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2018 Draft Preview Final: Favourites, Predictions, and Scuttlebutt

The final tally of the draft previews, including some discussion of OPP (other people’s predictions), with which I hope you are down.

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

Draft Day is finally upon us, and I, the erstwhile baron of red, am here to give you all the news that’s fit to print.

Actually, that’s not quite true; I’m sure there’s plenty of news fit to print I’m not going to go into here. What I’m really here to do is talk about a handful of other people’s opinions on what the Cardinals might do tonight, tell you what I’d like to see, tell you what I think we’ll see, and give you some of my final favourites in this particular draft. Very little of that is really news, to be fair, so I’m kind of writing checks my ass can’t cash with that news fit to print line.

The Cards will make two picks tonight, which is disappointing both from a quantity standpoint — there are going to be a lot of very talented, very exciting players available in the second round, and the Redbirds are not going to get any of them — and because the reason they don’t have a second round pick is thanks to their last-minute capitulation to public pressure, internal pressure, and what probably looked like a really good deal on a scratch and ding special in Greg Holland. Just a reminder to everyone out there that sometimes there’s a reason that Proven Closer on the shelf is the last one, sitting there long after everybody else has finished up their Christmas shopping. Sure, maybe you’re getting a deal, but maybe it’s really still there because by the time the first week of June rolls around it will have already directly cost you about four games in the standings, cost you your second round pick on draft night (that you could really have used, considering how you lost all your early picks last year due to another free agent maybe-mistake and a very poor hiring decision), and probably given your three year old lead poisoning somehow.

Okay, okay. I promise, that’s the last time I go on a passive-aggressive little rant about Greg Holland, he said, meaning it this time but not fooling anyone, all of whom knew he would be right back here in a week or two at the most, looking for his next Holland hate fix.

So let’s take a look at some of the mock draft scuttlebutt going on at the moment first, shall we?

The Mocks

  • Keith Law, in his two most recent mock drafts, has the Cardinals taking Shane McClanahan, the lefty starter out of South Florida. The full mocks are behind ESPN’s pay wall, so consider the Cards-centric info the fruits of my insider subscription I’ve kept for way more years than I probably should have, just because there are a handful of things I use it for each year. Keith’s rationale has the Cards taking McClanahan, who earlier this spring was seen as a possibility to go as high as second or third overall but fell off in the second half of the season, as the most talented/advanced player left on the board, and because he fits a tendency of theirs, which is to take college pitchers who were better or more exciting their sophomore seasons, believing they can get that best version back. One side note, because the name will come up a lot: Keith’s mock has Logan Gilbert already off the board by the time the Cardinals go on the clock.
  • The final mock over at FanGraphs has the Cardinals taking Ryan Rolison, a lefty starter from Ole Miss, at nineteen, with a similar rationale of having this track record of improving inconsistent college pitchers. They go through the end of the supplemental picks, as well, and have the Cards taking Jeremy Eierman at 43. More thoughts on that shortly.
  • In their last mock, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com offered two different picks, though both have similar reasoning behind said picks. Callis has the Cards going with McClanahan, agreeing with Professor KLaw, while Mayo brings in Jackson Kowar, a right-handed starter from U of Florida.

Those are the big professional boards I pay the most attention to, so let me give some thoughts.

In all four cases (three different picks), the idea is fairly similar: the Cardinals have a history of preferring college players with their top picks, the point at which the Cards pick usually dictates the best college player on the board will be a pitcher, the organisation has a track record of good development work coaching up college starters (Luke Weaver, Michael Wacha, etc.), and college pitching would seem to fit the Redbirds’ internal needs well, as they have thinned out their ranks of pitching prospects through promotions and trades.

For the most part, I agree with those ideas. The Cards are a very data-driven organisation, even though that’s less of a dogma now under Randy Flores than it was under Dan Kantrovitz, it seems, and things being equal, I think they generally prefer the longer track records of college players. The elite college hitters will almost certainly all be off the board by pick nineteen, no matter how hard I cross my fingers and wish for Alec Bohm or Jonathan India to mysteriously fall, which as I’ve expressed before is incredibly frustrating to me. The Red Sox have an out-of-nowhere terrible year and manage to tank into Andrew Benintendi; the Cardinals have a season so miserable fans are calling for DeWitt to sell the team and they fall all the way to....nineteenth in the draft. As in, the twelfth-best record in baseball.

The pattern the Cards have had of targeting pitchers who were maybe better their sophomore seasons, or had better stuff in the past or whatever, is an interesting approach. Certainly, if you believe a pitcher will bounce back, and if you further believe your organisation has a good chance of aiding in that bounce, then going after a guy like McClanahan makes a ton of sense. However, that approach means sometimes you really do come away with a Luke Weaver, and sometimes you come away with a Connor Jones. Or an Adam Ottavino. (Which, yes, would be awesome to have right now, but not a decade ago when he was trade fodder within the organisation. Just saying.)

