Once upon a time, life was simple for a person covering the St. Louis Cardinals in the draft. Just pull up a draft board, sort for right-handed college pitchers, and pick somebody. Easy as pie. Sure, the club’s tendencies toward right-handed college arms with their very first pick have probably always been overstated, the result of blue car syndrome and frustration with a perceived ‘boring’ draft strategy, but if we’re looking at the top, say, five rounds? Or ten rounds? You could pretty much count on half or better of the picks going to this particular draft demographic. And you could count on a particular type of fan being angry about it.
Here’s the thing, though: it worked. For a long time, the Cardinal organisation functioned as a model of pitching development, and they always, always had at least a few useful arms in the pipeline they could rely on. Since roundabout 2015 or ‘16, though, they have moved their focus, at least a little bit, and diversified their approach in the draft. Coinciding with the rise of the Cubs’ last great prospect wave (whether that is coincidental timing or the result of a deliberate examination of the process and a change in the direction), the Cards started taking higher-upside position player shots early in the draft. Some of those bets look likely to pay off long term (Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson); others do not look so likely to contribute (Nick Plummer, Delvin Perez, Tre Fletcher).
The upside to such a strategy is obvious. When you hit on a young, dynamic outfielder or third base type or some such thing, you might just have yourself a franchise cornerstone for a 4-8 year stretch. The downside, of course, should be just as obvious. When you’re drafting high school shortstops, you aren’t drafting college pitchers, and when you turn to the pitching cupboard sometimes you find it’s bare. The Cards have managed to avoid running too very short on pitching so far, but the pipeline is, admittedly, a little less stout than it has been in the past.
So let’s have ourselves a throwback draft post today, shall we? We’ll go back to the days of Lance and Michael Wacha and Adam Ottavino, and talk about some college right-handers, including one guy who has moved way, way up my personal draft board this spring, and might actually be My Guy this July.
Grant Holman, RHP, California
6’6”, 230 lbs
DOB: 31st May 2000
So, what’s so great about this guy?
I am not, it should be noted, 100% sure who I like best in this draft for the Cardinals at pick 18. For one thing, I can always change my mind, fall in or out of love with a given guy. I’m fickle that way. For another, trying to divine who will actually end up being available at a given draft slot is always a fool’s errand, and this year is no different. I can tell you the players I think are going to be on the board, and then pick amongst those names for my personal wish list, but then come draft day Nolan Gorman doesn’t pop in the 8-12 range like expected, and suddenly the preference list ends up looking very different than I thought was going to be the case.
However, with all that being said, I can tell you about certain players I really like in general, and who I really hope to see the Cardinals draft at some point in the draft. Grant Holman feels like a perfect target player with the Redbirds’ second pick at 54, should he get there, and is maybe the player in this draft I feel is being undersold the most when I look around the various lists and rankings of potential draftees.
Holman is a former two-way player, having played some first base and a little DH his first two seasons with the Golden Bears, but he was never really the kind of hitter that gets drafted. Rather, he was a useful piece for a college roster whose money was also on the mound, but was still pulling double duty because hey, that’s a thing college coaches like to have their players do sometimes. Never mind that it probably interferes with a player’s development.
This spring, Holman has focused entirely on pitching, and the results have begun to catch up to his talent. He’s always thrown hard, capable of touching 96-97 with his fastball even as a freshman reliever, but he is now consistently working in the 93-96 range with outstanding movement on the pitch. He can work up or down with the fastball, a four-seamer, and while he still needs to hone his delivery and command for better consistency, he has made marked strides this spring in terms of repeating his arm slot and learning to actually pitch.
The biggest improvement for Holman this spring has been the incorporation of an overhand curveball that will be, I think, his best breaking pitch long term. He leaned on an average to slightly above slider in the past, but the curve is really where it’s at for me going forward. He throws the pitch in the mid- to upper-70s, and it has very good, very tight drop. It’s not quite a finished product yet, but I think there’s a 60 fastball, 60 curve combo waiting to happen here. The slider has its moments, and makes for a solid complement. It’s better in the zone than out, and will probably end up Holman’s fourth-best pitch, I think.
Which brings us to my personal favourite offering Holman brings to the table, which is a nasty split-finger pitch that can get swings and misses from lefties and righties both and comes in with outstanding tumbling action when he’s right. Again, it’s not perfectly consistent yet, but I think Holman has a reasonable chance at three future 60 or better pitches, with an average grade for the slider added in. The control and command need work still right now — everything about him on the mound still needs some further polishing, actually — but there is a potentially dominant package here that I don’t think is getting as much attention as it really should.
via Optimum Athletes:
Michael McGreevy, RHP, UC Santa Barbara
6’4”, 215 lbs
DOB: 8th July 2000
So, what’s so great about this guy?
