June 3rd, 2019. The city of St. Louis is still struck with Blues fever. Despite a 7-2 shellacking from the Bruins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals to ruin the fanfare of the Blues’ first home Finals game in decades, a raucous crowd nonetheless descends on Enterprise Center and the surrounding streets of downtown. The Blues demonstrate that same ol’ resilience that has come to define the squad this season by defeating the Bruins 4-2 to make the series a best-of-3 as it heads back to Boston. It is the first Stanley Cup Finals victory for the Blues to ever occur on home ice, and the city, as it has throughout these last few memorable months.
Arguably, this past week or two is the least that St. Louis has given a crap about the Cardinals in quite some time.
After a nightmarish month of May, the Cardinals did rebound in a big way by sweeping the Cubs over a weekend series at home, sparking some renewed optimism among the fans, although even that renewed optimism takes a back seat to what the hockey team is doing. On Monday, the Cardinals had an off day, much to the delight of the players themselves as they actually get to sit down and watch their hockey pals play.
The organization itself, though, was not totally inactive. June 3rd marked the first 2 rounds of the MLB Draft. Nobody in St. Louis could be blamed for not paying attention to this. The hockey goings-on are far more important, not to mention far more exciting. Let’s be honest, the MLB’s draft is by far the lamest of the Big 4 leagues’ drafts. The pageantry is far less than the others, and fans understand that they will not be seeing most of the players taken in big league action potentially for years, if at all. The fact that so many of the game’s great players are part of the MLB via the international free agency period also makes the draft feel less important. With all that being said, it is a fair assumption that many Cardinals fans did not even take note of who was selected by their team until they saw mention online this morning. Hell, even for me, it was just a quick check of the online draft tracker every now and again when the action in the Blues game was stopped.
While anyone who hasn’t paid attention to what the Cardinals have been doing in the draft surely can’t be blamed, it would be a shame to miss one of their early picks, because it was a truly unique one.
In the First Round, at pick #19, the Cardinals selected Zack Thompson, a left-handed starting pitcher out of Kentucky. I know, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Cardinals drafted a high-floor fast-track starter out of a power college conference. I contend that this was actually a good time to do so, given the state of the team’s current starting pitcher depth and the fact that rebuilding a rotation is a taller order than a starting lineup. Furthermore, the Cardinals have actually deviated from that strategy as of late. In 2015, they drafted Nick Plummer, a high school outfielder with a limited scouting report due to playing in a cold weather league with a goofy balls/strikes rule. In 2016, they gambled big on controversial but extremely talented high school shortstop Delvin Perez. In 2017, they did not have a first or second round pick for reasons that do not need to be discussed. In 2018, they took a chance on the sky-high upside of high school third baseman Nolan Gorman. The results of this shift have been mixed at best, and with the current state of the organization’s starting pitching, the time was right for a return to safety. Their third, fourth, and fifth round picks, Tony Locey, Andre Pallante, and Connor Thomas, are all also college pitchers of that classic Cardinals mold. The strategy is understandable, but they did still receive some criticism among fans for taking the boring route.
In the second round, however, while many of you were sleeping or getting hammered, they deviated from “boring” about as much as you possibly could in the MLB Draft. Allow me to introduce you to Cardinals 2nd Round pick, number 58 overall, Trejyn “Tre” Fletcher.
This is a highly interesting pick for a few reasons. First and chief among them is that the raw tools he possesses are arguably unmatched by almost any prep player in the draft. He shows tremendous promise at the plate, in center field, and on the basepaths. It is unfair to any prep player outside of an elite, generational few to give them the “5 Tool” label, but Tre Fletcher does at least have the raw physical ability to be plus in all 5 of those phases, which in and of itself is something that can be said of very few players in any draft.
