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Wrapping Up Day Two of the Draft

Scouting all the players taken by the Redbirds in the top ten rounds of the draft.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The second day of the draft is in the books — the first day the Cardinals were actually allowed to participate in, actually — and day three, which consists of everything from round eleven to forty, will kick off in just a couple short hours. There will be meaningful players taken, of course, today, but I’ll be honest: these are not players you’re going to get detailed writeups on. Maybe down the road, once they’ve turned themselves into prospects, but not now.

Anyhow, as I said, ten rounds of the draft are in the rear view mirror now, and I’ll bet you’re just dying to know about the random seventh-rounder we’ll be slavering over in the coming years as Cardinal fans. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the players the Redbirds drafted, shall we?

I already covered the first two picks the Cards made yesterday, Scott Hurst in the third round and Kramer Robertson in the fourth. Too long, didn’t read version: I like Hurst a whole, whole lot, and Kramer Robertson is an interesting bet on a cost-cutting college senior sign.

And really, we always knew this draft class was going to look a little like this for the Cardinals: the brutally short bonus pool under which they are operating this year could have, at worst, doomed them entirely to mediocre, untalented players, or at best (which, by the way, is closer to what I think we actually got), led to an island of misfit toys sort of feel to things. When you’re picking in the first round, you can pull the 6’1” center fielder with the plus-plus speed, the 60+ glove, the above-average power potential, and the clean bill of health; when you’re picking in the third round, you take the guy with those same tools, but it comes in a 5’10” package with a serious back injury in his past. In other words, you can still get talent in the third round with a tight bonus pool, but there are going to be warts and question marks.

Anyhow, we begin with the Cards’ fifth rounder, who has a wart of his own.

Rd. 5, #154: Zach Kirtley, 2B/3B, St. Mary’s

There are a couple catches with Kirtley, and they’re relatively easy to see right off the bat: one, he plays for a decidedly non-powerhouse school, which can always make it a little tougher for a player to get noticed (though the WCC is not at all a bad conference as far as baseball goes), two, he hit worse his junior season than he did as a sophomore, which usually throws up at least a caution flag, when a player fails to improve as he matures within a more or less static environment, and three, Zach Kirtley is a player very much in search of a position, as he played mostly second base but doesn’t really have up the middle actions, and has seen action at third but the arm is a question mark.

Now for the good news: Zach Kirtley is a really good baseball player, and fits perfectly in with an emerging pattern of Randy Flores drafts. Namely, Kirtley is a hitter with extraordinary plate discipline, which seems to be one of the more coveted tools a position player can possess when being scouted by the current St. Louis Cardinals drafting operation.

In his sophomore season at St. Mary’s, Kirtley put up a .932 OPS, with a .181 isolated slugging percentage and seven home runs in 269 plate appearances. This season, as a junior, he posted an .872 OPS, with just a .146 ISO and five homers in 271 trips to the plate. His batting average dropped, a result of a precipitous decline in his BABIP. Overall, one gets the impression of a player who simply didn’t drive the ball as effectively as a junior as he did his sophomore season. And that is a concern.

On the other hand, Kirtley also posted a career-high on-base percentage (.433), in spite of those other down numbers, and did so by maintaining his strikeout rate (actually dropping it ever so slightly), and walking in nearly 18% of his plate appearances. That number represents a 37% increase in his walk rate from sophomore to junior seasons. In other words, even as he hit the ball somewhat less effectively this year as opposed to last, Kirtley turned up the volume on his command of the strike zone, and had an excellent season in spite of having a bit of a down year in certain way.

To my eye, Kirtley has a very good swing, with plenty of loft and a leg kick that keeps him balanced. (Interesting note: leg kicks and modest uppercut swings also seem to be popular with the Randy Flores drafting department, perhaps driven by his background in video and mechanics?) He goes to the opposite field very well, and might actually be leaving some power on the table by dedicating himself so studiously to letting the ball get deep nearly all the time.

Kirtley is a decent athlete, but not extraordinary, and it’s an open question where his best position is going forward. If forced to answer, I would probably say third base, where his arm is less exposed than his range is up the middle, but defensive improvement is going to be one of the challenges of his development.

One extra little note: Kirtley is extremely young for a college junior, still just 20 years old, and thus falls into that Dylan Carlson bucket of players who are unusually young for the type of draftee they are. Those guys tend to outperform their peers, according to a fair amount of research. Just something to consider.

If asked for a comp, I might go with Justin Turner, who similarly lacked a long-term defensive home early in his pro career with the Mets before finding himself out West and turning his tantalising offensive skills into production.

I mentioned at some point while writing up Riley Mahan, the positional vagabond with the power stick out of Kentucky, that I found him attractive as a sort of Keston Hiura lite. Well, guess what? Zach Kirtley fits that bill pretty well, too. I’m a big fan of this pick.

