clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2018 Draft Preview No. 0: The Annual Origin Issue Spectacular

The first draft preview of the new year starts here.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Ah yes, that’s right, friends. It’s that time of year again, when your ol’ pal the baron starts making a list, and checking it at least once, possibly twice, and then uses said list to start writing up as many scouting reports as he can manage, all in the hopes that when the June draft rolls around, just about six months from now, you will all be the most well-informed fans on the block when it comes to the names being called out at the podium.

Actually, if I’m being honest, the list for this draft has been slowly compiled over the past six months; I usually start putting together my follow list for a draft as I’m finishing up the previous year’s iteration, just because that’s when a) any teammates of the players I just wrote up are fresh in my mind, and b) that’s when the majority of the showcase events start ramping up. So this time of year is more about going over the names I have, the notes I have taken, and putting them into my spreadsheet. Then I start checking as many names off as possible as I write up their full scouting reports.

Anyhow, process aside, it really is time already to start up with the 2018 draft reports. Last year was such a weird departure for me, with the Cards not having any high picks, and I just couldn’t find a good way to go about covering a draft with so much uncertainty and so little interest. I wish I could have done a better job covering the draft even with the Redbirds not participating at the top, but I just never could really dig into it. The good news is that the Cards do, in fact, have high draft picks this year — several, in fact. They pick at 19 in the first round, have a competitive balance pick at 39, pick 58 in the second round, and then for now sit at 93rd overall in the third round. I say for now because free agent signings and the like will alter the number of picks between rounds two and three, and so that 93 will probably be different by the time draft day rolls around. Lance Lynn is the one free agent departing the Cardinals who will net them a draft pick, and so ultimately El Birdos should have something like five of the top 100 selections. Considering how the rules have eliminated so many of the opportunities for teams to stockpile draft picks over the past few years, 5/100 isn’t bad at all.

So what we have here today is a group of three players, all of whom were available in the 2015 draft and now return for a second bite at the apple after having gone away for three years of seasoning. More specifically, these are all three players about which I wrote back in 2015, so I have notes already on my hard drive telling me what I thought of them then, and giving me a basis for comparison now.

Without further ado, let’s get started for the year, shall we?

Jackson Kowar, RHP, University of Florida

6’5”, 180 lbs; DOB: 4 October 1996

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Three years ago, Kowar was a tall, skinny drink of water with a slingy delivery and a wicked running fastball that put one instantly in mind of the young version of Jake Peavy. I have it in my notes he was committed to Clemson; I’m not honestly sure if he changed his plans after I covered him or if I crossed him up with someone else in my old notes. Not a huge deal either way; he clearly attended Florida and has pitched there; I just found it weird when I went back to dig up his profile and I have him listed as a Clemson commit.

In those intervening years, Kowar has become, um, a tall, skinny drink of water with a slighty less slingy delivery, which has specifically sapped a little of the movement from his fastball, it seems to me. However, he throws even harder now than he did, and has at least one plus offspeed pitch on which to lean. So despite the fastball losing a bit of its appeal, there has still been real growth and improvement for Kowar at Florida.

The 2015 version of Kowar worked in the low 90s, topping out around 94, and featured a solid changeup as his primary offspeed pitch. His breaking ball, a slider, was less effective, as he tended to get on the side of the ball and frisbee the thing up to the plate. It wasn’t terrible, but it needed work. Flat sliders at the belt tend to be...not super great in pro ball.

The 2018 version has added velocity (or at least the 2017 version did, so we’ll really just have to wait and make sure that holds true in the spring, I suppose), and now sits around 94-95, topping out as high as 98 on occasion. I’m not sure if it’s been a natural evolution or if the Gator coaching staff has specifically pushed Kowar toward a higher arm slot, but he definitely appears to me to be working from a slightly higher angle now than he did in high school. He also is a little more passive with his lower body, striding a little shorter to my eye, and the overall result is a delivery that looks like it should offer a bit more of that vaunted Downward Plane that we hear so much about with pitchers like Michael Wacha. The tradeoff is a fastball that now has less of that crazy armside run he used to possess, and my personal take is that the pitch is just a little more hittable now. It’s still good, and he throws harder than ever, but I thought the fastball was better before than it is now.

He still features a slider and changeup as his offspeed offerings, and the slider has sadly not seen a ton of improvement over the past couple years. It has its moments, but overall the pitch is still kind of stuck in between a slider and a curve, and not in the way where it has the best aspects of both. I generally prefer curves in general, but a slider would seem to fit his arm slot better. A team taking Kowar high will have to believe they can help him get over the hump with his breaking ball, one way or the other.

The changeup, on the other hand, has seen marked improvement from where it was in 2015, and is now an easy plus pitch, occasionally flashing even better than that. It’s a true swing and miss offering against lefties, and should be good enough to get right-handers out as well, though I haven’t seen Kowar go to the change against same-handed hitter much as of yet. It’s a fantastic pitch, with great depth of break and just enough run to stay off the barrel even when it stays up a little. It’s one of the better changeups in the whole draft at this point, in fact.

Kowar missed time his freshman season with a collapsed lung(!), but returned last season to pitch a full campaign. He was good, but he wasn’t great. The quality of stuff would suggest a pitcher who should be striking out the world, but shaky fastball command and a lack of a true breaking ball seems to be limiting Kowar’s ability to miss bats at an elite rate to date. I don’t love the higher arm slot and taller delivery, either, though that’s probably mostly a matter of taste.

