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2017 Draft Preview No. 8: A Few Final Names, and Favourites

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Wrapping up the draft previews with some more players of interest, and a short draft board discussion.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Hard to believe it’s that time again already, but the draft starts tomorrow night, folks.

Of course, as Cardinal fans, the draft doesn’t really start for us until Tuesday around noon, since the Redbirds lack picks in the first two rounds due to the signing of Dexter Fowler and the hacking penalties imposed by major league baseball.

That lack of high picks is largely why the draft coverage has been a bit more sparse than usual this year; it’s hard to get as invested in the process when you know the first day of the draft is going to pass without one’s team actually participating. Also, to be honest, it’s just harder to predict which players are likely to go around pick 94 than pick 24. The complexity of guessing who will be on the board and, more importantly, who will be gone three rounds in is orders of magnitude greater as you go deeper into the draft.

I’m looking forward to a more normal draft cycle next year. And, considering how poorly the Cardinals have played for much of the season, it’s possible we could be talking about a better first round pick than we’re used to. Not that I’m rooting for such an outcome, obviously; I would love for the Redbirds to get things turned around and go on a tear the rest of the way. However, I’m not really expecting that, and so am left to contemplate silver linings.

In the meantime, we have a draft to talk about this year, and there will be plenty of talent still on the board when the Cards make their first pick. This has turned out to be a somewhat odd draft, with so little of the elite talent at the top performing the way we expected coming in, and things becoming badly jumbled as a result. Hunter Greene at the top remains the most dynamic, intriguing talent in the class, but no high school righthanded pitcher has ever gone first overall. (And yes, Greene is a two-way player who could be taken as a shortstop, but he’s pretty clearly a pitching talent par excellence, and more of a mid first-rounder as a position player.)

Brendan McKay of Louisville has a ton of buzz as a top, if not the top, pick, but personally I think McKay is getting too much credit for being an interesting two-way talent. He’s no better than a mid- to late-first round talent as either a pitcher or hitter (and maybe not even quite that good), but the fact he does both things well has teams more on board with his future than I think is necessarily justified. Maybe if one thought he really was going to be a two-way player in pro ball the hype would make sense. But that’s just not going to be a thing anytime soon, for a variety of very good reasons, and McKay doesn’t rise to the level of a top five pick for me as either a hitter or pitcher.

This is another of those slightly strange drafts where we lack a clearly defined top tier, but the depth once you get past about 15-20 is really good. There’s not a whole lot of difference between pick 30 and pick 100 in this draft, is what I mean to say. Which, of course, is a pretty good thing when you have a pick around 100, rather than around 30.

What I’m going to do here today is write up a couple more players I feel could be important to the Cardinals, and then put together a short list of players I really like that I feel could end up going somewhere between rounds three and five.

There’s a really interesting curiosity in this year’s draft, in that there are three players, all of whom are top five round talents most likely, coming out of the same junior college in Florida. Chipola is the school, and we’re going to start with those three players.

Andrew Bechtold, 3B, Chipola College

Bechtold and his pitching teammate I’ll cover shortly both took somewhat similar routes to being potential high draft picks out of a juco, and not the most common route. Usually, your juco players are guys who, coming out of high school, either didn’t get the draft spot they wanted and headed off to junior college so they could get another shot in just a year, rather than three, or perhaps didn’t have the academics to get into a major program and chose the juco route to try and position themselves for a four-year school.

However, for Bechtold, it was an injury that got him to Chipola, as he committed to Maryland following high school, only to get hurt and redshirt his sophomore season. Coming into his junior year, then (this year), he was essentially facing part-time status, and as a player with skills that should get him drafted, Bechtold transferred to Chipola, baseball hotbed that it is, to get himself onto a stage where he could hopefully be seen heading into the draft. Thus, he’s the same age as a four-year college junior, but coming out of a juco.

