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2017 Draft Preview No. 4: Five Potential Fallers

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Previewing five players who might find fate conspiring to force them down come draft day, at which point the Cardinals might be waiting.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Today is the 17th of May, and that means we now have less than a month to go until the major league amateur draft comes around again.

That is, of course, an absolutely shocking fact to me, as I was not given nearly enough notice on when this whole draft thing was coming up, and it’s never been held in early June before. I don’t know exactly what in the hell MLB is thinking with this unprecedented draft schedule, but I assure you I have a composed a strongly worded letter detailing my complaints and sent it to the commissioner’s office. I expect to hear back any day now.

So here’s the thing: the Cardinals don’t draft until pick 94 this year. That sucks. I’m not going to complain too very much about it; there’s a reason the Cardinals don’t have a pick until nearly the hundredth selection, and we don’t need to relegislate the whole fiasco. Still, it sucks.

My initial plan for draft coverage this year was to keep up with the draft previews just the same as I have in the past, and ignore the fact the Redbirds will not be picking in the first couple rounds. However, I have mostly in the past tried to focus on players I had at least some belief could potentially be on the board when the Cards made their first selection. I didn’t write up Bryce Harper, for instance, because there was no way he would have been on the board at 26 or whatever selection the Cardinals had that year. Trying to guesstimate who would be on the board at 94 is 100% a fool’s errand. The MLB draft just doesn’t play out in an organised, predictable enough manner to really try and shoot for such a relatively specific window. And, if I’m being honest, it’s just harder to write about players you know have no chance of being Cardinals. I love baseball, but I am a Cardinal fan first and foremost, and I just haven’t been able to force myself to follow amateur baseball with nearly the same verve and dedication this spring that comes so naturally most years when I’m excited to see what El Birdos might be able to add. I still believe in the informative side of the coverage, and that it’s a worthy purpose. It’s just much harder to invest the time, energy, and care under the present circumstances.

All of which is my way of saying I’m sorry there hasn’t been more draft coverage this spring. It has long been my own personal niche on the site, and I know many of you really only pay attention to the draft insofar as it is covered in these pages. I feel like I’ve let everyone down. I know many of you don’t really care about the draft at all, but I also feel like the information should be here for anyone who does.

That being said, I’m going to try and make sure we have some draft coverage this last month, beginning today. The format will be a little different from the hyper detailed scouting reports I usually shoot for, both because I’m trying to cram, and also because I simply haven’t bothered to track down all the video from coaches and family members and anything else I usually shoot for each spring. I haven’t sent out a single painfully polite email to a high school baseball coach requesting info, opinion, and possible video this whole year.

So we’re going to kick off the draft home stretch today with a batch of five players who, for one reason or another, I think could potentially fall to where the Cardinals are drafting. Not all five of them will, definitely, but I think at least one or two of the group will. And all five are players I really like, so I’m sort of making my wish list up this morning. The reports will be abbreviated, and a little different than usual. But let’s see if we can’t find a couple players we like, shall we?

Evan White, 1B, Kentucky

6’3”, 180 lbs; Bats - Right; Throws - Left; DOB - 26 April 1996

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Evan White might be one of my five or so favourite players in the whole draft this year, and while it’s pretty unlikely he’ll drop to anywhere near the Cardinals’ pick, the fact he presents such an unusual profile makes it a possibility.

White is a first baseman by trade, and that brings with it a certain set of expectations. Hulking body, power bat, limited athleticism. That’s what you get with a first baseman. Usually.

However, White fits nearly none of those expectations. He’s a plus runner, an absolutely astounding athlete, perhaps the best defender at first base in all college baseball, and has very little power to speak of in his bat at the moment. What he does have on the offensive side, however, is tremendous feel for hitting, outstanding contact ability, and a gap to gap line drive approach that puts him on base at a huge clip and nets him Matt Carpenteresque doubles totals.

