This 0-2 to start the season bullshit needs to stop, and right now.
This club is not nearly good enough to play sloppy baseball, and so far this season that's exactly what we've seen. Bad defense, questionable baserunning, terrible bunt calls, terrible approaches at the plate by many of our boys in red (as evinced by both huge strikeout totals and a complete lack of success with men on base), and then some more bad defense thrown on top. I won't throw too much shade on the decision by the manager to leave Michael Wacha in too long last night; I thought it was a mistake to not have a shorter leash, but I also understand it's game two of 162, and there are reasons to perhaps take a slightly different tack early in the season, to try and figure out what you have as well as attempting to avoid the complete exhaustion of the bullpen we saw in 2015. Not saying I agree with the approach, but there are arguments in which I can at least acknowledge some potential validity.
And saying that, I can also acknowledge the fact a two-game losing streak is not a thing to be horribly concerned about; there will be at least a few occasions this season that the Cardinals will lose two games in a row. Of that, I am very nearly certain. And it won't be a huge deal. There's just something about having a '0' in the win column that heightens whatever feelings you might have about a club -- at least, on the negative side -- and so right now things feel really rotten.
More than anything, though, it's the simple fact that what we've seen from the club so far, unfortunately, plays pretty perfectly into most of the concerns which have been expressed in both these electronic pages and elsewhere. We've seen all three of the Cards' primary middle infielders play poor defense so far; Aledmys Diaz made a couple really nice plays, and one very costly error, Kolten Wong has been shaky, and that play Jedd Gyorko failed to make at the end of the game is one that simply has to be made by a major league shortstop. It's also very similar to one Diaz did make earlier in the game, so perhaps that's a point in the Cuban's favour, but the turning-a-double-play-into-no-outs-at-all Ryan Theriot special he pulled in the fifth probably brings him right back to zero defensively on the night.
Frustrating, to say the least, and I'll say it again: this Cardinal team could be good. But they're not so good, so dominant in any way, that they can play sloppy, ugly baseball and expect a juggernaut offense to pick up the slack and pound the opposition into the ground. Nor can the pitching be expected to be utterly perfect. This is a team that will have to do the little things well, and be well managed, if they're going to turn this low-ceiling, high floor roster into a playoff berth. And so far, through the admittedly miniscule sample size of two games, we've seen anything but those things done well.
At least Seung-Hwan Oh has been fun to watch, right?
I'm also grumpy this morning because my favourite wrestling podcast, Cheap Heat, is coming to an end, or at least in its current format. David Shoemaker, who started off writing for Deadspin as The Masked Man and penning the Dead Wrestler of the Week columns, has been mostly in limbo at ESPN since Grantland was shuttered, and now he's going to rejoin Bill Simmons at Simmons' new The Ringer venture. Which is good news for fans of Shoemaker's writing, as he'll actually be doing some of it now, but it also means Cheap Heat, part of the ESPN podcast family, is losing its heart and soul. And I'm very unhappy about it.
So I'm feeling extra cranky this morning, about losing part of my weekly podcast listening schedule, as well as my baseball team playing like shit out of the gate, and looking like the worst version of our nightmares. Even Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha have looked bad.
But, in spite of my bad mood at being 0-2 and losing out on wrestling talk, I still have a job to do here this morning, and I intend to do it. That job is telling you about some draft prospects of one sort or another, and this particular week's batch consists of three high school pitchers, all with absolutely astounding stuff. So without further ado, the actual post.
Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas High School (KS)
6'4", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Riley Pint has the biggest pure velocity of any high school pitcher in the draft this year, and one of the biggest arms of any pitching prospect period. What Tyler Kolek was to the 2014 class, Pint is to 2016. He hasn't quite popped the 100 and 101 readings Kolek managed his draft spring, but Pint has already been clocked as high as 98 at certain showcase events, and there is hope for more consistent velocity -- though certainly not much greater peak, one would think -- as he matures and fills out a currently very skinny frame.