Rd. 6, #184: Zach Jackson, C, Winter Haven HS (Florida)

Of all the players the Cardinals took in the first ten rounds, Jackson might be the most intriguing. He’s not my favourite, mind you; Scott Hurst has that title pretty well locked up. But in terms of what you can look at and dream on, Zach Jackson has some really interesting tools.

First off, he’s a catcher who hits from the left side of the plate, which is always interesting. Even more interesting than that, though, is the fact that Jackson is an unusual sort of hitter for a catcher. He is all about power and loft, with a low hand load in his swing I frankly love and strength that really shows up with wood bats moreso than metal. This is a kid who is going to hit lots of baseballs a very long way as he gets bigger and stronger.

Jackson also boasts a big-time arm from behind the plate, enabling him to post plus pop times in spite of not being the most nimble player back there. So big power, big arm, lefty swinger, and a catcher. What’s not to love?

Well, first is the question of whether or not he’ll be able to stay at catcher long-term. Jackson has the hands to catch, I believe, but I have no idea if he has the feet. His body is a little soft; definitely not fat, but just big and soft the way lots of big dudes are at eighteen or nineteen, and he’s on the large side in terms of catchers. He’s not much of a runner even now, and it’s always worrisome when a guy lacks footspeed coming out of high school, considering players tend to get slower, not faster, as time goes on. There’s also some swing and miss in his game; he’s not an all-or-nothing hitter, but that lofted, powerful swing doesn’t come with extreme contact rates. Jackson also happens to be one of the oldest high schoolers in the draft, having already turned nineteen this spring, and if I’m going to point out how youngish players tend to outperform, then I should also point out the opposite holds true for older players within a given demographic.

I’m sure the Cardinals felt confident in Jackson’s price tag, or else they wouldn’t have risked one of their limited number of picks. The good version of Jackson probably looks something like former Mets and Dodgers backstop Todd Hundley; those of you who were born within a few years of me on either side will remember him quite well. Big time power, a fair number of strikeouts, and lots of walks to go with them. Sort of a three true outcomes-heavy profile behind the plate, which is both unusual and mighty intriguing. He is also, if you want a more recent comp, not unlike the high school version of Zack Collins, the first round pick of the White Sox last year who probably doesn’t belong behind the plate but has a chance to put up monster offensive numbers anywhere he plays. Another pick I’m way into.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

and via 2080 Baseball, to show the right guy throwing:

Rd. 7, #214: Chase Pinder, OF, Clemson

Chase Pinder is not unlike Scott Hurst at the top of this draft list, only with perhaps slightly muted tools across the board. He’s not quite as dynamic; certainly not with the kind of power potential Hurst possesses, but Pinder has plus speed that plays anywhere in the outfield and some things going for him in terms of offense that could get him to the big leagues.

The first thing that jumps out about Pinder is the speed, and his ability to go get the ball in the field. I believe he’s a legit center fielder, potentially a 55 glove out there or even a 60 in a corner, and has enough arm to play all three spots. Shane Robinson made a very nice career out of playing solid defense anywhere in the outfield, and Pinder feels like a similar sort of swiss army knife of the outfield.

However, there are some things about Pinder’s offensive profile that suggest there might be a bit more in the tank than a Shane Robinson comp. He slugged eleven home runs his sophomore season at Clemson, putting up an ISO of .176, and walked more often than he struck out. Again, Randy Flores draftees mostly have to have excellent plate discipline, or they’re just not going to be considered. This season, Pinder hit more doubles but fewer home runs, and his strikeout to walk rate held relatively close to where it was in 2016.

There’s also the fact Pinder hit very well in the Cape Cod League last summer, posting a .751 OPS in the notoriously pitcher-friendly wood bat league by which all other summer leagues are judged. The Cardinals have long seemingly given extra credit to hitters who have shown aptitude for wood prior to being drafted, so Pinder’s productive turn on the Cape probably helped his case.

The downside for Pinder is the simple fact he’s not very big, going 5’10” and about a buck seventy-five, so it’s not a particularly physical profile. He’s plenty toolsy in terms of speed and contact ability, as well as having great skills on defense and in terms of strike zone command, but his ceiling may just be limited by his stature and frame.

Still, this is a seventh round pick, and Chase Pinder is a hell of a ballplayer. The Cardinals had very little chance at a great draft this year, but I have to say Flo and Co. (the counterpart to Mo and Co., obviously), pretty much knocked it out of the park as far as I’m concerned in this early part of their draft. Sure, it’s probably just a solo shot, but circumstances just didn’t allow for a grand slam.

Oh, and speaking of grand slams......via ACC Digital Network:

Rd. 8, #244: Wilberto Rivera, RHP, Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy (PR)

Finally, a pitcher. I would never, ever have thought I would live to see a Cardinal draft that didn’t include ‘RHP’ until the eighth round, but these are strange times in which we live.

