The last regular draft preview of the year, folks.
Yep, that's right; if you've silently raged at the amateur draft content over the past, what, six months now?, then fear not: your suffering will soon be over. You'll have to put up with a little bit more, of course; I've got a final wrap coming on Sunday before the draft kicks off Monday night, and then there will be a fair amount of coverage of the picks themselves around this place. But, still, you're nearly out of the woods in terms of having to read my ridiculously long-winded ramblings about amateur baseball players every single week. Soon, you'll be able to listen to my ridiculously long-winded ramblings about various other things every single week. And, bad news for you, I don't always have an idea for a post, so it could just be 2000 words of me basically stalling until I think of something. And then ending it when I realise I can't, but I've gone on long enough you probably stopped reading quite a ways back. So be careful what you wish for, is the moral of this story.
Also, it will be time for me to start back up with the draft stuff by Thanksgiving, especially if it's a slow offseason for the Cardinals. So, you know.
Anyway, here we are. Last batch of the year, and I've got five, count 'em, five guys to cover. Since there are a couple extra, I'm going to try and keep them on the shorter side, although I am aware of my own rather dubious record when I make that statement. I just needed to try and get a couple more guys in, including one big-time popup kid I really liked when I checked him out way back at the very beginning of this process but, at the time, was more of a persons of interest kind of player. His stock has risen so much in the interim, however, that I felt I really couldn't justify putting him in the big grab bag I did on Sunday or that sort of thing.
What I have today is five hitters, of various pedigrees and backgrounds and stations on the developmental curve. We all know, of course, baseball teams don't draft for need. They can't, really; the nature of the MLB draft makes it so that the needs you have today will not be the needs of the tomorrow you'll find by the time today's picks are tomorrow's prospects, not to mention the uncertainty from today to tomorrow and where those prospects will be. The simple time and distance of draft picks from the big leagues makes the idea of drafting for need at least relatively ridiculous. That being said, we know the Cardinals need hitters. So maybe I'm writing up a few more hitters than usual this year just in case, you know?
Let's jump right in, starting with a player who has likely risen well above the Cardinals' station, but should really be discussed all the same.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, University of Arkansas
5'10", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Andrew Benintendi is, by far, the highest-profile draft-eligible sophomore in the draft this year. Given the season he's had, he's a near-lock at this point to be a top ten pick. Given the leverage he has because of the options he has, chances are he's going to paid.
Benintendi didn't come into the spring with the kind of hype he currently enjoys; he was on the radar, but not in such a way teams were really paying a ton of attention. In fact, according to Kiley McDaniel on the FanGraphs podcast (hosted by the inimitable Carson Cistuli, and recently graced by the presence of our own Craig Edwards, whose episode you should listen to even if FG Audio isn't normally your thing), the fact Benintendi was, in fact, eligible for the draft this year as a sophomore came as a surprise to at least a fair number of teams. Now, that's perhaps understandable, as the age rules for when a player becomes eligible are quite byzantine (as in, I have no fucking clue how to tell if a guy is eligible or not), but when a player has the talent to go near the very top of the draft, you'd better believe teams are usually all over that shit. The fact they weren't with Mr. Benintendi is a testament to just how far he has come this spring, and how surprising his rise has been.
The tools for Benintendi are fairly loud. You could throw a 60 on the hit tool and the glove, and probably no one would argue. He might be a 65 runner. The arm is just okay, but more than enough for center field, which is absolutely his future home and gives him one of the highest floors of any player in this draft. The power plays a touch above average, though perhaps a bit short of true plus. He's not a batting-practice monster hitting moon shots to all parts of the park, but if you're looking for a college hitter who puts consistent pop on display every time out, Benintendi is your man. In other words, what we have here is a bona fide five tool player, and the kind of dynamic talent that should justify that top ten slot and big bonus check.
