By Rob Rains
There is a pretty solid consensus among most observers about who the top seven or eight prospects are in this year’s amateur baseball draft.
The problem for the Cardinals is that their top pick in the draft that begins on Monday night doesn’t come around until the 19th selection. Trying to determine who will be on the board when it is the Cardinals turn to draft is a very inexact science, even for scouts who have been going through this process for years.
All the Cardinals have to do to remind themselves of this is to think back to last year’s draft, when they also had the 19th overall choice. Going into the draft, there wasn’t anybody who realistically expected Nolan Gorman, a consensus top 10 player, to still be on the board.
But he was and the Cardinals immediately latched on to the high school third baseman, who 12 months later has earned his status as the best prospect in the organization just weeks after his 19th birthday.
There will always be players who fall in the draft, for a variety of reasons, and players who go earlier than some expect. Being ready to adjust to all scenarios is an aspect of draft night that Randy Flores has come to enjoy.
“We are going to adjust and adapt as the draft is a real living, breathing thing,” said Flores, now in his fourth year in charge of the team’s draft. “We will keep track of how that board plays out. Obviously as it gets to pick 19 but also with our second and third round picks, depending on how that player pool is sorting out.”
In his two previous drafts in which the Cardinals had a first-round pick, they selected high school players who dropped, but still had impressive skill sets. Shortstop Delvin Perez fell to the Cardinals in 2016 after a positive PED test was revealed just days before the draft, and then Gorman landed in their lap last year. In 2017, the Cardinals had to forfeit their first and second-round picks as part of the penalty for the hacking scandal involving their former scouting director.
The strength of this year’s draft class is considered to be college position players. It is considered extremely thin on college pitching. There are only five college pitchers generally ranked with first-round grades from most draft experts.
In Flores’ two full drafts, he has followed up the top pick of a high school position player with a college pitcher, Dakota Hudson in 2016 and Griffin Roberts last year.
After their pick at 19, the Cardinals’ other pick on Monday night, in the second round, will be the 58th overall choice.
In the 40 rounds of last year’s draft, the Cardinals selected only one high school pitcher, in the 38th round, and he did not sign, going to college instead. They have not selected a high school pitcher with their top draft pick since 2009, when they drafted Shelby Miller.
Knowing that the Cardinals’ can’t predict who will go off the board before they pick, here are five players who might be there when it is time for their selection who could be in play:
Corbin Carroll, a high school outfielder from Seattle. If there is a player who could resemble Gorman in this year’s draft, it’s Carroll. They are not the same type of players as Carroll is only 5-foot-10, but they are similar in that if the Cardinals could get Carroll with the 19th pick they would be ecstatic. Baseball America ranks him as the second best high school hitter in the draft with the best strike-zone discipline among high schoolers and also ranks him as the best defensive outfielder. He also earns praise for his makeup and baseball IQ. He hit .540 this season with nine homers and an OPS of 1,859. As a four-year starter in high school, he posted a career .450 average.
Greg Jones, a college shortstop from North Carolina-Wilmington. Jones has shot up draft boards this spring almost as fast as his speed on the bases, where he stole 42 bases in 52 attempts to go with a .341 average and a .491 on-base percentage, drawing 55 walks to only 44 strikeouts in 63 games. Most draft experts believe he could also become an above-average centerfielder in the pros.
Will Wilson, a college shortstop from North Carolina State. He has been a consistent performer for three years for the Wolfpack and hit .344 this season as a junior with 16 homers and 57 RBIs in 54 games and solid plate discipline. Some draft experts predict second base could be his best position in pro ball.
Quinn Priester, a right-handed pitcher from Cary-Grove High School in Illinois. If the Cardinals do elect to pick a high school pitcher, Priester might be the best fit. A quality athlete who was a two-way starter on a state championship football team, Priester also was a two-way performer in baseball but his future is on the mound. The 6-foot-3 Priester is committed to TCU.
Matt Allan, a right-handed pitcher from Seminole High School in Florida. If Priester is off the board, the Cardinals could turn to Allan, who also is 6-foot-3 and is ranked by Baseball America as having the best curveball among high school pitchers and the third best fastball. He is committed to Florida.
If the Cardinals wanted to make a somewhat unconventional choice, a player who could interest them is Blake Walston, a left-handed pitcher from New Hanover High School in Wilmington, N.C. He is
“immensely projectable” in scouting lingo and at 17 is one of the youngest players in the draft. He is committed to North Carolina State and likely won’t still be available when the Cardinals’ second pick comes up.
Two area products are likely to go in the first round: Right-handed pitcher Jackson Rutledge (Rockwood Summit High School), who is now at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas, and Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner.
After the first two rounds, and compensation picks, on Monday night, the draft will continue with rounds 3 through 10 on Tuesday and rounds 11 through 40 on Wednesday.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains for complete draft coverage