The second factor that makes this pick so fascinating is that while Fletcher’s abilities are obvious immediately to anyone who sees him play, his overall scouting report is, shall we say, less than comprehensive. Not only is Tre Fletcher a prep hitter, he’s a prep hitter who was originally supposed to be part of the 2020 class but re-classified. Furthermore, he’s a prep hitter from a place that is far from what we could consider a baseball talent hotbed: Portland, Maine. Now, there is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with being from Maine. While I’ve never been, it seems like a lovely place full of scenic views and laid-back people. For baseball scouts, though, the issue is twofold. The level of pitching he faced is far inferior to those among prep hitters in the southern states, meaning not only has he not been challenged nearly as much as others in his class, it’s hard to even evaluate how much of his impressive tape is the result of actual skills and how much is due to simply being exponentially more talented than his competition. Also, evaluating prep hitters in cold weather environments is always inherently more difficult because the game itself is so dependent on a temperate environment that it morphs when played in colder climates. This would be the case anyway, but it’s been reported that scouts in some organizations did not even bother to go scout Fletcher in person because it was an especially chilly and rainy Spring in New England. That seems totally absurd, if for no other reason than it means passing up a chance to go eat some fresh lobster rolls on your boss’s dime, but I’m not a baseball scout so what do I know. Thus, Fletcher’s background makes it hard to full judge his skills and just how much development he needs to have a shot at the majors.
(A quick aside about the state of Maine as it relates to baseball: I had a friend in law school named who originally hailed from Maine. She’s a great person and a very talented young attorney, but she came to one of our league softball games once and we spent a good 10 minutes figuring out which hand she should throw a ball with. I’m sorry, but we all saw it happen.)
(Another quick aside about the state of Maine as it relates to baseball: the all time fWAR leader among players born in the state of Maine? None other than the pride of Westbrook, Maine, George “Piano Legs” Gore, whose 42.9 WAR between 1879 and 1892 more than doubled up the next on the leaderboard among those from his home state. A picture of Piano Legs has helpfully been provided below.)
The third factor that makes this such an interesting pick is that Tre Fletcher comes with the classic “signability” problem. Tre, as we speak, is a solid commit to play baseball at Vanderbilt, one of the consistently elite college baseball programs out there. Convincing him to pass this chance up to join the Cardinals organization is a serious issue that can only be solved with the age old solution known as “throwing a giant bucket of money at him.” For those unaware of the mechanics of the MLB amateur draft, all teams have a limited pool of money they can use to sign their draft picks. Each draft spot has a particular “slot” of money that the pick is worth. College seniors who have no real leverage can often be signed to a bonus amount under that “slot,” while prep players with college commitments tend to require going “over slot” to sign. Another advantage of drafting mostly college players in the early rounds, then, is that they cost a lower chunk of draft pool money, meaning more is available to spend on signing bonuses for prep players who need extra convincing. Is this whole system fundamentally unfair to many players? Hell, is the entire minor league baseball process inherently predatory and oppressive? Well, yeah, but at the moment it is the reality we live in and have to evaluate draft strategy by. The Cardinals will likely have to go way over slot to actually sign Fletcher and keep him away from Vanderbilt. They have managed to pull this off before, though, and have done so in recent times. Most notably, they kept 15th round pick and noted large adult son Terry Fuller from going to play JUCO ball, which had been considered to be nearly impossible at the time.
The fourth and final factor that makes the selection of Trejyn Fletcher so interesting: the dude’s hair game is A++. Some may not put a lot of stock into this factor, but just look at this guy. This is Piano Legs Gore’s Mustache level of glorious.
Harrison Bader’s reign of best hair in the Cardinals organization may not be for much longer.
All in all, nobody would blame any Cardinals fan for not noticing this pick. That said, if you have interest in prospects or even the long-term strategy of the Cardinals as a whole, the selection of Tre Fletcher is definitely one to pay close attention to. Randy Flores’s time as head honcho of Cardinals drafts (may not be official title) has been defined by rolling the dice early on prep hitters from unique situations. At first glance, a fan may see the selection of a prep outfielder from a cold climate and a limited scouting profile and think this is just going to be another Nick Plummer, who is most known for not being able to adjust to pro ball. Rest assured though, Tre Fletcher is a unique talent and a unique story all his own that will be a fascinating development to watch through the Cardinals’s farm system- if they can even sign him in the first place. Whether it’s a good pick is left to be seen and may not be known for many years. There is no doubt, though, that it’s an interesting pick- perhaps the most interesting they have ever made.
Again, I’m not a scout, so I can’t provide any more information than that. What I can provide, however, is a video of Tre Fletcher legging out an inside-the-park home run at 15 seconds while not even running full speed, and that should be enough:
That’s all for now from me, and as always, thanks for reading The ‘Pen. I will try not to take an 8 and a half month hiatus from writing this time. In fact, keep your eyes out for a new series written by me coming to this site very soon (hopefully). In the meantime, keep reading this site, and follow me on twitter at turpin4prez for more invaluable insights like those in this article. Thanks, and go Blues.