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2018 Draft Preview No. 14: Persons of Interest Two

The final installment, and a giant, annual-sized issue to boot.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Morning, all. The draft is now less than 48 hours away, and I’ve decided that, rather than do a usual persons of interest post, wherein I double the number of players I cover from three to six and attempt to halve the length of each scouting report, I’m going to do a lightning round sort of rundown. So I’m going to do very short, abbreviated reports on a full dozen players I find intriguing for one reason or another, with only one of them, Jordan Groshans (who I meant to cover way earlier and just fell through the cracks), being in possible first round consideration. (And I think he’s more of a 40-50 guy than a first-rounder, but that’s obviously not that far away.)

Actually, let’s go with a baker’s dozen here, rather than a straight twelve, shall we? I’ve always liked the concept of the baker’s dozen, so that’s what we’re going to do. And with no further ado, here we go.

Austin Bergner, RHP, University of North Carolina

6’4”, 195; B/T Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Bergner is one of the better draft-eligible sophomores in the class this year, although he has admittedly had a very up and down college career so far at UNC. When I wrote Bergner up as a high school senior coming out of Florida, he was a gangly power pitcher with a fast-paced, funky delivery that caused a ton of debate amongst those who saw him. Two years later, he’s maybe more of an enigma, as he’s toned down his delivery a ton, but his stuff has fallen off.

He was great on the Cape last summer, but hasn’t repeated that success this spring, and he’s sat more in the low 90s, rather than 94-95 as he used to. He works with a heavy, moving fastball, a solid-average fading change, and a curveball that used to be better but now he seems tentative when throwing. Personally, I think getting Bergner away from pitching coaches trying to take away his fluidity, power, and athleticism in favour of better control would do wonders for his stuff. He’s a project at this point, but if a team were to grab him in, say, the fourth or fifth round and buy him away from UNC, I think he’s a project that could pay off in a huge way. The arm talent is still there, but it’s buried under the same kind of changes that have made Carlos Martinez so much less dynamic and fluid.

via 2080 Baseball:

Jason Bilous, RHP, Coastal Carolina

6’2”, 175 lbs; B/T Right/Right

So, what’s know the drill.

An arm-strength monster who already had Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school, Bilous has both started and relieved for Coastal Carolina, but for my money he’s best suited as a reliever long term, where he could focus on his power fastball and slider combination without worrying about the finer details of pitching. His control is flat-out terrible, as he walks just over seven batters per nine innings, but he can strike out the world when he’s on, as well. He’s got a very long, complicated arm action that seems really tough to time up, and even pitching exclusively from the stretch he struggles to find the zone. Still, he can sit at 97 and touch triple digits in short outings, and his slider might flash a 60 once or twice an outing. Joe Kelly was a little like this in college. The Cards traded for Conner Greene this past offseason. That’s the kind of pitcher Bilous is, and that’s the kind of challenge a team drafting him would face.

Adam Wolf, LHP, Louisville

6’6”, 225 lbs; B/T Left/Left


Picture the version of Mark Mulder we all hoped the Cardinals were getting back in 2005, and that’s basically what you see in Adam Wolf. He’s got a similarly huge frame, a similar wide range of solid offerings, and a similar feel for pitching. He isn’t a power pitcher, working mostly at 90-92, but he creates great plane on the pitch and locates it well where he wants for the most part. His best pitch is a mid-80s cutter he apparently literally learned to throw by googling it. He throws a big, sweeping curve and a nice sinking change to round out his repertoire, and he can locate all of his pitches when he’s on. Wolf doesn’t have one pitch that jumps out, and he’s not a huge strikeout guy even at his best, but he’s got great feel for pitching and a wide variety of averageish offerings that make him very effective at keeping hitters off balance and the opposing team off the board.

via GoCards:

Ryan Weiss, RHP, Wright State

6’4”, 210 lbs; B/T Right/Right


Weiss missed time early in his college career after a weightlifting accident, but appears to have put that behind him and has pitched very well for a mid-major school the last couple years. He’s another control/command guy, not that different from Adam Wolf (though throwing from the other side, admittedly), and mostly gets by by pounding the zone with a couple of 50/55 grade offerings, while lacking a true out pitch. He works around 93 with his fastball, and it’s got a little sink that keeps hitters from lifting it effectively. His changeup is his best pitch, and I wonder, watching him, if he could refine it into a forkball or splitter in order to get better depth, seeing as how he already has the feel for slipping the ball. His curve is probably average or a tick below, but he locates it pretty well. The stuff for Weiss isn’t overwhelming, but he’s got that bulldog approach, never walks anyone, and the changeup is intriguing.