If you like pitchers who throw a lot of strikes, Michael McGreevy just might be the guy for you. He came out of high school an advanced strike thrower with mediocre stuff, worked out of the ‘pen for UC Santa Barbara back in 2019, and then moved to the rotation to begin 2020. Somewhere along the line, the frame started to fill out and the stuff started to catch up to his control, and now McGreevy is an advanced strike thrower with pretty good stuff, if admittedly a slightly un-wow repertoire.
McGreevy works with one of the simplest deliveries you’ll ever see, and he repeats everything well. There’s a little Jake Odorizzi in the simplicity of his mechanics, but he works a little more uptempo than the current Astros starter. He throws a fastball in the 92-93 range mostly these days, and it’s got solid sink and a little run to it. He’s topped out as high as 96, but I don’t see those mid-90s radar gun readings being a common thing down the road. I think McGreevy is who he is velocity wise, and who he is should be just fine.
McGreevy’s strongest secondary pitch is an above-average slider that he locates very well, and is especially effective against right-handed hitters. Long term I think it’s a 55 pitch, and probably the only one of his pitches that gets an above-average grade from me. It plays well off his fastball, and he’s tough to get the ball in the air against. He throws a solid changeup and maybe-average-down-the-road curveball, with the changeup probably getting a 50, to give him three average or maybe a touch better offerings to go with tremendous control. The curve is interesting, but needs work still. It can get too big and lazy at times, and McGreevy doesn’t commit to it as well as he does his other pitches.
To me, McGreevy feels very similar to Rick Porcello long term; not the prospect Porcello everybody dreamed on, but the solid, pitch-to-contact middle of the rotation guy Porcello actually became as a pro. McGreevy will not, I don’t believe, end up a dominant pitcher in just about any universe. However, he could very well end up an innings-eating mid-rotation guy who pounds the strike zone with three or four average pitches, and that’s a very valuable thing when it’s all said and done.
via The Prospect Pipeline:
Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest
6’6”, 235 lbs
DOB: 12th November 1999
So, what’s so great about this guy?
It’s pretty simple, really, to explain what’s so great about Ryan Cusick. Ryan Cusick has, probably, the best fastball in the 2021 draft. There are a couple other contenders for that title, of course — Sam Bachman’s turbo sinker and Chase Petty’s triple-digit frisbee spring to mind immediately — but for pure blow you away firepower, Cusick’s fastball is the least hittable heater on the board this year, I believe.
The velocity on Cusick’s fastball is an easy plus, as he works from 94-98, has no trouble holding that velo deep into games, and can reach back for even more here and there, topping out as high as 102. Even those gun readings, though, don’t do full justice to just how effective Cusick’s heater is. Elite spin and tremendous ride to the pitch combine to make it almost impossible to catch up to when he’s working up in the zone, and even down around the knees hitters just aren’t able to do much with the pitch. Watching Cusick work puts me in mind of Brad Penny, the young fireballing version, when Penny was able to simply throw 80% fastballs and make the opposition look more or less helpless a lot of nights.
Cusick’s fastball is definitely the star of the show, but he’s developed a very good overhand curveball as well that has good power and above-average depth, giving him a lethal one-two punch. He also throws a reasonably solid changeup, albeit one which he telegraphs pretty often, and a lazy little slider that, in my opinion, he should either scrap entirely or try converting into a cutter. The pitch doesn’t have enough break to miss bats, nor enough velocity to get awkward swings. His overall repertoire is good enough that the slider is usable against college bats, but it’s really not a pitch that’s going to work long term in its current form, I don’t believe. Still, the change isn’t bad, so he has three average or better pitches, with the fastball rating a 65 or even 70 on the scouting scale, I believe.
As good as Cusick’s stuff is, he needs refinement. He’s oddly hittable for someone who can be so unhittable, if that makes any sense, and he walks a few too many batters. His delivery doesn’t look especially risky to me, but he is a little stiff and mechanical, which makes me wonder if he’s a slightly below-average athlete. Regardless, Cusick’s fastball alone makes him a premium prospect, and gives him a huge leg up on nearly any other pitcher trying to figure out how to miss bats. If he’s still on the board when the Cardinals go on the clock at eighteen, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear them call his name and hope their player development wing can improve his command by even half a grade, at which point he could probably be a number four starter even if nothing else ever improves for him.
via James Weisser: