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2019 Draft Preview No. 1: Taking the Long View

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Trying out a new way of kicking off draft preview season.

San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Morning, all.

I’m going to do something here today I’ve never really done before, and I will rely on all of you to tell me whether this is time spent in a worthwhile endeavour or not. See, for all the years I’ve done these draft preview series, I have written scouting reports, usually three per post (sometimes more, but three feels like the right length), with the occasional bonanza of less-hyped prospects thrown in in shorter form, and simply counted on the 50+ players I write up to sort of define how I see the draft class. Toward the end of the process, right before the draft itself, I’ll write a long piece sort of summing up everything, giving my own player preferences and things like that.

However, this year I thought maybe I would start off with a bit of an overview of the draft class itself. Not the same kind of huge pref list blowout I do right before the draft, but a more top-down view of the class and what its strengths and weaknesses are, as well as a few names to pay attention to and the like. So anyhow, I’m going to make this relatively brief, hopefully, and see if everyone thinks it would be worth adding this kind of feature to the draft preview schedule in future years. If you find it useful, great. If not, let me know in the comments and we may all decide it’s not worth bothering with in the future.

The Demographics

Looking at the top of the draft this year (as in, the first couple rounds’ worth of players, near as can be deduced this far out), the strength of the draft appears to be solidly on the position player side, with an emphasis at the very top on college players. The fact college hitters are more heavily represented than high schoolers is not at all surprising; it’s really more the nature of comparing 17-18 year olds and 20-21 year olds. The more advanced players are always going to come with a little less perceived risk, and thus feel like better bets more of the time. There are a few really elite high school bats available who will likely go in the top ten (even if there’s one very prominent one I think is a little overrated, but we’ll get to that somewhere down the line when I write about him), but at this moment the 2019 class really feels like one time where clubs are going to be leaning on experienced bats more heavily than usual.

On the pitching side, I’ll be honest: it’s not a great group. Or, I should say, it’s not a great group on paper, right now. There is certainly plenty of time for a player or two on the pitching side to jump up this spring with increased velocity, or a better breaking ball, or a new pitch entirely, and push up toward the top of the class. But for now, it feels like a very uninspiring batch of pitching prospects, with one or two exceptions. One notable exception is Carter Stewart, returning from last year’s draft, about whom I already wrote not too long ago. Another is a wiry teenager from a Florida high school named Brennan Malone who will feature very prominently in my personal favourites post on pitchers when I write it in a couple weeks.

As for geography, the Southeast looks very strong again this year, stronger than the West Coast, I think. Florida has several first-round candidates, both high school and collegiate, as does Georgia. There’s a pair of SEC shortstops I think would fit pretty well into the Cards’ first draft slot, if they wanted to go that direction. Texas has a couple kids, as is pretty much always the case, as does Arizona.

The West Coast, on the other hand, feels a little down this year, particularly on the high school side. Now, two of the top five prospects in the draft this year hail from California and Oregon State, respectively, so don’t think there’s no talent repping the West, but overall it’s a weaker group than many other years, I think.

Names to Watch

Sitting at the very top of the draft, there’s a group of about four players I think are pretty clearly above the rest of the class right now. As always, that could possibly change, but for now we’re looking at a fairly well-defined first group. All four are hitters, three are in college, two are catchers. It’s a weird group, to say the least.

The early favourite to go first overall is Adley Rutschman out of Oregon State, a Matt Wieters clone who makes a pretty compelling case to be some franchise’s future cornerstone. Another college catcher, Shea Langeliers of Baylor, is more defensive whiz kid and solid hitter than he is a potential all-around star, but he’s advanced enough he’ll likely go in the top five, similar to what we saw with Joey Bart last year, who went second overall to the Giants.

Maybe the most interesting player in the draft right now, at least to me, is California first baseman Andrew Vaughn. Not because he’s anything all that unusual as a player, but because he represents a player type we have seen hugely devalued at the major league level over the past handful of years. Vaughn is probably the best, or at least most complete, hitter in this year’s draft, but plays first base, and first base only. Major league teams have seemingly moved away from paying heavily for bottom of the defensive spectrum players, regardless of their offensive production, over the past few years, and I’m very curious to see what Vaughn’t draft stock looks like come June. He may be such a great hitter it doesn’t matter — he is basically what Seth Beer looked to be after his freshman season — but I’m still really interested to see if clubs value him like his bat would seem to dictate, or if they look at his position and lack of flexibility and shy away.

