The MLB Draft is quite unlike any of the other professional sporting drafts in one simple sense well, probably many senses, but this one really stands out: SO. MANY. PLAYERS. ARE. CHOSEN.
I have a lot of respect for people who cover baseball scouting and the draft for that sole reason. It’s so hard to keep track of the vast amount of talent being injected into each major league system. Even the first fourth of the draft seems like system overload. To top it off, college baseball isn’t nearly as covered as basketball and football, meaning many of the top picks by any given fan’s favorite team won’t even mean much ahead of a hasty internet search.
However, we at the St. Louis Bullpen are dedicated to bringing you the most expansive St. Louis Cardinals coverage we can offer. So we rounded up several writers to give their takes on this week’s First Year Players Draft. Continue on for thoughts on favorite picks, best names, and lots and lots of Lars Nootbaar talk.
1. The draft is always a great time to retool a major league system because of the sheer amount of players each team gets to pick. Going into the draft, what did you see as the Cardinals’ biggest organizational need in terms of talent? Do you feel like they met that need?
John Fleming: First and foremost, it depends on what is available. “Best player available,” is generally a sound strategy because, well, most of these players aren’t going to contribute to the big-league club for several years, if at all, and it’s impossible to know what positions will be positions of need in even a year or two.
I suppose my preference would be position players over pitchers just because there is such a preponderance of talented young pitching in the Cardinals’ organization, but who knows what the future will hold for the Cardinals? Drafting a high school third baseman with their first pick makes sense from a present-day standpoint, as there aren’t really hotshot young third basemen in the organization, but maybe Jedd Gyorko ages gracetfully and sticks around. Maybe Paul DeJong is moved there sooner rather than later. It’s impossible to know.
Mike Bauer: Obviously, the Cardinals have a tremendous amount of pitching talent in the organization right now, so I was hoping they would stock up on some power through the draft, and that’s exactly what they did by taking Nolan Gorman. Time will tell if it works out, but it seems pretty telling to me that the team spent their first round pick on a power bat.
John Jones: The biggest organizational need is obviously at Generational Superstar, and you know, I think they nailed that. Seriously though – it seems like there’s a lot of depth in the high minors and some high-upside guys who are doing impressive things around the diamond, and more exciting dudes in the lower minors.
That said, the biggest weakness I saw going into this year is that missing out on last year’s first round and competitive balance sandwich round after the Correa Stupidity Explosion obviously limited access to the sort of premium, high-upside talent you hope to find at the top of the draft. They picked in the first round this year, and I think they maximized it, as Nolan Gorman was by all accounts an absolute steal, and Griffin Roberts seems to have a lot of upside for a college pitcher as polished as he is.
Josh Matejka: It’s really easy to say, “More offense!” since the Cardinals always seem to be churning out well above-average pitchers and moderately above-average hitters. But to quote what my dad always told me growing up: “You can never have too much pitching.” Give me a rotation that is always top half of the league to excellent and I’ll be OK with looking elsewhere for offense.
Alex Turpin: This may sound counter-intuitive since the Cardinals currently seem to lack impact hitters and have a highly promising stable of young starting pitching (with or without Alex Reyes), but college-level pitchers was a big need for the Cardinals in this class. Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty have taken their places in the rotation for the foreseeable future, leaving the system rather bare of starting pitching that is anywhere close to major league ready, with the possible exceptions of Dakota Hudson, Ryan Helsley, and Jordan Hicks if they re-commit to developing him as a starter (which also seems unlikely anytime soon). Starting pitching talent is the lifeblood of the Cardinals organizational strategy, requiring a consistently strong stable of talent, and in this draft, as will be the case in most Cardinals drafts, the organization needing to bolster that supply.
That being said, with the way this draft shook out, I was perfectly okay with drafting the high school bat Nolan Gorman with the first pick instead of a college arm, even though worthy college pitchers Shane McClanahan and Jackson Kowar were available. Gorman is the type of raw power hitting talent that rarely falls to where the Cardinals pick, and McClanahan and Kowar were not such can’t miss-talents that they couldn’t be passed over for Gorman. I was a little surprised not to see more college arms in the rest of the first 10 rounds, but the CBA round pick Griffin Roberts and 4th round pick Steven Gingery certainly help the cause.
