All posts by Scott Schook

2018 Cardinals Draft Preview: College Sluggers

photo: Alec Bohm (Wichita State University)

Editor’s note: This is the first of TCN draft analyst Scott Schook’s annual series of articles profiling potential targets of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft, to be held June 4-6. While this article is free, the remainder of the series will be exclusively for TCN members. Join today and get TCN’s new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price!


Ahh.

Did you hear it? That barely-audible exhale of breath?

That was me, preparing to start these articles. In 2017, I abstained from preparing these draft profiles because of the lack of high draft picks the St. Louis Cardinals possessed. The Cardinals relinquished their first round draft pick for signing outfielder Dexter Fowler from the rival Chicago Cubs. The hacking scandal perpetrated by former Director of Scouting, Chris Correa, sent selections #39 and #56 to the Houston Astros as compensation. As such, the Cardinals did not make a selection until Day 2 in the third round, when they picked up Scott Hurst from Cal State Fullerton.

Admittedly, the offseason is not yet over. There are still six free agents who rejected qualifying offers and will cost the signing team a draft pick: pitchers Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and Greg Holland; first baseman Eric Hosmer; and third baseman Mike Moustakas. The Cardinals have been connected to Arrieta, Holland, Hosmer, and Moustakas in the rumor mill, but with them still unsigned, the Cardinals still have all of their draft picks, and they will receive a pick after Competitive Balance Lottery Round B, which comes after Round 2, once Lynn signs with a new team.

Assuming Lynn inks his new contract before the First-Year Player Draft and St. Louis does not sign one of the aforementioned free agents, the Cardinals will enter the war room with five picks in the top 100 selections: their standard picks from the first, second, and third rounds, a pick in Competitive Balance Lottery Round A, and the compensation for Lynn. After a year that severely limited their drafting ability as well as a trade that removed two (or three, depending on who you ask) of the team’s top 15 prospects, those five picks will go a long way to replenishing the system.

One of the least prevalent tools in the organization is power. Because of the lack of thump in the lineup, the Cardinals sent four prospects to the Miami Marlins to bring in outfielder Marcell Ozuna, the presumed new cleanup hitter for the next two years before he can elect free agency. Shortstop Paul DeJong showed off his power after his graduation to the big league club, but Cards fans are wary if he can continue that pop due to his high strikeout rates and the sudden cliff dive of his predecessor, former All-Star Aledmys Diaz.

The Cardinals had two top prospects break the 20 home run barrier last year, both of whom were outfielders at the Triple-A level: Harrison Bader, who got a cup of coffee in the Majors, and Tyler O’Neill, who came over from the Mariners’ organization in return for left-hander Marco Gonzales. In fact, the last time the Cardinals had a homegrown (draft, developed, and debuted) player put up a 30 home run season was 2011 by Albert Pujols.

Long story short, there’s precious little power in the system. Now, the big league club could have some serious pop in 2018 with Ozuna, DeJong, Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham and Jedd Gyorko. But, the minor league teams are in dire need of power. And that is exactly where the Cardinals first selection in June could help the system. Allow me to introduce three college sluggers who could shoot through the system and give the Cardinals a counter to the Kyle Schwarbers and Kris Bryants of the National League Central.


Seth Beer (Clemson University)

1B Seth Beer, Clemson
6’2” 195 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Right

This is likely the most familiar name we will see over the course of these previews. Throughout the summer of 2017, the bottom feeders of the league all looked primed to let the losses pile up to get a shot at Beer. Every publication was looking at Beer as the number one pick for 2018. But, that was all predicated on Beer’s ability to stick in the outfield and the progression of his bat from his freshman season when he hit .369/.535/.700. He was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, the first freshman to win the Dick Howser Trophy, and Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year.

Unfortunately for Beer, his defense regressed and relegated him to first base and designated hitter. His offense took a small step back, with his slash line .298/.478/.606. However, he still put up fantastic numbers overall, and his rate stats didn’t change dramatically.

Still, because of his defensive and running limitations, Beer has dropped down the draft boards and mock drafts. In fact, Baseball America does not have Beer projected to go in the first round.

Despite all that, Beer has legit power. He generates that power from his big frame and having a quick, direct path to the ball. He starts from a wide stance that just slightly opens in his front foot. He has very little movement as he waits for the ball with a small toe tap timing mechanism before he starts his swing. He has also shown great patience at the plate in college with twice as many walks as strikeouts. On the other hand, he has bottom of the barrel speed and poor defense that will restrict him to first base.