The glove might literally be a 70, and he’s got a plus-plus arm for a first baseman as well, which helps him turn double plays and rack up assist numbers very few players can at his position. He also has the speed to transition to the outfield, perhaps even center field, which admittedly makes the fact he plays first exclusively rather odd. Basically, imagine a right-handed hitting version of Christian Yelich who stayed at first (where Yelich did play a lot in high school), rather than transitioning to the outfield. It’s a fascinating package of tools for a first base prospect to present, and I’ll always bet on the hit tool over raw power. He’s also one of the younger college players in the draft this year, so there’s a bit of a bonus data point in his favour.

Well then why would he fall?

The uniqueness of White’s profile could also make him a tough player for some teams to get a good feel for. If they don’t believe the power will develop, then it’s easy to see him as a James Loney ‘tweener, particularly if you’re also not sold on him moving to the outfield. Teams seem reluctant to put much stock in first base defense, even as so much of the last half-decade in baseball has been about quantifying and valuing run prevention in fielders instead of just pitchers. White has good bat speed, but a flat swing plane, and teams might feel taking a risk on a guy who might have to change his swing to tap into more power is just more trouble than it’s worth, depending upon what else is still on the board.

via rkyosh007:

Kevin Merrell, 2B, University of South Florida

6’0”, 180 lbs; Bats - Left; Throws - Right; DOB - 14 December 1995

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Merrell is, first and foremost, one of the fastest players in the entire draft this year, if not the fastest. Of the big-name college players in this draft, only Jeren Kendall of Vanderbilt is really a challenger, I think, with a few high school burners being in that same conversation.

Merrell also has a fairly phenomenal swing and feel for the barrel of the bat, with limited power potential but the ability to pepper the big part of the field with line drives. It’s one of the simpler strokes you’re likely to see, and while I don’t think the swing and modest size of Merrell himself ever translates to much more than 10-12 home run power, that slashing line drive contact game plays perfectly with his ability to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples pretty much anytime he puts a ball in the outfield. He’s hyper aggressive on the bases as well, but the speed is such it doesn’t matter. He steals bases pretty much at will, and it’s rarely even close.

If forced to grab for a comp, I might go with a second base version of Trea Turner of the Nationals. There are some scouts who will tell you Merrell should move to center field immediately and let that 70+ speed turn him into an impact defender, but I think he has the footwork to stay at the keystone. The arm doesn’t fit at short, but I think second base is a fine position for him.

Well then why would he fall?

Because teams don’t generally like spending high draft picks on second basemen the way they do shortstops. I think Merrell could be a better bet than Scott Kingery, the Arizona second baseman who went in the second round to the Phillies in 2015, but there’s also a chance teams pass on him due to a lack of a true defensive home. He’s also on the smallish side (that listed 6’0” is, um, exaggerated, I believe), and the power potential is questionable.

via Jheremy Brown:

Corbin Martin, RHP, Texas A&M

6’3”, 200 lbs; Bats - Right; Throws - Right; DOB - 28 December 1995

So, what’s so great about this guy?

If you’re looking for great one-two punches among pitchers in this draft, in terms of two pitches that could potentially make for a dominant package, Martin is as good a place to start as any. He was a two-way star in high school, known as much as a center field glove-first project as a pitching talent, but a strong A&M commitment kept him from going higher. He’s still got the athleticism that made him an intriguing outfielder, but I don’t think he was ever going to hit.

The good with Martin is a fastball/curve combo that probably rates 60 on the heater and 65 on the curve, with the potential for even better. He’ll bump 95-96 with the fastball fairly consistently, and working short stints on the Cape last summer he was hitting 98. In other words, Corbin Martin throws plenty hard. It’s the curve that jumps out the most, though, particularly when he throws the pitch with conviction. The bad version is in the upper 70s with a big waterfall break, and it’s solid. The good version is thrown about five miles an hour harder, around 82-84, and snaps like early-career K-Rod.

Oh, and did I mention he also throws both a slider and a changeup, either one of which could rate a 55 grade on a given day? He lacks feel for the change much of the time, but even so it tumbles enough to be effective. The slider can be nasty, but not nearly to the level of the curveball. So we have plus athleticism, two plus to plus-plus pitches, two other average pitches, and a really good pitcher’s frame.

