Two down, one to go. The MLB draft proceeded on through round 20 yesterday, giving the Cardinals ample chance to add talent to their farm system, as well as frustrate and annoy fans and easily-baited internet columnists alike. The final 30 rounds will happen today, with very few of the players at this point having much in the way of name recognition.
I have to say, through this point the 2011 draft has been one of the flat-out strangest I can honestly recall. From a Cardinalcentric point of view, that is; the rest of the draft has contained what seems like a fairly standard number of surprises, maybe even a few less than usual.
The strength of this draft was supposed to be pitching. There was quality at the top and quantity throughout. Hitting, on the other hand, was in perilously short supply, especially in the college ranks. So, of course, in the deepest pitching crop in years, the Cardinals drafted their first pitcher in the fifth round, took a college bat in the first, and focused almost exclusively on finding the most athletic, toolsiest high schoolers they could get their hands on.
I'm going to break these up into somewhat bite-sized pieces, doing just a few players at a time. In this installment we're going from round two through five.
Thoughts on the individual picks after the break.
2nd Round, 79 Overall -- Charlie Tilson, OF, New Trier HS (Illinois)
Pay attention to the key points on Tilson here, because you're going to be hearing them a lot. Tilson is an extremely athletic, slightly undersized outfielder who projects best playing in center field long term. At 5'11" and 175 pounds, Tilson isn't exactly tiny, but in an age where players under 6' have a tough time getting scouts to even look their way he's going to take a knock or two.
What Tilson lacks in height, though, he makes up for in speed and pure athletic ability. The names popping up most frequently as comparison points are Brett Gardner of the Yankees and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, and those both sound about right. Jordan Schafer, the Braves' former number one prospect who has since struggled to hit at the big league level, is another similar player, and physically seems the most comparable to my eye. Regardless of who you prefer as a comp, the outline of who Tilson will likely be is clear: he's probably never going to hit for a ton of power, but could add plenty of value to a team with his legs (both in the field and on the bases), his glove, and his ability to get on base.
Tilson came in rated the 44th best talent overall in the draft, so to get him at 79 is quite a value. He does have some signability issues, but I think the Cards have to be fairly confident they can buy him away from an Illinois commitment.
Personally, I like this pick. While it's fair to question the ultimate upside of a player who doesn't project to hit for a ton of power in the future, the athleticism should play at any level. Ellsbury and Gardner were both taken out of college, when they were closer to finished products, but getting Tilson into the system now gives the Cardinals a chance to try and mold his raw tools into the usable product they would like to see on the field.
If you want a comp for C.J. McElroy, you really don't even have to look outside the Cards' own farm system. Daryl Jones, the Cardinals' third-round pick in 2005, is a remarkably similar player, right down to the Texas roots and football scholarship.
McElroy has a scholarship offer to play both football and baseball for the University of Houston, and is actually thought of by some in the scouting community as a better prospect on the gridiron than on the baseball diamond. (If it's any indication, there are half a dozen YouTube clips of McElroy playing football, but not a one of him swinging a bat.) He plays wide receiver, and has the speed to prove it. A little shorter than Tilson at 5'10", McElroy is a bit more thickly built (180 lbs), though he still has plenty of room to fill out.
While he does have the dual-sport commitment and the offer to play in college, baseball seems to be McElroy's passion, as he told the Galveston Daily News playing at the major league level is his lifelong dream, and what he wants to pursue. It's not surprising, really, since he is the son of a former big leaguer, pitcher Chuck McElroy. It's also tough not to root for a kid with such an obvious love and enthusiasm for the game.
McElroy draws some comparisons to Houston's Michael Bourn for his compact build and quick-twitch speed, which should make him a threat on the basepaths. I'm excited to see another highly athletic kid like this brought into the Cards' farm system. The concerns with McElroy are as similar to Tilson as the strengths; whether or not he'll ever have much pop in his bat is very much in question. Still, when I look at McElroy I see a kid with enough strength to keep the bat from being knocked out of his hands and the chance to turn his raw athletic talent into on-field results.
I'm going to be completely honest with you: I had never heard of this young man before his name was called on the draft broadcast. Since that time I've dug around a bit for some scouting reports, but to be honest, it hasn't been particularly easy. This is just one of those guys who was very lightly scouted but one team absolutely happened to love, I think.
As for the brass tacks: Peoples-Walls is 6'1", 175, and is referred to as undersized by most of the reports I've found on him. The odd thing is that 6'1" is most definitely not undersized for a middle infielder. Combine that with the fact several scouting reports still list him as 5'10" (mostly from his junior year), and it looks to me at least like this is a player who probably underwent a growth spurt sometime between the spring of 2010 and now, and may have slipped through the cracks a bit based on his previous size.
Watching a little video, this kid oozes projection, with a wiry, loose frame that someone over at Future Redbirds compared to Alfonso Soriano's. I'm inclined to agree with that; he has the same high waist and long limbs to go along with an appealing amount of space to add bulk.
Like many underscouted players, what little info there is on Peoples-Walls is somewhat contradictory. One site says he's fast but small and lacks power, another says he's a late riser up draft boards and has an intriguing power/speed combo. Personally, looking at him, I'm inclined to believe the latter, as it fits in with a possible growth spurt just recently.
It's tough for me to give much of an opinion on this pick, because I just don't know much about the player. I will say this: I was disappointed the Cardinals didn't pick Nick Delmonico, a high school catcher I was very high on, around this spot, but looking at Peoples-Walls I'm certainly intrigued by the emerging athleticism you can see in his frame. Another pick for pure athletic talent. Noticing a trend yet?
Round 5, 170 -- Sam Gaviglio, RHP, Oregon State
Ah, here we go. A pick much more in the Cardinals' traditional wheelhouse. No five-year projection here, not at all.
Gaviglio is a very boring, very effective college righthander. While Josh Osich, the lefty with the outstanding stuff and the no-hitter to his name, has grabbed the headlines as Oregon State's ace, Gaviglio has actually probably been their most effective pitcher.
Gaviglio works with a sinking fastball in the 88 mph neighbourhood that has unusually good movement, along with a sharp slider and solid changeup, either of which he can throw for strikes. He's polished and confident, and consistently fills the zone with quality strikes. In other words, he doesn't have a huge ceiling, but the kid knows how to pitch. Simple, easy mechanics he should be able to repeat pretty consistently. He reminds me a bit of Clayton Mortensen, the sinkerballer the Cards took in the supplemental round in 2007 and dealt as part of the Matt Holliday trade.
This is the sort of safe, low-upside pick I don't usually like, but in this case I'm not too very bothered by it. It probably wouldn't have been my pick, but there's still value to be had in a polished college pitcher who can step into the minors immediately and not be overwhelmed. Gaviglio is never going to be a star, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him filling a swingman role for the Cardinals in a few years, with a ceiling as a fourth starter type. That's not bad at all for a fifth rounder.
Overall, I like this group pretty well. It's certainly different from what the Cards usually do, although there were hints they were trying hard to add athleticism to the system in last year's draft as well, with players like Nick Longmire and Virgil Hill both being toolsy bets. At the very least, the Cardinals' system will be able to put on a pretty fair production of Whiteyball: The Musical, and that's certainly not the worst thing I can think of.