For one week every June, the clock stops as far as the games go at least in this tiny corner of the Conclave. As much as the season can feel like a grind even to the most faithful, now is the time for hopes and dreams as the Rule 4, or first year player, Draft takes center stage Monday.
With all the recent prospect graduations to St. Louis, an influx of talent just might carry me all the way past the All-Star break and right to the trade deadline. That’s another story altogether, however, so let’s dive into what we know first and then hit on some possible additions.
2017 left much to be desired as far as adding impact talent to the system, given that a scandal and signing Dexter Fowler all but decimated the pool for the first ten rounds. This year is back to normal, even after forfeiting the second round pick as compensation for Greg Holland. Not only do the Cardinals still have three selections on Day 1, but the track record and deep class both bode well for a potential marquee pick.
New rules prohibit losing a first round draft pick, and that means the Birds on a Bat slot into a very familiar position with their top selection. This year will mark the fourth time since 2009 that the 19th pick resides under the Arch, and each of the first three made their debut for St. Louis in short order.
Shelby Miller was by far the highest touted of the trio, but he is also the only one currently injured and on his third team. Marco Gonzales never could catch a break with the Cardinals but has found new life in the Seattle rotation. Michael Wacha seemingly has been in the St. Louis rotation since he was drafted but in truth doesn’t turn 27 for nearly another month.
The other connection for all three besides filling a need on the mound was that at the time they were picked, each vaulted to the top of the prospect mountain. Miller sprinted thru the minors and was quickly joined by Wacha and then Gonzales who were both taken, in part, because they were identified as quick risers who didn’t need much seasoning. This year the 19th pick won’t ascend to the top spot, only because Alex Reyes owns it until he graduates (hopefully this summer).
When taking a quick look at the MLB Top Prospect list, the big thing that stands out next to all the turnover has to be the Memphis flavor at the top. Each of the top 10 has spent time on the Redbirds’ roster which signals that new blood is desperately needed in order to replenish a system in danger of aging out. And because the baseball Gods are looking out for my best interests, 2018 will go down as one of the most stacked and confusing drafts at the same time.
There truly is no reason to pay much attention to the mocks because the only consensus has become a lack of consistent votes pretty much starting at the top for a few reasons. Instead of looking at just best available player or fit for the system, a new normal has started to sweep across the game for better or worse. In a draft where there are so many players rated similarly, the deciding factor may end up being how much it will cost to get a signature on the dotted line.
Miller ‘fell’ to the Cardinals back in 2009 in part due to concerns that his price may be too high and as a high school phenom, he held all the leverage. Now the game is drastically different, and few teams have a system set up to succeed much like the one in St. Louis. While it appears from the outside that picking in the late teens and early 20’s every year has been a detriment, that hasn’t stopped the scouting department from pulling the right strings more times than not.
In order to get a feel for how impressive this class of prospects is, just look at a few numbers. Just using the best 50 out of MLB’s Top 200, ten college pitchers made the list with all but the top two potential fits for the Cards. Flipping over to prep arms, this is really where things get interesting as 12 names are almost interchangeable. Right there with the 19th selection, St. Louis can continue the trend and take a highly rated pitcher seemingly destined to toe the rubber at Busch Stadium in the next couple of years.
But wait a minute, is it a foregone conclusion that Randy Flores and the rest of the scouting department will take the best arm on the board? Personally, the track record plus sheer number of quality hurlers does seem to make it harder to overlook, or maybe that is what sets the Cardinals apart from the competition. Out of the 13 college bats waiting to see how high they are taken, nine are realistic options to be available once St. Louis owns the clock.
That leaves 15 of the hardest to judge talents left, as high school position players outside of the top 1% take the longest to develop and are also the biggest risks of the bunch. Just look at the 2015 draft, where Nick Plummer was selected by the Cards 23rd overall and one selection before Walker Buehler, a potential future ace for the Dodgers. Another way to see it then if looking at just high school talent, the Braves took a RHP from Canada with the 28th pick who already made his big league debut this season.
Plummer missed a season due to injury and has struggled to make consistent contact while repeating the same level in 2018. He is no longer listed on the Top 30 for St. Louis and given the outfield depth around him, another highly drafted bat may push him to another organization in the near future.
The biggest takeaway I found while doing the pre-draft research had to be that a surprise at the top can and will happen. It seems like yesterday that the first draft I got to really cover after Iraq was the 2007 one where everyone on the message boards (pre-Twitter) was up in arms that the Cardinals bypassed Rick Porcello for some Oklahoma high school shortstop. I had to smile when I saw that the Tigers (who drafted Porcello) brought up Pete Kozma earlier this year and then DFA’d him when Miguel Cabrera was activated from the DL.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend and prepare for the craziness to start as I will be digging up everything I can on the newest members to the BOTB fraternity!