As for the idea of trying to shore up your specific needs, I know lots of people view the draft as a dogmatic best player available exercise, wherein only the absolute quality of the player in question should ever be considered. However, I think most of us understand there’s a little nuance to that, at the very least to the point of organisational need/preference serving as a tie breaker of sorts. In most cases in the draft, it’s so difficult to discern who is going to be the better bet over a five to ten year window between two players that leaning on factors such as the type of player you do better in developing, or where the soft spots in your system might be, is probably fine.

Now, for the players themselves, I could certainly see a pick of McClanahan paying off in a big way, and I wouldn’t hate that selection. It wasn’t all that long ago that he looked like a top five lock, and at least a possibility for the top spot overall. When healthy and right, he has as good a stuff as any pitcher in the draft, and even with a down second half of the spring he struck out over fourteen batters per nine innings this season for South Florida. McClanahan has probably the highest chance of any pitcher in this draft of making a whole lot of people in May of 2019 say, “How in the hell did this guy last until 19?”

All that being said, I’m not totally sold on him as the pick. The Cardinals have not shown much interest in the past of spending very high draft picks on pitchers who have already been hurt and needed Tommy John, or who appear headed toward Tommy John, or who are currently recovering from Tommy John. The Nationals have made a cottage industry of picking injured pitchers early (and then usually dealing them away while they still look good), but the Cards haven’t shown a whole lot of interest in already-damaged goods. (Except in the free agent closer market. Damn, didn’t even make it to the end of this column. I blame my incredible writing talent for teeing that one up so temptingly.)

As for the other two, I like Kowar, but I don’t love him. I was a big fan of his coming out of high school, but he hasn’t developed quite as much as I would have hoped by this point. He’s got the power fastball, up to 98 at times, but he just doesn’t get a whole lot of swings and misses. I think there’s some definite reliever downside here, with a somewhat risky delivery, and while I wouldn’t be disappointed with Kowar as the pick I think there would probably be other players on the board (high school bats, generally), I would personally prefer.

Rolison I’m not really a fan of. The stuff is good, but not great, the results have been just okay, and as a draft-eligible sophomore he would be a tough sign on top of that. If you’re going to take a kid with tons of extra leverage who can hold you over a barrel, I would want it to be a true premium talent. Rolison just doesn’t quite fit that profile for me, and I would definitely think there are other players left on the board at nineteen I like more.

I also want to mention the community mock draft over at Minor League Ball, which is always a fascinating exercise. I don’t honestly know who was running the Cards’ draft office this year — I haven’t had as much time this spring as I have in past years, and a lot of details have gotten by me on things like this — but whoever it was made Brice Turang, the high school shortstop who may already be suffering a little prospect fatigue before ever being drafted, the Redbirds’ first round pick. Now, I will say that as much as I always enjoy the community-based mocks, they’re always at least a little unreliable, because the pick ultimately has a lot to do with the personality of the individual running the hypothetical draft room, rather than what the organisation in reality would do.

That being said, Turang would be a very interesting pick to me, as he’s one of the more premium athletes available in the draft this year and comes with a near-certainty of playing some premium position long term. The bat is a question mark, though, and Turang seems to have leveled off in his progression, so there’s definitely some risk of him ending up more Pete Kozma than Frankie Lindor.

Also in the community mock: the Cards take Blaine Knight, RHP from Arkansas at 43, and Nick Northcut at 75 in the second supplemental round. Knight I could definitely see; he’s not all that different from a Kowar or Rolison at 19 to my eye, and fits the Cards’ style of pitcher pretty well also. I know Andrew St. John will be thrilled with the Northcut pick; I wouldn’t mind him at 75, but he’s not entirely my cup of tea. The power is really good, but I have my doubts about the bat, the body, and the position. I think there’s some real risk he ends up a one-tool slugger down at the first base end of the defensive spectrum, and if I wanted that I would take the guy with the better bat in Seth Beer earlier.

The Favourites

Okay, so enough talking about other people’s tastes, preferences, and wild-ass guesses; let’s get down to brass tacks on the players I really like, so you can bring them up in a couple years to prove I don’t know shit about shit.

As I said earlier, my dream scenario for the Cards’ draft would be for a college bat like Alec Bohm or Jon India to fall to them, but there appears to be almost zero chance that happens. By the time the Cardinals go on the board, it will probably be a matter of choosing between the best of the second tier of college pitchers, with Casey Mize, Brady Singer, and one of the Logan Gilbert/Kowar/McClanahan/Rolison group already likely being gone, or going with one of the high school bats that has maybe slid just a touch. For me, Gilbert is the guy I would want most at nineteen, in terms of realistic targets, but he finished the season very strong and is being linked to the Mariners at fourteen pretty heavily.

Of the high school bats likely to be on the board, I think Jarred Kelenic and Nolan Gorman are both gone already, leaving Connor Scott, a center fielder from Plant high school in Tampa as my top guy of the group, probably. You may remember Scott from my draft preview as the freak athlete who also happens to look eerily like Kyle Tucker when he swings. Scott has moved up boards a lot this spring, and he’s maybe the most exciting guy for me at nineteen, because he absolutely will not last to 43.

