It is that time of year again, where baseball's most faithful fans sit in front of a computer for two days and follow the draft.
Some of you are following your favorite high school and college players. Others are keeping a watchful eye on your hometown Major League team. Whatever your reason, the first year players draft has grown in popularity among fans immensely in just the past ten years.
The St. Louis Cardinals are suppose to be in the mist of a rebuilding year. With the off-season loss of Rolen, Edmonds, and Eckstein; arguably the best defensive third basemen in the game when healthy, the longest tenured Cardinal and eight time Gold Glover, and the 2006 World Series MVP respectively, it looked to be a down year for the Redbirds. The last stitch in the side was the dissent in the front office leading to the parting of ways between GM Walt Jocketty and the Cardinals organization.
However, as I write, the Cardinals are sitting in second place in the NL Central, ten games over the .500 mark, and statistically at or near the top of the league in many categories such as ERA and walks.
The Cards have not been steamrolling over the competition, but more times than not have played a strong nine innings and come out on the winning side. This team has a thirst to win and a thirst for playing time.
That is driven this year more than any other in recent memory by the youngsters on the team. The organization has seemed to focus on developing young players rather than signing free agents.
Youth breeds competition. These players have only been up with the big club for a year or are just getting their first taste. After being in the majors, these players want to do everything they can to stay. Competition results in higher performance output. Humans work best when under pressure. If there is nothing at stake to work hard and do well the output is simply average.
Now, there are many special athletes who are not in danger of losing their jobs and still perform at a high level due to other motivators. Albert Pujols is a perfect example. I do not think his job security is in question, but he still works harder than anybody to make sure it stays that way.
I'm talking about players like Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Joe Mather, Skip Schumaker, Kyle McClellan, Mike Parisi, Chris Perez, and Brendan Ryan. All these guys are working hard to capitalize on their playing time so they can earn more, and not head back to Memphis anytime soon.
Now lets get back to the draft. In order to get these talented young players, you must have a plan when heading in to the draft. The Cardinals, for the past several years, seem to slide to Moneyball type tactics by drafting mostly college talent in the top rounds.
College players are typically more finished, their stats translate better to what they can actually do, and their personalities are more conditioned to become professional athletes. High school players on the other hand have the pure talent. If a high school player can throw mid-90s with control, he becomes a huge draft target, even he doesn't have a breaking ball yet.
For the Cardinals, their recent success has depended on young pitching, and that is what they should focus on again this year. The Cardinals have the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft. If a miracle happens, and University of Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow is still on the board, the Cardinals would be silly not to take him. Crow is a junior RHP and is arguablely the top pitcher in college baseball this season. He has an electric fastball hitting mid-to-upper 90s, a devastating power slide, and a changeup that can be a major league pitch.
Unfortunately for my home team Cardinals and Missouri Tigers, Crow is projected in several polls to be taken much higher, and possibly be the first pitcher taken in the draft. That leaves St. Louis with several great options: LHP Brian Matusz out of the University of San Diego, RHP Andrew Cashner out of Texas Christian, RHP Ryan Perry out of the University of Arizona, LHP Christian Friedrich out of Eastern Kentucky, or possibly the most interesting being OF/RHP Aaron Hicks out of Woodrow Wilson HS in Long Beach, California.
This bag of elite pitchers has a little bit of everything. Big lefty Brian Matusz, 6'4" and 200 lbs, would be a great choice. He has four different pitches he can throw for strikes and has great command. Velocity is the one hit against him, but he can still get it up low to mid-90s.
The righty Cashner is a closer that can hit 98 mph, but doesn't have much else, and has control problems. A blazing fastball is hard to resist but as we have seen with Max Scherzer, you need more than that. I see him going in the middle of the first round, but would rather see the Cards use their pick on a starter.
The righty out of Arizona, Ryan Perry, could be an interesting pick. He can blow the fastball up to 98 mph, but that's usually when pitching in relief. As a starter he is still in the mid-90s, and has an above average changeup and a decent slider. He has some mechanical problems, but that is nothing to the great Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan.
The other lefty in the mix, Christain Friedrich, is a solid all-around pick. He has a plus fastball with lefty movement, and a plus curveball, a change and a slider that can be improved. Good left handed pitching is hard to come by and Friedrich might not ever develop into a front of the rotation guy, but could do very well in the majors in the middle of the rotation.
Lastly, the high school kid I'm throwing in the mix, Aaron Hicks. Aaron Hicks is a potential five tool player who has incredible speed, but also can throw mid-90s off the mound with his plus arm. It is always good to draft a player who has the talent to play multiple positions.
I have a good friend who was drafted in the 8th round in 2003 as a talented shortstop. He was moved to the outfield and more recently to catcher where he has thrived defensively and offensively. You just never know, so the more tools, the more possibilities to reach the majors and have an impact.
All in all, with Crow expected to be off the board the Cardinals should hope that Matusz falls to them. He is a polished pitcher who could ascend through the Cardinals farm system rather quickly.
If that does not happen, Perry, Cashner, or Friedrich would all be great choices depending on who hasn't been taken above the 13th pick. If Hicks is still on the table when the Cardinals are on the clock, do not be surprised if St. Louis shocks some people and takes a high school outfielder instead of one of the many college pitchers that would be a safer pick.
The draft is a gamble, sometimes you have to take a chance.