Reid Schaller, RHP, Vanderbilt

6’3”, 210 lbs; B/T Right/Right


Another Tommy John survivor, Schaller is actually classified as a redshirt freshman, meaning he has plenty of leverage to stay in school if he wants. He’s a pure arm strength bet, as he works consistently at 96-98, but there’s really not much else there. He throws a slider, and sometimes it’s okay. That’s...pretty much it. A club selecting Schaller would basically be taking on a project to try and teach him some complimentary pitch, just betting that the arm speed translates to a late-inning relief role or something. He’s got an extreme short-arm delivery that adds deception but probably isn’t very healthy, so for me he’s a relief-only project. Still, arm strength always plays, and Schaller has it.

via Brian Sakowski:

Richard Palacios, SS, Towson

5’11”, 180 lbs; B/T Left/Right


Richard Palacios probably isn’t a shortstop long term, with a fringy arm that will likely force him to move off the position. So really, I’d say you’re looking at a second base profile rather than a shortstop profile. That’s the bad part.

Here’s the good part: most of the other stuff. Palacios is one of the most polished, intelligent hitters in college baseball, with outstanding on-base skills and a great understanding of what he can do physically. He’s a plus runner, swipes a ton of bases, and has just enough pop pitchers can’t simply attack him over the middle of the plate with impunity. He’s not big, and it’s hard to really project a whole lot of thump in his bat long term, but he could be Greg Garcia, only with 60 speed and a nose for stealing bases. And while he’s probably a second baseman, rather than a shortstop, I think he could be a very good second baseman. This guy is one of my under the radar gems in the draft this year.

Mike Siani, OF, William Penn HS (PA)

6’1”, 180 lbs; B/T Left/Left


I really should have gotten to Siani before now, as he’s actually one of the more tooled-up prep outfielders in the class, with a wide base of athletic abilities that should allow him to impact a game in multiple ways down the road. He’s got a very intriguing power/speed combo to his game, with power that’s mostly of the BP variety right now and 60 grade speed that should keep him in center field long term. He also has a plus throwing arm in the outfield, so there’s a chance here for elite defense, particularly if he ends up in right, but he should be able to stay in the middle at a very acceptable level.

The bat is a little more of a question, as Siani swings and misses a lot. He’s a cold-weather kid, so it’s easy to look at him and dream there’s more in his game once he gets consistent development time, but for now the hit tool is a bit of a concern for me. The power is solid, probably 55 grade, but not elite to the point you don’t worry about him swinging and missing at all. I covered Jarred Kelenic recently; take Kelenic’s tools and turn them down just slightly (the contact skill a little more than the others), and you basically have Mike Siani. That’s not to denigrate Siani; he’s still a very solid prospect in his own right. He probably fits in the supplemental round range for me, or maybe the early second.

Oh, he pitches, too, for now, and probably will go both ways if he gets to college. He’s not a pro prospect on the mound, though.

via rkyosh007:

Osiris Johnson, SS, Encinal High School (CA)

6’0”, 180 lbs; B/T Right/Right


Osiris Johnson is another personal favourite of mine in this draft, or was at least when he was still sneaking under the radar as a potential middle infielder with plus power potential and just enough glove he might be able to make it work long term. In the last month or so, though, he’s been generating a bunch of buzz, and while I’m still very doubtful he pushes into the first round, I’ve heard some rumours of teams looking at him far higher than they were even in March.

Johnson has explosive bat speed, even with a swing that barely has a hand load in it, and he’s really come a long way as a hitter even since the summer showcases last year. He’s got a big arm, average to maybe 55 grade speed, and shows enough range in the infield a team might feel like they could make it work with him at short if they believe in their ability to position him and help out just a little. Basically, think of Paul DeJong, and how in spite of not having flashy, noticeable athleticism, his tools play up just enough that he makes it work at short, and the bat plays like a much more offensively-minded position. That’s the kind of upside Johnson could have, and even if he moves to third base or second (third feels more likely to me), he could end up hitting enough to still be a tremendously valuable player. He’s a player to watch for me, and I would love it if he somehow made his way into the Cardinals’ system in, say, the supplemental round or thereabouts.

