photo: Omar Sanchez and family (B-You Academy)
By Blake Newberry and Brian Walton
Following the five-round 2020 First-Year Player Draft, in which the St. Louis Cardinals selected seven players, the team added five free agents on Sunday.
The newest Cardinals are left-handed pitchers Mac Lardner of Gonzaga University and high schooler Omar Sanchez of Puerto Rico plus outfielder Matt Chamberlain from the University of New Haven. Others are outfielder Matt Koperniak from Trinity College and pitcher Gianluca Dalatri from the University of North Carolina.
In other words, the Cardinals have essentially added the same number of players as if they had drafted 10 rounds. However, the money was certainly much less.
The organization does not announce signing bonuses, but this year, all free agents are limited to no more than $20,000 each. That compares to sixth- to 10th-round draft slot values that would have totaled just under $1 million. So the team spent at least 90 percent less acquiring the five as free agents rather than drafting them.
The following is a bit of positive news, though the Cardinals’ position on the matter is not yet known.
One useful tidbit for potential UDFAs. Teams are allowed to pay new signees the MiLB per diem they are paying other MiLB players this summer. So worth confirming you will get the $400 per week through the rest of the MiLB season (not all teams have committed to doing so til Sept)
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) June 14, 2020
See The Cardinal Nation’s 2020 Draft Days 1 and 2 details here.
St. Louis 2020 Free Agent Signings (5)
OF Matt Chamberlain
University of New Haven, senior
6’0”, 200 pounds
From the moment Matt Chamberlain arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, he was an impact player. The Division II star posted a .293/.441/.395/.836 slash line as a freshman while taking 30 walks (and nine HBPs) while striking out just 20 times in 206 plate appearances. Chamberlain proceeded to improve his on-base percentage every year, from .441 as a freshman to .473 as a sophomore, to .494 as a junior, and to .512 as a senior He led his team in walks every season while raising his slugging percentage to .606 as a junior and .519 as a senior. Additionally, he improved dramatically on the base paths as he stole just six bases as a freshman before raising his tally to 14 as a sophomore and 22 as a junior.
Notable achievements by Chamberlain include setting the school record in walks (52) as well as hit by pitches (16) in the same year (2018). Additionally, he was named to multiple academic honor rolls as well as first team all-conference in 2019.
Chamberlain spent the summer of 2019 playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. This league brought him into contact with plenty of Division I competition, giving him a chance to validate his impressive statistics in Division 2. He did just that as he batted .298 with 39 walks and four home runs in 207 plate appearances for Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. Because of his strong performance, he was named an all-star. He had also spent the summer of 2018 with the Sharks, but they were playing in the Futures League that year. He did just as well in 2018 as he was also named an all-star due to his .307 batting average, 32 to 18 K/BB ratio, and three home runs. His ability to perform in these summer leagues demonstrated that all of his tools carried over, even against more advanced competition.
Chamberlain was clocked at 6.65 seconds in the 60-yard dash which gives him a good amount of speed and could make him a threat on the basepaths and in the field. Additionally, he can throw the ball up to 94 miles per hour on max effort throws from the outfield, which gives him plenty of arm strength to play all three outfield spots. However, he played center field in college and may be given a chance to start there, especially given his athleticism.
At the plate, Chamberlain recorded an exit velocity of nearly 92 miles per hour off a tee, which does not suggest too much power potential. When hitting, the outfielder has a small stride and very little movement. His swing is simple and while it may lack power, it allows him to make plenty of contact with the ball and hit to all fields. He hit just 11 home runs in his career, which means that he may never have a lot of over-the-fence power, but his ability to consistently make contact and have a good approach at the plate will be his strengths in professional ball. This is emphasized by the fact that he tallied more walks than strikeouts in every collegiate season. Even though these numbers were posted against Division II competition, they underscore what Chamberlain tries to do at the plate, which is make plenty of contact and draw plenty of walks.
It is Chamberlain’s approach at the plate as well as his ability to limit strikeouts that likely drew the Cardinals to him as the team selected two college hitters in the draft (Alec Burleson, LJ Jones IV) with advanced hit tools and strikeout rates below 15%. Additionally, it does not hurt that he hits from the left side.
LHP Mac Lardner
Gonzaga University, senior
6’4”, 195 pounds
Similarly to Chamberlain, Lardner played a key role for his college team in his freshman year. The southpaw threw nearly 50 innings while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen in 2017 and experienced some modest success as he posted a 3.99 ERA. He took a leap forward as a sophomore, however, when he moved into the rotation full time and compiled a 2.95 ERA in 100 2/3 innings. He was not a big strikeout threat as he fanned just 73 hitters, but he also walked just 28 and kept the opposition off the base paths.
