I'm really glad there's nothing big going on in the world of Cardinal baseball right now. Otherwise, I might be forced to forgo my previously-scheduled draft coverage in order to write about some big, potentially franchise-altering thing hanging over the collective heads of the Cardinal organisation and its fanbase.
Seriously, though, I'm not going to write about the current scandal embroiling the Cardinals' front office. We have lots of far more qualified people around these parts to talk about the legal ramifications of whatever hacking may or may not have taken place; lacking any sort of legal expertise myself beyond those related to trying to keep myself out of federal pound you in the ass prison I feel woefully unqualified to speak to the matter.
Ergo, I will be steering clear of all that frankly terrifying territory, and stick with what I know: scouting reports for young players. In this particular case, I will be analysing a handful of Cardinals' draft picks. Each of the players I'm covering here have some interesting quality to them I feel compelled to cover; which isn't to say the rest of the Cards' draft class isn't interesting, only that these players jump out to me as being immediately interesting in one way or another. Hopefully this will offer those of you in the readership a brief respite from the flood of negative emotions we're all likely feeling right now as we contemplate what sort of unpleasant scenario may play out in the very near future as the team we love is forced to face the music for whatever wrongdoing took place.
My one plea to the feds and to baseball: just please don't take away a bunch of draft picks. I'll have nothing to write about, you see. And unless you want it on your heads when they find my body hanging from a rafter in a rented room with, "RB WAS HERE," carved into the wood, my life sadly cut short by an inability to adjust to life without a first round draft pick to cover, you won't take this away from me.
Well, now that the darkness is out of the way, let's talk about a few players of note, shall we?
Round 1, Pick 23 -- Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice HS
5'11" 200 lbs, Bats Left, Throws Left
So, what do you think of this pick?
Well, to tell you the truth, I'm intrigued, if still a tad disappointed. Disappointed because I believe one of the very best pitching talents in the entire draft fell far beyond where he had any reasonable excuse to, and the Cardinals passed on him (and by 'him' I mean Walker Buehler), to take Mr. Plummer. Intrigued because, depending on how much weight you want to put on showcase results, Nick Plummer may have one of the higher upside bats in the entire draft this year.
It starts with bat speed for Plummer, as he attacks the ball with an extremely short, quick stroke that displays little wasted motion. I'm not a huge fan of his hand load; he loads at the exact same time as he starts his leg kick, making me think he could generate more power with a tweak or two, but the ability to generate immediate speed with the bat is undeniable. He also hits with a completely closed front foot, which isn't my favourite thing either. It's interesting to note there are at least two things I quite dislike about his swing while also very much admiring the overall potential of the bat. The old saw about watching two runners, running at exactly the same speed, and trying to pick between them comes to mind. The answer, of course, is to pick the one with worse form, with the idea there's more improvement that could be made there. Nick Plummer has real room for improvement, in spite of possessing a rare combination of contact ability and at least line drive pop presently.
Plummer shows advanced offensive tools in general, with an ability to hit from gap to gap, rather than falling into a pull-happy mindset, and on the showcase circuit appeared to have better than expected discipline and patience at the plate, particularly considering Michigan high school baseball has a weird rule of starting everyone off with a 1-1 count, which is just...I don't really even know. The fact Plummer showed any real plate approach at all while playing such an odd brand of baseball is remarkably encouraging, but also forced teams to lean more heavily on showcase looks from 2014 to make their decision on him.
Plummer is a fine athlete, with above-average speed and the range to hopefully profile in center field. His arm is, frankly, terrible, so you're either looking at a Jon Jay-style throwing experience in center or a left field profile. It's concerning that he's physically maxed out already at eighteen and has questions about the position, but the offensive upside could be such that the position really doesn't matter all that much.
Best Player Comp: Somebody mentioned Shin-Soo Choo the night he was drafted, and I don't hate that. I'm not sure Plummer has quite that level of plate discipline, but he might actually have slightly better contact skills, also. So it's not a perfect comp. But, the bodies are very similar, as are the overall offensive tools and likely corner outfield profiles, though Choo of course has the advantage of an all-time great throwing arm. I'm hoping Plummer can avoid being as much of a defensive liability as Choo has been for much of his career.
Overall, I like the pick of Plummer, but I don't love it. There's plenty of offensive upside here, but I worry it's a left field profile, the power isn't a guarantee to develop, and I still feel the Cardinals passed on a better bet to take him.
