It's been right about two weeks since the 2012 edition of the MLB First-Year Player Draft; the Cardinals have had time to come to terms with the majority of their selected players already. It was a remarkably interesting draft for the Redbirds, and one I've had kind of a tough time getting my head wrapped around, to be honest.
I'm not going to lie; I hated the Cards' draft at first. I was texting back and forth with a friend of mine late that night, after their first and supplemental round choices were in, and I said I was so disgusted with the picks I felt like throwing up. Going into the draft, I thought a huge windfall of extra picks, coupled with an extremely strong farm system, would lead to gambling, and risk-taking, and the kind of high ceiling, pure upside players amateur draftniks everywhere cream their shorts over. I was wrong. Oh so very wrong.
A funny thing happened, though, on the way to the forum. At first I hated the Cardinals' draft. Then I hated it a little less. Then, as time went on, I started to come around. And now, sitting here two weeks after the fact, I can safely say it might have been a borderline brilliant draft.
The haul of players the Cards came away with isn't what I hoped for; it wasn't then and it isn't now. However, I think that has more to do with the new rules implemented for the draft this year than it does the Cards' preferences or strategy. They did, I believe, pretty much exactly what they had to do.
I'm going to look at the first day's worth of pick of the Cards' draft today; tomorrow I'll do rounds 2-15, and then finish up with the later round players of interest the day after that. So, without further ado, let's get into the talent, shall we?
Round One, Pick 19 -- Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Plus: I actually like Wacha as a pitcher pretty well. He's likely not going to be an ace, by any means, but he has a very high probability of at least contributing at the major league level, I believe, and has the talent to be a solid mid-rotation guy, maybe even a tick better. He works in the low-90s with his fastball, topping out as high as 95 or even 96 at times, and the pitch has good movement on it as well. His changeup might be his best pitch; while I think some of the reports that called his change the best in the draft are at least somewhat hyperbolic, it is a very good pitch for him. I'm not a big fan of his breaking ball, and figuring out a third weapon to complement the fastball/change combo will go a long way toward deciding what kind of ceiling Wacha really has in pro ball.
I do like the delivery; the arm action looks solid to me, and I think he should be fairly durable. He was also rated between the tenth and fifteenth best prospect in the class by most of the expert publications, so he represents a solid value at nineteen overall. My alter ego covered Wacha earlier in the spring, and I compared him to Lance Lynn at the time. I still like the comparison, although seeing as how Lance Lynn no longer appears to be who we thought he was it may not be quite as informative. Still, I think Wacha has a good chance to be a big, durable innings-eater for the Cardinals. He could end up a very good pick for the Redbirds. Bonus: he's already signed, and for roughly slot money. (Well, sort of slot money.) You'll be surprised how often slot money comes up.
Minus: There were other players on the board I would have much rather seen the Cardinals take than Wacha, who despite me saying earlier how much I do like him doesn't have the ceiling of some of the other players who were still available. Stryker Trahan, one of my big cheeseballs in the draft this year, was still there; he would have been my choice. Still, I can't find a ton of fault with what the Cards did here. I wanted a little more risk on a player with a higher ceiling, but this was a very solid pick of a solid player, offering a solid value. Solid.
Bottom Line: The Cardinals got a very promising pitcher at a spot below where he was expected to go. Wacha may not be future ace material, but that doesn't mean he won't be a very good contributor to the big league ballclub.
Round One, Pick 23 -- James Ramsey, OF, Florida State
Plus: This pick caused some serious consternation, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth as well, among many corners of the internets. "Cheap!" came the cries, and, "Cheap!" screamed the echoes, like so many Dirt Cheap commercials all playing at the same time.
It's easy to understand why nobody liked this pick. Ramsey was a bit of a reach here, in terms of quality -- he was rated in the 40s or 50s, for the most part -- and after taking a safe, collegiate pick at 19, everyone wanted to shoot for the moon here. I know I did. So what did the Cards do? They took a college senior, a guy with no bargaining leverage, who gets a lot of 'gritty' and 'gamer' tags thrown in to his scouting report.
Here's the thing, though: I actually really like Ramsey as a player. He's a remarkable hitter. He may or may not be able to play center field; I personally think there's a decent chance he can. Most of the scouting reports knock him for a lack of power, but if you look at the numbers that's not really accurate. The guy does hit for power; lots of it. His ISO this season was .290. (That's ridiculously good, in case you aren't familiar with isolated slugging.) Over the past two seasons, playing with the new power-suppressing bats the NCAA has gone to, Ramsey has put up OPSes of 1.038 and 1.192. His age knocks him down a peg in terms of promise, but he reminds me in one sense of Kolten Wong, who the Cards popped in the first round last year: James Ramsey is a hitter. And hitters, well, they hit. James Ramsey is going to hit, I believe. He's hit with the new bats in college, he hit with wood in the Cape Cod League (one of the Cards' biggest points of emphasis traditionally), and I think he's going to keep on hitting.
