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Thoughts on the Cardinals 2023 Draft

Come read about some of my favorite picks from the Cardinals draft.

MLB: MLB Draft Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 MLB Draft finished up on Tuesday with the St. Louis Cardinals adding 18 new players to the organization. The team was without a second round pick due to signing Willson Contreras in the offseason and that meant that the allotted bonus pool money for that pick also disappeared. As a result, the Cardinals had the fourth lowest bonus pool of the 30 MLB organizations and that led to them staying in the college ranks for every pick except their last.

Despite the lack of money, the Cardinals were able to add upside to their organization by selecting a number of promising hitters, including the guy I was hoping they would take in the first round, and some later round arms with real swing-and-miss potential.

It’s basically impossible to judge a draft this early but I do like what the Cardinals did. Only time will tell if this draft turns out to be a successful one, so keep that in mind as I highlight some of my favorite picks below, but I was a fan of quite a few of the Cardinals picks throughout the 20-round event.

You can read more detailed scouting reports (and I mean 18 pages of detail) about every pick at The Cardinal Nation where my analysis of each selection was paired with Brian Walton’s additional video and context.

Let’s start this analysis by looking at the first hitter and the first pitcher selected before moving into some of my favorite day two and day three picks.

First Hitter - Chase Davis, 1st Round

I like this pick a lot and it’s exactly who I wanted the Cardinals to draft. I even have the receipt to prove it.

What’s great about Chase Davis is that he has loud, standout tools. The outfielder can absolutely crush the ball (108 mph 90th percentile exit velocity), has a strong arm that’s probably at least plus in terms of arm strength, though I haven’t seen him enough to vouch for his arm accuracy, and will likely get a chance to play center field in pro ball.

Davis is the first college bat taken with the first pick under Randy Flores (excluding the 2017 draft in which the Cardinals didn’t pick until the third round) but he fits a similar mold as the prep bats taken by Flores early in previous drafts. Thinking of Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Delvin Perez, Joshua Baez, Masyn Winn, and Tre Fletcher, it’s clear that the Cardinals haven’t been afraid to target guys with loud tools and high ceilings, and if we dive into those loud tools, we can see that it’s a lot of athleticism and a lot of power.

Davis fits the bill with the power and has enough athleticism to play all three outfield spots, at least at the start of his career. Personally, I’m not too bullish on his chances of sticking in center field but his arm strength should allow him to slot into right field comfortably and he has more than enough power to take a step the down the defensive ladder.

If there’s a risk with Davis it’s the hit tool. He made big strides in 2023, boosting his contact rate from 68% to 80% but keep in mind that he did so against Pac-12, which isn’t the strongest of baseball conferences. It’s possible that it’s just a one-year anomaly and it’s possible that he simply hit against mediocre D1 college pitching, but I will note that Davis tweaked his swing and saw huge benefits from it.

Davis also didn’t have a ton of success hitting with a wood bat in the summer ball circuits but his struggled there consist of about 200 plate appearances split across two seasons. It’s something to be aware of, but not anything that really concerns me about Davis.

The moral of the story here is that Davis has some loud tools and some concerns but he worked hard to quell those concerns last year. I loved this pick and thought it was a great way to kick off the draft.

First Pitcher - Quinn Mathews, 4th Round

To be honest, this was a pick I was pretty lukewarm about when it happened. If I told you that the Cardinals took a lefty whose fastball sits 92, would you be surprised? Probably not. But the more I’ve thought about this pick and the more I’ve watched Mathews, the more I like the selection.

For starters, this is the guy who threw a 156 pitch complete game with 16 strikeouts against Texas in the super regional, so it’s pretty clear that he’s a bulldog on the mound. And he held his velocity throughout the outing which is also impressive. This wasn’t just a one time thing for Mathews either as 15 of his 19 outings this year saw him throw over 100 pitches. It does concern me that there’s a lot of mileage on his arm but it doesn’t concern me enough to overlook what he does well.

The lefty’s best pitch is a changeup that is probably a future plus pitch and he throws it a lot. I think that combined with a nice slider and a fastball that he commands well is enough to give him promise. What’s really made me come around to Mathews is his chances of adding velocity and that’s because he weighs only 180 pounds despite standing 6’5”.

A velocity boost would really help his fastball tick up from the low-90s potentially into the mid-90s and that could be huge. What I think is even more important, though, is what a velocity boost would do for his slider as I think it’s good now but may struggle once Mathews gets to Triple-A or the majors. Some extra sharpness could help overcome that and give him three average or better pitches to go with solid control and command.

The lefty does throw a curveball too but I haven’t mentioned it until now because it looks like a clear 4th pitch to me. Regardless, that’s a full arsenal on a pitcher with solid control already.

I don’t expect Mathews to be a huge bat misser but I should point out that he did have a K/9 of 11.4 in his senior year at Stanford and has a promising enough arsenal to miss bats as he ascends through the system. At the very least, he’ll miss more bats than someone like Michael McGreevy.

What initially seemed like a very Cardinalsy pitcher actually seems to me now to have more upside than I originally thought. I’ve come around on this pick to the point where I’m willing to say that it was a pretty good pick.