The following year, Lardner seemed to take a step forward as both his strikeout and walk rates improved, but yet his ERA rose significantly to 5.06 as he was more hittable. He recovered well in four starts this spring, however, as he fanned 33 batters in 24 2/3 innings while posting a 2.55 ERA.
The Cardinals must believe that Lardner is more of the pitcher who posted a 2.95 ERA as a sophomore and a 2.55 ERA as a senior, than the pitcher with a 5.06 ERA as a junior. There are encouraging signs to support this, though, as the left-hander’s strikeout and walk rates improved each year since he entered the rotation.
Lardner spent the summer of 2019 in the Cape Cod League with the Bourne Braves, and he pitched very well against other top collegiate talent. The southpaw compiled a 2.25 ERA in six starts while posting a 31/3 K/BB ratio. He was dominant at times and allowed two or fewer earned runs in all but one of his starts. Due to his strong performance, he was named to the Cape Cod League All Star Game. Most organizations value strong results in the Cape because it showcases a player’s ability to perform against other top prospects. It also gives scouts a chance to see college players hit with wooden bats. Lardner certainly drew eyes in the Cape, including the Cardinals’.
The Cardinals are also likely betting on some projection with Lardner as his fastball sits between 87 and 91 miles per hour. His 6’4” frame has room to add more strength and this could cause his fastball to tick up into the low to mid 90s consistently. Additionally, he has the potential for three average or better pitches which bodes well for his prospects of staying in the rotation. His most advanced offspeed pitch is his changeup, but he has also shown good feel for a curveball.
On the mound, Lardner has smooth, easy and repeatable mechanics that are not too aggressive, allowing him to command the ball well. At this point, he has better pitchability than pure stuff, but that could change if he continues to mature physically.
With this signing, the Cardinals have added another left-hander into their pitching ranks after selecting southpaw Levi Prater in the third round of the 2020 Draft.
LHP Omar Sanchez
B-You Prospects Academy – Caguas, Puerto Rico
5’10”, 185 pounds
Sanchez recently turned 18 years old and fits the mold of an athletic pitcher that the Cardinals typically look for. Despite committing to Florida Southwestern State College, Sanchez has signed with the Cardinals instead and begin his professional career. The southpaw does not have elite velocity as his fastball typically sits near 91 miles per hour. However, he gets good arm side run on the pitch allowing it to be more effective than the velocity might suggest. Also, he has filled out his 5’10” frame with some strength already and it seems likely that the Cardinals player development can add a few ticks to his fastball by getting him to explode off the mound a little more.
His go-to offspeed pitch that appears to have a 12-6 curveball shape but can also get a little slurvy. He is inconsistent with the pitch and occasionally gets some sharp movement, but he can struggle to command it at times. However, the pitch does appear to be promising and may even be a plus offering at some point. Sanchez also throws a changeup that he seems to command well, but it does not seem to have too much movement which may make it very hittable. If he can learn to add some run or some drop to the pitch while maintaining his command, then he could have a solid three pitch mix.
In terms of mechanics, Sanchez has a long stride that allows him to utilize his lower half. He also consistently sets up on the third base side of the mound. One of the more noticeable things in his delivery is his tendency to look at the ground while he lifts his leg. Because of this, he needs to find the plate quickly while he is striding towards it. This could be something that the Cardinals change as he matures and learns to throw more strikes.
Because Sanchez is not a major college prospect, and he also did not get drafted, he is going to be rawer than the other players the Cardinals have added this week. However, he does have the potential for a solid three pitch mix and the Cardinals are likely hoping that his athleticism will allow him to make adjustments as he begins his professional career.
OF Matt Koperniak
Trinity College, senior
6’0”, 185 pounds
Koperniak is the second Cardinals signee of the day to have played his college ball in the small northern state of Connecticut. The Division III star at Trinity College had recently transferred to use his final semester of eligibility at Kansas State in 2021, but decided to sign with St. Louis’ instead.
Koperniak, 22, was a two-time all-conference first-teamer at Trinity. In 2019, he hit .394 with six home runs and 31 runs batted in. As a junior, he hit .388 with five home runs and 20 RBI. In three games this spring, he went 7-for-13 including a double and a home run with four RBI and three runs scored.
In 2019 as a designated hitter, Koperniak was third in the summer New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) with a .376 batting average and seventh with 37 RBI. He hit five home runs and collected 15 doubles. In 2018 there, the left-handed batter hit .318 with a home run and 24 RBI.
Blake Newberry’s scouting report
Koperniak has a solid combination of tools as he has the potential for plus speed, power, and defense, while he also has a chance for average power.
