This past Wednesday, up in Peoria, wherever they went on the field the Cardinals’ most recent first-round picks, players who show the spectrum of talent and risk inherent in baseball’s draft, traveled as a duo.
On the left of the infield, Nolan Gorman (class of 2018) handled third and Delvin Perez (class of 2016) started at shortstop. In the lineup, Gorman took his .274 average and power-packed .893 OPS to the No. 3 spot in the Chiefs’ lineup, right behind Perez and his .278 average and .645 OPS in the No. 2 spot. Gorman is widely as one of the best power prospects in all of the minors, and he could be the Cardinals’ top-rated prospect in the industry’s Top 100 by the start of next season. Perez has scuffled – his wiry, thin frame not yet catching up to the strength needed to advance, but continuing to show the tensile athleticism that got him drafted and flickers of improvement throughout his entire game.
The Cardinals selected him 23rd overall in 2016.
Gorman was the 19th pick a year ago.
In three seasons at the helm of the Cardinals’ draft, former pitcher and World Series champion Randy Flores has taken raw, high school talents with the Cardinals’ first-round pick. (The club had its first-round pick in 2017 stripped as punishment for the Houston Hack.) Two does not make trend, and Year 4 of the Flores’ direction could bring the Cardinals back to a familiar stomping ground, college. So says the mock drafts.
The Cardinals have the 19th overall pick again this season and three picks in the top 100, including No. 58 and No. 96. They traded the No. 75 pick to Arizona as part of the package deal for first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
The Cardinals have a bonus purse of $6,903,500.
This draft is considered thin on pitching and thick, especially for Monday’s first round, on college-level position players. A scan of the mock drafts and prospect rankings has the three top preseason All-American shortstops going in the first round, and all three are tied to the Cardinals by some mock draft. Mizzou outfielder Kameron Misner has his advocates as a first-round pick, and he’s likely to be around at 19th overall. So is a host of college players like infielders Will Wilson (NC State), Logan Davidson (Clemson), Josh Jung (Texas Tech), Michael Busch (UNC), Bryson Stott (UNLV), and Aaron Schunk (Georgia). All have traces of traits the Cardinals have gravitated toward in past picks.
The high school ranks, where Perez and Gorman both surfaced for the Cardinals, offer that similar range of intrigue and gamble. Prep pitchers Quinn Priester (Cary, Ill.), and Matthew Allan (Sanford, Fla.), Brennan Malone (Bradenton, Fla.), and high-ceiling power righthander Daniel Espino (Statesboro, Ga.) are all in the mix. Espino has touched 99-100 mph with his fastball, and it has movement akin to Jordan Hicks’, according to some scouting reports. Baseball America says, “No pitcher … has as much upside as (the) Georgia righthander.”
On the position player side, there’s outfielder Maurice Hampton, a Memphis kid who has committed to LSU as both an outfielder and defensive back; Gunnar Henderson, the best prospect in Alabama; and Matthew Lugo, a shortstop from Puerto Rico.
Lugo plays at the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, which opened the year before Beltran became a Cardinal and has produced players for the draft for several years. Lugo is Beltran’s nephew, and the Cardinals have had recent looks at him.
The writers who put together mock drafts are doing a daring high-wire act in my opinion because they’re trying to report and predict the most volatile and unpredictable draft of them all. The moment they commit to a mock draft is the moment it’s likely wrong. A scan of the mock drafts show how fluid these predictions are, how they move and evolve from month to month and week to week as the draft approaches. But it does help identify trends – for the draft and for a team’s interest. The Cardinals don’t have that many picks – not like, say, Arizona – and that could lead to a more conservative start to the draft and some reach picks and tough signs around the 11th and 12th round.
With Baseball America’s scouting reports as our guide, per usual, here’s the annual pre-draft look at the mock drafts and players tied to the Cardinals – and some who likely will be:
19. Logan Davidson, SS, Clemson
In the course of these mock drafts you’re going to read about the first-team, second-team, and third-team preseason All-American shortstops being tied to the Cardinals, so might as well start with the first-teamer finding the Cardinals at 19th overall. In its rolling, breathing, repeatedly updated mock drafts, Baseball America has the Cardinals taking the player they also rank as the 19th-best prospect overall in the draft. Bang on. A switch-hitter and son of former big-leaguer Mark Davidson, Davidson hit .296/.414/.588 for Clemson this past season and had 15 home runs to go with 38 extra-base hits. One thing to keep in mind here is how Davidson did in the Cape Cod League. The Cardinals have often leaned toward college players who performed well in the wood bat league, drafting a series of strong hitters there for several years. Baseball America says Davidson had a 58 OPS+ in the Cape Cod League (100 is average). The publication adds some additional details that put the pick in sharper relief: “While playing for Clemson in the ACC, Davidson has looked like a legitimate first-round pick, having hit double-digit home runs and stolen at least 10 bases in each of his three seasons. Defensively, Davidson has a chance to stick at shortstop with plus arm strength and enough athleticism in his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame. Yet, while Davidson has posted impressive power and speed numbers, his hit tool has always been a question mark. … Current Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is one of the few major league success stories to occur after struggling mightily in the Cape, and there are some similarities to be drawn with Davidson, though Crawford was seen as a much better defender at the time, while Davidson is a switch-hitter with more raw power. … Davidson’s eventual landing spot will depend on how a team weighs his successful Clemson career with his Cape Cod track record. With a fair chance to remain at shortstop and a solid, all-around toolset, Davidson profiles as a safe first-round pick.”