As it stands now, that 98 reading is a bit of an anomaly, as Pint sits more comfortably at 94-96, but even that, for a high school senior, is a little bit ridiculous. The fastball isn't just fast, either; it's sneaky fast as well, coming as it does from a delivery that looks to contain far less effort than one might expect from a young man throwing mid- to upper-90s gas. It's important to keep in mind he's facing high school competition, even at these showcase events which have become such a big deal the last handful of years, but the level to which he has been able to overwhelm top prospects of his age group with simple, pure velocity is a sight to behold.
Beyond the velocity, Pint shows the makings of a dominant breaking ball, thought it's currently a hard slurve in the low 80s that a team drafting him will likely try to tighten up. I could see the pitch going either way, but with the current trends in baseball being what they are, I have a feeling clubs will lean toward tightening the pitch into a slider, rather than a slower curve. Personally, I would prefer a curve, but I'm also willing to admit a slider would probably play better in relief, if Pint's career ultimately ended up going that way.
There's a little bit of a changeup here, but it's very much of the high school power pitcher variety, and has a long way to go, much longer than his other two offerings. If it comes around, though, the pitch could easily be average, and probably play a little better simply because of the fact it's working off upper 90s, which always seems to help.
Here's my problem with Pint: I said he throws hard, and the delivery doesn't necessarily look like it should generate the kind of velocity it does. Well, when a pitcher is throwing extremely hard and it looks effortless, chances are that power has to be coming from somewhere, and it's often due to a very delayed arm action. Pint has that delay in spades, and while it's probably responsible for his huge velocity and current prospect status, I also would be very worried about his long-term durability.
Honestly, if I were drafting Pint, I would probably immediately convert him to relief, have him scrap the change, tighten up the breaking ball into a slider, and watch the saves roll in. The problem is, he's going to go at a point in the first round -- probably top ten, maybe top five -- where coming up with a major league closer, even a very good one, is seen as a failure. He's too good a prospect to move him to the role I think would best suit him.
All that being said, there's a chance the stuff is simply so good Pint explodes onto the scene and rockets up the ladder fast enough that he's worth every bit the draft slot he's going to occupy before arm problems potentially begin to effect his career. This really is an ungodly talent, with ungodly stuff. He's committed to LSU, but I think there's very, very little chance he ever makes it to campus.
via Skillshow Videos:
Austin Bergner, RHP, Windermere Prep (FL)
6'4", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Way back at the beginning of this draft preview series, when discussing the various ins and outs of the demographics of this particular draft class, I mentioned that I feel like there are half a dozen potential closers who could be found in the first round this year, but not a ton of pitchers I would feel safe projecting as durable, rotation anchor type starters. Austin Bergner is a perfect example of exactly what I was talking about, even among the high school pitching prospects this year, which is normally not where you're looking for the future relievers of the world.
Bergner, very similar to Riley Pint, is a tall, lanky right-hander with a big fastball and mechanical concerns. Unlike Pint, though, the most notable thing about Bergner's heater may not be the raw velocity of the pitch, but rather the tremendous amount of movement he manages to get on the pitch. Working from a three-quarter arm slot, Bergner can run the fastball up to 96 at times, but lives closer to 91-92 -- still quite impressive for a kid in high school -- but it's the wicked run and sink on the ball, thanks to that lower arm slot, that really puts him in his own class. There's a little bit of Jake Peavy in Bergner's fastball, to be honest. And I mean the young Jake Peavy, in case you were wondering.
Bergner, even more than Riley Pint, can live off the fastball, simply because hitters cannot square it up. The Cardinals' supplemental round pick last year, Jake Woodford, was similarly able to cruise just throwing the fastball because of opposing batters just beating it weakly into the ground. Woodford recorded absolutely insane GB:FB totals in his first taste of pro ball last season, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Berner have a similar level of success -- and a similar kind of success, specifically, once he gets into pro ball.