Now here's the thing: Andrew Benintendi does not look like what I just described. That 5'10" height is maybe a little generous. The 170 is probably about right. In other words, he's not a big dude. At all. If you're looking for a tool to bump him on, it would have to be the power; the NCAA changed the balls in college baseball this year, trying to juice offensive numbers a bit, and so there's reason to be a tad skeptical about the inflated slugging numbers some players put up this year. And you might, if you wanted to, look at Benintendi with that kind of skepticism. After all, someone made a comparison physically not long ago; that he's basically Adam Eaton-sized. And while Adam Eaton is a very nice player, the >10 career home runs he's hit while playing in two pretty extreme hitter's parks is pretty much how much power you expect.
Nonetheless, this is a guy going very, very high in the draft, and with good reason. He's probably going less for the ceiling -- which could be considerable -- than the floor, which is pulled up by his ability to play the most demanding outfield position at a very high level and superior bat control.
There are two players Benintendi really calls to mind for me. One is James Ramsey, the senior-sign outfielder the Cardinals took from Florida State a couple years back and then, sadly, traded away for Justin Masterson. Benintendi is faster, and really plays center field, rather than being a guy you can ask to handle center, but the offensive profile actually reminds me of Ramsey. He's a little smaller, also, but not that much; Ramsey was seen as undersized himself, until he hit for power in the minors and everybody realised he was more the guy his college numbers said he was, and less the Skip Schumaker clone many expected him to be based on stature alone.
The other guy is mostly a swing comp. Benintendi doesn't get the running start coming out of the box in the Japanese style, but there's something about his swing, the arrangement of his weight and transfer, that puts me in mind a bit of Ichiro. Maybe I'm crazy.
That's a lot of words about a player the Cardinals have no shot at drafting. I promise, I'll try to be more succinct from here on out.
Oh, and when I mentioned earlier there was a player here who belonged in the players of interest grab bag at the beginning of the spring, but now rates a full write-up? I actually wasn't talking about Benintendi, though he probably fits that descriptor as well. I meant the next guy on the list today.
Trey Cabbage, 3B, Grainger High School (TN)
6'3", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Trey Cabbage is a capital A Athlete, in the best sense of the word, and has one of the higher ceilings of any high school position player in this year's draft, in my ever so humble opinion.
Last year, Cabbage was skinny. This year, he's long and lean. Similar descriptors, I know, but the world of difference in between those two is the difference between a fringy mid-round guy who should probably go to college and a guy who should go in the top three rounds and could end up looking like a real bargain a couple years down the road.
He's just an average runner, but all the other tools are above average, and I could see going a little higher than that on the hit tool, which is, above all else, why I like Trey Cabbage so very much. He's got great balance in his swing from a widespread stance, but it's the hands that really make him stand out to me. He has fantastic hands, and generates excellent batspeed without undue effort. How much over-the-fence power he develops is yet to be seen, but this is a doubles machine sort of guy just waiting to happen.
There's a big arm to like here, too; more than enough to make all the plays at third base. He has the athleticism and quickness to play the position at a high level, also, though he's high school raw to be sure. He's athletic enough right now that he's played a fair amount of shortstop to this point, but going forward that's just not realistic, particularly once he starts to fill out further.
I like the swing with Cabbage when I looked at him way back at the beginning, but I hadn't yet seen him with another year of size and weight and strength on him; now I think he could be a monster down the road. This is a fairly weak draft for third basemen, and Cabbage might be my favourite. I like him better than the next player, in fact, despite not being nearly so highly acclaimed just yet. Which is understandable, considering the name on the back of the jersey.
via Jheremy Brown:
Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Concordia Lutheran High School (TX)
6'1", 210 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Ke'Bryan Hayes has two 'B's on his side going into this draft. One is Bloodlines. The other is Bat.
Hayes is the son of Charlie Hayes, the former Phillies third baseman who inherited the position from Mike Schmidt and promptly did not make the Philadelphia faithful forget about their hero on his way out the door. Hayes the elder was a solid enough player, with one really good year to his credit in Colorado, but always seemed to mostly be hanging around that level of fringiness (fringitude?), that can bring a long career playing for lots of teams, going wherever a need develops. Ultimately, Hayes was very mediocre, but had a longer career than a whole lot of guys with better tools. There's a chance his son could be better.