May 3. 19. Kameron Misner, OF/1B, Mizzou
Had all the look of a high-ceiling, scout-drawing talent when the season opened for the Tigers and still has teams thinking about his upside as a first-round pick. Misner draws some parallels to Christian Yelich – as far as his size, swing, and potential well-rounded game. At Mizzou, he hit .286/.486/.599 with a 1.085 OPS and 20 extra-base hits, including 10 homers. He had 54 walks and 58 strikeouts this season for the Tigers. He struggled in SEC play against some of the elite college pitching in the country. The Cardinals entered this college season intrigued by him as a talent in their backyard. From Baseball America, “Misner entered the year as one of the most exciting college hitters in the 2019 class thanks to an exciting set of tools that rival any college player in the class. However, a left foot injury limited him to just 34 games in the spring of 2018, and as a result Misner entered this spring with a limited track record compared to other top college hitters. … He took it a step further and started to look like a top-10 pick after the first few weeks on the spring, when he showed great feel to hit and power. Once conference play began, however, Misner showed much more swing-and-miss, which started to raise questions about the true quality of his hit tool. … That could push him further down the board, but at some point his raw set of tools will be too exciting for teams to pass up. There’s not a single tool Misner doesn’t possess.”
May 17. 19. Corbin Carroll, OF, Lakeside High (Seattle)
The talent rankings that pool all the draft-eligible players together think highly of Carroll, and Baseball America’s Top 500 has him all the way up at 12th overall. The UCLA commit is highly regarded for his baseball savvy – from the jumps he gets in the field to the strike-zone sense he has at the plate. There are parallels here to draw between Carroll and the Cardinals’ other recent high school outfielder picked in the first round, Dylan Carlson. Even some of the reports have echoes. His size (5-10, 170 pounds) can work against him in the modeling-jeans department, but the Cardinals have been drawn to shorter, smarter, more-capable outfielders in the draft. Writes Baseball America: “Plays above his size in every facet of the game. … Carroll has no problem spitting on pitches just outside the zone and taking a walk, and then he can (wreak) havoc with his plus speed and advanced feel for running the bases. While Carroll is short, he isn’t small, with a solid frame and improved strength to the point where he could project for at least average power. Carroll’s speed plays in the outfield as well, where he is one of the best defensive center fielders in the class. Scouting directors voted Carroll as best prep defender in the class during the preseason thanks to excellent jumps and efficient route running. … There are very few holes to speak of in Carroll’s game.”
May 23. 19. Quinn Priester, RHP, Cary-Grove Community High (Cary, Ill.)
One of the pitchers that stands out as a possible first-round pick because he’s straight from Cardinals Central Casting. A 6-foot-3, Priester has the size and agility that has become part of the Cardinals’ checklist for identifying and developing pitchers, and reports of his work in high school describe him as a strike-thrower. Could be a candidate to increase velocity as he matures and as a team works with him to draw more mph from his delivery. He’s a TCU commit. Baseball America says, “Priester hasn’t received much formal pitching instruction to this point, which makes him exceptionally intriguing considering his success and also speaks to his high aptitude for the game. He self-taught himself some of the mechanical details of the game by watching YouTube videos of pitchers he admired and wanted to emulate. While prep arms always have risk associated with them, Priester has the ingredients of a starting pitcher with big upside.”
Side note: Patrick Mooney, of The Athletic, reported that the Cardinals and Nationals were the only teams that did not meet with Priester before Memorial Day weekend.