Personally, I’m very high on Bechtold. He could have 55 grades or better on every tool aside from power, and I think he has the bat speed there could be some untapped power potential in there too. Defensively, he’s nimble and rangy, and his arm is probably the best tool in his bag. He played shortstop both in high school and initially at Maryland, and might still be able to fake it at short if called upon. Third is easily his best spot, though, and he could develop into a true plus defender there with more repetition.

Offensively, Bechtold has quick hands and a patient approach at the plate. He has some swing and miss in his game, which is probably the biggest concern about him, but part of that is also a large number of deep counts. You could certainly ding him on contact ability if you wanted to, but he runs about 1:1 in terms of strikeouts and walks and makes loud contact when he does connect. He’s also possessed of 55 speed, maybe 60, and is a bit of a swashbuckler on the bases. It’s a very, very impressive package of physical tools Bechtold brings to the table.

There are, of course, quality of competition questions about Bechtold, and he’s not the biggest guy (he’s listed at 6’1”, but....well, you know), so he’ll certainly have to wait until day two to hear his name called. Would the mid- to late-third round be a good time? Well, I’d love him in the fourth, but I would still like him in the third.

Reynaldo Rivera, 1B, Chipola College

Rivera is huge, standing 6’6” and going 250 lbs, and he hits like a you would expect a man so huge to hit. He’s a lefty swinger, and has 65, maybe 70 grade raw power, though it comes with some fairly substantial swing and miss. That’s more a function of his height and long arms than a poor approach, though, and he sent a double off the left field wall during the Junior College World Series that was as nice a piece of opposite-field hitting I’ve seen since Lance Berkman hung up his spikes. He’s not a great athlete, though he looks pretty good at first base, and you’re betting he can refine his offensive game to tap into the power on a consistent basis. It’s not a bad bet to make, in my humble opinion.

Evan Steele, LHP, Chipola College

And now we come to the player who might be my favourite of the Chipola trio. Steele attended Vanderbilt initially, but lost his eligibility and had to transfer to Chipola. He won’t turn 21 until November, so you’re talking about a player a year younger than your typical college draftee.

Steele is a low 34 lefty with power stuff; a fastball that sits 93-95 and a slider that he manipulates like a pro when he’s on. There’s a changeup, too, but it’s bad right now. Obviously, every tall lefty (Steele is 6’5”), who works from a low arm slot is going to get the Chris Sale comp, but I think in this case it’s a bit more apropos than in many others. Steele doesn’t throw quite as hard as Sale — at least not yet — but his multi-tool slider is actually pretty similar.

The arm action concerns me a bit with Steele; he’s a little later coming through than I would like to see. The ceiling, though, could be huge, and potentially justify any concerns one might have about his delivery. More important in the short term, Steele needs to improve his command and changeup to make it as a starter. The slider is devastating, and the fastball could be too, but he needs some fine-tuning before really taking off, I think.

I like Rivera, but I love the other two. If the Cardinals were to literally just sweep one school clean in this draft, I actually think they might do okay for themselves.

Daulton Varsho, C, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Varsho is another of my personal cheeseballs in this draft, as a catcher who might literally qualify as a five-tool player, though his arm is probably a bit weak for that. The fact he has a weaker than ideal arm for a catcher is basically the only real knock against Varsho I can come up with, though.

He looks like a catcher, at 5’10” and 200 lbs, but he doesn’t move like a catcher, with plus speed on the bases and remarkable agility behind the plate. He has power, speed, plate discipline, and above-average contact ability. Obviously, playing for Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Horizon League is going to lead to competition questions, but the tools for Varsho are real. There are a couple players I would take over him in the third, but not many. If he’s sitting there when the Cards are on the board, unless someone has really fallen from where they should have gone, he’s one of my favourites. Oh, and he hits from the left side, too, which I always find charming in a catcher for some reason.

via NorthwoodsLeague:

Tony Dibrell, RHP, Kennesaw State

If Jack Flaherty had gone to college, he would have looked a lot like Tony Dibrell.

