I'm a big fan of the draft. The baseball one, too.
Baseball's first-year amateur draft takes place tonight, with our hometown Cardinals
going on the clock at No. 22 overall. Unfortunately, that's the only pick the Cards will have in the first round/supplemental round range, with their second selection not coming until No. 79 overall, which is officially the second round. I say officially because, while it's technically part of the second wave of team selections, there are 30 MLB teams and 30 picks per round; ergo, 79 feels, to me at least, more like the third round.
So, with just one pick on the first day -- the second round won't take place until Tuesday, the Cardinals will be trying to make their selection count in a big way. How they might go about doing so is a little tougher to say.
In the past few years, the Cardinals have moved away from their long-established preference for safe, conservative picks. They still pick plenty of college right-handers, of course, but especially in the early going of recent drafts the Cards have gone more and more toward riskier demographics. Since 2009 they've specialized in signability picks, players with top-level skills who fall because of their price tags. Shelby Miller in 2009, Zack Cox in 2010 (not to mention Austin Wilson, the tool-shed outfielder the Cards took a flyer on in the 12th round last year, who ultimately opted for Stanford); both are now among the team's top prospects and have more than justified the risk the Cardinals took in drafting them.
There's some thought the Cards may go more conservative in the early rounds, with so-called safe picks the order of the day. Jeff Luhnow
, the Cards' Scouting Director, seemed to imply as much recently in an interview
, in which he said:
"There are certain types of players that are more of a risk-reward profile, and you might get a lot of upside but the probability of them achieving that upside is smaller. In a Draft where we only pick one player in the first, up to 79, that's something that we would probably not be as apt to do as we did last year when we had a couple extra picks in the compensation rounds. That would affect it, but ultimately the goal is the same: produce players that will help St. Louis win championships."
You could certainly infer conservatism from that, but I'm not banking on it, necessarily. While a player like Tyrell Jenkins
, the ultra-high upside pitcher and dual-sport athlete the Cards drafted in the second round last year may not be on the menu this time around, I wouldn't expect the Cardinals to go overly safe. After all, the farm system is in a better place right now than it's been since Luhnow took over, and I think the organisation has learned its lesson from their past failures in picking safe.
If a top 10 or 15 talent falls to the Cards at 22, I don't think there's any way they pass in order to take a less risky player or easier sign. The success the Cards have had with the Shelby Millers and Zack Coxes of the world are just too obvious.
There are mock drafts aplenty to go around, with a variety of scenarios both exciting and depressing.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has the Cards taking Kolten Wong
, 2B from the University of Hawaii
. Wong is a polished, high-floor player at a position of need for the Cards. He would probably reach the big leagues fairly soon and has a high chance of at least moderate success. Unfortunately, moderate success is likely his ceiling, as well. This is just the sort of safe pick I hope the Cards don't make.
A pair of mocks from mlbbonusbaby.com, with one liking Henry Owens
, a high school LHP, for the Cards, and the other liking Taylor Guerrieri
, a high school righty. Owens is one of my personal faves, and I'll discuss him a little more in a moment. Guerrieri has an elite arm, but a high asking price and some concerns about his attitude and makeup. The price tag doesn't bother me a bit, and I honestly don't know enough about his makeup to know whether it's a legitimate concern or just the usual worries about a kid not out of high school yet. The talent is remarkable, though.
The community mock over at John Sickels' minor league ball
has the Cards going with Josh Bell,
a switch-hitting high school outfielder who draws comparisons to guys like Jason Heyward
. Bell would be a tremendous pickup, but is expected to be one of the toughest signs in the entire draft, much like Wilson was last year.
For me, these are my top five targets:
Henry Owens, LHP -- There are a pair of high-ceiling prep lefties, both of whom have reportedly drawn interest from the Cards: Owens and Daniel Norris from Tennessee. Either one would be an amazing pick, in my opinion, but I like Owens just a shade more, though I don't exactly know why. Owens is tall and projectable at 6'6", has a dynamite curve, and enough velocity to succeed. Teams will be banking on him throwing harder as he matures, which is certainly possible.
Levi Michael, SS/2B -- Michael is a middle infielder from UNC with a quick bat, good feet, and plenty of arm to play anywhere on the infield. Michael is actually the sort of pick I wouldn't necessarily want the Cards to make (see my notes on Kolten Wong above, as Michael is a very similar player), but he's just one of those gut feeling guys for me. I don't know what it is, exactly, but I think Michael is going to end up a surprisingly productive pro.
Austin Hedges, C -- High school catchers are some of the riskiest possible draft picks, with an enormous failure rate. Nonetheless, I think Hedges has a chance to be a special player in professional baseball. I look at his athleticism, his makeup, and his swing, and I see the next Buster Posey.
Brandon Nimmo, OF -- A hyper-athletic outfielder out of Wyoming who doesn't even have a high school team to play on, Nimmo is one of the riskier picks in the entire draft. He's expected to be a moderately tough sign, with a college commitment to Arkansas, and teams have to have concerns about not getting to see him play consistently against age-appropriate competition. Still, I see an incredibly high ceiling for Nimmo, and think he could end up the Mike Trout of this year's draft in a couple seasons.
Kenneth Gaines Jr, SS --
A high school shortstop who has flown under the radar, Gaines oozes tools, much more so than several of the most highly-touted middle infielders in the draft. He isn't a first round guy, by any means, but I think he has one of the highest ceilings of any potential middle infielder in the draft. Baseball Beginnings has some of the only video available on him
And a few others I like:
Josh Osich, LHP -- The stocky lefty out of Oregon has big-time stuff, which he showed off in a no-hitter against UCLA. I vacillate on Osich; I love his stuff, but he already has a Tommy John in his past and I'm not sure about his arm action. Still, he could be outstanding.
Daniel Norris, LHP -- The prep lefthander has an outstanding fastball/changeup combo to go along with a good frame and solid delivery.
Aaron Westlake, 1B -- A sweet lefthanded batting stroke should translate to big production down the line, and Westlake has plus athleticism for a first baseman. Not a first rounder, but if he's there in the third I like him.
Tony Zych, RHP -- The closer for Louisville, Zych might not be my first choice, simply because I wouldn't usually pick a college closer early, but he's got the stuff and makeup to close at the big league level, and soon. If he somehow slipped to 79 I would love to see the Cards pick him up.
Javier Baez, SS -- Most believe Baez will end up at third, but I think second base is just as likely. Either way, he has plus offensive potential and better feet than most give him credit for.
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP -- Listed above as a mock draftee, I'm a big fan of Guerrieri. The stuff is a plus, and I really like his arm action. The other stuff, I'll trust those more knowledgeable than I to sort out.
As for who the Cardinals will actually pick, it's really impossible to say. Every year I try to predict it, and every year I'm wrong. So why change tradition now?
My pick: the Cards go with the strength of the draft and take a prep arm. I'll say they snatch up Daniel Norris, who falls just far enough.