Editor's Note: Red Baron has compiled this year's top prospects in three parts, which can be found by clicking on Part I, Part II, and Part III. The post below is a portion of those massive posts, focusing in on a single prospect at a time, which should make a search of any one prospect easier to find. All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.
#16: Paul DeJong, 3B/INF
Opening Day 2016 Age: 22
2015 Level: Rookie-level Johnson City, Low A Peoria
Relevant Numbers: .200 ISO, 9 HRs, 30 XBHs in 292 PAs, 9.9% BB rate, 13 SB
It's been discussed here at great length over the past few years: the almost stunning lack of power bats in the Cardinals' minor league system. Perhaps it's mere coincidence the Redbirds appeared to take steps to rectify that lack in the 2015 draft. Perhaps the best players on the Cards' board at various points just happened to line up with potentially solving that issue.
Or, perhaps not.
Whatever the case, the Cardinals selected several power bats in the early going of this past summer's draft, both from the high school ranks and college. Bryce Denton, discussed just a few moments ago, was one of the more notable examples of the premium the Redbirds seemed to place on players with bat speed and power potential. Harrison Bader, still to be covered here, fell into that same demographic. And Paul DeJong, a senior sign out of Illinois State, brings to the table both qualities in spades.
If I'm being honest, I actually think DeJong is probably better than this spot on the list, but going through the names intellectually, rather than relying entirely on feel, I can't put him above the other names above here. Still, DeJong was one of my favourite picks in the draft this year, as an example of an overlooked talent who could have gone much higher but may very well turn out to be an enormous bargain.
DeJong's best quality at this point is his plus raw power, which shows up in games as an ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field with authority. Opposite-field power is a huge predictor of success for me, and it's one of the things DeJong most excels at. He keeps his hands back beautifully, then explodes into the ball, going gap-to-gap as well as any player in the Cardinal system.
That ability to wait on a given pitch translates into an overall mature approach, as well, as DeJong controls the strike zone well for a player fresh out of school. The pop in the bat, combined with a willingness to wait for the pitch he wants, rather than chasing, should allow him to produce consistent extra-base power, even aside from his ability to go over the wall. He's just an average runner, but showed savvy on the bases in his first taste of pro ball, swiping thirteen bags and being thrown out just four times. That thing I said awhile ago, about the Cardinals having tons of terrible basestealers and baserunners in general? That doesn't apply to DeJong.
A catcher in college, DeJong won't catch in pro ball due to leg injuries in the past that have likely made the position impossible for him. He can play second, third, and first, as well as the outfield, but third appears his most likely long-term home. He has plus arm strength suitable for catching, and that translates well to third. The versatility is encouraging, but there isn't one position yet that DeJong truly excels at. The hope is that continued repetition at one spot or another should improve his defense; playing mostly behind the plate up until now he's still quite raw elsewhere in the field.
There is a chance, if DeJong can find a defensive home, that he could fly through the system. He's older as a prospect, being that he was drafted as a college senior, and so the clock isn't on his side as it is for some other players. Still, the approach at the plate, the power potential, and the overall intelligence of his game are all huge pluses, and I find myself wondering how it is DeJong fell as far as he did this past June. Not that I'm complaining, of course; I think there's a decent chance the Cardinals managed to grab themselves a premium position prospect at the end of the fourth round, which would be fairly remarkable.
I'll be watching closely to see where the organisation assigns DeJong to begin 2016; a return to Peoria would seem the most likely, but a challenge promotion to Palm Beach wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.
Player Comp: the opposite-field power and premium position both remind me of David Freese; the injury history and older draft age do as well.