Tony Dibrell doesn’t have any truly elite offerings, but what he does have is three, maybe even four 55s on the card. He works in the low 90s with his fastball, and the pitch moves when he keeps it down. His changeup is above average, as is his slider. The curve is probably his worst offering right now, but it’s still pretty good, and I think could be a plus with more work. He doesn’t commit to the pitch enough, casting it and leaving it up and to the third base side too often. Getting on top of the pitch more and just generally getting out in front of the mound a little better could take him to a new level, I think. He lands closed with his plant foot, and I think getting a little more on line with his lower body could improve his overall command and that curveball especially, as he might not lose it up and out so often.

There’s a pretty good Chris Carpenter impression waiting to happen with Dibrell, if a club could make a few tweaks and help him tighten up what he’s got. Even as he is, though, Dibrell is a very solid pitching prospect, and the kind of relatively polished, intelligent pitcher the Cardinals seem to value. I like him.

via Steve Givarz:

Mark Vientos, SS/3B, American Heritage HS (Florida)

Vientos is one of the more intriguing toolshed projects in the draft this year. He’s long and lean at 6’4” and just 180 pounds, but already shows high-end batspeed and some real power potential.

He’s a shortstop in high school, but he won’t stay there, even to start out in pro ball I don’t believe. He’s athletic, but not exceptionally rangy, and 6’4” is tough to make work up the middle. He has the arm to play third, so that seems the most likely destination. Some observers think he’ll end up moving to the outfield, but I think the feet are good enough to stay in the dirt. It’s a question worth considering, though, so don’t think I’m dismissing those concerns.

Vientos possesses one tool that really could act as a separating factor, though it’s completely by chance and not something that can be developed: age. He is the youngest player in the entire draft, as he won’t turn eighteen until December. We know the research says the youngest players in any given demographic tend to perform better over time, and Vientos definitely fits that category. Age was a definite factor in the Cards’ assessment of Dylan Carlson last year, and it wouldn’t shock me if age bumps Vientos up the draft boards of certain clubs a bit. He’s been inconsistent this spring, which has some scouts questioning his game, but I say he’s seventeen, 6’4”, and can hit the ball a mile when he’s going good. The upside is huge, even if he is most definitely a long-term project.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Riley Mahan, 2B, Kentucky

One of the players I most wish the Cardinals would get a chance to draft this year is Keston Hiura, the infielder from UC Irvine who has put up just monstrous numbers this spring. There’s a decent chance Hiura will need Tommy John surgery following the draft, as he’s been basically unable to throw most of the season due to elbow issues, but I think he just might be the best overall hitter in the entire draft this year. Unfortunately for the Redbirds, even the spectre of a potential surgery in pro ball won’t be enough to push Hiura down anywhere near their draft position.

On the other hand, there’s another player who fits the bill as sort of the offbrand Keston Hiura, who might be available in the fifth or even sixth round range, making him a much better fit for the Cards’ situation. Said player is Riley Mahan, a 6’3”, 195 lb second baseman who probably should have air quotes around second baseman, but who can really hit.

Mahan showed more power this spring than he ever had before, beginning to get the ball into the air, and he hits the everloving crap out of the ball when he connects. That said, his strike zone judgement is questionable, and he has no real defensive home. In other words, he’s sort of the bizarro world version of Matt Carpenter, as a defensive vagabond with intriguing offensive ability, but where Carpenter was all discipline and no power, Mahan is all loud contact and needs to refine his batting eye. He’s very clearly a flawed player, but the upside with the bat is considerable, and Mahan could be a huge victory for a player development system if they could figure out how to help him refine his skills.

The Favourites

You know, it’s funny; due to the fact I’ve covered so few players this time around, I’ve actually found myself writing more about players I really like, rather than writing full scouting reports on guys I’m more lukewarm or even flat-out down on, so take the reports I’ve written this year as, mostly, the players I really like.