Hey, remember that thing I said just a minute or two ago, about slot money coming up a bunch? Well, Ramsey has not signed yet, because he can't; Florida State is still in the College World Series. But, the savings on Ramsey relative to his spot in the draft are likely to be substantial. I know that saving money doesn't necessarily feel like a huge plus in a case like this, but with the new limits on draft spending it totally is a huge plus.
Minus: Again, much as with Wacha, I think there were other, better players still on the board when the Cards popped Ramsey. There is definitely something to be said for an older, more experienced player just beating up on the competition, too. I think he'll hit, yes, but what if Ramsey was just taking advantage of kids two and three years younger than him?
The biggest question, though, for me, is about his position. Like I said, I've seen Ramsey play a fair amount this season and last (only on tape, though), and I think he can make it as a center fielder. His speed is just a little better than average, but he seems to have a good feel for playing the field. However, it's entirely possible he can't make it as a center fielder in pro ball; a large percentage of scouts seem to think he'll end up in right. If he's a corner outfielder, I'm not sure how well the bat plays. Maybe it's still good enough. Maybe it's not. If he's relegated to a corner, he's probably more of a fourth guy on a top flight team.
The Bottom Line: The savings are a huge deal here, as much as I hate the idea. The Cards managed to pull a very, very good hitter and should save a bunch of money to use later on. I hated this pick at the time it was announced, even though I liked the player, but now with the benefit of hindsight, I think this could have been an extremely intelligent choice.
Supplemental Round, Pick 36 -- Stephen Piscotty, 3B/OF, Stanford
Plus: Piscotty is a tough player for me to really decide on. There's plenty about him I don't like, but in spite of a lot of it I still think he could end up a very good player in the pros.
If Piscotty makes it, it will be because of his bat. If he doesn't make it, it will probably be because of his bat.
Piscotty has an even more impressive Cape Cod League resume than James Ramsey does; he won the league's batting title in 2011 with a .349 average. He has outstanding hands at the plate, and his bat control is top notch. He has the frame of a power hitter already, and has plenty of room to fill out even more at 6'3", 195.
What's best about Piscotty at the plate is his ability to use the whole field. He doesn't sell out for power to the pull side; rather, he stays back and lets the ball come to him before swinging. It's an admirable trait, and one I can't help but put squarely in the positives column. He runs fairly well for his size, also, and has received some ink as a future right fielder. It appears at the moment the Cardinals see him more as an outfielder than a third baseman, though that may very well have more to do with the sheer number of third sackers they just drafted than what they actually think Piscotty can or will do.
Minus: Stephen Piscotty has a mature, balanced approach at the plate, a power hitter's frame, and a willingness to go the other way with the ball. Notice I didn't say anything anywhere in there about hitting for much power.
There's a method for hitting at Stanford, and it is exactly what Piscotty does. The swing is stiff, handsy, and disconnected, and leads to hitters who can absolutely flip the ball to any and all fields, but don't ask them to consistently drive the baseball for extra-base power. It's just not going to happen. They also don't draw a whole lot of walks, mostly due to the fact they are focused on slapping base hits to the opposite field. You get lots of contact, a really nice spray chart, and a team full of glorified slap hitters.
To wit: James Ramsey and Stephen Piscotty both played in essentially neutral run-scoring environments in 2011. Ramsey, all 5'11" and 186 pounds of him, put up an ISO of .229. Piscotty, 6'3" and 195, posted a .106. This season Ramsey posted that .290 I mentioned up above; Piscotty went off for a .138. Granted, James Ramsey was a year older than Piscotty both seasons. But even if you want to compare their junior seasons, well, there's really no comparison.
I think the Cardinals must see more in Piscotty's bat than is already there. I think they believe they can get him to turn his swing loose and stop settling for slapped base hits. And, I think they might be right. There are times when you watch Piscotty swing and it looks like he absolutely should hit for power; he uses his hips well in batting practice at least when he really cuts loose. He's shown an ability to use his hands and hit for average to any part of the park; there has to be some happy medium of power and control this guy can find, right?
Bottom Line: Piscottty doesn't hold a whole lot of defensive value; what he does in pro ball will be mostly about the bat. If the Cardinals are right and can remake his swing to take advantage of his size and strength without completely ruining the balance in his approach, maybe he takes off and becomes the hitter he looks like he should be. If not, though, he probably goes the way of Sean Burroughs, the former San Diego uber-prospect who impressed everyone with his ability to hit the ball to all fields and tempted scouts with that sweet poison Projection, but never moved beyond being satisfied with serving singles over the second baseman's head.
I didn't like Piscotty coming into the draft. I didn't like him when the Cardinals drafted him. I don't really like him now. But I can absolutely see how easy it would be to dream on his potential.