The best tool for Hayes the younger is hit bat, which certainly makes him of interest to me. He's unusually mature and polished for a high school hitter (perhaps not surprising, considering he's the progeny of a thirteen year major leaguer), and is both and comfortable with and skilled at going to the opposite field, a relatively rare skill for a player this young.
The power is probably just average, but that mature hitting approach gets him to more of it than you generally see in a high schooler; again, this is a player whose relatively modest ceiling is belied by his polish. Much like Andrew Benintendi, the five o' clock show you may not see with Hayes is easily made up for by the hard contact he's already making in games, while plenty of his peers are still trying to figure out how to shake what their respective mothers game them, so to speak.
Why do I say modest ceiling when referring to Hayes, you ask? It's because, for all the prowess at the plate I've admired so far, I just don't think he's all that great of an athlete. There's definitely some of his father in his thick build and big legs, not to mention his heavy feet. He's nimble enough right now to play a solid third base, but I have my doubts about his ability to stay there long term. If he does have to move the complete lack of foot speed would likely limit his outfield opportunities, relegating him to first base. And if that happens, then suddenly the bat that looks very intriguing has an entirely different set of expectations put on it; expectations I'm not sure Hayes is going to be able to live up to.
Hayes is easily the more advanced player, and probably the better hitter, out of he and Trey Cabbage right now. Again, having a major leaguer for a father does wonders for the level of coaching you get in Little League. But I think long term I would rather bet on the player I see contributing in multiple ways, across the board, rather than the guy I think will hit but has limited value beyond that and may have to move down into the defensive ghetto. Plus, Trey Cabbage has a funnier name, which bumps him up a grade in my book. "Cabbage" seems like it would funny across the back of a uniform.
via Baseball America:
Marquise Doherty, OF, Winnetonka High School (MO)
6'1", 205 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Marquise Doherty is, to put it simply, a toolshed.
He also presents an interesting dilemma for me, personally; Doherty is one of the top two-sport athletes in the country this year. Why does that present a dilemma for me? Because on the football field, Doherty is a dynamic running back talent who could do big things in college. He also just happens to be committed to my beloved Missouri Tigers to play both football and baseball. I want him drafted by the Cardinals. I also want to watch him gash SEC defenses for the next three years. Which one I want more is a little tough to unpack, though if you put a gun to my head I suppose I would always, always pick baseball straight down the line.
The easy comparison Doherty is getting a lot right now is Monte Harrison, who presented a similar situation last year as a two-sport monster from Missouri with D1 scholarships for both football and baseball. It's an easy comp to make, but really kind of misleading. Harrison was much taller and leaner; more a wide receiver's body than the compact bundle of muscle of Doherty. Harrison was a little faster, but couldn't really hit like at all. Doherty, on the other hand, is much more a baseball player right now than Harrison was at the same point in his development. And I like Doherty a little more because of it.
Doherty shows better at the plate than most two-sport guys; usually dual-sport stars have iffy at best idea of what to do with a bat in their hands; Bubba Starling is very much the norm for these kinds of athletes when it comes to hitting. Doherty, on the other hand, seems to have an awareness of the bat head and already is capable of utilising all fields pretty effectively. He's not a particularly disciplined hitter yet, not shocking given the modest experience level, but he covers the plate well and isn't a strike out machine by any stretch of the imagination.
Doherty can run, he can hit, and he's got power. That's a pretty good start, no? What he doesn't have right now is a position; this is the sort of guy who gets listed as 'OF' on the draft board but should really be more 'ATH' if we're being honest. Still, that's to be expected. There's time for him to learn to play the field. He has all the tools needed; he just needs coaching and repetition.
If you want a comp player, I've got one. Malik Collymore, the Canadian shortstop the Cards drafted two years back and has since shown off the raw athleticism and intriguing hittability that made him so interesting at draft time. Doherty and Collymore are very similar physically, have similar athletic profiles, and have similarly surprising hit tools for such generally raw players. I liked Collymore a whole lot when the Cardinals took him, and I like Doherty a whole lot now.