I will, however, say a few things about the Cardinals’ potential picks, and their overall strategy. The fact their bonus pool is just so, so low this year creates an enormous challenge for Randy Flores and his staff to contend with. It’s not so much that the Cards don’t have a pick until late in the third round; it’s the fact they lack basically any flexibility at all to take chances or push the envelope on guys they like due to the bonus pool restrictions. Thus, the Cardinals will basically have to decide whether to take one shot on a tough sign, knowing they’ll only really get the one shot, or to try and massage the picks a little more and get some good talent, while probably not getting anything approaching a great talent.

Personally, my choice would basically come down to that first pick, number 94. If that pick comes around, and there is one of the players I truly covet sitting on the board who has fallen further than he should, and I think I have a pretty good feel for what it would take to get him, then I’m shooting the moon and dealing with going cheap elsewhere, maybe for most of the top ten rounds. If, on the other hand, there isn’t a Cole Brannen (who might be my favourite player in the draft, honestly), sitting there at 94, then I’m probably going more conservative and not taking any real risks.

With all that said, I’m not really expecting a no-way-can-they-pass-him-up talent to fall to the Cardinals at 94 the way Delvin Perez did at 22 a year ago, and the signability guys who might fall, i.e. Jake Eder or his ilk, are a little too much of a risk for my tastes, I think.

Thus, if I’m making out my dream board for the Cards, it might go something like:

Rd. 3, #94 — Daulton Varsho, C, U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

I’m going with a premium position guy here, as I think the fact Varsho plays catcher (and has the tools to stay there, I believe, even if the arm is less than ideal), raises his floor. And for a catcher, his offensive potential could make him a steal in the third, I think. He’s actually ranked down in the 110s by some other sources, so I’m bullish on him. Maybe the fact he’s ranked a little lower could actually help me get a bit of a deal on him, too.

Rd. 4, #124 — Tony Dibrell, RHP, Kennesaw State

I’m going to stay with a fairly conservative tack here and take a pitcher I think has a very good chance to be a big leaguer, and one with some untapped upside if a club could help him refine his stuff and command a bit more. He’s ranked right around here, if not a little higher, and I could see taking Dibrell first over Varsho if I thought he was less likely to make it through to the fourth.

If Dibrell is gone here, I think I might very well go with Andrew Bechtold. I like him an awful lot in round four.

Rd. 5, #154 — Sam Keating, RHP, Canterbury HS

I really wanted Hugh Fisher, the high school lefty who’s been up to 96 with the nasty curve, here, but he’s a Vanderbilt commit, and I don’t know if he’s signable. Certainly it’s questionable with my hypothetically limited draft budget. So, I’m going with Keating, who I like just as well (aside from the fact Fisher, as a lefty, gets a little bump for rarity), and I think is more gettable for a team who really likes him. He’s probably my one overslot shot, and he shouldn’t be hugely over. I’ll gladly go cheap from 8-10 to get a real talent like Keating, I think.

Rd. 6, #184 — Je’Von Ward, OF, Gahr HS

And here’s my big project player in the draft. I wrote about Ward not too long ago; he’s a 6’5” speedster with tons of room to grow into greater strength but who is, at least right now, very raw. What he could be down the road, though, is exceptional, and I’m taking a chance on one long-term developmental project here. I think I’ve got good value from my first two picks, a pitching upside play with my third I really like, and I’m taking a chance on pure ceiling here.

I’ll go almost exclusively cheap from rounds 7-10 following these picks, in terms of strategy, before taking a couple more shots from 11 on if players fall. I want to make sure I get these players signed, so I need all the wiggle room I can get within the tight constraints hypothetical draft director Aaron is operating under.

So that’s this year’s batch of draft previews, everybody. Hope you’ve enjoyed them, even if they’ve been less numerous (and somewhat more desultory in tone), than usual. Hopefully next year we’ll have more excitement to look forward to come draft day, and I can write about three times as many of these things as I did this year. (Although, doing short reports I still managed to get quite a few players done, I suppose, though I miss the full, longform scouting reports.)

I’ll be around to try and write up the players the Cards pick on Tuesday afternoon. Until then, everybody.

Oh, also, Carlos Martinez is awesome. He finished his shutout somewhere around the middle of this post. So, you know. Holy shit.