Well then why would he fall?

Because Corbin Martin is a bad pitcher, that’s why.

Martin falls into that camp of pitchers who have unbelievable stuff, but generally very little idea of where the ball is going when they release it. As a freshman, Martin walked just under 6.00 batters per nine innings; his sophomore season that number actually went up, to 7.18 BB/9. This year he’s made big strides, bringing his walk rate down to a more reasonable four and half free passes per nine, but that’s still way too high for a pitcher with his stuff.

The arm talent with Martin is absolutely incredible, but his delivery is kind of a mess, as he doesn’t use his body at all efficiently and is mostly just throwing with his arm. His release point is all over the place, and he’s prone to backing himself into corners and then being forced to come over the heart of the plate. The stuff is so good he still wins a fair number of those duels, but nowhere near as many as a pitcher with four 55 offerings on the card should.

Martin, to me, puts in mind of Josh Staumont, the incredibly talented Azusa Pacific hurler taken by the Royals a couple years ago. Once in the minors, Staumont revamped his delivery under the direction of KC’s player development staff, and he’s made big strides. Some team could place the same sort of bet on Martin, and try to rebuild his delivery so that he’s more balanced and more engaged with his whole body, rather than relying on a super-fast arm with a passive delivery. Still, it’s an open question how willing clubs will be to bet on even an arm of this level when there are so many challenges facing him ahead.

It’s worth noting Martin brutalised the Cape Cod League last summer. Just an FYI.

via Jheremy Brown:

Greg Deichmann, OF(?), Louisiana State University

6’2”, 200 lbs; Bats - Left; Throws - Right; DOB - 31 May 1995

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I actually covered Greg Deichmann once, a long time ago now, when he was a shortstop/second base type prospect coming out of high school with a strong LSU commitment in hand. Back then he showed intriguing power potential and a decent feel for the strike zone, but a fair bit of swing and miss in his game also.

Now, three years later, Deichmann is no longer a middle infield prospect. Most of the other stuff, though, has played out about as was projected back then. He has some of the best power in the class this year, and is a patient, grinding sort of hitter. He’s put seventeen over the boards in just about 200 plate appearances this spring for LSU, and he’s more than strong enough I think that power should translate to wood bats. This isn’t a handsy, grooved Brett Wallace swing. Deichmann lets it fly, and the ball tends to do the same.

Well then why would he fall?

First off, you see that question mark in parentheses up there next to ‘OF’? That’s there because Deichmann is playing right field these days, but he’s not very good at it. He’s a 45 runner, and while his arm is fine he’s just never going to make much of an impression out there. He didn’t have the footwork to play up the middle of the diamond, and ended up at first for awhile. In other words, you’re getting a bat with Greg Deichmann, but you’re also getting a positional problem to deal with.

Oh, and he also strikes out. A lot. He’s not a hacker, by any means; I already said he’s a patient hitter. But he has no two-strike approach whatsoever, and the contact skills in general are just not so great. Think of Colby Rasmus, actually, in terms of the hitting approach. Something like the 2010 Cardinals version, when Rasmus walked almost 12% of the time but boasted a K rate approaching 30%. That’s the kind of hitter Deichmann is, with similar big-time power, but without Clobby’s baserunning contributions or an ability to play a premium defensive position.

Not nearly as terrible a hair situation on Deichmann, though. So there’s that.

Clubs will take a chance on Deichmann because of the power, but there’s a lot of swing and miss to his game and he’s limited defensively. Plenty of upside, yes, but there’s also some serious downside here.

I don’t know where else to put this, but Deichmann took a fastball to the face and suffered multiple fractures early this spring, but had surgery and seems to have made a full recovery. So really just a note that doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot, honestly.

via Cityzen225:

Jake Eder, LHP, Matlock Academy (Florida)

6’4”, 200 lbs; Bats - Left; Throws - Left; DOB - 9 October 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Simply put, Jake Eder is one of the most talented high school pitchers in the 2017 draft class. He’s also the only prep player to make this potential fallers list, and there’s a good reason for that, which I’ll get to in a bit.

