St. Louis Cardinals: Draft day one includes two sluggers and an arm
By Matt Graves
With four picks in the first 100, and two on day one, the St. Louis Cardinals look to reload the lower levels of their top-heavy farm system. How’d they do?
Your St. Louis Cardinals came into the first day of the draft with picks 19, 43, 75, and 95. This year’s draft was going to be very different. Last year, because of the hacking scandal, the Cardinals’ picked first at 94 overall. Even with this handicap the 2017 draft was still very successful as Chase Pinder (CF, 7th round), Evan Mendoza (3B, 11th round), and Kramer Robertson (SS ,4th round) are all playing at High-A Palm Beach already.
Flores was recently on Dan Mclaughlin‘s podcast where he spoke about his draft strategy. In this year’s draft, there are many fireball pitchers even down to the high school level. When asked about if he drafts for need or best player, he said it, “changes at different spots in the draft.” It is clear in the interview that Flores looks for a very even balance between college vs high school players along with balance between pitching vs hitting focus, with signability as another important factor.
Flores points out that this brings a “balanced portfolio of prospects” when the draft is finished. Personally, I love this view as taking a hedge of the entire market of prospects can allow you to get a lot of diversity in your class. With all this said, lets take a look at who the Cardinals selected today.
Pick #19: Nolan Gorman, 3B, Sandra Day O’Connor HS (AZ), 18 years old
This pick kind of came out of left field, or better third base, as most predicted the classic polished college pitcher pick, but I think the Cardinals got a steal here. Gorman stands six-foot one, 210 lbs left-handed masher out of high school in Arizona. He batted .421 with 10 homers, only 16 strikeouts and a monster 46 walks in 32 games. That comes out to a whopping 1.536 OPS in his senior season.
This sweet swinging lefty has been graded by some scouts as having 70 grade power, but with some understandable holes in his swing. While he did not strikeout much his senior year there is a big difference in pitching talent when you get to the minors. Strikeouts may become a problem as he goes through the minors, but his power should outweigh any strikeouts.
Defensively, Gorman may not be able stick at third base, as his movement on balls leaves room to be desired. His arm is about a 50 grade and is good enough to hold his own on the hot corner. Whether he stays at third in the long run will be a tossup, but third is his home for now.
Overall I love this pick for the Cardinals. Flores has never made a pick like this, a power hitting high school position player and I agree with this strategy. Does Gorman have flaws, of course, no player doesn’t. I think it represents the Cardinals taking the best available player who’s big league power potential was too much to resist.
Here is some video of Gorman via MaxPreps:
Pick #43: Griffin Roberts, RHP, Wake Forrest University (Jr.), 21 years old
While Griffin Roberts is technically 21, but his birthday is in a month so we may as well consider him a 22-year-old. This pick is a classic Mozeliak pick. Griffin is a polished college arm with a proven track record. His 130 strikeouts this year led the ACC. If there’s one thing I know about Roberts, it’s he will be a fast riser. He has nothing left to prove in college and Peter Gammons even suggested the Cardinals could use Roberts this September in a bullpen roll.
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While I don’t believe Roberts will debut this season because of better talents above him, seeing him in the relative future is not out of the question. Robert’s best pitch is no doubt his slider, and has been regarded as the best in this draft class by some scouts.
His fastball can hit mid to upper 90’s but sits comfortably at 94-95 which is not too shabby by itself. His repertoire also includes a solid change-up that still needs some sharpening.
Roberts’ greatest weakness is undoubtedly his control. With 38 walks in just under 100 innings last year, he has room to improve. This year was Roberts’ first year in the rotation and while the strikeouts are nice, if you can’t control what you’re throwing when you need to throw a strike, it doesn’t matter how dirty a pitch is.
Whether or not Roberts’ ends up as a starter or a late inning reliever, I love this pick, while not flashy, and think that we will be seeing Roberts in St. Louis at the latest by the end of 2020.
Here is some video of Roberts pitching via Baseball America:
Pick #75: Luken Baker, 1B, TCU (Jr.), 21 years old
The Cardinals rounded out the night by picking a big man. Luken Baker is 6’4 and 265 lbs and has developed some very intriguing power potential. He batted .319 with 9 homers and a .575 slugging percentage this year. Those stats are nice but what really stands out is his gaudy .475 OBP. This shows his great batting eye and ability to take a walk, another common thing the Cardinals value in draft picks.
Along with his eye, Baker also shows some intense pop with the 9 homers in only 140 PA’s. He has immense power to all fields and just like Gorman, it’s up there with the best in the class. The patient batting eye to go along with it can make Baker a deadly force with the bat if he can stay on the field.
With that being said, the biggest knocks on Baker are his fielding and injury history. He is said to be a below average first baseman. The more troubling and risky thing is the injuries. Baker has missed big chunks of two seasons, first because of a left shoulder injury and second because of a leg injury. Health is one of the most important and often undervalued quality in players and could torpedo Baker’s career if the issues continue to pop up.
An interesting point on Baker, he sent a letter to teams in 2015 telling them not to draft him. He bet on himself and went to TCU. This obviously worked out for him because he definitely has risen up the draft boards since he went to college. To me, this shows a willingness to work on oneself and have faith in himself. A person who bets on themselves like that is someone with high-class character, so hopefully we see him apply that to the other things he needs to work on.
While Baker may not add much with is fielding or lack of base running speed, his bat can play. I’m less bullish on this draft pick than the last two but I think that Baker could provide some talent to this team somewhere down the line.
Watch Baker take some hacks via The Prospect Pipeline:
Overall I think Randy Flores and the Cardinals did a solid job today selecting both Gorman, Roberts and Baker. While their arrival times are undoubtedly going to be a bit different, the potential is palpable. The draft continues tomorrow so stay tuned. What did you guys think of day one?