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Friday, June 22, 2012

Cardinals' 2012 Draft Report, Part Two

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 4:00 PM

I wrote on Wednesday about the first day of the Cards' 2012 draft, consisting of the first and supplemental rounds. They had five picks in the first 59 overall; the kind of haul that can make a farm system for a very long time. And what did the Cardinals accomplish with that windfall? 

Well, to be honest, I thought they did alright, but could have come away with a better load of talent. I like both of their first round picks well enough, in a Hippocratic sort of way, but I'm not sure either one is exactly a world beater. The supplemental guys I'm even more dubious of, with a pair of college third basemen I'm lukewarm on and a high school catcher I do like, but consider kind of a consolation prize for missing out on a better version of him. 

Still, there is definite talent among the five picks the Redbirds made, and while I wasn't at all pleased with the results at first, time and distance have given me more perspective, and the Cardinals did better from a strategic standpoint than perhaps they did from a pure talent one. 

We're looking at rounds 2-12 today; the three most intriguing players the Cards picked up are all included in this group. So let us move onward, yes? 

Round Two, Pick 86 -- Carson Kelly, 3B/RHP, Westview HS (Oregon) 

Plus: Now this is what I'm talking about. 

In the second round, the Cards took all those hypothetical savings they banked over the course of their first five picks and shot for the moon. Carson Kelly was the top prospect out of the state of Oregon, a two-way player who would likely have ranked that way as either a pitcher or hitter. He really is that gifted. On the mound he throws 92 and looks like a far more seasoned player. At the plate, though, he shows the kind of promise that gets scouts -- and scouting directors -- salivating like crazy. 

He has solid defensive skills, enough that there is no question of him being able to stick at the hot corner long-term. His arm is a major plus (I did mention he was a highly touted pitching prospect too, right?), and his hands and feet both work well in the field. And then there's the bat. Big time raw power. Plus pure bat speed. Balance and intelligence. Yes, he's just out of high school. But this is the kind of hitter you can easily project up the ladder without having to do too much dreaming. 

Minus: Honestly, there isn't much minus here, aside from the fact Carson Kelly is only seventeen years old, and there's plenty that can go wrong between seventeen and the big leagues. If I had to pick something, he does a little extra something with his hands in his swing, during the load, that looks a little awkward. I don't mind the leg kick at all; in fact, I like it. But I would probably try to get him to load his hands a little differently. That's it. That's literally the only real negative I can think of here. 

When the Cards made this pick, I would have had to put signability under the minus column; Kelly had gobs of leverage and a strong school commitment to Oregon, meaning he was going to cost plenty to sign. And, in fact, he did cost plenty to sign. Nearly three times the recommended bonus for his draft slot. But here's where the Cards' strategy started to really blossom. They had the money to reel him in because of how judiciously they had drafted earlier -- and how they planned to do so after this pick. 

Bottom Line: The Cardinals took a calculated risk here, grabbing one of the highest-ceiling talents in the entire draft and funneling enough funds his way to buy him out of a Ducks uniform. Brilliant pick, and perhaps the biggest 'a-ha' moment of the early draft for me. 

Round Three, Pick 117 -- Tim Cooney, LHP, Wake Forest 

Plus: We go back to the earlier method here; polished college pitcher, reasonable signing bonus, yadda yadda yadda. Not that it's a bad thing. 

Cooney throws with his left hand and has a pulse. That makes him at least a reasonable prospect. Moving on to the next pick...

Just kidding. Cooney actually has pretty good stuff for a lefty, starting with a fastball that qualifies as 'firm' and cruises consistently in the 90-91 range. His best pitch is a nasty cutter that saws off right-handers and finds the ends of lefties' bats consistently. He also throws a change and curve, but neither is really all that noteworthy. The velocity, arm slot, and cutter all have a bit of Mark Buerhle in them; Cooney is taller than Buerhle, but I don't mind making the comparison. It's a bit perfect-world, of course, but not completely off the wall for all that. 

Minus: I'm always suspicious of the concept of 'high floor' players, particularly when that high floor is accompanied by a limited ceiling. The notion is that a player who's close to a finished product isn't going to face many pitfalls; my own viewpoint would be that a low ceiling leaves you with far fewer viable outcomes. A guy who could be a superstar could still be an average player, too; a guy who should be an average player but will never be a superstar doesn't have nearly so much margin for error. He misses his ceiling by even a little and suddenly isn't a real viable player any more. 

That's my beef with a pick like Cooney, though I certainly don't really dislike the selection. I think he's a decent choice, because I like what I see well enough to think he could make it. But notion he, or any other player of his ilk, is quote-unquote safe just doesn't make much sense to me. 

Bottom Line: Not the most exciting pick, but he does have that pulse-and-left-handed thing going for him. And a really nice cutter. 

