, the focus seemed to turn toward upside; specifically, power potential and bat speed. Nick Plummer, Bryce Denton, Paul DeJong, and Harrison Bader all have one thing in common: all four of them are notable for being able to generate elite bat speed. Plummer is the only one of the four not to have huge power potential, largely due to him not being as physical a player in general, but even he shows the potential for above-average pop, if not plus.
With that power potential also comes more swing and miss than what we've become used to seeing the Cardinals focus on in recent years; Harrison Bader and Stephen Piscotty (the Stanford version, specifically), are very different hitters. Both are very intriguing hitters, but they get there in very different ways. Bader is closer to Randal Grichuk -- though with a better approach than the hacktastic Mr. Grich -- than he is Jon Jay or the minor league version of Matt Carpenter.
Plummer is a very strong hitter overall, with plus contact skills, plus bat speed, and at least above-average pop, if not a tick better than that even. Denton, Bader, DeJong, and tenth-round surprise Kep Brown are all notable for big-time bat speed, plus power, and having at least a fair amount of swing and miss in their games. Later round picks like Chris Chinea, Gio Brusa, and Matt Vierling all have questions about contact, as well. For an organisation which has skewed so heavily toward polish and contact in their hitters in recent years, this class looks noticeably different.
It probably wouldn't be wise to try and build a new profile for the type of player the Cardinals covet based on just one year's worth of data, but the seemingly obvious focus on bat speed is, in my opinion, a very notable development, even if nothing else.
For now, though, it's too soon to call these things new trends for the Cards' scouting and drafting arm; this class could very well be a one-year aberration. However, it seemed deliberate, and considered. This was a very different draft haul for the Cardinals, both in terms of where the players came from -- i.e. more high school players early than we're used to seeing from the club -- and in terms of skillset, where power and athleticism seemed to rule the day more than the polished, cerebral contact hitters the club has favoured in the past.
I'll have more to say about this when I write up the players themselves. For now, though, I'll just say this: the Cardinals have built themselves up a war chest of pitching depth that, even now, with all of the injuries and problems the club has had at the big league level this year, is still the envy of much of the game. Perhaps the organisation simply felt there was enough pitching depth built in throughout the farm that it was they ventured out and tried to cultivate some offensive upside. Or perhaps this was just a one-year anomaly. We really won't know until the Chris Correa-led scouting department has a couple more drafts under its belt. I have to say, though, this was one of the more surprising draft classes I can recall, if not the most.