And, hey, if he doesn't end up signing with the team that drafts him, at least I can watch him on Saturday afternoons, right? Win-win for me.
John Aiello, SS/3B/2B, Germantown Academy (PA)
6'2", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
John Aiello very, very nearly made it into my favourites post way back in the beginning. In the end, he was narrowly edged out by Kyle Tucker, the high school outfielder with the Ted Williams swing, and Nick Shumpert, the shortstop son of a former big leaguer who still sits up near the very top of my own personal shortstop rankings, despite being ridiculously underrated by the industry as a whole to my eye. What kept Aiello off that particular list was largely positional doubt; let me explain.
John Aiello has played shortstop for his whole high school career. He's listed currently as a third baseman. He had Tommy John surgery this past fall.
Those three facts, taken together, make up what I see as the biggest question for Aiello; namely: how well can he throw? I honestly believe, if his arm was completely healthy, that he could remain at shortstop long term. He's big for the position, but there's a loose athleticism in his frame I think plays even at the most difficult position on the field, even if he looks a little awkward plying his trade out there. (There's a little Hunter Pence in John Aiello, if you want to know the truth, in that he looks just a little...off out there, in spite of being a remarkable athlete by pretty much any measure.) He moves well, with excellent feet just in general, and he has plus range for the position. The hands seem fine, too, although I freely admit that's the sort of thing that takes more looks than I've had to properly evaluate, so grains of salt, everyone.
But the arm is...troubling. Worrisome. Tommy John surgery for a high school-aged non-pitcher is not a common thing, and it leads to all sorts of concerns about Aiello's ability to throw effectively enough over the long haul to play on the left side of the infield. Third requires the longest throws, but short is maybe even tougher, with far more off-balance, out of position, and running throws required than at the hot corner, where the fielder at least usually has enough time to set his feet and get as much as possible behind the throw. Second would be an option if Aiello can't throw, though even there you have to be concerned about going up the middle or turning the double play. He doesn't run well enough to play center field, and if the arm is the issue then right is probably a no-go as well. Beyond that, only the far right side of the defensive spectrum remains. So a potential shortstop could pretty quickly become a potential left fielder or first baseman if there is a problem with his ability to throw.
Then again, if Aiello's arm is healthy and recovers to full strength, then he's back over on the left side of the spectrum, and the value suddenly takes a big jump. But, hey, I have my concerns.
At the plate, I really don't have any concerns. Aiello is a switch-hitter, which probably means he takes a little longer to develop fully as a hitter, but there's already a lot to like here. He can really swing it from both sides of the plate, with a little better contact from the right side but much more power and better balance overall from the left. The left-handed swing is going to be described as 'uphill' pretty much every time it's referred to, much in the same way Mark Texeira's always was, but it really works for Aiello. I see at least average power in the future, and a guy who already controls the strike zone reasonably well, especially considering the longer learning curve of switch hitters.
Aiello is in an interesting situation for the draft, as the arm surgery and his ensuing inability to play the field (he's served as the DH for his team this spring), has depressed his stock, and a seemingly strong commitment to Wake Forest might scare off some teams. This is the kind of player who could fall on draft day, far further than his talent would dictate, and is exactly the kind of player you take in the eleventh round if you can bank some extra money in the first ten to take a run at signing him to a big overslot bonus. In fact, if you were asking me to draw up my dream scenario of a draft haul for the Cardinals coming out of this thing, I can guarantee John Aiello is almost certainly my eleventh-round bonus baby.
via Henry Welch:
And that's that, everybody. The 2015 draft preview series is now at least somewhat over. I'll probably mention a couple extra names of interest with brief scouting talk in the wrapup on Sunday, but the mainline installments end here, finishing out with a player who nearly appeared at the very beginning.
Eric, Ben, and I are planning on recording a podcast previewing the draft this evening, so look forward to that if that is, in fact, the sort of thing you're inclined to look forward to. I'll see you all again on Sunday as we put this whole thing to bed and prepare to see what our beloved franchise wants to try and build around for the next decade on Monday night.
Goodbye, everybody. Have a really lovely Wednesday.