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2016 Draft Review No. 3: The Annual Shadow Returns

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In which the author offers his own selections in the most recent draft, attempting to illuminate the paths taken by rationalising those that were not.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, all. I hope you're having a really lovely Sunday morning so far; I woke up hungover, forced myself to go to the gym anyway, and am now feeling as if the dehydration incurred was worse than not getting up and doing anything. I expected to feel better, but instead I feel worse. Blech.

Anyhow, today I'm going to return to an annual tradition, and do my own version of a shadow draft. I'm sure you're all familiar with the concept of a shadow draft; the idea is to make picks in your team's slot, as if you were the GM of said major league team, and then follow your hypothetical crops of players to see how you did. As an exercise in trying to outsmart MLB clubs with huge scouting departments and analytics teams it's probably not especially useful; as an exercise in thinking through the picks, considering players and options as if you were really going through the process, I think it's actually quite useful.

So what I'm going to do is make picks in the same slots as where the Cards picked, give the players they took, the player I'm planning on taking in each spot, and kind of walking through my reasoning and thinking behind said picks. I'm not going to do the thing I've done in past years where I go over my previous shadow draft crops; the posts were simply getting too long, and there's an exponential kind of effect going on the longer I write these, as well. I'll come back and revisit my previous shadow drafts either as part of a Sunday post -- I'm trying to cover the minors on Sundays, and trying to determine what went right or wrong in my own reasoning as compared to the Cardinals' seems instructive -- or perhaps in the offseason, when there isn't anything going on that lends itself to a properly topical post.

I'll also be trying to keep a reasonable draft budget in mind; i.e. if I take a player I think will require a big overslot bonus I will attempt to find a way to balance that out. Maybe there's no need for that nod to verisimilitude, but I think it forces at least a modicum of strategic thinking. Again, if the point of all this is to better understand what goes into drafting a player, and how that should perhaps affect analysis of picks either beforehand or after, then keeping to something resembling an actual bonus pool would seem to be an important consideration.

With all that in mind, I'm going to go through the first eleven rounds, as the rounds which really matter in terms of bonuses, and also the one round where you can take a shot if you think you have a little extra wiggle room. I'm sticking to the actual order players went in; if I pick a different player from the Cardinals, I'm assuming that player is off the board for the next pick. Chaos theory and all that is plenty fun, but it seem disingenuous to argue the draft would turn out markedly different just to perhaps serve one's own board.

Round One, Pick #23

Cardinals Pick: Delvin Perez, SS, Puerto Rico

My Pick: Delvin Perez, SS, Puerto Rico

It's probably not as interesting an exercise when I agree with the pick the big club made, but I can't really go against selecting what was easily the top talent on the board at 23. Based on talent alone, Perez was one of the, if not the, highest upside players in the entire prep class. A couple of the outfielders who went earlier are more polished offensively, but the offensive upside of Perez, coupled with what could be plus defense at the toughest position on the diamond, could put him in a category pretty much by himself.

All that being said, I admit I'm not 100% sold on this pick. I think I made it pretty clear coming into the draft this year I was most hoping to see the Cardinals snag a big-time college bat; unfortunately, the players who fit that profile were already gone by this point. Even Matt Thaiss, who I liked well enough to pick 33, but probably not 23, went in the teens. I feel like my backup school just rejected my application. The complete lack of a bat here, and a player I thought the Cardinals had no shot at, forces me to make this pick. There's a part of me that wants to go in a different direction even so, though; I could easily see myself going for Cody Sedlock, since he was probably my favourite pitcher in the whole draft, or a player like Carter Kieboom, whose offensive future I have better confidence in that Perez.

In the end, though, Delvin Perez, questions and all, could be a franchise player. Getting one of those at pick 23, regardless of the circumstances, is very, very tough to pass up.

Round One, Pick 33

Cardinals' Pick: Dylan Carlson, 1B/OF, Elk Grove HS (CA)

My Pick: Bryan Reynolds, OF, Vanderbilt

This pick puts me in a very difficult position. I like Dylan Carlson. A lot, in fact. And I would love to have Dylan Carlson in my hypothetical system, to watch right along with the real farm system. Here's my problem, though: is it possible to feel a player is both a potential steal and a reach at the same time?

Carlson ranked somewhere around 100 on Baseball America's big board. I think Keith Law had him a little higher, but not much. MLB.com didn't have him in the top 100 at all. I like Carlson significantly more than any of those rankings; in fact, taking a closer look at him since the draft, I feel worse and worse that I didn't get around to writing him up properly ahead of time, because I like him a lot more than many other players I did write up. So in that way I feel like the industry maybe underrated this kid, and the Cards may have gotten a steal. At the same time, I feel like 33 for a player ranked closer to triple digits is almost certainly a reach, and if I'm being honest, I wouldn't have made the pick here. The problem with that line of reasoning, of course, is that we don't have perfect knowledge, and it's entirely possible some club would have popped Carlson between 33/34 and pick 70, when the Redbirds had their next selection. In that case, if they wanted Carlson at all, they had to take him here.

