Last night, as I was waiting for the ballgame to be on, I found myself flipping through the channels, looking for something worth watching. I happened upon The Monuments Men, and having not seen it for awhile (and also very much enjoying the film), I decided to watch it.
It was during a particular scene in the film that I had a sudden revelation. The scene in question is the one in which Bill Murray's character is showering, when suddenly over the PA in the military camp comes the sound of a recording his family back home in the States made for him. Christmas wishes from his daughter and grandchildren, followed by the singing of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", echoing throughout the camp, while Murray himself stops showering, dresses in pajamas, and sits staring off into the middle distance with tears in his eyes. If you've seen the film, you no doubt recall the scene; it's beautifully done, and I generally tear up every time I watch it, largely because Christmas music tends to do that to me in general.
Now, I love Bill Murray. Love. To the point it broke my heart, more than a little, to hear him speak ill of the Cardinals and their fans last year, knowing I was among the number the Illinois native and lifelong Cubs fan considers the enemy. It was a little like having a favourite uncle inform you that not only are you adopted, but also he's always hated you, and he's glad you fell and broke your leg on a wet kitchen floor at his house when you were ten, and he laughed hysterically at your childish screams. All the same, I simply adore Bill Murray, particularly his slightly odd late-career renaissance. Scrooged remains one of my favourite holiday films, Ghostbusters may still be the movie I learned much of my curse word vocabulary from as a small child, and, if pressed, I could probably give you a decent chunk of the, "It's in the hole!", monologue from Caddyshack by memory, but it's really everything since Rushmore that has made me love Murray to the extent I do. Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers, and all the various Wes Anderson films Murray has appeared in hold much more interest and value for me than even the best of his earlier comedic performances.
What I'm saying is, I really enjoy Bill Murray's work, and especially that portion of it which has come in the past fifteen years or so, and has largely been of a dramatic, or at least non-comedic, nature. So I don't mean this next statement as an insult, whatsoever.
Isn't it odd, though, that Murray has essentially had this entire second career based entirely on an ability to stare off into nothingness and look very dejected? Every movie, there's a scene where he just stares into the distance while music plays. It's his go-to move, like the way most wrestlers have certain set moves they always try to get into a match. You're working with Bill Murray, you'd better have written a scene where he can stare into the camera and look sad with music over it.
I don't have any other point to this. It just seemed strange to me when I realised last night that Bill Murray's second act has essentially been predicated on an ability to quietly look sad. Seems weird.
So on Sunday, I wrote up three high school hitters; today, I'm going for three college hitters. Further ado shall not be tolerated here; ergo, I move quickly onward to the players themselves.
Peter Alonso, 1B, University of Florida
6'2", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
In previous editions of the draft preview, I've already covered two bat-first college players almost guaranteed to end up at first base in professional baseball; Zack Collins, the ultra-patient slugging catcher from Miami whose advanced bat and middling defense will likely move him out from behind the dish once a team gets him into their system and starts looking for production, and Will Craig, the Wake Forest contact-and-power beast whose third base play is fine for the ACC, but will not be at the next level.
Those two represent my favourite first-base bets in the draft this year, and two of the best bets I can think of in terms of offensive production, period. Well, the bronze medal winner for 2016 first base draftees is Peter Alonso, overshadowed by the sheer depth of draftable talent on his own Florida Gators' club this year, as well as some of the other, more heralded sluggers in this year's class. That does not, however, mean he deserves to be less-heralded, and in fact the slightly odd dearth of hype surrounding Alonso could very well make him a huge bargain for some team if he remains an underappreciated asset.
To be sure, the numbers for Alonso are striking: a .347/.452/.600 line should be enough to ensure plenty of attention, but Florida is so absolutely loaded this year that a first baseman who isn't a star can easily get lost in the shuffle. Nonetheless, Alonso's bat is one of the real driving factors in the Gators' success, and it's relatively easy to project him up the ladder. He's a very strong contact hitter, featuring some of the best bat-to-ball skills of any college player coming out, and against SEC competition as well. The setup to his swing is somewhat unorthodox, as he drops his hands noticeably going into his load, which could create concerns about his ability to hit elite velocity down the road, I would think, but to date it hasn't been an issue. Of the two sluggers I referenced above, Alonso's approach and profile more closely resemble that of Will Craig, as he lacks the patience of Zack Collins, but so long as the contact ability remains elite that's just fine.
The power is more of a doubles variety, with occasional over-the-fence pop than a true slugging profile, which is likely also a somewhat limiting factor in terms of Alonso's hype. Dingers grab attention, and while Alonso can certainly put a charge into a ball on occasion, he's not as likely to lose one as some other hitters. There are signs that could be changing this spring, as he has nine homers in just over 180 plate appearances. He also shows solid pop to the opposite field as well as to his pull side, which is always a very encouraging trait in a young hitter. His strikeout to walk ratio this season is right around 1:1, with the heavy majority of his plate appearances ending with a ball in play.
Beyond his hitting prowess, Alonso doesn't offer a ton. That sounds dismissive, but it's true. He lacks the footspeed to either cover big chunks of ground in the field or really make an impact on the basepaths offensively. He's limited to first base, and while he should be just fine at the position, it's still far down at the tail end of the defensive spectrum.