Round 2, Pick 66 -- Bryce Denton, 3B/OF, Ravenwood HS (TN)
6'1" 191 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
So, what do you think of this pick?
To be honest, I'm a big fan of this pick. I'm extremely unhappy about another of the players the Cardinals passed on to make this pick, but I'm still very excited about Bryce Denton as a future Redbird.
I do want to make a note that when Ben, Eric, and myself were recording the draft preview podcast a couple weeks ago, Bryce Denton's name was mentioned in passing, in relation to Trey Cabbage, another high school third baseman I was very high on, and both Eric and I agreed we would much rather have Cabbage over Denton. I would like to clarify the point, as while what I said was true -- I would prefer to have Trey Cabbage, as I think his offensive upside is right on par with Denton's, and I think he plays a high-quality third base long term as well -- I was actually mistaken in the vehemence with which I made the point.
I had Denton switched in my head with Tyler Nevin, the son of former big leaguer Phil Nevin, and yet another third base prospect. Nevin is a relatively sure bet to stay at third base, but I think overall the tools are extremely underwhelming and I see him as a very mediocre player. Denton, on the other hand, is a much riskier bet in terms of his ability to play third base, but the tools, particularly on the offensive side, are much louder than those of Nevin. Again, it's entirely my fault for confusing players due to having too many names floating around my head and tossing off opinions casually in a podcast, and I wanted to correct the impression I probably gave off by mistake.
The thing is this: Bryce Denton has one of the fastest bats, and some of the biggest raw power, of any player in this draft class. The pure just raw power, not game power but raw, I might throw a 65 on if you catch him on a good day. He's capable of hitting the ball out to any field when he's swinging well and actually staying balanced, but that's not yet a thing he consistently does.
There's definitely some swing and miss in Denton's game, though the fact his bat speed is so naturally good gives me hope he can improve that. This is a player who does not have to cheat to hit good velocity, which is a huge part of the battle won already. Better balance in the swing, and a better understanding of hitting in general, could take him to a much higher, and potentially very exciting, level offensively. Whether those things come is a question we'll just to wait for the answer to, though.
Beyond the bat, Denton runs well, probably a 55 at his best, though there's a good chance he slows down a bit as he fills out further. He's got a strong arm, as well, capable of hitting 90 off the mound, but there are real questions about whether his hands are good enough to play the infield. If he could stick at third base, the bat could make him an absolute monster. If he has to move to an outfield corner, the bat is still good enough for him to potentially be an above-average regular, but it's much less a sure thing.
Best Player Comp: The body, bat speed, and power potential could end up looking something like Justin Upton long term, if it all comes together for Denton. At that point, it wouldn't matter what position he played, but there's at least a chance he might stick on the infield, at which point you're looking at a potential All-Star caliber player. There are players I probably would have taken over Denton at this spot, in the situation the Cardinals were in, but I also can't argue I don't love the offensive upside they grabbed with a second round pick.
via Bryce Denton:
By the way, the fact this kid appears to have very much made his own highlight videos is almost impossibly charming. The fact he includes 'two-strike approach' and 'consistent routine' as things worthy of highlight status makes me want to wrap him in a totally not-creepy hug.
Round 3, Pick 100 -- Harrison Bader, OF, University of Florida
6'0" 195 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
So, what do you think of this pick?
I love this pick, honestly, and I'm not sure there were too many players I would have rather had here, at least realistically. Bader offers one of the most well-rounded games of any outfielder available in the draft outside of perhaps Andrew Benintendi, and could develop into a premium bat at a premium position.
Bader played in the corners at Florida, but he runs well enough (an easy 55 on the 20-80 scale), that he might be able to handle center field. At the very least, it's the sort of idea you try in the minors and let the player dictate when he can't play the tougher position.
The bat speed and patience at the plate are both big pluses, and Bader's 30 extra-base hits in just 280 plate appearances (including 15 home runs), this season at Florida shows what kind of power potential he brings to the table. It was a big step forward for him in 2015 over what he had done in the past, which could certainly lead to some concerns, given the new, more slugging-friendly balls in play in the NCAA this year, but just watching Bader swing the bat is enough to see the raw power is for real. He hits with a very level swing, with just the slightest bit of an uppercut, that I wouldn't change one iota if given the chance. His hands are extraordinarily quick, and he's not afraid to hit the ball the other way. The one thing I very much dislike about his swing is his in-game approach with his feet. In batting practice, he hits from a widespread stance, with a short stride and great balance, while in games he hits with a strange, complicated longer stride that leads him to commit too early and, thus, end up very vulnerable to offspeed stuff, I believe. I would immediately have him ditch the overly complicated timing mechanism and hit from the same wide stance he employs in batting practice all the time; his balance is far better that way.