2. While the Cardinals have a had a lot of success in recent history with the later rounds of the draft, the early rounds are always the most exciting. Which early-round pick are you most excited about and why?
John Fleming: #75 overall pick Luken Baker is a relative rare breed in that he was a relatively high draft pick who played first base in college, at TCU. Conventional wisdom is that a player drafted at first base has nowhere to go from there–when shortstop Allen Craig turned out to be, um, not good at shortstop, he could fall back to third base and then to first base and corner outfield spots, but Baker is stuck at first base.
But what this pick says to me is that the guy can rake. His college stats at the plate – his walk rate exceeded his strikeout rate in all three seasons, his career OPS was over 1.000 – reflect this. The truth is that any draft pick is going to be a gamble, but this feels like a very high upside one. It’s possible he can’t hit well enough to play first base in the big leagues, but if he can hit that well, that’s not a level of offensive production that comes around every day.
Mike Bauer: I’m excited to see how Nolan Gorman moves through the system and how he fits into the organization’s plans. And Lars Nootbaar because….Lars Nootbaar.
I.H. Boog: Griffin Roberts. That slider: my goodness. I love to watch pitchers with wipeout stuff, even if he ends up in the ‘pen. I wish his name wasn’t backwards, but we can’t always get what we want.
John Jones: I’m a sucker for giant men who exist to murder the sinister sphere, so my boy Lars Nootbaar is a tempting option. Who wouldn’t want a 6’3″ enormous human with plate discipline and the Nootbaar name? But Lars, as much as I’m excited about him, isn’t really a power hitter to this point in his career, and he seems defensively limited to 1B, as an additional ding on him. So the more diminutive, more explosive Stormin’ Gorman takes the trophy here. Young Nolan has had the phrase “best power in the draft” uttered of him more than once, so even though he’s 2 inches shorter than Lars, I’m incredibly stoked about him, even if the Cardinals end up having to go overslot to get him. That swing is a thing of beauty. And while he’s a little rough on defense, he’s got the arm strength and the pure athleticism to stick at third. It’s like Terriez Fuller and Delvin Perez had a love child, and they drafted the crap out him.
Josh Matejka: I was really tempted to say Gorman because, ho-ho-holy crap his tape is silly. But I’m also a sucker for (potentially) immediately impactful prospects, so Roberts is my choice. The idea that the Cardinals might have found a quality bullpen arm and he might be available very, very soon is tantalizing. I laughed (out loud!) when I first saw video of that slider.
Alex Turpin: This is a tough call between Nolan Gorman and Griffin Roberts, but I’m going to go with Roberts, with the tiebreaker being that we’re going to see Roberts much sooner. Roberts’s pure stuff is a lot of fun, namely the fact that he throws a straight-up devastating slider (seriously, go look it up, it’s absurd). The Cardinals could develop the rest of his arsenal to see if he can become a high-profile starting pitcher prospect (which I certainly think is possible), or they could have him emphasize his fastball along with the slider and fast-track him to the major league bullpen, where he could be arrive sooner than later. It would honestly be a shame if they sacrificed his starter development to get him to the bullpen in an attempt to keep covering for Mike Matheny’s strategic deficiencies as a manager, like they’re currently doing with Jordan Hicks, but hey, we’d get to have some fun watching batters look like buffoons trying to hit the slider.
Since it feels cheap going with the CBA round selection, I’ll give an honorable mention to 3rd round pick Mateo Gil, because not only does he have a promising skill set for a high school hitter and the range to stick at shortstop, but he also has some solid ability as a pitcher, so the Cardinals have a secondary option to do the Trevor Rosenthal/Sam Tuivailala move if he doesn’t hit.
3. On the flip-side, because there always is one: Which early-round pick are you nervous about and why?
John Fleming: It seems silly to worry about a 9th round draft pick, but catcher Matthew Duce batted just .234 as a college senior, and while the Cardinals have shown a willingness to look the other way when it comes to catchers hitting, his defense doesn’t project to be above-average either. He does have some power, so when he turns out to be the 2020s version of Mike Piazza, I can at least point to this caveat when people are otherwise mocking my anaylsis.
Mike Bauer: It’s tough to point to one specific pick in the first 10 rounds to be truly nervous about since, frankly, the Cardinals usually don’t get that much out of their early round picks. I do think there’s a bit of injury concern with Luken Baker, who missed 25 games at TCU last season with a leg injury.