But what I'm going to do is go with a player I thought was much, much too good to fall to where he did, and select Bryan Reynolds out of Vandy. He's a polished college bat, capable of playing an acceptable center field, and was a top 20 talent overall, I think. Why he fell is a bit of a mystery to me; it's possible he's a player who simply does a little bit of everything, but doesn't wow in any specific way, and that kind of game is a little easy to overlook if the board breaks a certain way. I'm not particularly happy about missing out on Carlson, but I'm going to choose to emphasize what I think could be a quick journey through the minors and a relatively near-term contributor in Reynolds.

Round One, Pick 34

Cardinals' Pick: Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi State

My Pick: Logan Shore, RHP, Florida

I really went back and forth on this pick. I like Hudson, quite a lot. And while I find Jordan Sheffield, the short righty out of Vanderbilt, to be aesthetically pleasing, Hudson is almost certainly the better pick. However, where the Cardinals saved some money relative to slot with Dylan Carlson at 33, I have a feeling Bryan Reynolds would not go for under slot. Therefore, rather than go for Hudson, I'm going to take another of my personal cheeseballs in this draft, and go with the ultra-polished Florida righthander with the plus-plus changeup. Shore won't be on the board at 70 -- and I knew that ahead of time, so I'm not using hindsight here -- so I'm going to pop him with the only chance I have. Hudson has the bigger stuff, and probably the higher ceiling, but I'm less optimistic about his command, and I have delivery concerns. Shore will probably be criticised as a low-upside pick, but I'm betting on him having a bit of that Aaron Nola thing going on, where the command, feel, and one plus offspeed pitch combine to make him better than many might expect.

This also keeps me closer to on-target in terms of bonuses, rather than paying Hudson over.

Round Two, Pick 70

Cardinals' Pick: Connor Jones, RHP, Virginia

My Pick: Thomas Jones, OF, Laurens HS (SC)

This was the easiest pick for me to disagree with, as I'm just not a big fan of Connor Jones. Therefore, I'm trading him out for another Jones in Thomas, an extremely toolsy two-sport athlete who represents a definite project for my development staff. I very much wanted to pick Drew Mendoza here, but I'm not sure he's signable. Therefore, rather than get nothing at all, I'll go with a big talent that's going to take tons of time, but who I definitely think I can sign away from college.

Jones gives me some real upside in what might seem like an overly safe draft crop so far, to go along with the shooting-for-the-moon Perez pick.

Round Three, Pick 106

Cardinals' Pick: Zac Gallen, RHP, UNC

My Pick: Corbin Burnes, RHP, St. Mary's

I nearly went with Gallen here, because I think his polish and command of a deep repertoire make him a good bet to remain a starter all the way up the ladder. However, I ultimately decided to go with a somewhat similar pitcher in Burnes, who has a similarly wide variety of pitches, but at least one proper out pitch in his slider. Gallen I like, but I think the slightly superior stuff of Burnes is where I want to place my money.

Round Four, Pick 136

Cardinals' Pick: Jeremy Martinez, C, USC

My Pick: Jeremy Martinez, C, USC

Boy, this shadow drafting thing could get boring in a hurry when you just agree with what actually happened so often. Still, I think Martinez is as good a bet as any player available at this point to produce with a bat in his hands, and he should stay at catcher to boot.

Round Five, Pick 166

Cardinals' Pick: Walker Robbins, 1B/OF, George County HS (MS)

My Pick: Walker Robbins, 1B/OF, George County HS (MS)

Again, I kind of hate to just go with the same pick, but I can't argue with it. I love Robbins's offensive potential, and to get him here in the fifth round feels like a potential steal to me. I would have loved it if Ryan Howard, the Mizzou shortstop, would have made it here, but the Giants selected him earlier in this round. I also considered Chad Hockin, the closer out of Cal State Fullerton, with this pick, but with a talent like Robbins still on the board I couldn't pass it up.

Round Six, Pick 196

Cardinals' Pick: Tommy Edman, SS, Stanford

My Pick: Tyler Ramirez, OF, University of North Carolina

I don't mind the pick of Tommy Edman; he should be able to handle a variety of infield positions in the pros and has a solid feel for hitting. However, I'm going with one of the best feel for hitting guys in the entire draft this year with Tyler Ramirez, an undersized outfielder from UNC. He's not a super toolsy player, but Ramirez has outstanding contact ability and enough speed to possibly play center field for the near future. Long term I'm less certain, but I'm going to bet on a guy who puts the ball in play at a very high clip, and tends to make pretty solid contact on top of that.

via Moore Baseball:

Round Seven, Pick 226

Cardinals' Pick: Andrew Knizner, C, NC State

My Pick:Ryan January, C, San Jacinto CC

Scouting director Aaron is very surprised to see one of his favourite catching prospects still on the board here, and is betting on the bat speed and upside of January over the more polished contact bat of Andrew Knizner. I also think the defensive tools for January are louder long term, and I think the DBacks (who nabbed him in the eighth), pulled off a potential heist.

