A Brief Cardinals Draft-Day Primer

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The Major League Baseball first-year player draft is just a few hours away, taking place in New York City and beginning at six pm central. The Houston Astros have the first overall pick, and are expected to take Mark Appel, a right-handed pitcher out of Stanford, with their selection. Appel isn't a slam dunk, by any means -- there isn't a Bryce Harper or Strasburg in this draft -- but he offers the best combination of stuff, polish, and results of any player on the board. 

The Cardinals are set up for one of the most important drafts of their recent history; possibly the most important, come to think of it. Thanks to a number of free-agent defections over the offseason, the Cards are looking at a tremendous windfall of extra picks this year. Given the new compensation rules MLB has put in place, it could very well be the last year teams have the opportunity to stockpile picks like this too. The Cardinals' farm system is in as good a shape right now as it has ever been, but even so they can't really afford to miss this year. 

Adding further intrigue is the fact the Redbirds have a new scouting director this season, Dan Kantrovitz. Jeff Luhnow, the architect of the Cardinals' current system, departed in the offseason to take over General Manager duties for the Astros. 

So a new guy in charge of the draft, an absolute boatload of early picks, most likely the last chance at such a windfall, and a system in good enough condition to allow for whatever risks the organization might want to take. 

It should be an intriguing evening, to say the least. 

If you've followed me here at the RFT at all over the years, you probably know the draft is one of my very favourite events of the year. (Actually, that applies to the NFL and MLB both.) My alter ego covers the draft fairly heavily over at Viva El Birdos; this past Wednesday I sort of summed up my thoughts on players I covered throughout the spring

Of course, actually forecasting what any given team will do in the draft is virtually impossible; the number of variables is just too great right off the top. By the time the Cardinals go on the board at 19, we don't even know what players will still be available. Picking a player or two out of an unknown group and mocking them to a certain team is, frankly, a fool's errand. (Particularly in baseball, where drafting philosophies vary much, much more than in the NFL.) However, that doesn't keep it from being really fun to try and do so, which explains the enormous number of mock drafts floating around. 

Speaking of mock drafts, let's take a look at what some of those in the business of mockups foresee the Cardinals doing, shall we? 

Keith Law put out his final mock before the draft today; he sees the Cards going with Richie Shaffer, a third basemen from Clemson, at number 19, and Marcus Stroman, RHP Duke, at 23. I like Shaffer a lot, and would be okay with this combo. Stroman wouldn't be my first choice, but he's been awfully impressive this spring. (Insider only on the full version of this mock. Totally worth the subscription, by the way.) 

Jonathan Mayo of mlb.com has the Cardinals coming away with Shaffer at 19 again and Addison Russell, a high school shortstop, at 23. Russell isn't bad, but I don't think he has any chance of staying at shortstop long term. Since I see him as a third baseman, there are other players I would prefer. 

Matt Garrioch, the amateur specialist over at Minor League Ball, mocks the Cards as follows: D.J. Davis, a high school outfielder, at 19 and Ty Hensley, a right-handed pitcher from an Oklahoma high school, at 23. This one is really interesting to me, as it would be kind of a different direction for the Redbirds. The Cardinals aren't really locked in to any one drafting philosophy as a general rule -- particularly now that the guy at the top of the scouting department is different -- but they do tend to lean somewhat collegiate early on. I like Davis; he's very toolsy but raw, and I think his ceiling could be very high, and Hensley is intriguing. Again, though, there are other players I like better at 23, particularly high school lefty Hunter Virant, who is probably my favourite pitcher in the draft the Cards actually have any shot at. 

John Sickels, the head dude at Minor League Ball, has El Birdos selecting Lucas Giolito, a high school RHP at 19 and Pierce Johnson, another righty but out of Missouri State, at 23. This is another extremely intriguing combination; Giolito might be the most talented pitcher in the entire draft, but an elbow injury this spring has put his draft stock up in the air. If he's healthy, he could very well be an ace in waiting; he won't be cheap to sign, but the Cardinals might decide the price tag is worth the risk. Johnson is a solid college right-hander and would make a nice complement to the Giolito pick in terms of signability. 

As for me, I've gone back and forth in terms of trying to decide what the Cards are going to do, and I just really can't decide. It's tough enough in a normal year, but the wild card of Kantrovitz being an unknown makes it almost completely impossible for me to decide. That being said, I'm going to give it a shot just for shits and/or giggles. 

At nineteen, I think the Cardinals do go with Richie Shaffer if he's there. For most of the spring Shaffer's stock has been climbing, and it looked like he would be gone before this spot. He struggled in the ACC Tournament, though, and he might have taken a slight hit there. (And yes, judging what a guy is going to do over the next 6-10 years based on two dozen at bats in one college tournament does seem a little foolish to me, too. But, that's how drafting works.) If he makes it to this spot, I think Shaffer represents a great value the Cards will take gladly. Personally, I think he can stay at third base, but even if he can't he could very well go the Brett Wallace route and offer solid value solely as a bat-based trade chip. 

With the 23rd pick, I think the Cards take more of a gamble, while still sticking with the somewhat safer position player side of things and take Stryker Trahan, the high school catcher from Louisiana. Trahan offers outstanding positional value, playing a position all the way to the left on the defensive spectrum, and his bat has a chance to be really special. With Yadier Molina locked up for the next five years, the Cards have no need to try and rush a catching prospect, and if they believe Trahan has the potential to be special -- like I do -- I think they could very well pull the trigger on his ceiling here. 

Beyond the first round, things are always just too murky to do much forecasting, so I'll stop with those top two picks. With that in mind, I'll give you ten names I'm going to be keeping my eyes on in the first and supplemental rounds that I personally like and think match up well with what the Cards might be looking to do. Unfortunately, my very favorite player in this entire draft, a right-handed pitcher from LSU by the name of Kevin Gausman, isn't going to get anywhere near the Cardinals; he'll probably be gone in the top four picks. Sigh. 