May 31. 19. Bryson Stott, SS, UNLV
In MLB.com’s brand-new mock draft, posted Friday morning, Jim Callis dips back into this shortstop bucket for the Cardinals’ likely pick. That’s because of the depth at the position this season and how teams, like the Cardinals, see drafting a shortstop as drafting a player who could remain at the position or go just about anywhere, if needed. Stott stands out from this group. He was Team USA’s starting shortstop on its college team, and some draft pundits have him rated as a top-10 talent in this year’s class. That’s because he has the mix of fielding agility and offensive intrigue that could stick at the position. Stott hit .356/.486/.599 for a 1.085 OPS at UNLV this season. He had 10 homers, 32 extra-base hits, and more walks (55) than strikeouts (39). Reports Baseball America, “Stott quickly showed he was more than just a slap hitter early this spring. He’s more consistently tapped into his all-fields power by getting his lower half more into his swing and increasing his strength. That power uptick has come with more swing-and-miss (14 percent strikeout rate through his first 41 games) and a higher walk rate (around 20 percent), but his strikeouts aren’t at a concerning level. Defensively, most scouts believe Stott can stick at shortstop, where he has a plus arm with accuracy and a reliable glove.”
19. Gunnar Henderson, SS, John T. Morgan Academy (Selma, Ala.)
One reason why Law, ESPN.com’s draft guru, has the Cardinals veering toward a high school shortstop at this point is because several are already off his board by 19, including a name that will come up again and again in these mock drafts, Will Wilson. Law has the NC State shortstop going at 18th overall and he sees Stott (see above) going 20th overall. Sandwiched in between, Law sees the Cardinals grabbing the top prospect in Alabama this season. An Auburn commit, Henderson is already striking physically and athletically, at 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, and could see a move from shortstop to third to first to wherever the bat plays up. Says Baseball America, “To meet those aspirations, Henderson will need to shorten up some of his actions in the infield—he can get long with his throwing motion at times—and also improve his footwork and ability to throw from multiple angles. He has allowed the game to speed up on him at times, but he should at least get a chance at shortstop at the next level before moving to third base. He has enough hitting ability and power to profile well at either position.”
19. Will Wilson, SS, NC State
Right there in the middle of the cavalcade of college shortstops is steady hitter Wilson. Whether he will continue to play shortstop could depend on the team that drafts him, the time he gets at the position, and how his instincts for the position translate to the speed of the game from level to level. Wilson hit .346/.435/.682 with 16 homers for the Wolfpack this season. He had 38 extra-base hits. His power is considered raw, but there and part of a mix of a well-rounded hitter. Baseball America offered this view: “The calling card with Wilson is his hitting ability. … Those offensive tools would suggest a superstar as an ACC shortstop, but Wilson’s supplemental tools are lacking. While he’s handled shortstop for the Wolfpack, most scouts believe his below-average running ability and lack of a quick first step will eventually push him to second base, where he should be a solid defender. His arm likely fits better at the keystone as well, and last summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Wilson played second base while Stott handled the shortstop duties.”
In its most recent mock draft, FanGraphs.com, also has the Cardinals selecting Wilson from NC State. There will be a handful of similar college position players available at this spot. to name a few:
• Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech: .332/.471/.609 with 11 homers and 33 extra-base hits. A steady producer in college who has an “approach at the plate (that) emphasizes hitting for average over power,” BA says. Could learn to unlock power by pulling the ball more. Would fit right in to the Cardinals’ collection of third basemen.
• Michael Busch, 1B/OF, UNC: .294/.447/.569 with 15 homers and 29 extra-base hits. Looking for the Cape Cod performing that could draw the Cardinals, here you go. Busch hit .322/.450/.567 and had six homers in the Cape. That is a tell. And it’s a bit of a surprise more of the mock drafts don’t have him going to the Cardinals.
• Aaron Schunk, 3B, Georgia: .336/.370/.565 with 11 homers and 25 extra-base hits. When not leading the Bulldogs in average and slugging, he was ending games for them. Schunk had 12 saves this past season and 18 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings as a two-way player for Georgia. Solid hitter. Solid fielder. Had a solid turn in Cape Cod. Baseball America has him 117th overall in their complete rankings of draft prospects.
Beltran’s nephew, 18-year-old Lugo, has committed to play at the University of Miami. He’s highest-rated prospect coming out of Puerto Rico, and that was where the Cardinals went in 2016 to pick Perez. Perez slipped in the draft because of a positive drug test – the report of which surfaced shortly before the draft. Lugo doesn’t have the same buzz about him as Perez did or Heliot Ramos had a year later, but he’s got that same profile of a lickety-split shortstop who can stick at the position. Beltran told MLB.com reporter Jesse Sanchez that Lugo is “aware of all the sacrifices you have to make to be a good player, and I think he has the right mentality to face the difficulties that come in pro ball.”
“He has a chance for above-average tools across the board if he adds more physicality,” Baseball America’s scouting report reads. “Whichever team drafts (him) will need to be patient as he learns the intricacies of the game and adds more polish.”