My Favorite Day 2 and Day 3 Picks

I really enjoyed the Cardinals draft as a whole and I think they made some really nice selections on days 2 and 3.

Randy Flores and co took a number of interesting college power bats, including Zach Levenson in the 5th round, Brayden Jobert in the 12th round, and William Sullivan in the 13th round and while I’m grouping them all together, I want to highlight them individually.

Levenson has a comparable 90th percentile exit velocity (107 mph) to Chase Davis (108 mph), who himself has a comparable 90th percentile ext velocity to Dylan Crews (109.6 mph), the top bat in the class according to most draft analysts.

The difference between Levenson and the sluggers drafted ahead of him is that Levenson doesn’t have the same defensive potential and has more swing and miss in his game (18.8% strikeout rate in 2023). He may not be as tooled up as Davis across the board but the power is real.

Brayden Jobert and William Sullivan are similar in that they also can obliterate the baseball, and Sullivan in particular had a higher max exit velocity than Davis, but both also come with the same weakness as Levenson - defense and strikeouts. Jobert struck out over 25% of the time in his final collegiate season while Sullivan finished the year with a 19% K-rate at a smaller school, and, thus, lesser competition.

Still, the Cardinals picked up sluggers all across the draft and though the latter three have more red flags, they still have the immense upside that comes with hitting the ball really really hard.

Moving to the pitching side of things, the Cardinals made some really nice selections later in the draft. I’m a fan of all 3 of the pitchers taken in rounds 7-9 (Charles Harrison, Ixan Henderson, and Christian Worley) and I like the dart throws they took in rounds 14 (Jacob Odle) and 16 (Tyler Bradt).

Let’s start with the 7-9 guys first. All 3 have starter upside and all 3 have bat-missing upside. 7th rounder Charles Harrison has a fastball that he can run up to 96 and a slider with 2600 rpms of spin that generated a ton of whiffs in college. He gets good depth on a changeup and also throws a curveball giving him a four pitch mix and a great chance to start in the Cardinals system despite being a reliever in all four of his collegiate seasons.

8th rounder Ixan Henderson is a low arm slot lefty with a fastball that sits in the low 90s but still had a 26% whiff rate in college. He also throws a nice sweepy slider that gives him a strong go-to breaking ball. He’ll need to develop a third pitch as he doesn’t have a ton of feel for his changeup and his curveball gets slurvy and is thrown in the low 70s.

The changeup development will be huge for him for two reasons. The first is that his curveball simply isn’t very good and it’ll be hard for him to distinguish the pitch from his slider because of his low arm slot. The second reason is that Henderson will need a weapon to use against righties since sweepers tend to have large platoon splits.

If he doesn’t end up developing the changeup enough, I still think the fastball slider combination could look good in a relief role.

And then there’s 9th rounder Christian Worley who I think had the arm talent to go much earlier in the draft but he never got a chance to breakout due to needing Tommy John surgery after just 10 innings this year. The righty’s heater works up to 96 mph with ride and he pairs it with a good slider that gets a lot of whiffs. Like Henderson, though, he will need to get a consistent third pitch but there’s a lot to work with here.

There is a lot of upside from these 3 picks at the end of day 2 and they bring some real bat-missing potential to the Cardinals system.

The next two pitchers that I’ll discuss are basically dart throws with bat missing stuff. Neither Jacob Odle (14th round) nor Tyler Bradt had strong numbers in college but both can rack up the strikeouts.

Odle’s fastball tops out at 99 mph and sits right around 17 inches of induced vertical break but has been up to 19 or 20. He pairs that with a curveball that got a ton of whiffs in the MLB draft league and an upper 80s to low 90s cutter. As an added bonus, he gets a lot of spin on all his pitches but he doesn’t always control them very well, routinely missing the plate by a lot. Odle may be a bit of a long term project as a JuCo arm who lacks control but the stuff is legit and that makes him a great find in the 14th round.

I’m less excited by Bradt but he does throw a mid-90s fastball and an upper 80s power slider that gives him a strong two pitch mix and a firm reliever profile. He never had much success in college, though, and he can also lack control which is why this pick is basically a dart throw too. He’s got strikeout stuff but still clearly needs plenty of development.

Those are good dart throws at the end of the draft.

Overall Thoughts

Throughout the draft there seemed to be a focus on power bats (Davis, Levenson, Jobert, Sullivan) with some other interesting college guys mixed in, like Tre Richardson (15th round) and Dakota Harris (11th round). It’s a strong mix of hitters overall and should give the farm system a real injection of upside.

On the pitching side of things, the Mathews pick was pretty good and even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the Savacool selection, the Cardinals took a number of interesting arms late in day two and in day three. It feels like there was perhaps a bit more emphasis on guys who can miss bats and I’m a big fan of that.

For an organization with the fourth lowest bonus pool, the Cardinals did a great job of adding upside to the organization despite staying in the college ranks for every pick that will sign. Not all of the guys that stood out to me are going to reach the majors, or maybe even be productive minor leaguers.

Before I close, I’ll again refer you to The Cardinal Nation if you would like more detail about all of the players drafted by the Cardinals this year.

Thanks for reading, VEB. Feel free to hit the comments with your overall thoughts of the draft class and any players that stuck out to you.