In terms of complementary pitches, Bergner throws a curveball and changeup, with the curve significantly ahead at the moment. In fact, the curve is one of the better breakers to be found amongst the high-end high school pitching prospects of this class, with exceptional spin and a short, but hard, vertical break. The change shows promise, but (stop me if you've heard this one), is not very well developed yet.
The big concerns about Bergner are all going to center around his delivery, which is unorthodox, to say the least. He's an extreme short-armer, with virtually no arm swing at all, and while his timing doesn't appear to be terrible, he leads with his elbow to a degree I find worrying, and, well, I'll be honest: the whole thing just looks unnatural. I'm not sure how a person generates plus velocity by seemingly just sort of pushing the ball from his ear, but Bergner does.
On the other hand, as concerning as the arm action might be, it also looks devastatingly hard to pick up, and the ball does that thing where it just suddenly appears out of nowhere, so I could see the nasty movement and extreme deception Bergner brings to the table making him very, very difficult to hit.
via what I believe is a Korean user account:
Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat High School (NJ)
6'6", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Of the three players covered here, Jason Groome is, far and away, the closest thing to a finished product. Which isn't to say he's actually a finished product, mind you; no seventeen year old is a finished product, no matter how precocious the talent may appear. But with Groome, you're talking about a level of polish that's unusual in a high school pitching prospect, as well as premium stuff. Riley Pint is the Tyler Kolek of this year's draft; Jason Groome is the Brady Aiken.
Groome is already physically mature in a way neither Pint nor Bergner are; at 6'6" and 220 he still has room to fill out, certainly, but this is a man's build, rather than that of a lanky beanpole teenager. He throws hard, as well, sitting comfortably around 92 and running the fastball up to 95 or even 96 at times. He throws across his body, landing closed in that curious way only lefties seem to be able to get away with, and it seems to contribute a little extra movement to his heater.
Perhaps the best pitch in Groome's arsenal, already, is a wicked curveball, of the sweeping, two-plane variety, that he's capable of locating both in and out of the zone, with a level of feel that belies his years. He can vary the speed and power of the pitch, as well. It's a true plus pitch already that could very well grade out even better down the road; I might put a 70 future on the curve, it's that good.
The changeup is underdeveloped, certainly, but it's much further along that the typical high schooler's change of pace, as precocious as everything else about Groome. He barely needs it, but has broken it out in showcases pretty consistently anyhow, just to prove he can. He does tend to telegraph the pitch pretty often with a slowing of the arm, to my eye, but that's the sort of thing that improves with time and repetition. The movement and speed differential are harder to develop, and Groome already shows some of both with the pitch.
There is something of a young Andy Pettitte in watching Groome work, from the cross-body delivery to the big, imposing frame, to the equally big and imposing nose-to-toes curveball.
Of course, this scouting report just wouldn't be complete without some mechanical concern, and trust me: it's there. Landing closed and throwing against the body isn't my favourite thing, but I can live with it if the performance is good enough. The timing of the arm is also not particularly good with Groome, either, though, and altogether I find the delivery fairly high risk. The thing is, he could very well be good enough to make that risk worth living with, though I still always lean away from pitchers I see as risky. There's a chance, depending on how things go and how the stuff looks this spring, that Jason Groome could go 1-1, providing another parallel to Brady Aiken, and if he does, he'll probably prove to be worth the gamble. There is elite stuff here, uncommon polish, and a feel for the craft that very, very few pitchers of Groome's youth ever display. In that way, he's also similar to a New Jersey high school pitching prospect drafted nearly a decade ago now: Rick Porcello, who was also the closest thing to a finished product one could find amongst high schoolers in his draft class. Let's hope Groome is allowed more development time; I'll never believe Porcello's ceiling wasn't ultimately effected by his rushed rise through the minors.
Another one in the books, everybody. And here's to hoping we can see a W added to the ledger of this young season tonight in the Pittsburgh closer. It's been a rough start to the season, and at the very least it would be nice to feel a little bit better about this already-banged up, narrative-saddled group of question marks that is the 2016 Cardinals.