Bader will strike out some, particularly when he's working a deep count, but the overall plate approach is very good. He might or might not be everyone's idea of a true center fielder, but I believe he's up to the task of playing center as well as the Cardinals' current first option out there, and their second as well. He's no Peter Bourjos, mind you, but the other two? I think so.
Best Player Comp: Something like Matt Kemp, perhaps, although Bader has shown more patience at the plate in college than what Kemp is known for. Still, that's college, and my gut feeling is that Bader's plate discipline numbers will not be quite so good in pro ball. But I'm also, I should point out, picturing the version of Matt Kemp that was a capable center fielder, rather than the oddly unathletic heap he seems to have very quickly morphed into. Actually, now that I think of it, a right-handed Jay Bruce might be a better idea of the kind of player Bader could turn into, as Kemp has shown a consistent ability over much of his career to post fairly ludicrous BABIP numbers; a skill I am unwilling to ascribe to anyone so early on in their professional career as Bader. Bruce is also a bit more patient, which I think is maybe a slightly better reflection of the type of approach at the plate Bader possesses.
Round 4, Pick 131 -- Paul DeJong, 3B/C/OF, Illinois State
6'1" 195 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
So, what do you think about this pick?
This is another pick I very much like, and a player I wish I had gotten around to writing up in a players of interest post before the draft. Alas, after looking at him as a potential cheap college senior sign early in the spring, DeJong ultimately just escaped my attention, or at least my memory.
There are two things DeJong brings to the table that you have to like as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. One is power potential (stop me if you've heard this one before); the other is positional flexibility. It's likely leg issues have put the kibosh on his career as a catcher, but this is a player still capable of strapping on the gear in an emergency, as well as playing both infield and outfield corner positions. He's spent some time at second base, as well, and there's some thought he might be tried there in the minors, at least until he shows he can't do it.
There's also the fact this plus power potential and versatility comes in the form of a college senior, meaning there are savings to be had with this pick. I'm very, very pleased with the Cardinals nabbing DeJong in the fourth round; I really wish it looked more likely they would be able to reallocate some of those cost savings to another player later in the draft, which unfortunately looks a little dicey.
Best Player Comp: He's a college senior, who plays the corners, has plus power, and a fairly unorthodox background for a pro prospect. (DeJong is forgoing med school, for now, to pursue professional baseball.) He's David Freese. Even the swing looks similar; watch the replay of the swing from the side at ~0:38. Unfortunately, I don't believe Paul DeJong has eyes so blue you could get lost in them like the waves of the lake your vacation cabin sits upon the banks of, but I suppose one can't have everything.
If it turns out DeJong can handle second base at a decent level, there could be a bit of a Ben Zobrist thing going on, as well, though it's always so unfair to compare a player to the absolute most ideal version of what he's trying to become.
Ryan Helsley, RHP, Northeastern State University (OK)
6'2" 205 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
So, what do you think of this pick?
Ryan Helsley is an intriguing pick for the Cardinals simply because he throws hard. That's all. He just...throws hard. He also struck out a tremendous number of hitters this season, his sophomore year at Division II Northeastern State, with a K/9 IP of nearly 13.50. For reference, Josh Staumont, the Azusa Pacific smoke artist who was getting first round buzz at various times this spring in spite of control problems that are downright terrifying, struck out 14.29 per 9, compared to Helsley's 13.43.
I've never seen this kid pitch personally, and I don't have anyone close to the program I've established a relationship with, but I was able to get in touch with one coach of a team in the same conference, who had the following to say about Helsley, on condition I wouldn't put his name on the scouting report:
"....fastball is hard, and up usually, and hitters don't catch up to it much."
"...big curve sometimes, but it'll hang like laundry about half the time he throws it."
"....gets way down the mound, sort of like Roy Oswalt. Real aggressive overall."
I thank my anonymous benefactor for the delightfully colourful scouting report on Helsley, including the bon mot 'hanging like laundry', which I plan on stealing from now on.
