By Rob Rains
It was a pitcher-heavy draft this year for the Cardinals, especially when it came to choosing college pitchers, as they looked to re-stock the lower levels of the farm system.
Of their 40 draft picks, 24 were college pitchers, but there still were some intriguing position players selected as well.
“The draft is like Christmas,” said scouting director Randy Flores. “No matter what, you walk away from each Christmas excited about what you just got.”
What did the Cardinals’ get? Here are 10 takeaways from this year’s draft selections:
Best pick (position player) Trejyn Fletcher. The Cardinals’ pick in the second round with the 58th overall choice likely would have been one of the top high school prospects in the draft next year had he not reclassified in February to become eligible this year. Fletcher was able to do that when he moved back to his home state of Maine after two years in a New York prep school, where he repeated his freshman season. A Vanderbilt commit, the only concern about the right-handed hitting outfielder is the annual risk of selecting players from northern states. The Cardinals, who deserve credit for recognizing that he would be eligible this year more quickly than other teams, saw enough of Fletcher against older competition in summer showcase events that they are not concerned about his lack of games during the school season. Scouts believe he is a legitimate five-tool prospect. When Fletcher was 13, he hit a home run in a showcase event at Marlins Park.
Best pick (pitcher) Zack Thompson. Most pre-draft analysts expected the Kentucky left-hander to be selected before the Cardinals picked at 19, but he was still on the board. This was considered a thin draft of front-line college pitchers, but Thompson clearly was one of the few deserving of a first-round grade. Not counting last year’s supplemental pick, Griffin Roberts, the Cardinals have drafted five college pitchers in the first round since 2006 and all have pitched in the majors. Thompson should add his name to that list, especially considering the fact that he is a left-handed starter, something that is currently in short supply in the organization. Scouts believe he can pitch at the front end of a major-league rotation.
Quickest to majors – Tony Locey or Connor Thomas. The Cardinals went to Georgia for their third and fifth-round picks, Locey coming from Georgia and Thomas from Georgia Tech. Both have a chance to move quickly if they are coming out of the bullpen. Locey, the third-round pick, has a power arm and Thomas is a left-hander with impeccable control (103 strikeouts and 19 walks in 113 innings this season).
Riskiest pick – Tommy Jew. The outfielder from California-Santa Barbara was the 13th round choice, several rounds lower than he likely would have been drafted had he not suffered a serious ankle injury in the NCAA regionals. His college career came to an end when he had to be carted off the field after he was injured trying to leg out an infield hit on June 1. It isn’t known how long it will be before Jew can play and begin his professional career.
Hardest to sign – Chris Newell. The 37th-round pick was one of three of the Cardinals final picks, all high school selections that they do not expect to sign. A left-handed hitting outfielder, Newell was ranked in the top 100 prospects available before the draft, but teams shied away from him because of his strong commitment to Virginia. The Cardinals also are unlikely to sign 38th rounder Kurtis Byrne out of CBC High School, headed to TCU, or T.J. McKenzie, their 39th pick, who is committed to Vanderbilt. Another earlier pick who could prove difficult to sign is their 25th round selection, right-hander Alex McFarlane, a Miami commit.
Best sleeper candidate – Jack Ralston. The UCLA right-hander, who will start the second game of the Bruins Super Regional series against Michigan on Saturday, already has been a sleeper. The seventh-round choice did not pitch in his first two years at UCLA and worked only 36 innings last season. From that, however, he emerged as the team’s second starter this year and has gone 11-1. Ralston has an unorthodox delivery but an above-average fastball and was finally able to make everything click this season.
Most interesting background – Cameron Dulle. The 30th round choice out of Missouri, a graduate of Oakville High School, actually started his college career at Illinois State but left the school after the first semester of his freshman year and transferred to Missouri. He earned a tryout with the baseball team after sending the coach a video of a bullpen session and was added to the roster. He pitched a total of 28 innings over his sophomore and junior seasons but made 18 relief appearances this year, earning four saves, and posted a 1.43 ERA. He will have a short window to succeed at the start of his pro career as he turns 24 next week.
Pick most likely to push a current prospect – Fletcher. Assuming his hit tool develops as the Cardinals expect, Fletcher could rank as high as third when this year’s re-ranking of prospects is completed in early August. That will push all of the other outfield prospects other than Dylan Carlson down a notch.
Best bloodlines – T.J. McKenzie. He is the younger brother of right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie, who was the first-round pick of the Indians in 2015 and is now in Double A. The Cardinals did not select any sons of former major-leaguers in this year’s draft.
Greatest longshot – Jeremy Randolph. This selection is based entirely on age. The 26th-round selection emerged as the closer at Alabama this year, as a graduate student. He played as an undergrad at Wright State before transferring this season. Randolph is 23, and the right-hander will turn 24 in October, giving him a much shorter window to try to advance through the farm system.
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