Stryker Trahan, C, Acadiana HS (Louisiana) -- A rare five-tool catcher, Trahan's ceiling could be as high as anyone's in this draft. He has big-time raw power and a wide base of physical talents. There are questions about him sticking behind the plate long-term, but if you believe he can his upside could be enormous. 

Wyatt Mathisen, C, Calallen HS (Texas) -- A right-handed hitter instead of a lefty, Mathisen's game is otherwise quite similar to Trahan's. A little less power in the bat, but a little bit more glove. Mathisen has played all over the infield in high school, but his future is behind the plate. He does have a commitment to the University of Texas, but should be signable. If the Cards like Trahan but don't pull the trigger on him, Mathisen could be kind of a Plan B as a similar player, I think. (Catcher is a weakness in the system, which is part of why I think they might focus on the position.) 

Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo HS (California) -- A two-way player in high school, Virant is a pitcher long term, and I think he could be a special one. He has a beautiful delivery, and present stuff that's already above-average. He hasn't pitched great this spring, but he's definitely one of my favourites for the long haul. 

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (California) -- The Cards tried to take Austin Wilson, the toolshed outfielder, from Harvard-Westlake a couple years ago, but he went to Stanford instead of signing. If Giolito is on the board at nineteen I think there's a good chance the Redbirds pop him and try for another tough sign. The elbow issues have made it impossible to figure out where Giolito might go; he could still be a top ten guy or fall out of the first round entirely, depending on what teams think of his health. He has some of the best stuff in the entire draft, beginning with a mid-90s fastball that can overmatch hitters with velocity and movement, and he complements it with two offspeed pitches (a curve and changeup), that both project as pluses down the line. He's got the talent; the only question is how sound teams believe his elbow to be. 

Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert HS (California) -- Rahier is somewhat similar to Addison Russell, who I talked about above, in that both are currently shortstops whose body types lead many scouts to believe they'll move to third base down the line. Personally, I actually think Rahier has a chance to stay at short in a Troy Tulowitzki kind of way, and his bat is a huge plus at that position. I like this guy. 

Pierce Johnson, RHP, Missouri State -- It never hurts to be a semi-local kid, and Johnson has plenty of talent as well. He works a fastball in the low 90s, and it shows signs of being a real weapon in terms of generating grounders at times. (A definite plus in the Cards' system.) I like his curveball, but his changeup needs a lot of work. I do wonder if incorporating something like a cutter into his repertoire might help him reach the next level in his development. Johnson shouldn't be a tough sign, and would make an ideal complement to one of those really risky picks if the Cards decide to go for broke at some point. He's plenty talented to justify the pick, and would bring a reasonable financial hit as well. Not a bad combo, really. 

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State -- A left with plus stuff and a real idea of how to pitch, Heaney would immediately become the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Cards' system if they took him, and could move fairly quickly. He's got a low-90s fastball, a changeup I really like, and a curve that isn't all that consistent (from what I've seen, anyway), but has outstanding movement at times. He may also have the most deceptively casual delivery I've ever seen in my life. It's bizarre. Seriously. 

Nick Williams, OF, Galveston Ball HS (Texas) -- Williams is a toolshed who just oozes athletic ability. He's 6'3" and 195 now, and has that long-striding speed that eats up acreage in the outfield. Big power potential, an arm that has been clocked as high as 94 mph off the mound, and an outstanding makeup all make this guy one of the more intriguing names in the entire draft to me. He's got a long way to go in developing, but I could see him ending up just an absolute monster in a few years. Love this guy, and would love to see the Cards nab him, probably somewhere in the supplemental round. 

R.J. Alvarez, RHP, Florida Atlantic -- Alvarez is another of those players I'm specifically interested in not only because of what he offers on the diamond but because he could represent a relatively easy sign if the Cards go high-dollar elsewhere. Alvarez is the closer for Florida Atlantic and looks the part, consistently throwing mid-90s gas and topping out at 98. I like his changeup, but he has yet to come up with a really reliable secondary pitch. His arm slot will probably prompt some team to try and coax him into learning a slider, but personally I would see if he could refine his change into a splitter or something. Regardless, he's got a big fastball and an aggressive makeup. College closers are an odd draft demographic, but I could certainly see a team like the Cards saving a bit of cash while picking up a power arm with Alvarez. 

Corey Seager, INF, Northwest Carrabus HS (North Carolina) -- It's kind of unusual for a player to come out of high school with Seager's profile, but his bat makes him undeniably intriguing. He doesn't really have a position -- he's played the middle infield quite a lot in high school, but at 6'3" he's awfully big -- but has already shown an ability to hit the baseball and hit it hard. Think Allen Craig, except from the left side and a high schooler. See? Kind of an odd combination. He's probably a third baseman down the road, or perhaps an outfielder of some sort, but his advanced offensive skills could make him too interesting to pass up. Depending on what position a team sees him playing, he could go anywhere in the back half of the first round or fall into the supplemental. 

These aren't all the players I like, of course; Richie Shaffer is an obvious omission here, as I really like him. But, there's only so many players you can talk about, and this list has some intriguing names on it. If you want more info, there are always plenty of draft reports from a certain author over at VEB... 

I have to admit I'm really stoked to see what the Cardinals do this year. All the extra picks, plus a new scouting director, has added an element of mystery this year even more so than in others, and I can't wait to see how it plays out. If the Cards nail this draft, they could set themselves up for years to come with the number of picks they have. If not, we're going to be lamenting an enormous missed opportunity in the future.  

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