Round 8, Pick 251 -- Ian Oxnevad, LHP, Shorewood HS (WA)
6'4" 205 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Left
So, what do you think of this pick?
I'm somewhat lukewarm on this one, honestly. Oxnevad was a bit of a pop-up player this spring, as he started pushing his fastball up into the low-90s, from it's previous 86-89 home, and holding it deeper into starts. There's still some projection left in his frame, with the hope he'll consolidate his velocity gains and perhaps even pull a bit more as he fills in further.
Even without more velocity, though, there's enough stuff with Oxnevad to be intrigued by, as he features a fairly polished three pitch mix of the fastball, a surprisingly decent changeup for a high school pitcher, and his best pitch, a nasty low-80s slider he can throw for strikes or down out of the zone and shows the kind of hard, two-plane break that points toward plenty of swings and misses in the future.
The reason I'm a bit lukewarm on Oxnevad is I'm not convinced the current stuff is any better than a bullpen arm, with the slider good enough for LOOGY duty, but the overall package kind of underwhelming, and I'm not sure there's a ton more velocity coming. More importantly, if the Cardinals wanted to take a chance on a risky pick in the eighth round, there were players I think would have been better choices.
Still, Oxnevad is left-handed, has shown feel for three pitches already, and has solid-average velocity for a lefty. If the velocity bumps up a tick or two higher, you could be talking about a very intriguing pitching prospect.
Round 10, Pick 311 -- Kep Brown, OF, Wando HS (SC)
6'5" 210 lbs, Bats Right, Throws Right
So, what do you think of this pick?
I don't want to talk about this pick, or about Kep Brown in general. I covered him already, and I think it was a mistake to take him here. Or at least a miscalculation. And for those who would argue that, "It's just a tenth round pick, who cares?" I'm sorry, but that's frankly a stupid argument. You don't simply throw away value because it's not a huge value. You maximise every aspect you can, even if it's only a marginal gain. Maybe taking a shot in the tenth round on Brown was worth it, but I feel like when everyone with even a passing familiarity with the draft and the player immediately says, "There's no way that guy signs, right?" after you make your pick, and then the guy doesn't sign, just like everyone expected, that means you done fucked up. Maybe not in a huge way, but you fucked up all the same. Frustrating.
Round 11, Pick 341 -- Paul (Pablo) Salazar, RHP, Lutheran South Academy (TX)
6'1" 195 lbs, Bats Switch, Throws Right
So, what do you think of this pick?
I'm intrigued by Salazar, mostly because I had heard his name a couple times last year heading into showcase season, but as an infield prospect, a shortstop/third base type, to be exact. Then suddenly this spring he's up to 94-95 with the fastball, with a fairly smooth delivery, and showing some feel for both a breaking ball and a changeup. And then, poof! he's a pitching prospect.
I honestly didn't realise he had taken such a step forward as a pitcher, but being as how I'm always going on about how much I like athletes who pitch, I can't lie and say I'm not interested in Mr. Salazar. His story is much like Jack Flaherty's, the infielder-turned-pitching prospect the Cardinals took in the supplemental first round last year, only with a whole lot less hype.
I'm betting on the arm speed and the athletic ability with Salazar, and I very much like what I see from him.
Round 13, Pick 401 -- Craig Aikin, OF, Oklahoma
Aikin is undersized at 5'10" and 175 lbs, and lacks the functional strength to have a ton of offensive upside, but he's got defensive tools to spare, including 60 or even 65 speed and a strong throwing arm. He should hit for average, but that lack of power is going to hurt him at the next level. Picture a left-handed Shane Robinson.
Round 17, Pick 521 -- Chris Chinea, C/1B, LSU
I really like this pick. There's plus power potential here, the product of above-average bat speed and a body that very much looks like a catcher or first baseman. Sort of...Dan Uggla-y, in terms of build. But Chinea, I believe, actually has the defensive chops to play catcher in professional ball, in spite of being shuttled around the field at LSU. He rarely walks, but also rarely strikes out, showing a similar approach to Alex Bregman, which seems to be sort of a trait of LSU hitters. If Chinea could stick at catcher, his power potential could make him a special prospect.
via E Tyler Bullock:
Round 21, Pick 641 -- Cadyn Grenier, SS, Bishop Gorman HS (NV)
It's a real shame Cadyn Grenier is almost certainly unsignable here, because he would be a very intriguing addition to the Cardinals' young crop of middle infield talent. Grenier isn't big, at 5'11" and 180 lbs, but he's extremely athletic, in that compact, twitchy way of, say, a Kolten Wong, rather than the long, lean, elegance of some other shortstop prospects.