John Jones: Matty Gil, Benji’s kid, got taken in the third round (#95 overall) and I honestly do not get it. Gil appears to be a very okay ballplayer’s very okay legacy in pretty much every way possible. He’s a two-way prep prospect with good bat speed but just OK contact, no power, OK speed, OK SS defense, a 92 mph fastball, no secondaries… should I go on? I’d be happy to eat my words down the road, but I’d have liked to see more upside or more polish or some distinguishing skill – really any distinguishing skill! – rather than the second coming of Sam Tuivailala. But I get that Gil is supposed to be another feel-good legacy story, so yay congrats awesome can’t believe it.
Josh Matejka: Luken Baker’s power is intriguing, but his injury history and the fact that he’s limited to first base (where he’s pretty awful) is no bueno. I suppose there’s a timeline where he slims down a little bit and loses some power but also becomes a better first baseman, but I don’t really see him staying healthy enough to follow that track.
Alex Turpin: The pretty obvious answer here is 4th round pick Steven Gingery, who recently had Tommy John, so I’ll choose someone else to mention. It absolutely kills me to do this – seriously, it hurts my soul – but I’m pessimistic about Lars Nootbaar. “Nervous” really isn’t apt here since it really isn’t a big deal if you miss on an 8th round prospect, but other than the comedic possibilities, there isn’t much that excites me about Nootbaar. His body type will likely limit him to first base, maaaaybe left field, but in college he didn’t show the type of power you would expect, and the type of power a guy like him will likely require to make it at first base at the major league level.
Players can carve out a nice career for themselves as a primarily singles hitter if they have good enough contact skills and can manage to not be a liability in the field (see our old friend Jon Jay), but first base in not one of those positions. In defense of the pick, though, the Cardinals recently acquired a player in Jose Martinez from the Royals whom scouts said the same things about, and they managed to develop him a bit more to where he is now a competent major league player. Hopefully they can do the same with Nootbaar, because this needs to happen. I desperately hope I’m wrong. Lars Nootbaar shirseys must be a thing.
4. This feels like a set up because of the Nootbaarian nature of the Cardinals 8th round pick. However, the MLB draft is always host to a variety of absurd and wild names. Which Cardinal pick has the best name?
John Fleming: My hope is that Parker Kelly makes the big leagues, and in addition to the whole “being battery mates with his brother” thing (though Kelly doing the Greg Maddux thing where his personal catcher specifically wasn’t Javy Lopez would be pretty funny too), my hope is that he chooses #58 so that fans can repurpose their old Joe Kelly jerseys. Like, if you dropped three figures on a jersey for the Cardinals swingman that seemed mostly popular for his weird dancing and goggles, you deserve this break. Jerseys are expensive, and I am a man of the people.
Mike Bauer: There is only one answer here, and it is Lars Nootbaar. I’m pretty picky about the jerseys I buy, so I doubt a Nootbaar jersey is in my future, but….his name is Lars Nootbaar.
I.H. Boog: Can I tell you which pick has the worst name? It’s Griffin Roberts.
John Jones: Duh, Nootbaar. Lars Baar. Whatever.
Josh Matejka: *from the mountain top* LAAAAARRRRRSSS NOOOOOOOTBAAAAAAAR (Honorable mention to Nick Dunn for best spoonerism potential)
Alex Turpin: OK, look, the answer is very obviously Lars Nootbaar. “Lars Nootbaar” sounds like a buzzed Arnold Schwarzenegger at a 7/11 asking the cashier if they have king-sized Pay Day bars, but not remembering what they’re called and hoping the cashier just gets the gist. The answer is so obvious that I feel like I should mention someone else for the sake of variety.
29th round pick Alerick Soularie is my choice for 2nd place. His first name makes me think of a guy named “Ale Rick,” who I picture as a divorced, mustachioed man who lives in Granite City, likes to challenge college kids to shotgunning contests, and frequently calls into KSHE to make song requests. His last name reminds me of Soulard, which is a great place to drink way too much and throw up in an alley. Not eligible but worthy of mention: 12th round pick Fracisco Justo has a teammate at Monroe Junior College named Lenyn Napoleon.
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