On Sunday, I covered the players drafted by the Cardinals in rounds six through fifteen, even if I was able to offer relatively little information on some of them.
Well, it certainly doesn't become easier to scout players the deeper you get into the draft, and so in looking at the rest of the draft, I'm going to hit names I find interesting, either because I knew the player heading into the draft and thought there was something intriguing about them, or because once I did some research I found the player to have an intriguing skillset. To be honest, though, there are a whole lot of players the Cardinals drafted with the 25 picks from round 16-40 that I just know nothing about, or haven't found a particularly interesting set of tools and skills in what little I have been able to find. And so, we're going to hit just a handful of names.
In terms of generalities, however, I will say this: it was surprising to me to see how hard the Cards this year under Randy Flores seemed to lean into the small-school demographic. Jucos, Division II schools, possibly a transmission repair academy or two. That confidence in scraping the ranks of schools you don't usually expect to see talent coming from in droves is one of the more meaningful legacies of the Jeff Luhnow era of the Cards' front office, as it was during his tenure that the organisation really focused in on trying to figure out how to normalise data from all of these disparate levels of competition. Matt Adams is probably the best-known example of the club's focus on small school players paying off (Slippery Rock is nobody's idea of a baseball hotbed), but there are others. However, at no point in Jeff Luhnow's run with the organisation can I recall them going so hard and heavy into the small-school market in the draft.
I would love to say I had some inkling that this was the product of the analytics department's expertise, combined with a new emphasis on video scouting of physical tools that has come in with Flores, but I really have no idea. I don't know why there seemed to be such an emphasis on these players from off the beaten path, but there seem to be a ton of them this time around.
It is extra interesting, to me, to note that of the small-school players the Cards selected, there are a ton of hitters whose main tools seem to be a notably excellent feel for hitting and strike-zone command. There's some power potential here and there, certainly, but if ever you could look at a group of hitters and say with some confidence, "That team is looking for some Matts Carpenter," this might be the group.
Anyhow, on to some names of interest.
Rd. 17, #526: Matt Ellis, RHP, UC Riverside
Over the past decade, we've seen the Cardinals have a significant amount of luck with position player to pitcher conversion projects. Jason Motte was a catcher who couldn't hit before he became an upper-90s gas-throwing closer. David Carpenter was a third baseman (who also couldn't hit), that the Redbirds converted to the mound and then traded for Pedro Feliz. (Ugh.) Trevor Rosenthal was a juco shortstop who occasionally worked in short relief, who a Cardinal scout just happened to witness hitting 97 on the gun. Sam Tuivailala converted from shortstop to the mound.
Matt Ellis is cut from a similar cloth, only he's already made the transition in college, rather than waiting for the pro ranks. Actually, come to think of it, he's similar also to the last pitcher the Cards drafted out of UC Riverside, a speedy center fielder with a huge arm who converted to short relief named Joe Kelly. Ellis is a former catcher who moved to the mound due to big-time arm strength (and little-time bat strength), and quickly started demonstrating fastball velocity that creeps into the mid-90s. He's very raw as a pitcher still, having only made the conversion full-time last year (Kelly, by comparison, was primarily a reliever by the end of his freshman year, if I remember correctly), but the arm speed alone makes him a very intriguing pitcher here. It's a relief-only profile, I think, but in round seventeen, getting an athlete with a fastball that already hits 94-95 and might have a little more in the tank as he focuses strictly on pitching from here on is a pretty good bet, I think.
Rd. 18, #556: Austin Sexton, RHP, Mississippi State
The Cards likely went down to Mississippi to look at a late-model Dakota Hudson, but they decided to pick up an Austin Sexton while they were there, too. Sexton pitched in the same rotation as the Redbirds' 34th overall pick this year, but personally, I like him better as a reliever. He works with just an average fastball that tops out about 90, but he has excellent command around the strike zone, and a potentially dominating changeup. I would have him drop his fringy (and maybe not even quite that good), slider, and focus on doing his best Keith Foulke impression. This year at MSU Sexton's K:BB ratio was almost 4:1; were he to work in short stints and throw only his fastball and best offspeed offering, I have a feeling that number could be even better.
Rd. 19, #586: Daniel Castano, LHP, Baylor
Castano is a big lefty with not so big stuff. Think of the college version of Lance Lynn, but as a lefthander.
Crafty is occasionally employed as a pejorative in describing pitchers with poor stuff, but in the case of Castano it both applies and serves as an honest compliment. He gets by with a fastball that struggles to be even average, but displays very good feel for a pair of offspeed offerings. His best might be his changeup, which he sells really well in terms of arm speed and has just enough movement to stay off the barrel of the bat. He also throws a slider that's nothing to sneeze at, and could potentially be good enough to push him toward LOOGY duty if need be down the road.