At his best, Eder can pair a fastball at 92-95 from a low arm slot with a big, sweeping breaking ball that gets lefties bailing out in fear and righthanders helplessly waving at. If it sounds like a Chris Sale starter kit, well....I’ll just let you think whatever you want to think. He’s tall and fairly lanky, but nowhere near Sale levels of lanky. Still, Eder has a decent amount of room to fill out further in his frame, so there’s more strength and perhaps more consistent velocity to come.

He’s got a changeup, but it’s so badly telegraphed at this point that any hitter more discipline than your average high school senior is probably going to clobber the poor thing. Of course, that’s not surprising from a high school pitcher with a great breaking ball; the change has just never been a priority. That’s just the way it is with prep pitchers much of the time.

Eder is inconsistent with his breaking ball, with the pitch morphing between curve and slider pretty freely, with varying levels of vertical and horizontal break start to start. On his best days, though, you can look at what he throws and see a guy with two 65s on the card, and the potential for a usable change down the road.

Well then why would he fall?

There are two real reasons why Eder could fall. One is the fact he is still so raw and inconsistent; this is a guy still growing into his body and mechanics. Speaking of mechanics, Eder’s have varied quite a bit since the showcase season of 2016, when he was straight on line and energetic. This spring he’s been much more deliberate in his delivery, and seems to be leaning back, bringing his arm slot up. I assume someone has told him to try and get on top of his pitches more, which is fairly typical coaching.

Personally, I want him to go back to the way he was throwing last summer, when the ball would sail like crazy and the slurve, while inconsistent, made hitters look like children at times. As it is now, the stuff seems much less electric to me, though I can still see some really good things going on with him.

The other reason Eder could very easily fall is a bit simpler: money. Eder is a Vanderbilt commit, and it tends to be pretty spendy to get a kid away from the Commodores these days. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see him still sitting there on the board when the Cardinals’ pick comes around. The question, of course, is whether they would be willing to go for a tough signability pick, and then scrimp and save later on in the draft. There’s a philosophical question to be asked here, regarding how to handle both the late pick and the thin bonus pool; do you go for a balanced approach and try to still grab as many lottery tickets as you can? Or do you shoot the moon on one player you think has a chance to really be special, and then figure out a way to make it work with org players elsewhere? It’s a question the Cardinals are going to have to ask themselves as they attempt to add talent this June without anything resembling a premium draft pick.

For reference, here’s both last year’s version of Eder’s mechanics and this year’s, where it looks like someone is trying to slow him down and get him under control. He’s also a little less crossfire this year. The 2016 version is first.

via FanGraphs:

and via Baseball America:

So of these five, who do I think has the best chance to fall? Probably the last two players, Deichmann and Eder. Deichmann because the contact issues and lack of defensive value are both real concerns, and Eder because he’s going to be such a tough sign.

Realistically, probably only one, maybe two of these players will drop down into the Cardinals’ range, and it’s possible none of them make it. I don’t have a great feel for this draft, honestly. But each of these guys has at least one question mark that could push them down, and the MLB draft is filled with players who slip because they just didn’t happen to have the right team come up with them at the top of the list. It’s such a more personal approach kind of process in baseball, compared to the more obvious best player available strategies employed in other sports, that a guy could easily slip 20 spots because he was second or third on half a dozen team’s boards, and half a dozen other teams saw him in a slump and have him graded out lower than everyone else. It happens.

If any of these five players were still on the board at 94, I would be delighted with any. Deichmann is probably my least favourite, because I’ve come to value hit over power guys far more than the reverse, but I think his one carrying tools is potentially extreme enough to carry him all the way to the majors all the same.

I’ll be back next Wednesday with another batch of draft reports, though I’m not sure exactly what format they’ll take just yet. Until then, everyone.