[azru: In past year's when I've asked for feedback on the site, one of the things that came up was more pre-draft coverage. So this year, I found someone to provide some fodder for our draft discussions. Leading up to the draft, purple_haze will introduce you to players that you should know to be prepped for the draft. When the draft is here, Future Redbirds will, as we have for the last several years, track each draft pick through the first 10 rounds and then group posts for each 10 rounds after that. The difference will be that this year, you may already know some of the names we draft thanks to purple_haze. Make sure and check in each Tuesday for draft coverage. Enjoy!]
Just as I was beginning to feel as if 2011 was a fairy tale so distant that it could not possibly be true, baseball returned and brought me sharply back into the present. And even though the dramatic finish of that season seemed to be the conclusion of an era of Cardinals history, they did not simply dissolve the franchise right then and there. Yep, it seems they’re doing it all over again this year and I couldn’t be happier. Everything is renewed this spring, with a new CBA, new management and a new farm director to determine the influx of new ballplayers from what should be a fruitful draft.
And it should be a pretty interesting year to cover the draft. The new collective bargaining agreement has brought a variety of changes to the system, large and small. Major league deals for draft prospects, such as the one given to Zach Cox, are no longer allowed. The Cardinals are unlikely beneficiaries of the new competitive balance lottery which allows teams with low revenues or in small markets by giving them a chance at extra special compensation picks. These NFL-style picks can be traded once to other teams before the end of the season. It’s a strange rule that tips the scales in favor of some already pretty good teams. Assuming they don’t find gold in the Mississippi River, St. Louis is unlikely to become a bigger market, meaning we should get our chance at extra picks year after year, or at least until they get sick of it and change it in the next CBA. Looks like we fooled ‘em with our nice little midwestern town routine. Keep churning out those pies.
The even better news is that the much maligned Elias ranking system is no more, replaced by a much simpler that compensates teams willing to tender their free agents a contract that pays them the average salary of the top 125 paid players. I would say that’s a considerable improvement in that it moves the responsibility of valuing players entirely onto the teams rather than some backwards third party requirements.
The signing bonus pools go into effect this year, giving the Cardinals $9,131,100 to spend, fourth highest in baseball. The bonus cap might hold back small market teams who want to get ambitious in the draft but it’s unlikely to affect the Cardinals much, as this sum is well over the record highest Cardinals draft budget. They have plenty of picks to spend them on, however, with slots 19, 23, 36, 52, 59 and 86 in the first two rounds. The general attitude is that this is not nearly as deep a draft class as last year’s but, with six picks in the top 100, it’s still quite a harvest for an already loaded farm system.
There are plenty of directions the Cardinals could go and I hope to cover many of them in the 9 weeks leading up to the draft (and I’m open to suggestions, too) but I’ll start out with a few of my personal favorites from this year’s class, one pitcher and one hitter each from college and high school. There are no clear favorites for any pick in this draft so trying to estimate a draft position for any player at this point is almost guaranteed to fail. Still, I’ll try and give my best guess on where they might go based on what we know right now.
Joey Gallo 1B/3B – Bishop Gorman HS (Las Vegas, NV)
With a good claim to the most raw power in the draft (which is not to say he is raw as a hitter), left-handed high school slugger Joey Gallo looks to me like a truly special hitter. He might not have the kind of hype that his former teammate Bryce Harper has but his home run potential is not far off. But whereas Harper’s swing is forceful and violent, Gallo is smooth and strong, reminding me of that other full-grown man who refers to himself as Joey on the Reds. He’s athletic and has a plus arm (he has thrown 98 off the mound) but his huge 6’5” frame would limit his range at third base. He might find a home in a corner outfield slot or, most likely, at first base but the bat will play. In any case, he has comes with a back up plan as a pitcher should he fail as a position player. At this point, it looks plausible that the Cardinals could snag him with their first pick but my guess is that teams will catch on to his middle of the lineup upside and draft him before we get the chance.
Walker Weickel RHP – Olympia HS (Orlando, FL)
The reason to draft a player with the name Walker Weickel should be fairly self-evident but Weickel offers plenty of other advantages. He’s got size and projectability at 6’6” with solid present velocity consistently in the low 90s, touching the mid 90s. He’s got a free and easy over-the-top delivery which he doesn’t always repeat but allows him to achieve a good downward plane and take advantage of his height. There is a fair amount of deception in this delivery, allowing his changeup (which doesn’t have much movement yet) to play up. Weickel’s main weapon besides the fastball is a slow 12-6 curve which he locates well and can freeze hitters. Weickel could easily go within the first ten picks with the trifecta of size, stuff and command coming out of high school. Still, very little is defined in these early stages and it’s conceivable that he could fall all the way to 19.
Josh Elander C – Texas Christian University
Josh Elander has a bunch of pieces and just needs to learn how to put them together. He’s got a good deal of bat speed and has shown good contact skills but has also been unable to translate his bat speed into in game power and has gone through periods of striking out. But he’s also been developing plate discipline, a skill that, for all the gains it has made in the media and even among casual fans, is still rarely mentioned in discussions of draft prospects (one of the main reasons that Kolten Wong was underrated in last year’s draft). This is his first year as a full-time catcher meaning he’s extremely raw at the position and will probably switch if he doesn’t show well as a defender this season. The flip side is that Elander is much more athletic than the average catcher or even the above average catcher. With all his athleticism, he has shown promise with a strong arm and smooth motions in figuring out how to catch and, if he can’t, he can go to the outfield as opposed to the standard first base conversion. There are the makings of a very nice skill set here but Elander is unlikely to go in the first round as is. He would make an intriguing choice for the Cardinals in the second round, however.
Branden Kline RHP – Virginia
Branden Kline is moving up draft boards quickly as his conversion from Virginia’s closer to their Friday starter proves to be a success. As a closer, Kline was mostly a fastball/slider guy but he has been incorporating more changeups and curveballs into his repertoire this year, both of which can become major league pitches. He’s got the frame to be a starter at 6’3” and he can sustain his velocity over the course of a game. His approach is a more “aggressive” one typically associated with relievers but I’m not sure that means anything at all. The reliance on the slider and his approach might make him vulnerable to injuries but I’m skeptical that such factors could make his risk significantly greater than any given college pitcher. He could make a good Jordan Swagerty type of pick that would be able to deliver value quickly as a reliever or develop as a starting pitcher at a slower pace. But, the way it’s looking, Kline won’t fall all the way to the second round, so it will take one of our earlier picks, possibly late in the first round.