Castano is not dissimilar to Tim Cooney, if you want a comp. He's bigger than Cooney physically, but it's a similar three-pitch control-and-feel approach. Unfortunately, also like Cooney, Castano has spent a lot of time on the trainer's table the last couple years, which is probably the biggest reason he lasted this long.
Rd. 21, #646: Cade Cabbiness, OF, Bixby HS (OK)
Cabbiness is almost certainly not going to sign with the Cardinals, unfortunately, and has said as much publicly already. Which is a shame, because he's an extremely athletic two-sport star (football is his other game of choice), from Oklahoma, and the Cardinals have done pretty well for themselves with those guys in the past. (Remember, Matt Holliday was a better quarterback prospect than third base prospect at one point in time.)
As befitting a two-sport athlete, Cabbiness displays the sort of broad base of athletic tools you expect to see from that sort of player, with speed and power both extant already. The downside is the standard downside with most two-sport guys, in that while the tools are pretty loud, the skills are well behind at this point. Specifically, Cabbiness isn't much of a hitter yet, although he does show good bat speed from a slightly ugly batting setup. This is a bet on a high-upside athlete, in the mold of the Cards' bet on Bryan Dobzanski, the high school wrestling star and sinkerballer, only a hitter instead of a pitcher. As I said, though, Cabbiness is almost certainly heading to a juco in Oklahoma, where he'll try to boost his stock before next June.
Rd. 22, #676: Mick Fennell, OF, California University of Pennsylvania
To answer your first question, no. I had no idea there was such a place as the California University of Pennsylvania before I heard the name Mick Fennell. He's actually a player I had looked at a little before the draft, but didn't feel like I had enough concrete stuff to write him up. And honestly, I still don't, but I'm not doing full scouting reports here.
That thing I said a little while ago, about the Cardinals seemingly leaning into position players with plus feel for the craft of hitting? It applies extremely well to Fennell, who boasts well above-average bat control as his best tool. He runs well, also, enough to stay in center field and do some occasional mischief on the bases. He isn't big, though (listed at 5'10" and 190), and probably never has a whole lot of power. Surprising bat speed, though, although admittedly he's swinging a non-wood bat:
via Maria Fennell-Lachesky:
Rd. 23, #706: J.D. Crowe, OF, Francis Marion University
Crowe has had a somewhat tough road to being drafted. He came out of high school way back in 2011, and headed off to Auburn as a fairly well thought of third base prospect. Things didn't work out so well for Crowe at Auburn. as he struggled to get on the field and dealt with some off-field issues along the way. He eventually transferred to Francis Marion, where he got on the field much more often, but still had some problems away from the ballpark. He was suspended during a postseason tournament in 2014 after getting arrested and charged following what appeared to be a garden-variety bar fight. So, you know, not the smoothest of rides.
Along the way, though, Crowe has never stopped getting on base. He's a remarkably patient, disciplined hitter, and shows occasional power on contact, thought perhaps not as much as you would expect from a guy who goes 6'0" and 215 solid pounds. He's strong, but his swing is very unorthodox and appears to somewhat limit his power potential to me. Still, he's a grinder, and he's going to get on base. You're betting on the bat, but at this point in the draft it's a tiny bet, and he very much fits that Marp-esque sort of template the Cards seem to covet at the moment. I'm not sure where he plays long term; perhaps a utility role fits his skillset best. He's not a plus defender anywhere, but he's appeared at catcher, third base, first base, and both outfield corners during his years at FMU, so you at least have an experienced approach to moving around the diamond, you would hope.
Rd. 25, #736: Spencer Trayner, RHP, UNC
For the second time in this draft, the Cardinals revisited a school whose ace they had already taken to select a second pitcher. First it was Mississippi State, now it's North Carolina, where the Cardinals went back to Zac Gallen's school to nab themselves a relief arm in the person of Spencer Trayner. Trayner was a two-way prospect coming out of high school (I actually remember liking him a little as a middle infielder back in 2013, but he was pretty low on my priority list at the time.), but has moved entirely to the pitching side at UNC. Probably a good idea, as he has a good enough arm he could potentially be a major-league contributor out of the bullpen at some point in the relatively near future.
Trayner has an extremely simply delivery, working exclusively from the stretch and having very little extraneous motion in his, um, motion. He also drops down occasionally to a near-sidearm slot, particularly when he's throwing a slider. He's mostly a two-pitch pitcher, with a firm fastball in the 90-92 range and a breaking ball that's more cutter when he stays at three-quarters with the delivery, and acts a little more like a slider when he's working from a little lower arm slot. It's kind of a frisbee slider, and it hangs occasionally, but when he's working fastball/cutter from a low three-quarters angle he can be death on righthanded hitters. Again, not a bad gamble at all for the 25th round.
Crap. This is way late, and running very long. Tell you what; I'm going to call this here, and try to just get the rest of my thoughts, both general and specific, into a post this Sunday. Until then, everybody.