The 2014 MLB Draft kicks off on Thursday night, and it will be a big event for the St. Louis Cardinals, as they possess both a first round selection at pick 27 and a compensatory selection at pick 34. While every draft is important, this one seems to be particularly significant for St. Louis, as most of their most highly-touted prospects have now graduated to the majors, and there’s a need to replenish the farm system.
Because there are so many players all over the country at the high school, junior college, and NCAA levels, it’s extremely difficult to predict which players teams will go for in the MLB Draft (and how they’ll turn out, for that matter). The Cardinals, however, have had a pretty uniform draft strategy over the past several years, so they may be easier than some other teams to predict. They’ve selected college pitchers with their first picks in the last two drafts (Marco Gonzales in 2013 and Michael Wacha in 2012). As a whole, they’ve trended towards college players who are further ahead in their development and able to rise through the system more quickly. All four of the position players who they have taken since 2008 have been from the college ranks. The only high schoolers they’ve selected in the first round since 2008 are lefthanded pitcher Rob Kaminsky, taken with their second first-rounder in 2013, and Shelby Miller in 2009.
Here are ten players that the Cardinals could have an eye on as they make their selections on Thursday.
Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville
Burdi, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound reliever, has been dominant for the Cardinals this season, putting together an 0.54 ERA and an 0.75 WHIP while holding hitters to a .125 average over 28 appearances. He’s got spectacular life on his pitches, throwing his fastball comfortably in the upper 90s with the capability to hit 100. He also throws a nasty slider that can get up into the lower 90s. With his size, velocity, and repertoire, there may be no player in the majors who Burdi compares to better than current Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. Though the Cardinals traditionally have not taken relievers in the first round, he’d be a good fit for a team that doesn’t have a huge amount of organizational pitching depth after bringing most of their good young pitchers to the majors. For what it’s worth, the Chicago-born Burdi says his favorite team is the Boston Red Sox, so there will be slightly less tension if the Cardinals end up selecting him.
Erick Fedde, RHP, UNLV
Fedde, a 6-foot-4, 170-pound righthander, is going to be a very hit-or-miss prospect. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery that ended his junior season early, and though his fastball comfortably sits in the low 90s, he hasn’t really added much weight or velocity since getting to college, making it more likely that he’ll fail to do so as a pro. His college numbers haven’t exactly been dominant at any point in his college career, but he had his best year as a junior, holding hitters to a .209 average for the season. If Fedde can fill out, he could be stylistically similar to Shelby Miller as a pro.
Aramis Garcia, C, Florida International
The Cardinals selected Garcia in the 20th round coming out of high school, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they went after him again this year, especially as they continue to try to find a long-term successor for soon-to-be 32-year-old Yadier Molina. Garcia, who has received high praise for his intelligence and dedication, is already considered a steady defensive catcher who can improve with further work on his blocking. He’s a very intriguing hitter as well, having hit .368 with eight homers and a 1.068 OPS as a junior. He might be a bit of a reach at pick 27, but he’s a very reasonable option at 34.
Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis HS (Calif.)
Gatewood, a high schooler with a USC commitment, has been mocked to the Cardinals in recent weeks with good reason. The 6-foot-5, 180-pounder is currently a shortstop, but he probably will end up as a third baseman once he fills out. He’s got quality power potential, and he’s a guy who the Cardinals could let develop in their system for several years and see what comes of it around 2019 or 2020.
Foster Griffin, LHP, The First Academy (Fla.)
Griffin, a tall, wiry lefty who is committed to Ole Miss, would further complement the lefthanded starting pitching depth which the Cardinals began building up last year. His 6-foot-5 frame could make him more of a power pitcher once he fills out, though his fastball is only in the low 90s right now, with his changeup and slider likely to be his better pitches moving forward. He’s been mocked to the Cardinals in recent weeks.
Nick Howard, RHP, Virginia
Howard is strikingly similar to Shelby Miller in terms of his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame and low-to-mid-90s fastball velocity. However, he’s been used as a reliever during his junior season at Virginia, and he will need to be re-conditioned to starting if the Cardinals decide to take him and go that route. Howard, who was also a starting infielder with the Cavaliers, put together the best pitching numbers of his career in 2014, registering a 2.15 ERA with a 19 saves, a 1.06 WHIP, and a .184 opponent batting average.
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger HS (Calif.)
Ortiz, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound righty who can touch the upper 90s while consistently sitting between 92 and 95, could be very tempting for the Cards if he falls to pick 27. He’s as risky as any high schooler—he doesn’t yet have any established pitches besides his fastball and slider, and he also could be at risk of Tommy John surgery down the road after suffering a forearm injury this spring—but his power and potential make him intriguing nonetheless.
A.J. Reed, 1B, Kentucky
Reed’s quite similar to current Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams; he’s limited to first base because of his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and lefthandedness, he’s a lefty hitter, and he has a large amount of potential as a hitter, both for average and power. He led the Wildcats this year with a .336 average, 23 homers, and an incredible 1.211 OPS. If the Cardinals plan on dangling Adams as a trade chip, it might be wise to select Reed and have him ready to wait in the wings should anything go wrong at the first base position.
Taylor Sparks, 3B, UC Irvine
Sparks, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound third baseman, is an athletic fielder who has good hitting skills and power potential. He had a slightly disappointing junior season, hitting .297 with five homers over 60 games, so he’s probably more of an option at pick 34 than the 27th selection. Sparks might be an interesting addition for the Cards, especially if they have any interest in moving current third baseman Matt Carpenter back to second down the road, as many have suggested they should do.
Luke Weaver, RHP, Florida State
Weaver, an undersized righty who currently measures in at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, is a power pitcher who can touch 97 with his fastball and complements it with a very good changeup. He had a solid season to say the least in 2014, registering a 2.62 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and .226 opponent batting average. He could be risky because of his lack of size, but that hasn’t stopped the Cardinals from going after other undersized power pitchers such as Carlos Martinez.