Turang, Noah Naylor (catcher and younger brother of Josh Naylor), Xavier Edwards, Jordan Groshans, Will Banfield, and even Jordyn Adams could all be at least in consideration at nineteen, though I honestly don’t know that I would want any of those guys that high. Groshans is probably my favourite of the bunch, but I think I would take a chance and see if I could nab him at 43. Turang I question the bat, and while Banfield and Naylor are both really interesting, high school catchers are a scary proposition, and I’d probably go for players I have better feel for. Edwards I don’t know will hit, and Adams I think is going to college to play football and baseball both unless a team absolutely blows him away monetarily, and that probably requires a team with a bunch of extra picks.

My pref list for pick nineteen probably looks something like this:

  • Alec Bohm, 3B/Jonathan India, 3B (both long shots to be available, but stranger things have happened)
  • Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson
  • Jarred Kelenic on the off chance he falls
  • Connor Scott, OF, Plant HS
  • Ethan Hankins, RHP, Georgia HS
  • Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia HS
  • Shane McClanahan, LHP, USF
  • Turang, maybe reach a bit for Groshans and try to go slightly underslot to prepare for taking a chance at pick 43.

At 43, I’m looking at Groshans if he’s there, Seth Beer, Mike Siani, Nander De Sedas, Osiris Johnson, maybe Jeremy Eierman if he falls to that spot. Eierman concerns me deeply, but the power-speed combo and ability to play an infield position is very intriguing as well.

Here’s my overall list of players I love the most in this draft, in non-specific order:

  • Alec Bohm, 3B, Wichita State
  • Jarred Kelenic, OF, Wisconsin HS
  • Jonathan India, 3B/INF, Florida
  • Connor Scott, OF, Plant HS (FL)
  • Nander De Sedas, SS, Florida HS
  • Osiris Johnson, SS, California HS
  • Ben Harris, LHP, Georgia HS
  • Carter Stewart, RHP, Georgia HS (dream scenario is Stewart falling to 19, but he looks like a top 5-7 pick lock right now)
  • Griffin Roberts, RHP, Wake Forest
  • Jaden Hill, RHP, Arkansas HS (would love it if he could be had at 75)
  • Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia HS (this might be the greatest class of single-state pitching ever for Georgia this year)
  • Aaron Ashby, LHP, Crowder Junior College
  • Richard Palacios, SS/2B, Towson
  • Bren Spillane, 3B/1B/OF, Illinois
  • Jordan Groshans, 3B, Texas HS
  • Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Arizona HS
  • Brennen Davis, OF, Arizona HS

Those are just kind of in the order players came to mind as I was thinking, and there are plenty of other guys I really, really like this year, but I had to stop writing somewhere.

The Predictions

Okay, so I’ll go ahead and make some predictions for what I think the Cardinals will do. Again, laugh at me down the road all you want, I probably deserve it.

At pick nineteen, I think their number one target is Logan Gilbert. He fits the organisational model so well it’s somewhat comical, and he’s also one of my favourite pitchers in the draft. There’s a good chance he doesn’t make it to the Cards’ spot, but if he does I would bet my next two giant SBNation paychecks (ignore recent news stories about how we maybe don’t get giant paychecks...), that Gilbert is the pick, probably within about six seconds of the Cards going on the clock.

Failing that, I do think McClanahan could be a solid bet, for all the reasons earlier stated. The ceiling is just so notable with McClanahan that even with all the risks involved I think the Cards might take him on the chance he turns into Chris Sale or maybe Josh Hader in the next year or two, even with what is probably a shorter shelf life than some other players available.

If not McClanahan, I would think the Cards would go with one of the best high school players available, either hitter or pitcher depending on what’s there.

Actual Prediction: Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson

Pick 43, there’s been a lot of scuttlebutt the Cards like Nico Hoerner, the Stanford shortstop with the excellent contact skills (and a big Cape Cod performance on his record as well, and while I’m not as high on Hoerner, the pick makes sense. Failing that, they could go with another arm.

Actual Prediction: Nico Hoerner, SS, Stanford

I would love the first pick, moderately praise and pan the second in this case.

The Dream Board

So what would my ideal scenario look like? As I said earlier, my dream scenario would be a guy like Bohm or India falling, or Carter Stewart/Jarred Kelenic still being on the board, but I don’t think any of those are realistic ideas. So if we’re going with what I think are realistic picks over the first, say, five rounds, I’d go something like:

19 — Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson

43 — Osiris Johnson, SS, CA HS/Jordan Groshans, 3B, TX HS

75 — Tim Cate, LHP, UConn/Nander De Sedas, SS, FL HS (if he fell to this spot)

95 — Bren Spillane, 1B, Illinois

123 — Aaron Ashby, LHP, Crowder College

153 — Ben Harris, LHP, Georgia HS

Huh. I ended up with an awful lot of left-handed pitchers here. Weird. It’ll be like one of those years where Jeff Luhnow picked a bunch of small, speedy outfielders, and everyone thought it was a new strategy, and it was probably just a coincidence. So much of how a draft board works out is just what’s available.

Anyhow, I’m going to go ahead and end this here, since it’s very long and very late, and wish you happy draft day until this evening. As I said, I’ll have a post mid-afternoon with links to all my draft posts this year coming as well.