The 2016 draft is just about a month and a half in our rear view mirror now, all signings (or non-signings), have already happened, and the haul has been finalised. And while several of the players the Redbirds selected have yet to really get started on their pro careers (Dakota Hudson has notably made only two single-inning appearances), that's mostly down to the vagaries of college workloads and the simple reality of trying to protect these brand-new assets in any way possible, at least for now.
On the other hand, there are some very notable early performances from 2016 draftees, both positive and negative. Small sample size alert all to hell and back, obviously, but just to get an idea how the newest Cardinals are doing let's take a look at some of those performances.
-- Starting at the top, Delvin Perez (Rd. 1, #22 overall), has hit the ground running in a big way. Playing in the Gulf Coast League, the lowest level in the farm system and the most logical starting point for a seventeen year old fresh out of high school (just to give some context on where he is), Perez has, so far, justified the Cardinals' faith in his developing bat being more a product of simple age and maturity, rather than any ill-considered PED experimentation. Over the first 102 plate appearances of his professional life, Perez has put up a .340/.382/.468 line that, in the context of the GCL, is good for a 150 wRC+. He has yet to show any over-the-fence power, but is driving the ball effectively, evinced by six doubles and three triples scattered among his 32 hits.
The speed certainly seems to play so far, as both those triples and eight stolen bases in nine attempts would attest. In other words, the tools are very much on display in a way you would hope from a late first-round heist of a pick. The only baseball skill that has yet to manifest is much in the way of patience at the plate, as Perez has walked in slightly less than five percent of his plate appearances, but that's also one of those situations where it's very difficult to tell the kid fresh into pro ball who's killing it right off the bat that he needs to not swing. The BABIP is very high, at .405, but that doesn't necessarily point to imminent regression in the minors (particularly the low minors), the way a similar number would at the major league level. In short, Delvin Perez looks to be ahead of the curve relative to the competition he's facing, and considering he was one of the youngest players in his draft class, that's really saying something.
-- On a more sobering note, Dylan Carlson (Rd. 1, #33 overall), has had a more difficult adjustment period in his initial taste of pro ball. The switch-hitting young slugger is off to a .211/.315/.263 start over his first 89 plate appearances, and those numbers have actually improved a fair bit over the past week or so. He's shown good patience so far, with a 13.5% walk rate, and while the strikeout rate is high, at nearly 25%, that's actually moving in the right direction. The very first handful of games for Carlson were really rough, and he appears to be gradually turning it around. There's been no sign of the natural power he possesses yet, with zero homers and just four doubles in terms of extra-base hits, which helps to paint us a picture of a young kid -- again, like Perez, Carlson was among the youngest players in the draft this year -- who is currently very much feeling his way through his first exposure to pro-level pitching. I have a feeling Carlson is going to finish off this year strong, for some reason, as he adjusts to the speed of the game and starts to become more comfortable.
-- As noted before, Dakota Hudson (Rd. 1, #34 overall), has thrown two innings, so not a whole lot to see there. If we were to draw some conclusions based on those two innings, however, the conclusion would be that Dakota Hudson is the greatest pitcher who has ever lived; he has recorded six outs so far in his professional career, and all six have been via the strikeout. The Hall of Fame might as well start casting his plaque now.
-- Connor Jones (Rd. 2, #70 overall), and Zac Gallen (Rd. 3, #106 overall), have thrown one inning apiece in the GCL. Gallen struck out two hitters in his inning, so, you know. Maybe get a plaque ready for him right next to Hudson's.
-- Getting back to numbers that are at least interesting, if not particularly illustrative, Jeremy Martinez (Rd. 4, #136), the catcher from USC, has had a very positive, if unusual, debut so far. Playing for State College, which is the higher of the two short-season teams the Cardinals field, Martinez has shown every bit the remarkable plate discipline I noted at the time he was drafted.
In 85 plate appearances to date, Martinez has drawn thirteen walks (15.3% BB rate), against just eight strikeouts (9.4% K rate). He's gotten on base at a .440 clip. And the few reports I've heard on him would seem to indicate he's spraying the ball to all fields well at this point. There's no power yet (.075 ISO), but the approach is spectacular. I'm calling a Jason Kendal-esque career for Martinez right now. (Probably sans the stolen bases, but all the other stuff.)
-- Walker Robbins (Rd. 5, #166 overall), has had a rough introduction to pro ball, as he's collected just seven hits, all singles, in his first 52 trips to the plate. His line currently stands at .148/.212/.148, so definitely a tough stretch for Robbins trying to acclimate.