There's not much pop in the bat, but Grenier has excellent contact ability and plus speed, as well as all the tools defensively to stay at shortstop. He certainly wasn't one of my top middle infield prospects in this draft class, but I think he should remain at short as he heads up the ladder, which is certainly a real something. Again, though, there's very little chance he signs here, and will instead head off to Oregon State for three years of seasoning.
Round 28, Pick 851 -- Mitchell Traver, RHP, TCU
When I wrote up the Cards' competitive round pick, Jake Woodford, someone in the comments suggested Mitchell Boggs as a comp for the sinker/slider repertoire and big frame of Woodford. It's not a bad comp, but there's a pitcher the Boggs comparison actually works better for in the Cards' class, and it's Mitchell Traver. The big righty has already had both thoracic outlet and Tommy John surgery, so, you know, but the stuff is there for him to pitch at the next level. He sits 91-94 with his fastball, actually a hard sinker, and throws a really nasty slider to back it up. The complete lack of a track record of health, and the potential bump into the mid-90s with shorter stints, makes me think he's a bullpen candidate right off the top, and could definitely have a career resembling that of Boggs, who it's easy to forget was a very solid reliever for a fairly brief period of time. Traver could also go back to TCU, but given his injury history, if I were him I would try to get paid and on the path to success as quickly as possible.
Round 30, Pick 911 -- Matt Vierling, OF/RHP, CBC HS (MO)
Matt Vierling is an athletic specimen from CBC High School right here in St. Louis, and is committed to Notre Dame, where he will both hit and pitch. It's really up in the air right now where he's better, also, although for my money I like him in the field better than on the mound.
It's a huge, powerful frame for Vierling, at 6'4" and 200+, but he's also still an above-average runner, perhaps even plus. He can run it up to 93 on the mound, with some feel for a slider, and that big arm serves him well playing right field. He could probably handle center, but is built somewhat like Jason Heyward, and so has that prejudice against the very tall and large in center field.
There's tremendous power potential here as well; Vierling can put on a show both in batting practice and in games, with a remarkably quick right-handed stroke that should serve him well going to all fields in the future.
Again, this is not a player who is signable at this point in the draft. And it's frustrating, too, because getting a kid from less than 20 miles away from Busch Stadium with absolutely elite physical tools would be an enormous thing. But, he's headed off to Indiana and the Irish, and will likely be a top two round pick in three years, if I had to make a guess. Maybe even better.
Round 34, Pick 1031 -- Parker Kelly, RHP, Westview HS (OR)
The Cardinals drafted Carson's little brother. That's Carson Kelly, the current top catching prospect (pretty much by default, sadly), in the Cardinals' system. Which isn't to say them taking Parker Kelly was strictly a favour pick; there is some definite talent to be had here. But, it's the sort of talent that would likely be best served on a college campus, and that's exactly where Kelly is headed to.
At his best, Parker can get his fastball into the upper 80s, with some nasty armside run and sink, and then back the pitch up with a developing slider. That run and sink comes courtesy of a low arm slot and one of the worst arm actions you're ever going to see, sadly; he's strictly a relief prospect for me, albeit one I would be interested in taking a chance on because of the quality of movement on the pitches.
via Baseball Factory:
Overall, I'm pleased with the haul of talent the Cardinals came away with; I think there were some definite miscalculations and missteps along the way, though. The more I sit with the pick of Jake Woodford in the competitive balance round the more it feels like a missed opportunity to take a much better player there. I still think the Cards should have taken Walker Buehler when he fell in their laps at 23, even if they really, really like Nick Plummer. And the Kep Brown pick sticks in my craw far more than it should, I suppose, but it's still a missed opportunity, and a chunk of the bonus pool just lost for no real good reason, which might very well cost them another pick they could have signed had they gone for an affordable sign in the tenth. Oh, well.
I'll be back Sunday with my annual Shadow Draft post, in which I will make my own selections in place of the Cardinals; I'm actually not going to have to deviate too very badly from the dream board I put together right before the draft itself, the way things worked out. But, all the same, I will do that as I always do to wrap up my 2015 draft coverage. I hope you've all enjoyed it.
See you Sunday.