Beer’s draft profile actually reminds me quite a bit of San Francisco Giants’ top prospect Chris Shaw with a bit less power. He was selected 31st overall in 2015. In two-plus professional years, Shaw has hit a total of 57 home runs while slugging .511. Shaw looks to be on the cusp of the big leagues. If Beer can follow the same path as Shaw, he would be ready to man first base for the Cardinals in 2020 or 2021. If he can’t, his draft profile also reminds me a lot of Brett Wallace.


Luken Baker (Texas Christian University)

1B Luken Baker, Texas Christian University
6’4” 265 pounds
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Baker may also sound familiar to draft followers as he was a highly-touted prospect leading up to the 2015 draft. Coming out of high school, Baker was projected to be a top-75 selection, most likely as a pitcher thanks to his fastball that reached 95 mph and some impressive breaking pitches. However, he was dedicated to honoring his commitment to TCU and sent a letter to Major League teams requesting they not call his name. The Astros took a shot at him with a 37th-round pick, but they weren’t able to lure him from his college plans.

Baker is a big boy. For reference, he has an inch in height and 40 pounds of weight on another large first baseman in the Cardinals’ system, Luke Voit. His size advantage coupled with some of the best bat speed in the entire draft gives him plenty of raw power. MLB.com grades his power at a 55, but I’ve seen others grade it as high as 70. To translate, that’s consistently anywhere from a hitter who puts up around 25 home runs to one that puts up around 40. His hit tool is at least average with a 50 grade from MLB.com seasons of batting .379 and .317 at TCU.

Not surprisingly from his profile as a pitcher, he has a plus arm. But, forget any ideas that he’ll play somewhere besides first base, although the Matt-Adams-in-Left-Field experiment makes me think anything is possible – at least to try. Baker is slow. I mean, sloooooooooooow. Like, Yadier Molina slow. He gets a 20 speed grade from MLB.com, the lowest possible grade on the scouting scale.

His bat speed and raw power more than make up for that drawback. Baker has hit 19 home runs in 114 games during his time at TCU along with 24 doubles. He has shown good plate discipline as well with more walks than strikeouts. Another exciting factor is his performance in big games. For example, in the 2016 Big 12 Tournament, Baker hit .682 with four home runs and 11 RBI to take home MVP honors. One of those four homers ended up in the parking garage next to the stadium.

Looking into the future, I can see Baker ending up anywhere between the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Josh Bell or the Cleveland Indians’ Edwin Encarnacion. Baker won’t be a Gold Glover at first, but he should certainly be capable of holding down the position during his team control years.


Alec Bohm (Wichita State University)

3B Alec Bohm, Wichita State University
6’5” 240 pounds
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Bohm is actually one of two potential first rounders from Wichita State, along with outfield prospect Greyson Jenista, who we will be covering in another edition of these draft profiles. Jenista might have more all-around ability, but Bohm is the more consistent hitter.

Bohm plays third base for Wichita State, but most scouts agree he will end up across the diamond as his career progresses in the professional ranks. His footwork, range, and speed around the hot corner needs quite a lot of work, and his arm is only average. He might be able to start his career there, but like previous Cardinals’ prospects Wallace and Allen Craig, his ultimate destination is going to be first.

One of the most intriguing things about Bohm is how well he has already performed with wood bats. After his freshman year, he went to the Coastal Plain League for 54 games, and hit .330/.407/.552 with 11 home runs and 51 RBI. Following last season, Bohm stepped up to the Cape Cod League, the premier amateur wood bat league. He dominated the league with a .351/.399/.513 slash line that included five homers and 28 RBI in 39 games.

Bohm has great bat speed and makes consistently hard contact with the ball. Plus, his stroke is geared for power. He has also shown good ability to fight off pitches in tough counts, which helps him get the pitch he wants.

With his skillset, I can actually see Bohm turning into the good version of the aforementioned Craig with a ceiling of good Ryan Zimmerman. Both of those players started their careers at third base while ultimately proving to be first basemen and showed consistent contact with plus to plus-plus power.


Conclusion

All three of these sluggers are pretty consistently ranked near each other right now, all around the end of the first round. All of them have plenty of potential to power the middle of a lineup for several years. Any of these three would be a great selection in my estimation, but personally, I’m the biggest fan of Baker. I think Baker can turn into a consistent 30+ home run guy hitting third or fourth in a lineup. I see Bohm more as a really good #5 hitter, and while I believe Beer has the highest ceiling, the flashes of Wallace won’t escape my mind.

Coming soon: Check back at The Cardinal Nation for Scott Schook’s next article in his series of previews leading up to the 2018 First-Year Player Draft, all exclusively for TCN members! Future topics include key skill positions, as well as specialists like speedsters, plus separate looks at top high school and college pitchers, some of whom may be Cardinals targets this June.

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