Stacking the Draft (Part 3): Bring in the Closer

Three times since 2006 the Cardinals have sought out a college reliever within the first three rounds of the draft but only one, Chris Perez, was actually used in that role. But can you name the other two? Here’s a hint — one of the pair was included in Part 2 over at PH8. Well that’s basically as far as my trivia prowess goes but thankfully, that’s not what they pay me the big bucks for anyway!

Greetings and welcome to the normal time slot in our shiny new home. Nick has already said hello, but now the gang is all here. I have been called many things over the last 30+ years but always a Birds on the Bat fan first. Like many who attempted to hit the little ball, my baseball claim to fame was leading my little league team in getting hit BY the ball. I knew early on that my St. Louis passion would be covering the team, but I had no idea just how far that would take me. I covered local sports and the Quad-City River Bandits (before they were a Cards’ affiliate) in college but joined the military before 9/11.

It was during my tours in Iraq when the internet became my baseball best friend. I was deployed during both the 2004 and 2006 World Series and soon after coming home found the great joy that is blogging. Becoming a member of the UCB and meeting many like-minded individuals has been a dream come true, and that made spending nearly all of the 2011 World Series on a train easier. All of my goals for this endeavor except one have been realized, and I will get to see a St. Louis World Series game in person before it is all said and done!

Except for the loyal three readers who are used to my rambling, I like to think of myself as a converted reliever. Maybe not in the Jason Motte mold, but I definitely could not hit for average or display enough pitch consistency to break the rotation. And with the closers’ intro music blaring, it is on to the good stuff.

This year’s draft features a very top-heavy feel, but I think that actually helps what the Cardinals are wanting to do. There are a couple of long shots, including the potential free fall of Sean Manaea, that make the first round intriguing right up until the 19th pick. Fast-rising college hurlers will be featured tonight, so check out yesterday’s post if high school arms peak your interest. Manaea still projects as a reach when looking at potential closers, but there is something impressive about a lefty who can bring it in the upper 90’s.

While the College World Series typically involves at least a couple St. Louis draft picks, two college starters have finished their seasons and would be ready to step right into bullpen roles. That removes pressure from throwing too many innings and was the method used last year with Michael Wacha. The lone difference with this pair, however, could mean the difference between making a September appearance under the Arch or at least factoring into a pennant race at an advanced level.

Taking the best available player has become a rule for the Cardinals, who feature the game’s best farm system as proof. The approach worked perfectly during the 2012 first round, as Wacha projected much higher than No. 19 going into the draft. Mock drafts are aplenty this week, so my preference falls squarely on the stats. And the numbers show one player who should not be overlooked, whether or not he is used to coming out of the ‘pen.

Not to be confused with the recently released player of the same name, this Alex Gonzalez has been rocketing up the big boards all the way from Oral Roberts. His draft stock could not be higher at this point, but it remains to be seen if the stellar figures move him into the Top-2o. With two overpowering pitches, the right-hander could be sent directly to Peoria or even back home to Florida. Gonzalez crushed the competition his junior campaign and will be squarely in the sites of teams come Thursday.

If Gonzalez gets snagged at No. 19, St. Louis may look to double-up from the right side to finish off the first round. Bobby Wahl has a familiar pedigree, as the Ole Miss star could very well follow Lance Lynn from Rebel starter to the Cards’ bullpen. Wahl may not have the prototypical relief foundation, but the hard thrower earned All-Star honors in the Cape Cod League last summer, making him marketable at pick No. 28.

Rounding out the relief corps, Colby Suggs may end up with more saves at a lower price when everything is said and done. The University of Arkansas product set a school record for saves this season and could be had in the 2nd or 3rd round. Suggs also matches up well with a team like St. Louis, which has used previous picks on fellow Razorbacks as well as college closers.

Ready for the answer to The Cards Conclave Opening Night Question? Joe Kelly had exactly one save in 2009 while Jordan Swagerty tallied eight during his lone season in the organization. Will any player taken in 2013 draft take a similar path? Stay tuned to the CC for all your current and future player news, especially as the Prospect Preacher breaks down all the excitement every day!

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