The outfielder showed a strong ability to make consistent contact with the ball as he struck out just 34 times in nearly 500 collegiate plate appearances. This ability to make consistent contact with the ball should help him adapt well to the increased competition in the professional ranks. He also showed that he could hit in the New England Collegiate Baseball League which featured plenty of Division One talent.
Additionally, he stole 48 bases and was only thrown out six times as he was not only fast on the bases, but also intelligent and good at getting jumps. This speed should give him the ability to stick in center field as well as be a plus defender as he has solid range.
Also, even though he hit just 13 home runs in his college career, he also added 30 doubles and 9 triples. This is impressive power production even if most of his extra base hits did not go over the fence. However, as can be seen in his video, he does have some raw power in his swing, it just needs to translate into the game. If he can do that, then he should be able to hit a modest amount of home runs.
In terms of swing mechanics, Koperniak has an open stance and uses a medium sized leg kick to close his stance. This is his timing mechanism and it does not seem to take away from his ability to make consistent contact with the ball. He also has a simple loading mechanism in which he is able to generate a large amount of torque by slightly pushing his back elbow towards the first base dugout. This creates a ‘pinch’ near his shoulder blade area that gets unleashed when he swings, allowing him to generate a tremendous amount of bat speed. The ball jumps of his bat for this reason and this provides some hope for more power in the future.
If he can build on these tools, then he has the chance to be a solid overall player, both at the plate and in the field.
— The New England League (@TheNECBL) July 28, 2019
P Gianluca Dalatri
University of North Carolina, redshirt junior
6’6”, 240 pounds
Blessed with both considerable size and talent, 22-year old Luca Dalatri has to this point been unable to reach his potential after being bitten time and time again by the injury bug.
As a high schooler out of New Jersey in 2016, Dalatri was a final-round pick (40th) by the Rockies, but went to the University of North Carolina instead. As a freshman, he started 15 games, pitching 97 innings with an ERA of 3.34 and was named a Frosh All-American. He made just seven appearances as a sophomore due to a stress reaction in his elbow that kept him sidelined three months.
In 2019, Dalatri was named a pre-season All-American before a hip injury in early May ended his season. He posted a 2.25 ERA in six outings, with 35 strikeouts in 32 innings. Dalatri again was drafted, and again in the 40th round, this time by the Detroit Tigers, but again, he stayed in school.
Injury returned in February 2020 when Dalatri experienced a small fracture in his right elbow and surgery to insert a screw was required.
Overall, Dalatri has a 3.12 ERA in 28 collegiate games, all starts, along with 151 strikeouts and 34 walks in 156 innings.
His father Richard played professional football and coached in the NBA for 30 years, including as its first full-time strength and conditioning coach and his Mom played professional baseball in Italy.
In November 2019, Dalatri wrote an in-depth article called “Alone on the Mound” in which he detailed his injuries and the mental strain that accompanied them. It is a long read, but definitely worthwhile to get a better insight into his long struggles.
Blake Newberry’s scouting report
Despite his size, Dalatri is not overpowering. He does, however, have a very good feel for pitching and is able to throw strikes consistently. The right-hander sits around 90-91 miles per hour with his fastball, but he can reach 94. He also throws an advanced changeup and two good breaking balls (curveball and slider). He is willing and able to throw all of these pitches and this allows him to mix his pitches very well in order to keep the hitter guessing. For an undrafted signing, he has plenty of polish and if he can get healthy, he has the potential to be a fast riser in the Cardinals system.
Despite his limited velocity right now, he gets good movement on his fastball which helps him miss bats and generate weak contact. He is also very good at establishing the lower part of the strike zone and he likes to pitch there consistently in order to generate large amounts of ground balls.
Dalatri does a good job of distinguishing his curveball and his slider. His slider gets plenty of sharp horizontal movement when he throws it well, while his curveball has more of a 11-5 shape. This allows him to give the hitter different looks and make them worry about both vertical and horizontal movement. Dalatri is very good at changing speeds and changing planes on the hitter and this helps him get outs despite his lack of velocity.
There is a chance that Dalatri will have four above average pitches to pair with his excellent control and command. That gives him the potential to be a solid starter in the MLB, he simply needs to stay healthy and keep improving.
Additionally, there is likely some projection left with Dalatri as well. When he was dealing with his injuries, he talked about simply getting through the offseason and trying to limit his pain, as opposed to improving his game. When he gets healthy and is able to spend time improving himself, there is a good chance that he will be able to add velocity to his fastball and more movement to his offspeed pitches.
TCN analyst Blake Newberry wrote the player capsules and Brian Walton filled in the rest.
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