-- As I noted on Thursday morning, Tommy Edman (Rd. 6, #196), has been simply extraordinary so far. An 18.9% walk rate, 9.8% strikeout rate, .163 ISO, and seven stolen bases in eight attempts doing anything for you? The Cardinals have done well with West Coast college kids the past several years, it seems to me; I wonder who the cross-checker handling that area is, and if the Redbirds have given him and his staff a raise yet. Edman is also doing that at State College, so while it is short-season ball, it's the more advanced league, playing against largely major-college draftees, just for context. So a very, very encouraging debut for the Stanford product.
-- Andrew Knizner (Rd. 7, #216), the catcher prospect from NC State, has gotten off to a solid start at Johnson City, the lower-level short-season affiliate for the Redbirds. He's put up a .269/.402/.388 line so far, with an 8.5% walk rate and very manageable strikeouts. (15.9% K rate) Weird part of his line: he's been hit by eight pitches already in just 82 plate appearances, so getting on base via the Craig Biggio Lean-In appears to potentially be part of Knizner's game. The Cardinals seemingly placed a lot of emphasis on polished hitters and excellent plate discipline this season, and guys like Martinez, Knizner, and Edman are perfectly emblematic of that.
-- Speaking of polished approaches from college hitters, Matt Fiedler (Rd. 9, #286), is hitting .271/.363/.429 for Johnson City, with nearly as many walks (nine), as strikeouts (eleven), in 80 trips to the plate. (And one home run.)
-- Playing one level higher at State College (though as a college senior, he's already a year older than the majority of the other hitters in his demographic), Danny Hudzina (Rd. 10, #316), the third baseman from Western Kentucky, has a 1:1 K:BB ratio but just a .229 BABIP and hasn't shown an ability to drive the ball for extra bases yet. Still, the consistently excellent plate approaches of the Cardinal draftees this year is very interesting to me, if it is indeed a pattern.
-- One of my favourite picks in the draft this year, John Kilichowski (Rd. 11, #346), is off to a solid start at State College. He's appeared in four games (three starts), and has thrown 15.0 innings total. In those innings, he's struck out 14, given up just 12 hits, and has yet to allow a home run. The walks are a little high, as he's put eight men on via the free pass, but this is also a pitcher trying to reestablish a consistent rhythm and routine after an injury-marred junior season at Vanderbilt that saw him struggle to find regular innings for the Commodores.
-- Continuing the theme of good plate discipline, even Brady Whalen (Rd. 12, #376), a high school draftee from Washington seen as very raw coming in, has walked more often (five times), than he's struck out (four times), in his first 33 plate appearances for the GCL club. A low ISO and weak BABIP would suggest he's making weak contact and just trying to survive in his first taste of the pros, but that's very much to be expected.
-- Vince Jackson (Rd. 14, #436), has not shown nearly the polish displayed by many of the other college hitters drafted by the Cards this year, but that's not surprising. Jackson is much more raw, and represents a bet on athleticism, rather than present skills. He was placed at State College, which is actually a slightly aggressive move to my mind, and has roughly held his own. The walk and strikeout rates are mediocre (7.6% BB, 19.7% K rate), but he's still got a 110 wRC+ from a .244/.326/.362 line (the hitting in the NY Penn League this year is apparently awful, outside of, well, a bunch of State College players). He's shown off the wheels (7/10 in stolen bases), and a little bit of extra base pop, in the form of six doubles, three triples, and a homer. When you're betting on the speed/power combination of a two-sport athlete who's still fairly raw, it's really nice when the power and speed both show at least hints of being there.
-- Mick Fennell, guys... The small school product (That's the California University of Pennsylvania, for the record), with the wicked bat control has done basically what you would hope that kind of player would do so far. In 45 trips to the plate for State College, Fennell has hit .324/.477/.441, good for a 183 wRC+. He's walked eight times (17.4% BB), and struck out not once, not twice, but thrice (6.4% K rate). He's probably the new Mike O'Neill, but we can dream that maybe there's more to him, right?
There are a few other somewhat notable performances here and there, but I'm going to call this good for now. If any players specifically jump up in the near future, I'll try to make sure I inform you all when possible.
I know this was heavily skewed toward hitters, with much less attention given to some of the pitching-side draftees, and that's largely because so many of the pitchers drafted have yet to have established any kind of body of work so far. Obviously, when you're talking about draft-year debuts, the body of work is going to be tiny anyway, but clubs being conservative with their new pitchers makes it even tougher. There just haven't been enough pitchers throw enough innings to really be worth talking about the numbers yet. So, if you were hoping to hear about how the latest crop of future Redbird hurlers was working out so far, I apologise for the light coverage, but there just isn't much to say yet.
Overall, it's hard not to be excited about this group of players. It may very well be that we find in a couple years the Cardinals basically just drafted a whole bunch of Gregs Garcia, and the overall ceiling for this crop is relatively limited. Then again, if the Cards could churn out an entire system of players who get on base like Greg Garcia gets on base, that might not be a bad thing at all.