The lack of value past the bat is, of course, a real limiting factor on what Alonso's ultimate upside is; the bat is, however, good enough he could be a strong contributor all the same. The offensive profile reminds me very much of Allen Craig, and that's a really good player. I don't think Alonso has the ceiling to be a first round pick, and even the sandwich round feels a little rich. Once you get into the second round, though, Alonso's name starts to look much more attractive. He's the third best of his player type on my personal board, and there's a significant gap between the top two guys and him, but all the same, he could represent a solid value for some team on day two of the draft.
via 2080 Baseball:
Anfernee Grier, OF, Auburn University
6'0", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Well, to begin with, the last time the Cardinals drafted a player from Phenix City, Alabama (and no, that's not a misspelling), they won the 2011 World Series. That's a Colby Rasmus joke, folks; Anfernee Grier is, in fact, from the same two in Alabama as the Redbirds' former frustrating enigma.
The similarities don't necessarily stop there, either; Grier, like Rasmus, is a natural center fielder, and may actually have even better raw speed than the fleet-footed young Rasmus. Also like Rasmus, Grier has had his share of contact issues in the past. And, like Rasmus, those contact issues look like a real potential limiter on just how good Grier may be.
What's different is that Grier is less of a slugger than Rasmus; his game is based upon all-around value, contributing in all phases of the game. Up until this season, he had hit only two home runs in his college career, which wasn't particularly surprising if you saw the way he looked coming out of high school. The athleticism was already apparent enough back then for teams to be interested in him, but he was rail-thin and completely lacked much in the way of functional strength. Now, in his third year of college, Grier is beginning to finally fill out, and the power is beginning to come. That two home runs in two years has become eight home runs just this spring, proof of both his maturing physicality and an improved approach to the craft of hitting.
Grier has gone from nearly a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio his sophomore season to just under a 2:1 ratio this year, which still isn't idea for a college player, but is a big, big improvement all the same. After being thrown out seven times trying to steal bases last year, while successfully swiping just nine, he's also improved to 16 steals in nineteen attempts this season. So better plate discipline -- or at least patience, which I know isn't exactly the same thing -- better success on the bases, and more over the fence power. What we have here is a player making a noticeable jump, and there will likely be some accompanying helium heading into the draft.
Whether or not that gets Grier into first-round consideration I don't know; personally, I think the contact issues are still enough of a concern (he's lowered his K rate slightly this year, but it's still over 20%), that I would be hesitant to pick him that high. He reminds me a bit of where Harrison Bader was when the Cardinals drafted him last year, with a little better speed, and in a draft this deep I just don't know if I want to reach for that in the first. Still, Grier is a dynamic talent, with across the board potential, and the strides he's made this year point toward real aptitude and desire for improvement.
Grier isn't a big guy, and probably doesn't have room for a ton more bulk. He looks heavier than the listed 170 to me now, probably closer to 180 or so, but I just don't see him adding much more. It's a relatively slight frame, and so will probably limit how much stronger he can get. That being said, he shows very good bat speed with the college bats, so I'm not all that worried he needs to get a ton stronger.
The good version of Grier is an all-around athlete in center field, without possessing elite power; think of something like Aaron Rowand in his prime. There could be a little more upside in the tank for Grier, also; the arrow is at least pointing up, and by all accounts he's a true baseball rat. If I'm pressed for a comp, though, I'm still sticking with something in that Rowand neighbourhood.
via Jesse Burkhart:
Bryan Reynolds, OF, Vanderbilt
6'2", 205 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Simply put, Bryan Reynolds can hit. He's of that class of college position player who, regardless of what he offers in the field (and Reynolds' defensive tools are solid, but nothing earth-shattering), or on the bases (Reynolds is a smart, savvy basestealer, but doesn't have blazing speed), is going to be drafted for the bat and its proximity to finished productdom.
Essentially, think of what Kolten Wong was coming out of college. What Kolten Wong was to short, athletic second basemen, Bryan Reynolds is to rangy corner outfielders. Okay, technically Reynolds is a center fielder right now at Vandy, but I don't believe that's likely to continue in pro ball. On the upside, he isn't a liability in center at the college level, at least, so I think there's a chance he could end up a positive contributor defensively in left down the road. (Almost certainly left; his arm is not very good, and probably precludes him from playing right.)
At the plate, it's an advanced approach for Reynolds, with above-average patience and an ability to control the strike zone exceedingly well. He'll strike out some, but not excessively, and it's as much a function of always working deep counts as any real contact issues. He's a similar hitter from both sides of the plate, with a little more power from the left. He's going to be a high on-base player, and this year the power has begun to show up more than in the past. Of course, that's not unusual; all three players I've covered here today are in a similar situation, and it seems to mostly be a simple function of physical maturity, and a maturing of baseball skills at the same time. Guys going from 20 to 21 just usually hit for more power.
If you want a comp for Reynolds, his overall profile and nature actually put me in mind of Stephen Piscotty. He has a similarly cerebral feel to his game, with excellent on-base skills and discipline. Reynolds does have two advantages: one, he's a switch-hitter, and two, his power appears to already be coming, rather than waiting for a further adjustment in pro ball.
As much of a solid pipeline of outfield talent as the Cardinals have, it nonetheless wouldn't surprise me at all if they were to draft Reynolds. He feels very much like a Cardinal hitter, cut from that Piscotty/Carpenter mold of the moderate power intelligent grinder, and I already mentioned his polish, a la Kolten Wong, which the organisation seems to value. He feels a bit like James Ramsey, as well, minus the bonus of being a senior draftee. Depending on how things go the rest of the spring, Reynolds could actually jump up into the first half of the first round, making this a purely academic discussion, but as things stand now I feel like he is a good fit for somewhere around the late teens or early 20s draft slots, putting him right near the Cards' wheelhouse. And I wouldn't hate it if he was the guy. He wouldn't be my first choice, but he also wouldn't be my last.