Oh, and he’s Jimmy Rollins’s cousin, so prepare to hear about that a bunch whenever he’s drafted if the MLB Network broadcast is still going on.

via rkyosh007:

Nick Decker, OF, Seneca High School (NJ)

6’0”, 200 lbs; B/T Left/Left


Okay, let’s just get it out of the way first: Nick Decker is from New Jersey. You know who else is from New Jersey? That’s right, Mike Trout. Nick Decker is Mike Trout, and you’re just going to have to live with the knowledge that every media person who mentions Nick Decker is going to tell you about how he’s Mike Trout.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what Nick Decker actually is. And what is Nick Decker, exactly? He’s a hell of a power stroke for a player this young, I’ll tell you that much. He’s a high back elbow hitter with a leg kick and an uppercut, and he just happens to make some of the louder contact of any high school hitter in the draft this year. There’s some definite rawness to his offensive game, and enough swing and miss you have to be a little concerned, but when he connects he makes a lot of noise.

Decker isn’t only a bat, but it’s definitely his carrying tool. He’s probably a 55 runner now, will likely slow down a tick as he ages, and has a chance to play a solid defensive corner outfield position. Center is probably out of his tool grade, but he’s got a big throwing arm that would fit him into right just fine. Like I said, Decker isn’t a one-tool prospect by any means, but any team drafting him in the first two rounds is going to be doing so on the belief he can play solid defense in a corner, make slightly below-average amounts of contact, and do tons of damage when he does put the bat on the ball. Picture Tyler O’Neill, only left handed and like 10% less buff.

via Skillshow Videos:

Jordyn Adams, OF, Green Hope High School (NC)

6’2”, 175 lbs; B/T Right Right


Adams is an athletic marvel, one of the fastest runners in the entire draft this year, and has plus raw power potential as well, even if the bat is very, very raw still. There’s Eric Davis upside in Adams’s frame, as he could end up a plus center fielder, a plus-plus runner on the bases, and a plus power hitter down the road if things all come together for him. So what’s the catch, you ask?

The catch is that Adams is a two-sport star, a highly-touted wide receiver recruit, and has a two-sport commitment to North Carolina. The big question for any team looking to draft him is going to be whether or not he’s ready to turn pro and give up his football career. It’s a complicating factor for sure, and I have to say I’m surprised how little consensus there seems to be as to his future plans. The leverage he holds, and the risk a team would have to take to select him in the first couple rounds, makes me think he probably falls beyond where he would need to go to go pro in baseball. Maybe a club with multiple extra picks and a huge draft budget takes the chance and tries to buy him away from UNC, but I think there are probably safer bets to place, and on players with nearly the upside Adams possesses.

Jordan Groshans, SS/3B, Magnolia High School (TX)

6’4”, 190 lbs; B/T Right/Right


I said earlier I should have gotten to Mike Siani at some point earlier in this whole preview process; that goes double for Groshans, who may end up creeping into the latter part of the first round, or else go in the supplemental range.

Groshans is a big, rangy athlete, with 55s pretty much across the board as far as tools go. He plays shortstop now, mostly, but probably fits better at third considering the size of his frame. There’s a chance he could pull a Tulowitzki and stay at short long term, but I don’t see it as a particularly likely outcome. He fits far better at third to me, where his plus arm and good body control could make him a 55+ grade fielder. He’s got bat speed to spare, as well, and flashes plus power, though his approach currently leaves a fair bit to be desired. He’s aggressive in attacking pitches he believes he can drive, and while he’s often right, he also leaves himself open to struggling with quality breaking balls (there were some very bad plate appearances in showcase settings last year, although to be fair he also had some very good ones), and chasing hard stuff up and out of the zone. He’s also a little prone to getting out on his front foot a bit too much to my eye, but these are really pretty minor quibbles for a high school kid.

Groshans has more than enough time to refine his approach, and really has no physical holes in his game. The ceiling is very high, and if he happened to make it to the Cardinals’ second pick at 43 I think he would be an ideal pick. I’d say it’s no better than 50/50 he lasts that long, though, and those odds may even be too optimistic.

via FanGraphs:

Brennen Davis, OF, Basha High School (AZ)

6’4”, 175 lbs; B/T Right/Right


Davis is another dual-sport athlete, similar to Jordyn Adams, only with the second sport being basketball rather than football. The big difference, however, is that Davis has already largely phased basketball out to focus on baseball, and the picture for him is much clearer in terms of signability as a result. He’s committed to Miami, and so won’t be an automatic sign, but he is very clearly ready to make baseball his career, and that does inform the decision to draft him or not.