I wasn’t really familiar with Rivera before the Cardinals drafted him, so this is much quicker research than I usually do. But here’s the upside: Rivera is a big kid, at 6’3” and 200+ pounds already (he’s listed at 207, but I’m thinking that’s a bit shy of the mark...), and he throws hard. Hard as in he’s been clocked as high as 97, though that was only in a short stint in a showcase-type setting, so don’t expect reports of him sitting 96-98 next year in Johnson City.

The downside is that his delivery looks very risky to me, and beyond throwing hard he doesn’t really yet have any other pitches. The fastball has nice run and a little sink, but what he’s throwing that’s being called a slider isn’t really much of anything just yet. No changeup, either.

Rivera is further along in terms of pitching development than a guy like Bryan Dobzanski, the high school wrestling champ who came into pro ball as a late-round overslot bonus guy based on nothing but arm strength and athleticism, but not much. It’s basically just an intriguing fastball at this point; Rivera is going to need a whole lot of work if he’s going to become any kind of starting prospect. On the other hand, if he could learn even just an okay slider his low arm slot and high velocity could make him a useful power reliever, with something like an Octavio Dotel kind of ceiling down the road a ways.

via Jesse Burkhart:

Rd. 9, #274: Evan Kruczynski, LHP, East Carolina

The Cardinals made eight selections yesterday, and four of them were college seniors. Again, it’s a function of the limited resources they had for this draft that they had to go so heavy on what should be cheap signs. Kruczynski joins Kramer Robertson, Chase Pinder (Pinder is, interestingly, a college senior who also happens to have just recently turned 21, which is sort of fascinating), and the Cards’ tenth round selection, who we’ll get to in a minute here.

I had Kruczynski on my preseason follow list dating back to last fall, over in a separate section where I try to not a few college seniors. Every year it seems we get at least one or two fourth- or even fifth-year college players, selected for both price tag considerations and some intriguing level of skill, and so I try to at least keep track of a few of those guys.

Kruczynski had a very strong junior season at East Carolina University, the alma mater of former Cardinal catching prospect Blake Murphy, if I remember correctly, but decided to return to school to complete his degree. Unfortunately for him, his senior season did not go nearly as well, as he suffered an ankle injury which forced him off the mound, and an attack of suckitis that afflicted him while he was on it.

The stuff for Kruczynski is pretty pedestrian, with a sinking fastball in the upper 80s, a decent changeup, and a couple different breaking balls. I think the slider is probably his best pitch overall, potentially a 55 grade in the future, and could point toward relief work in his future. He works from a lower arm slot, sort of a widescreen look to his delivery, and he can sweep the ball across the zone. Maybe there’s something there, as he’s always had excellent control, but even if not the breaking ball might be good enough to get him to LOOGYdom.

Rd. 10, #304: Brett Seeburger, LHP, San Diego State

I know two things about Brett Seeburger: he’s built like a linebacker, and he has a really good sinker. I’ve seen about four and a half minutes of video as of this morning on the Cards’ new tenth-rounder, and the breaking ball looks slurvy, the changeup looks flat and too firm, but the sinker is obviously the money pitch here. It’s a bit of a Tyler Lyons sort of profile, I suppose, particularly the minor league version of Lyons that never seemed to be able to figure out his breaking ball.

You need to save money in the tenth round, you hope you can get a player with at least one tool. The Cards appear to have done that, as whatever else Seeburger may be he has the one really good pitch, I think. A guy with a 55 sinker, even if he doesn’t have another useful pitch, can come in and get a groundball for you now and again. So you have a pitcher with one pitch that could be above-average and could give him one skill. You can’t ask for much more under the circumstances.

Admittedly, this is not the most inspirational group of players; it certainly isn’t like drooling over last year’s ridiculous haul. But I will say, for what the Cardinals had to deal with this year in terms of resources, I really don’t know how much better they could have done. Obviously, we have no idea how these players will work out in pro ball, but the Redbirds made a bunch of selections where, in spite of their clear shortcomings and issues, each player has at least something about them you can hang your hat on as an interesting or intriguing tool. I like what they did in this draft, given the limitations.

The third and final day of the draft is already underway; I was really hoping the Cardinals would pop Carmen Mlodzinski, a high school righthander, in the eleventh round and try to lure him away from school with whatever little surplus they squirreled away with all those college seniors, but they didn’t, and he’s still on the board in the fourteenth round, so it appears teams believe he’s just unsignable at this point.

Sorry this was so late; I hadn’t really scouted most of these players beyond a quick look and placement on a follow list, potentially, other than Hurst and Jackson, so I had to do way more research on these guys than I normally would have had to post-draft.