Round Four, Pick 150 -- Alejandro (Alex) Mejia, SS, Arizona 

Plus: Alex Mejia will almost assuredly be able to play shortstop at the professional level, even as high as the majors. That's a very valuable skillset. He has the hands, range, and arm you like to see from a premium defensive player. He's played college ball at one of the top programs in the country, as well, and faced top-quality competition in the Pac-12/14/16/34. 

Minus: not much of a hitter. He's a decent enough college bat, but I don't think it's going to play particularly well in pro ball. He doesn't have great functional strength, and pitchers aren't going to be afraid to challenge him. That being said, he does have solid contact skills and should be able to slap his way to a .280 average if nothing else. 

Bottom Line: Mejia reminds me (a lot), of Ryan Jackson, the shortstop the Cards selected out of Miami in the fifth round a couple years ago, and I could see a similar career arc for the U of A product. That's not a bad thing at all, as Jackson is playing at Triple A this season and probably isn't far away from a big league opportunity. In the long run, I don't think Mejia's bat will ever support a full-time spot in a major league lineup, but his ability to pick if in the middle infield should net him plentiful opportunities to at least stick around as a utility man for awhile. 

Round Five, Pick 180 -- Cory Jones, RHP, College of the Canyons (Junior College) 

Okay, enough with the plus/minus thing. We're getting to the point in the draft where I don't have enough to say about some of these players to justify two separate categories.

This is a pure arm strength pick, as Jones has been clocked as high as 97 mph with his fastball at times. He doesn't throw nearly that hard consistently, at least not as a starter, but he might make a very good bullpen candidate down the road. A commenter over at Future Redbirds mentioned Mitchell Boggs, and I can see some of that. Power arm, inconsistent breaking ball, and a slightly spotty track record of health to this definitely makes some sense. 

Speaking of inconsistent breaking balls, Jones features a hard curve that could be good, but isn't yet, at least not very often. He does have the chance for two plus pitches, though, if things break a little right for him, and I could certainly see him as a very useful reliever in a few years. Another cheap pick, but not at all one I mind. 

Round Six, Pick 210 -- Kurt Heyer, RHP, Arizona 

Heyer throws strikes. Lots of them. He has a funky, deceptive delivery, too, and better stuff than he generally gets credit for. A fastball in the low-90s, a changeup I absolutely love, and a slider that shows good depth and has become a solid weapon for him against right-handed hitters. In short, I think Kurt Heyer is a very good pitcher, a very good prospect, and I'm frankly surprised the Cards managed to pick him up this late in the draft. Particularly considering the way so many other reasonable college signs seemed to move up the boards. 

The numbers on Heyer are very good, too. His raw numbers are solid -- a 2.28 ERA and nearly 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio -- but when you look at his park factors those stats look even better. Arizona plays in one of the biggest hitter's paradises in the nation, with a PF of 141. (The basics on park factor if you aren't familiar.) In other words, Heyer has been very good in a place that is very, very difficult to be very good as a pitcher. The Cardinals have gone to the park factor well before, particularly in the case of Kolten Wong, whose raw numbers were impressive, until you realized he was putting up those numbers hitting in Yellowstone Park, at which point they shot up into the stratosphere. I think Heyer could be a real find at this spot. 

Oh, and speaking of, Arizona is still playing in the College World Series. Bad for the Cardinals, in that they have to hold off signing Heyer (and Mejia, for that matter), but good for us; it gives us a chance to actually see these players on television fairly easily where ordinarily we might not. Check the listings; I think you'll be impressed if you actually see the guy pitch. 

God I love super slo-mo with audio. 

Round Seven, Pick 240 -- Kyle Barraclough, RHP, St. Mary's 

Another college senior, another cheap sign. 

Barraclough actually has a very intriguing repertoire, with a fastball that tops out at 95 and a really wicked split-finger pitch that can get some very awkward looking swings. He's another pitcher I would put in the same boat as Cory Jones; both have good enough arms and shaky enough overall games I see them as relievers down the road. 

I really hate to keep mentioning the affordability angle on some of these players as a positive; it neither feels like a plus to the fans nor like a compliment to the player. However, in this new world of draft spending limit rules, cheap isn't just what Drayton McLane chants in his head when his rented asian schoolgirl is hauling his ancient ashes around; it's a strategic necessity. What Barraclough saved the Cardinals in signing bonus we'll see come into play here in just a couple more rounds. 

Baseball America had an interesting article about the new draft signing rules; Barraclough was quoted on the subject of his signing bonus. Give it a read; it helps to bring into focus the nature of the new rules and what effect they're having on both players and teams. 

Round Eight, Pick 270 -- Yoenny Gonzalez, College of Central Florida 

A junior college athlete, I've researched Gonzalez some since he was drafted (I had never heard the name before that), and he reminds me a little of Virgil Hill, another pure athlete the Cards took a few years back, only without the interesting family story. 

Plus speed is Gonzalez's big calling card, but there's some reason to believe he might develop a bit of pop as he fills out. He can play center field, which gives him positional value. Maybe he makes it one day as a defense-first outfielder who can swipe a base. Maybe not. That's the best I can do on this guy. But, hey, I'm always willing to take a shot on a guy with real athletic ability. 

