Sub-titled: Why this draft was conservative and you should still like it.
The Cardinals have long been criticized because of what draft watchers consider and over-fondness for college players resulting in low upside drafts. These critics point at a system largely devoid of high ceiling talent as evidence of the conservative drafts.
The flipside of this is that college players are categorically more likely to return value in the major leagues to a club in the first two rounds. It’s really not even close when considering the averages. The psychological aspect of human mind rarely rewards probabilistic thinking and is far more inclined to think in absolutes or hyperbolic statements.
So while the Cardinals approach the draft in a way that is most likely to offer the highest return on their investments, they leave themselves open to criticism that argues that they’re not picking the safe college picks instead of the high reward-high risk high school players. It’s a catch-22.
I’m often inclined to side with the critics. I’d contend that the Cardinals take their risks in the wrong places. When they want what they consider a higher upside player in the early rounds, it seems like they too often dip their toes in the pool of raw college players. I’d point to players like Chris Lambert and Mark McCormick or, to a lesser extent, Adam Ottavino as players who lacked polish but represented more significant upside. With lesser signing demands and leverage, they represent safe but potentially rewarding picks.
Now to get to the heart of the argument at hand: the 2010 draft. I’m here to tell you the Cardinals didn’t deviate from a conservative draft but still managed to have a good overall draft. What follows is my analysis and opinion of the Cardinals draft. It’s not the snap judgments that I made on draft day, though I suspect it’s not that far apart.
In the first 10 rounds representing 12 picks, the Cardinals selected just 2 high school players. Tyrell Jenkins is a raw arm with above average velocity and sketchy secondary pitches. He’s projectable but he’s raw. For their high school position player, they took Sam Tuivailala. Tuivailala represents a raw athlete who was looked at for both his pitching ability and his skills at shortstop. Tui may be headed for third base if he sticks as a position player but the bat speed and strength should play.
Beyond the first 10 rounds, of course, the Cardinals snared the exclusive negotiating rights with Austin Wilson. It’s difficult to get too excited about this pick given the difficulty that they likely face in signing him and the acknowledgment of that by taking him in the 12th round. Wilson represents the epitome of a high upside high school player showcasing a man-child’s body with speed, power and arm strength. Wilson was one of 9 high school picks after the first 10 rounds.
In 52 picks, the Cardinals selected 11 players out of high school. 21% is a deceptive number because there are more players selected from college every year than from high school. (I’m sure someone reading this can dig up the average % of high school picks by teams. I had a link at one point but I’ve misplaced it.) I’m relatively certain this number is low though not outrageously so. A cursory glance at the NL Central Lists shows the Cardinals tied for last in high school selections. (Chi – 13, Cin – 13, Hou – 23, Mil – 11, Pitt – 26)
So where the Cardinals went with raw talent early, they went with high school players. When they wanted a lottery ticket, albeit an expensive one, they went with a high school player in round 12 who would have been a first round talent if not for signability questions. The Cardinals didn’t pick a lot of high school talent but you have to like the high level ones they did select. This isn’t a draft with a lot of risks on athletes who are new to baseball but it’s a draft that feels like the right risks.
Rightly or wrongly, the first pick in any draft will have to shoulder an uneven amount of responsibility for any retrospective evaluation of that class. The Cardinals picked up a player that no one thought would fall to them in Zach Cox. He was, according to most, the best player available when the Cardinals came up to the podium. He’s also a rather safe pick. A polished hitter with a quick bat, there’s very little doubt that Cox will hit. (Personally, I like his swing more than Brett Wallace by a healthy margin.) There is some debate about what kind of power Cox will have. I’m somewhere in the middle on that as I see him as more of a 10-15 HR guy with lots of doubles but not insane amounts of power. He’ll likely be an average defender at 3rd or 2nd with repetition and has decent range with a strong arm. I like his upside as a 4 WAR type player in the infield. Not crazy superstar high but solid. Again, the downside is something like a replacement level player so there’s not to much risk here.
The Cardinals took a pair of college arms in the supplemental and 2nd round in Seth Blair and Jordan Swaggerty. If you want to be critical of the Cardinals’ draft, start here. Both pitchers profile better as relievers though they’ll both begin as starters if the Cardinals sign them. While pitching prospects are an incredibly fickle projection, these are the kinds of players that have a nice fallback plan as a reliever. It’s also one of my least favorite type of picks. They’re likely to give up velocity as a starter putting them at servicable low-90s guys with a good secondary pitch and questionable offerings beyond that.
The 4th and 5th round picks are both ones that I like a lot. The Cardinals selected a catcher in Cody Stanley who is more athletic than your average catcher and not some hulking behemoth behind the plate. He’s your typical catcher though – average tools defensively and offensively with gap power – and not likely to be a star. Nick Longmire features great tools that have been up and down performance-wise in college. The quick start has brought him to the forefront of the 2010 draftees and I like him a lot. He’s got considerable room to fill out and more refined workout program should help him achieve some impressive results If you want the surprise high-upside pick from the first 5 rounds, it’s this guy.
After the first 5 rounds, the Cardinals seemed to tighten up selecting 3 boring lefthanded college pitchers in their next 5 picks. John Gast, Daniel Bibona and Tyler Lyons are all fine pitchers but none of them profile as more than average starting pitchers. They’ll throw a fastball that resides in the 88-90mph. Gast has a touch more on his fastball but considerably worse command. Smashed in there were two questionable position player picks with Greg Garcia who — tell me if you’ve heard this before — has a nice glove at short but a questionable bat. Reggie Williams Jr. was an OF with some speed who doesn’t have good baseball instincts and lacks standout tools elsewhere.
To wrap things up, this isn’t a crazy upside draft by any means. I’d contend that it’s a rather conservative one. Looking at the first 10 rounds (12 picks), I’ve got four players with high upside: Cox, Longmire, Tuivailala, Jenkins. The first two are relatively low risk “knowns”. The latter are about as raw as you can get for players but they’re young and should be easier to shape. Statistically, Tuivailala may be the best type of player to pick in the third round (Wang’s study differs from Jazayerli’s in this regard so it’s still debatable). The Cardinals also selected three players with what I’d label moderate upside: Blair, Swaggerty, Stanley. They’re all relatively low risk. Blair and Swaggerty should contribute out of the pen at a minimum with a chance to be decent starters. Stanley is a good catcher but not a great overall player. . The collection of players that I’m simply not that high on (low upside) would be: Garcia, Gast, Bibona, Lyons, Williams. Garcia is the only one that I think will move the minors at a decent clip. He’s a good fielding shortstop and should get a look at the upper minors relatively quickly. The three lefties are questionable picks for me. Gast’s command and durability issues and the questions regarding the stuff of Bibona and Lyons makes these players risky for returns on investment. Williams is . . . well, I just don’t like that pick at all.
The Cardinals had a solid draft but it’s not going to produce a lot of “blue chip” type prospects. It portends well for depth throughout the system and some players who can be good major leaguers. If the Cardinals sign Wilson, this draft moves from solid to good. It’s a typical draft for the Cardinals and one that’s served them well in recent years — time will be the ultimate judge of the 2010 draft.