Round Eight, Pick 256

Cardinals' Pick: Sam Tewes, RHP, Wichita State

My Pick: Blake Quinn, RHP, Cal State Fullerton

I think Tewes was a bet worth placing for the Cardinals. He's a big, physical righthander with big stuff who fell as far as he did because of having Tommy John surgery in March. He was never going to be a first rounder, but he probably had the talent to go in the first four rounds before his arm troubles. Getting him into a professional rehab program and rebuilding his arm strength pretty much from scratch seems like a good thing for the drafting team.

Still, I'm going a different direction here, taking a college senior in Blake Quinn, who emerged this season as a potential late-inning force with Cal State Fullerton. Quinn began his college career at Fresno State, struggled badly with command as a starter, transferred to Fullerton, and sat out the 2015 season. He began this spring in the rotation, but moved to relief for the Titans, and the stuff really plays up there. His fastball moved from the upper 80s into the 92-93 range, and his overhand curve showed much better separation and power. I'm betting on the stuff continuing to look good in a relief role, and the senior signing helping me to save some more money, which I plan on putting to good use shortly.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Round Nine, Pick 286

Cardinals' Pick: Matt Fiedler, OF, Minnesota

My Pick: Blake Fox, LHP, Rice

The Cards took an under-the-radar contact hitter with their pick here; I'm going with an under-the-radar soft-tossing lefty out of Rice with mine. Fox fits the profile of the polished soft-tosser almost too well, topping out just shy of 90 with his fastball and being able to work a curve, changeup, and cutter to all quadrants of the zone. He's also another senior signing, putting me even a little further under the bonus cap.

Round Ten, Pick 316

Cardinals' Pick: Danny Hudzina, 3B, Western Kentucky University

My Pick: Matt Rowland, RHP, Pope HS (GA)

I was pretty critical of the Cardinals when they used their tenth-round pick in 2015 to select Kep Brown, a high school outfielder with significant offensive upside who ultimately did not sign. I felt it was a poor use of resources to get nothing, and lose the bonus money completely.

However, upon further consideration, I see the wisdom in such a move, and I'm going to try the strategy in my own draft this year. I feel like I've gone well under with a few picks to this point, and so I'm going to jump the gun on a player the Braves took in the eleventh round (which is where these kinds of players have gone in the past, where not signing a guy doesn't cost you anything), and see if I can't game theory this bitch by signing a young arm with real upside. Having the last pick of the round makes it less damaging if I lose the pick and bonus money, too, so I'm willing to try it out here.

Rowland is a tall, projectable righthander (6'5", 175 lbs), with a wicked sinking fastball he can run up to 93 and a widescreen slider that occasionally flashes plus. The delivery needs some work, definitely; he lands well closed and the arm is late. However, I wonder if the mechanical issues are fixable, and the upside on the stuff is considerable. I'm going to take a chance here because I was more conservative than usual earlier on.

via Andrew Krause:

Round Eleven, Pick 346

Cardinals' Pick: John Kilichowski, LHP, Vanderbilt

My Pick: John Kilichowski, LHP, Vanderbilt

Kilichowski came into the spring as one of my favourite pitchers in the whole draft. He missed a big chunk of the spring with an injury, and then had a tough time making it back into regular service with Vanderbilt once he got healthy. (College baseball teams have neither minor league clubs nor rehab stints, so working your way back into games can be a tough proposition.) I still like him, a whole lot.

Please sign him, Cardinals. kthxbye.

So all in all, I love what the Cards did in the draft this year. The Randy Flores-led scouting department seemed more aggressive this year, less risk-averse, than what we saw in the Dan Kantrovitz era, and closer to what we saw in Chris Correa's single season running the draft. Of course, that could be a function of where the Cardinals' system is right now, or simply a matter of where they saw the talent as being the best bets, rather than any kind of change in philosophy. Tough to tell, really.

Even the picks I quibbled with or wasn't super fond of -- the Connor Jones selection, most notably -- I understand and at least partially agree with the reasoning and approach. If anything, I hope this relatively short exercise has given everyone a look at how a person might try to think through the draft process, and perhaps offered a further window into why the picks made make sense, and how it could still be reasonable to go in a different direction without actually disagreeing.

This, in all likelihood, is the last piece of draft coverage I will produce for 2016. I will probably revisit some of these players in a month or two to see how the newest Cardinals are performing right out of the gate, but as far as the 2016 draft itself, this probably closes the book for me. It's been another satisfying year of scouting and writing for me, and I hope you have all gotten at least some small something out of it.