As it stands, Kowar still has some tightening and sharpening to do. His changeup has become a legitimate out pitch, but without a third pitch he’s a little one dimensional in his approach. Regardless, he’s one of the more promising arms in the whole class this year, and if he takes a step forward in the spring he could cement himself as a top 10-15 pick.

via Matthew Edwards:

Jeremy Eierman, SS, Missouri State University

6’1”, 195 lbs; DOB: 10 September 1996

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

When I wrote Eierman up in high school as a senior coming out of Warsaw High School (which is an hour or so North of Springfield, if I remember correctly), I had him down as intriguing power from a modest frame, a shortstop for the moment but probably a second baseman long term, and a solid enough athlete but not truly elite.

The good news is this: Jeremy Eierman, who I believe was a Person of Interest for me last time around, has graduated to full-fledged elite prospect status by now, having pushed his way into the first round picture. He’s one of about three college shortstops who could all potentially rank as the best in the class, and the only one who doesn’t play for Oregon State. Whereas I once thought he was a lock to move off the shortstop position, Eierman has made enough improvements in his footwork and range that there’s very good reason to see him there long term. That helps raise a player’s potential floor quite a ways. Eierman’s best defensive asset is a tremendous throwing arm, which would suggest third base as a better home than second long term, if he cannot in fact handle short. For now, though, I would think any club drafting him in the first would have to believe he can lock down that most important of infield positions.

The whole package for Eierman, the draft scorecard filled up with 50s and 55s, is mostly about the same as it was three years ago, with the added benefit he’s now shown himself much more likely to stay at short. He’s not that different from a player like Dansby Swanson, who went 1/1 a couple years ago (which, admittedly, is partially a reflection on the top of that draft class, rather than a slam dunk on how good Eierman is), with at least that level of offensive upside. Of course, Swanson took a big step forward his senior season, so it’s possible Eierman does something similar and turns himself into a top five pick, but more likely he’s a top 20-25 guy.

I’d put a 60-65 on Eierman’s arm, and after that we’re looking at all 50 and 55 grades. His power stroke from the right side is intriguing from a middle infielder, though considering how many middle infielders are hitting for power now maybe he’s a little less unique in that way. Still, there’s a Dustin Pedroia comp floating around somewhere here, if one wanted to squint a bit.

via Baseball America:

Kyle Molnar, RHP, UCLA

6’2”, 195 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Back in 2015, Kyle Molnar was one of my very favourite players in the whole draft, a right-handed hurler with a very solid low-90s sinking fastball, an above-average slider, and a remarkably well-developed changeup for a high schooler. Everything Molnar threw moved, and he exhibited rare polish for a kid of eighteen. A strong commitment to UCLA pushed teams off taking the Southern California native, and he ultimately fell all the way to the Cardinals in the 25th round. They couldn’t come to terms with the right-hander (no surprise there), and he headed off to college.

Now, heading into Molnar’s junior year, the scouting report on him hasn’t changed very much, largely because he hasn’t pitched since his freshman season. Molnar showed no signs of arm troubles going into the draft, but unfortunately fell victim to Tommy John surgery prior to his sophomore season. In 2016, he pitched essentially as you would expect him to have done based on his 2015 stuff, and in 2017 he was recovering from elbow reconstruction. Thus, we’ll really have to wait until he gets back on the field this coming spring to see what the stuff looks like.

That recovery time certainly clouds the outlook for Molnar; he’s a junior this spring, but will have a medical redshirt exemption coming his way that will give him some added flexibility. If you had asked me back in 2015 where he would be after two seasons at UCLA, I would have answered he’d be a slam dunk first-rounder. Instead, it’s really kind of an open question when exactly he gets back on the field, how he looks, and if he performs well enough following the year off to push himself up the board high enough to forgo returning to college for another season.

At his best, Molnar worked with a divebomb sinker at 91-93, a 55 grade slider and a tumbling change that could easily grab a 60-65 when it was on. He had precocious feel for pitching, and stuff that was good enough to project him in the middle of a big league rotation down the road, if not better. In other words, he was a very Cardinal-y sort of pitcher.

How much of that feel and stuff comes back now remains to be seen, and whether he can make an impression quickly enough to convince a club to use a high draft pick on him. If he’s slow coming back, or the results are shaky, though, it’s entirely possible we see him back in 2019 as a redshirt junior. The overall package is still among my favourites in the draft, but I have to admit the arm injury significantly affects my enthusiasm for drafting Molnar. We know that Tommy John surgeries have a certain lifespan, and while diligent maintenance and mechanical husbandry can help to extend that lifespan, I’m still always going to be leery of using a high draft pick on a player whose arm is a ticking clock.

Then again, just about all pitchers’ arms are ticking clocks; it’s just a matter of how long each has left. By that perspective perhaps it makes sense to take a pitcher you like even with TJ on his ledger. But it seems to be a tough balancing act, honestly, trying to figure out just how long a pitcher has on his new elbow, and whether using up some portion of that time on development in the minors is a smart use of resources.

via rkyosh007:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the first draft preview of the 2018 cycle. Depending upon how much news there is in the near future I may come back to these sooner or later; now that the waiting is nearly over for the Winter Meetings to hopefully clear up some of this abominable constipation it seems like lots of things may be happening relatively soon. Then again, maybe not, and we’ll all still be stuck in a holding pattern a month from now. (Let’s hope not.)

See you soon.