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Luken Baker and Mateo Gil Are Your Newest, Very Different Cardinals

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A combo of Texas bats were the Cardinals third and fourth selections in the 2018 MLB Draft. Their skillsets are polar opposites.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Coastal Carolina vs TCU Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Writer’s post-publish note (6/6 9:45pm EST): Mateo Gil’s mother interacted with myself and VEB on Twitter and disclosed that Gil is now more like 6-foot-2, 190-pounds. She also posted this fantastic picture of Mateo and Luken...

Depending on your website of choice, the difference in weight between the Cardinals third and fourth picks in the 2018 MLB Draft ranges from 60 to 85 pounds.

With the 75th overall pick in the second compensation round of Monday’s initial phase of the MLB Draft, Randy Flores and Mike Girsch selected first baseman Luken Baker from Texas Christian University (TCU). Baker is a right-handed bat that stands 6-foot-4, 265- or 240-pounds depending on if you side with MLB.com or Baseball America.

20 picks later the Cardinals selected a far more slender high school infielder from Timber Creek High School in Texas, Mateo Gil. The right-handed shortstop has far less body mass than Baker, but at least MLB.com and Baseball America agree that he’s a light 180-pounds with his 6-foot-1 frame.

Let’s dive into the Cardinals non-Gorman offensive haul from the draft.

Luken Baker

Baker was selected 37th overall by the Astros in 2015, considered a two-way player at the time, but opted to attend TCU where he eventually gave up pitching and became the big-bodied slugger he is today. His injury history (most of which seem accidental) and limitations on the basepaths and at first base give you a high-level understanding that Baker may have been better suited for an American League team. But the Cardinals likely have sound reasoning for the pick.

Right-handed, college first baseman need to light the world on fire in order to garner attention and Baker came close. He led TCU with nine home runs in only 31 games (about half of a college regular season), but most encouraging might be Baker’s plate discipline. The righty walked more than he struck out in a conference with the third-most bids into the 2018 College Baseball World Series (Big 12).

His swing reminds me a little bit of Evan Gattis.

Videos via YouTube - Prospect Pipeline; MLB

It is with some bias that I think of Baker in relation to Gattis because of the aesthetic similarities in their build. There is some merit, however, in comparing their swings that provides thoughts as to what Flores and the Cardinals player development department could do down the road.

With the qualification of Gattis’ swing being relatively unorthodox, the main similarity is the stride both players have, essentially non-existent when comparing to a variety of other power hitters (think Matt Holliday with his leg kick, or to a lesser extent, Randal Grichuk). Both hitters thrive off the torque in their upper body, with Gattis’ “trigger” much more developed and instantaneous than Baker’s.

The set-up of Baker’s hands are higher than Gattis’, adding some distance to the hand path Baker takes into the zone. While this can often be a knock on a player with average to good bat speed (Baker doesn’t have an extensive track record with wood bats), the numbers suggest Baker’s pitch recognition might be good enough to push aside concerns of a naturally long swing and create a higher floor than others who don’t retain their college peripherals when they see professional ball. (One of the more infamous cases of this is the former Wake Forest bat, Will Craig, who is stuck with the Pirates Double-A club and has failed mightily to replicate his college success after struggles with wood.)

Another angle of Baker and Gattis below gives a second perspective on how the current Astro uses his lower half in comparison to Baker. Gattis’ back knee is slightly above a 90-degree angle, possessing the overall feel of a crouch to his stance, whereas Baker sits far more upright.

Video via Youtube - Frogs Video; MLB

In Baker’s development the Cardinals could be interested in engaging Baker’s lower half to stabilize and develop even more projectable, in-game power. The reason I find Gattis so interesting is because of what he does without a leg kick, something the Cardinals could consider if they don’t want to tinker extensively with Baker’s timing and prefer simply lowering his center of gravity to activate his legs more. Another option is to maintain the rhythm in Baker’s lower half, but lift his front leg off the ground and develop some sort of stride. This, of course, is assuming the Cardinals want to tinker with him at all.

Gattis himself has gone through adjustments as the shots of him above are from 2014. In 2018, Gattis employs a slightly adjusted toe tap with even quieter hands, which could be simply a feel-based adjustment for Gattis, or part of a larger change to alter his timing and approach. Adjustment like this is inevitable and I’m interested to see what the Cardinals do with the big righty for the summer ahead and 2019.

Mateo Gil

Gil is the polar opposite of Baker, in body and skill set.

Baseball America reported that Gil didn’t possess enough tools for teams to buy him out of his TCU commitment - yes, the same college Baker is coming out of - yet others believed in his major league bloodlines and ability to develop power through his strong wrists and hands (the Cardinals are likely the latter of those two groups).

At the moment, Gil seems like a plus defender with an average to plus arm, a product of his 92-mph fastball as a pitcher. The aggression with this pick by St. Louis is probably to woo him away from TCU, as the slot value for the 95th pick is just under $600k, verified by the fact that other outlets had him unranked or between 250-500 overall for the draft.

Of the video circulating online of Gil, his actions at the plate seem to have improved, even in his short time as a high schooler in Texas.

Videos via YouTube - both from 2080 Baseball

His main improvement seems to have come from a slight consolidation of the actions in his hands. While still noisy - depending on your barometer - the fact that he’s only 17 and the general fluidity of his swing bodes well developmentally. Gil moving his bat off his shoulder in the GIF above helps in a way similar to the discussion of Baker to Gattis. Baker’s hands starting higher create a longer path to the zone, while Gattis represented the lower-handed version of what Baker could theoretically become. In this scenario, the October 2017 version of Gil helps to shorten the path his hands are taking into his load.

The one characteristic I would be interested to see the Cardinals (or TCU) develop out of Gil is the slight bounce you see as his front foot strides towards the pitcher. This is similar to another high school bat who went in the first round of the draft to the Miami Marlins, Connor Scott. Although Scott is a lefty, he has a slight twitch in his hands, similar to the bounce you see in Gil’s hands as he stretches them backward. The difference of course is that Scott’s hit tool is substantially more developed, evidenced by the 70-plus pick difference between the two players.

On top of his actions at the plate and in the field, Gil’s frame is another thing the Cardinals are likely optimistic about, with room for growth both vertically and with his weight. I would be surprised if his ultimate destination is off of shortstop, even if projection of a talent this young is extremely difficult.

Gil’s package of tools is interesting, resembling a project the Cardinals player development are salivating to get their hands on. Unfortunate, however, is the uncertainty around whether Gil signs with the Cardinals and pushes his commitment to TCU aside. The potential surplus value three years down the road might be realized and Gil’s combination of defensive prowess and a potential plus hit tool will be somewhat of a steal. If pen meets paper, patience from a development standpoint is key.

Interested in more MLB Draft talk? Check out this YouTube or Periscope stream of a post-draft talk show I participated in with Fantrax.

Follow me on Twitter and Instgram - @LanceBrozdow / @LanceBroz