Tools-wise, Brennen Davis could be a beast down the road. He’s lanky and still a little awkward, very much built like an eighteen year old basketball player, but he’s starting to fill out some. Speed is his best tool for now — and he’s a 65-70 runner, so it may always be — which allows him to cover tons of ground in the outfield. Enough to play center now, certainly, and hopefully long term. The arm is a plus as well, though not as notably so as the wheels. The bat is behind the glove, which shouldn’t be surprising for a two-sport guy, but he’s shown a lot of promise already. He’s got the long levers, for certain, and so definitely shows some swing and miss, but his approach is good, and he covers the plate well. There’s a bit of Jose Martinez in the swing path — although without the exhausting pre-pitch movement — and he can hammer fastballs up in the zone. My only real concern with his swing is that he looks like he dips his head more than is ideal sometimes, but that’s a relatively small matter.

What Davis needs more than anything is playing time and coaching. His fundamentals look sound, and he’s absolutely got the athleticism to perhaps be a star. The fact he’s solidly dedicated to baseball is a big positive, and what you would have drafting him somewhere from round three to five would be one of the biggest hunks of clay imaginable to try and mold. (In case you can’t tell, I’m a big fan, if the Cardinals could maybe find a little wiggle room in their budget past round two.)

via College Baseball Advisors:

Aaron Ashby, LHP, Crowder Junior College (MO)

6’1”, 170 lbs; B/T Left/Left


And so we end with another player I absolutely love in the mid-round range, that third to maybe sixth round sweet spot where the talent is a little harder to unearth, but no less exciting in terms of upside when you do. Ashby has the pitching bloodlines, being the nephew of former big-leaguer Andy Ashby, and he has a big-college commitment in hand (Tennessee, to be specific), if he doesn’t see some club make him an offer he can’t refuse in the draft.

Ashby also has one of the wickedest curveballs in the entire draft, right up there with Tim Cate or Matthew Liberatore, and not too far below the absolutely ridiculous hammer of Carter Stewart. Ashby throws his for strikes, throws it in the dirt, throws it big and soft, throws it harder and tilted. He’s basically the Rich Hill of the juco world, is what I’m saying. With major league clubs more and more coming around the notion that pitching backward and leading with offspeed stuff actually can be a viable way of pitching, ditching the old notion of establishing the fastball (at least to a certain extent), a player who has the command and virtuosity of Ashby when it comes to a breaking ball would seem to be more enticing than ever.

The curve is far and away Ashby’s best pitch, but it’s not the only weapon he has. He’s picked up some velocity over the past year, and he’s comfortably at 90-92 now. It can actually get some swings and misses at the top of the zone, when he plays it off the tunnel of his curve, but that also means he’s likely going to be a fly ball pitcher going forward, and so a little riskier in terms of power allowed. He’s got a decent little turnover change, as well, that should be average with a little refinement, maybe even a touch above.

Ashby shows a lot of feel for pitching, throwing a hesitation into his delivery, manipulating the curve as I mentioned, or working north-south on helpless juco hitters. He’s not the most consistent strike-thrower yet, but I think that will come with time and more confidence in his fastball. I’m not sure what round or what bonus number would get him into pro ball rather than heading off to Tennessee, but I would really, really love to see the Cardinals take a run at him at some point.

via George Balekji:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end. That is the last full scouting report I will write prior to the draft this year. It’s been another season of covering these kids, my eleventh year of trying to do so (though looking back at what little coverage I was able to offer the first year or two is a little funny now to me), and I hope you’ve found them all worthwhile.

Here’s what I’ve got planned for tomorrow: my morning post will be a final round up, with some mock draft thoughts (thoughts on players mocked to the Cardinals by others, I mean; I’ve learned my lesson that doing mock drafts is a giant pain in the ass and I don’t want to do them), final personal favourite player lists, and a couple predictions about what I think could or maybe should happen. Then, at two in the afternoon, I’ll have up basically just a link post with all the draft previews I did this year aggregated so that that’s available before the draft itself gets started. Either I or another editor will throw up a draft thread in the evening, basically like a game thread (Cardinals are off this year), for discussion and the like. And finally, I’ll write up each of the Cards’ two picks as they’re made, as quickly as I can, which means I’ll probably be scrambling to find my notes on a player I looked at this spring and then decided against writing up, because that seems to be pretty much what always happens.

Happy draft, everybody.