Round Nine, Pick 300 -- Rowan Wick, C, Cypress College 

Rowan Wick is a big sumbitch. And yes, it has to be said that way to make sense. 

Wick is 6'3", listed at 220 (probably a little bigger than that), and takes one hell of a big hack at the ball. I like that. It isn't an excessively noisy swing, either; he generates his power very efficiently. 

As for the defense, I really have no idea. That's a question that only time will answer, whether or not he can stick behind the plate. But he has the potential to hit for power, which gives him at least one tool you don't often see playing backstop. 

Round Ten, Pick 330 -- Jacob Wilson, 2B/3B, Memphis 

And yet another college senior; fitting, really, considering this tenth round is the last one teams have to worry about losing a pick if they don't sign the player drafted. The tenth round this year brought a ridiculous number of college senior picks, and if you hadn't figured out before this point what teams were trying to do to game the new system a little bit here it was laid out, completely explicitly. 

As for Wilson himself, he has good power for a second baseman, but not so much if he ends up at third. Still, much like Rowan Wick, you have to like the power potential at a position you rarely see much of it. 

Unfortunately, Wilson's ability to actually play second at any kind of acceptable level in pro ball is very much in question. However, he makes sense as one of those players you pencil in for the bat, then try to figure out exactly where he can play. 

Round Eleven, Pick 360 -- Trey Williams, 3B, Valencia HS (California) 

Ah, round eleven. Home of players you've never heard of from colleges you don't know where they are and high school kids that stand 6'2" and weight 135 pounds. In other words, round eleven is all about long shots. 

And, the Cards took a first-rounder in round eleven. Seriously. 

Trey Williams is one of the most talented players in the entire draft. The son of a former major leaguer (Eddie Williams), he has plus tools across the board, with power potential that in years past would have had him go in the top, say, 50 picks at worst. 

I covered Williams for Viva El Birdos at the beginning of May; I loved him then and I love him now. Carson Kelly is the most athletically gifted player the Cardinals selected in this year's draft. Trey Williams is breathing down his neck in that particular race. I said at the time I would love to see the Cardinals pop him with one of their early picks and try to mold him into something special; the fact it ended up being an eleventh-round pick just goes to show you how much the new rules altered the draft this year. 

Whether the Cards can sign Williams or not is very much in the air, and they likely won't know until they get the final numbers done on their earlier players who are still playing in the CWS. He'll take a big bonus, but if the club can't get it done there's no loss of pick. Or money. Or anything. No harm, no foul. 

And this is where I have to give the Cardinals' draft department (and their new chief, Dan Kantrovitz), all the credit in the world. To find a player like Williams at this point in the draft (and the guy in round twelve, as well), is pretty remarkable. What's even more impressive, though, is that you get the feeling they pretty much knew, all along, that they would be able to find some guys like this late. The Cards played the new system perfectly; if they can actually massage the budget enough to sign Williams, all the while avoiding the risk of lost picks in the first ten rounds, then I will stand and applaud. 

Round Twelve, Pick 390 -- Max Foody, LHP, The Pendleton School (Florida) 

One round after getting Trey Williams, a first- or second-round talent, the Cards pulled another player of high-round ability in Foody, a big left-handed starter out of a Florida high school whose ceiling could be as high as players taken ten rounds earlier. 

Foody has everything you could ask for in a big-time pitching prospect: he already throws hard, working his fastball in the 92 mph range with more potentially in the tank, he has a big, strong frame at 6'4" and 220 lbs, and a curveball that already looks like it could be a plus in the future. The changeup isn't much to speak of yet, but what high school pitcher's is? 

Much like Trey Williams, the big question on Foody is whether or not the Cards can sign him. He's committed to play college ball at Florida State, and will likely require a significant bonus to buy him out of that. Not Carson Kelly money, or even Williams money, but a pretty solid chunk of change all the same. But, once again, in the twelfth round, you have to stand back and admire the strategy that managed to net the Cardinals this kind of a talent. 

I'm going to end this edition of the draft report here. I considered going to round fifteen, but this feels like a better stopping point, largely because of the two players I just talked about. Day Two of the draft was when we saw how intelligent the Cardinals' strategy was this year, and the payoff for that intelligence was largely in picking up Foody and Williams in spots that carry no risk of a lost pick. 

I didn't much care for the first day of the draft when the Cards completed it. On day two, however, I felt much, much different. They took three calculated risks; they picked an enormous talent in round two, then allocated the resources to sign him. They took two other big-time talents after the tenth round; we'll have to see if they can finagle the financials to bring those two into the fold. 

If the Cards can get just one of the two of Max Foody and Trey Williams signed, I think this goes from a solid draft class to a very good one. If they somehow pull off signing Williams, Foody, and Carson Kelly, this draft gets an outright 'Wow' from me. 

I'll have the final edition of this review early next week, covering some of the more intriguing names taken the rest of the way, from rounds 13 to 50. See you then. 

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