The fourth and final player in our top group of prospects is Bobby Witt Jr., a high school shortstop from Texas who is the son of longtime big league pitcher Bobby Witt. Witt Jr. has the obvious bloodlines, a broad base of tools, and plays a premium position at a solid level. Spoiler alert: Witt Jr. is the player I mentioned as thinking he’s overrated, but I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole right now. He’ll be in the draft write ups at some point, and I’ll go into it then. Even if I’m less sanguine regarding his chances at stardom long term, though, for now Witt Jr. is easily within that top group of draft prospects, and in the conversation to go first overall in terms of general industry opinion.

The top of the pitching board is weirdly left-handed heavy, with a trio of college lefties rating as perhaps the top three pitching prospects in the draft. Duke’s Graeme Stinson is a reliever trying to convert to starting; he has a great slider and a plus fastball, but I’m not really a fan. Kentucky’s Zack Thompson has four legit average or better pitches, but the arm action is rough and he struggles with command. Nick Lodolo of TCU is probably my favourite of the three, and I guarantee if you watch the draft in June you’ll hear a Chris Sale comp thrown out for Lodolo, same as you heard a Mike Trout comp for that prep outfielder the Rays took a couple of years ago from New York state. (The fact his name escapes me at the moment should tell you all you need to know about how accurate that Mike Trout bit was.) Even so, Lodolo is far from my favourite pitcher in the draft.

The top prep arms, on the other hand, are mostly right-handers, and as a group I think I like them better. Stewart and Brennan Malone, who I already mentioned, are probably the top guys right now, but Al Leiter’s son Jack and a couple other hard-throwing righties out of the Southeast could have something to say about that.

Players of Interest at #19

Basically every player I’ve mentioned so far would be of tremendous interest at nineteen for the Cardinals, should they make it to that position, but the majority of those guys will probably be off the board, should they come out this spring and perform as one would expect given their pedigrees.

So here are a few other names to watch in terms of the Cardinals’ first pick, at least for now (obviously subject to change):

  • Drew Mendoza and Nick Quintana — Both covered in this draft’s origin issue not too long ago; Quintana doesn’t have the hype coming in I feel he deserves, and at the moment looks more like a supplemental or early second round guy, but I think he could jump up this spring.
  • Rece Hinds, 3B — Very much the Austin Wilson of this year’s draft, Hinds is a high schooler who already looks like a man, and has the raw power to match. He would fit well with the Cards’ recent trend of high-ceiling positional athletes in the first round.
  • Kameron Misner, OF — Speaking of high-ceiling hitters with big power, Misner is maybe the best position prospect out of Mizzou ever, and could sneak in to the top half of the first round. Lefty bat with bomber potential, would look good going from Poplar Bluff to Columbia to St. Louis, methinks.
  • Hunter Barco, LHP — A high school lefty from Florida, Barco is the kid who actually should get the Chris Sale comps, though he’s a less extreme physical specimen than Sale to be sure. Barco will likely feature in my pitching favourites post.
  • Erik Miller, LHP — I scouted Miller as a high schooler pitching for De Smet here in St. Louis, and I was a huge fan of his then. After a couple years at Stanford, the arm talent has manifested as success, and while he’s more of a top 50 guy than a top 20 right now, a big spring could push him even higher up draft boards.
  • Jerion Ealy, OF — The best two-sport athlete in this year’s draft, Ealy would be a very interesting draft pick for the Cardinals to consider. He’s a star running back for his high school team, might be a 70 grade runner on the scouting scale, and flashes the kind of power that could make him a 20/20 guy if he really put it all together. He’s committed to Ole Miss, though, and signing him could be tricky. Some team will certainly take a shot, I think, but whether or not they will consider him worth the risk of losing a first-round pick is really tough to say for now.

Overall, I’m excited about this draft class, and what the Cardinals could potentially be looking at when they hit the board at nineteen. The pitching in general is not particularly encouraging, but there are enough arms to complement what looks like a phenomenal group of position players.

As for this draft preview feature in general, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I never mind an opportunity to say more about players, or just more about the draft in general, but I worry a little that having said things now regarding certain players I’ll feel like I’m repeating myself when I get around to writing up full draft profiles on any of the guys mentioned here. Then again, that probably isn’t a bad thing; mentioning a player more than once isn’t a problem, unless you have a pathological fear of repeating yourself and feeling like you’re not saying anything worthwhile, which may or may not be the case here. (Hint: it is completely the case here.)

So let me know if you think this is a good idea going forward, and I’ll either incorporate it into future years of draft coverage, or else scrap the bit entirely and this will stand as a one-off experiment. Either way, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all again this weekend.