It's almost June 4th, and that means that the first round, compensitory round, and competitive balance round-A of the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft is just days away! You'll be able to watch the first 43 selections live on The MLB Network.
The St. Louis Cardinals will be selecting 19th overall and 43rd overall. There are seemingly thousands and thousands of names that are draft eligible. It's exhausting. What I've decided to do is comb through the countless mock drafts, as well as some of the names that I've heard through the very limited connections I've made. We will go over these names one by one over the next week. These evaluations will be the "brass tacks" (credit to C70) type. Very concise. Very much to the "bottom line."
I'm only going to touch on the potential targets for the 19th overall pick with this primer. Later on, I'll give you some of the players that I'd like to see the Cardinals target at 43rd overall and beyond in the draft.
This comes with a caution: THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL DRAFT IS THE CLOSEST THING THAT YOU'LL FIND IN SPORTS TO A FERAL ANIMAL. I believe that it's the most unpredictable draft in all of professional sports. Hell, it's probably the most unpredictable and malleable "thing" in all of sports. Because of the draft pool, teams often jockey their allotted cash so that they can afford to give larger bonuses to players later in the draft. Sometimes that means not drafting the best available player with their pick. Sometimes that means having to draft over slot. What I'm saying is, the MLB draft is a game of roulette, and one in which the
wheel never stops spinning and the ball never stops rolling until all 40 rounds are complete.
Now, we've spent some time going over individual players that the Cardinals might take with their first pick. You can get caught up on Jackson Kowar HERE, Logan Gilbert HERE, and Ryan Rolison HERE. So, let's go over a small group of pitchers that could also be selected at 19th overall but are less likely than those that I have already been highlighted. The first in our group of Pitchers is:
LHP, University of South Florida. Age on Draft day: 21
What Shane does well: McClanahan throws a fastball that ranges from the low 90's to the high 90's with fantastic movement. The rumor is that he decides his velocity at-will depending on the situation. If that's the case, then good for him because it'd be a valuable tool for any pitcher to not change his motion or arm slot/speed and still fluctuate between 93 and 97 with the same fastball.
What's truly special with McClanahan is his slider. When it's "on" it's truly devastating. He actually reminds me of where Dakota Hudson was when the Cardinals drafted Hudson in 2016.
Yes, Hudson is a right-hander and McClanahan is a left-hander, but Hudson also had a cutter/slider that made him an obvious selection inside of the first 50 picks but had command and mechanical issues that made many question his role as a starter in the long run. I don't know or think that McClanahan's slider is as good as Hudson was, but it is still a very good pitch.
Mr. McClanahan also pitches with a quirky little motion and a somewhat-unorthodox arm angle and that really helps his slider and fastball work together. I actually hated the motion at first but it's definitely grown on me.
McClanahan has a sure-fire MLB-caliber two pitch mix with his slider and his fastball and that should carry him to, at least, a relief role as he makes his way through whichever organization drafts him.
What Shane struggles with: It's not so much that he struggles with anything, but he's already one Tommy John surgery deep. He took a medical red-shirt his freshman year because of the surgery. He's pitched great since then, but the fact that he has already undergone the procedure is worth taking note of. The other issue is that he doesn't really have a third offering with any type of projectability and that has led most to believe that he is probably a reliever long term. Right now, that isn't a huge concern for me because of how good his primary secondary offering is with that slider. A changeup isn't as easy of a pitch to throw as we all make it out to be, but I believe Shane would be well-suited to maximize that pitch if the Cardinals were to draft him. He's struggled with the consistency of his slider, and gaining full command of that pitch will be key in his development.
RHP, Forsyth Central High School in Georgia. Age on draft day: 18
What he does well: He throws this fastball, courtesy of the Pitching Ninja:
Yep, that'll do. For real, that's a major league caliber pitch RIGHT NOW from a kid that is only 18-years-old. He usually throws it in the mid-90's, as well. That's as good of movement as you'll see out of a pitcher in this draft, too. He commands it. He controls it. You'll love it. He's 6'6", too, and he controls his body very well for a teenager at that height.
The next thing to love about Hankins is the potential in both of his off-speed offerings. His changeup is widely considered to be the best of the group and it is indeed very good. He's pretty consistent with it, as well. However, what really sticks out to me is the potential of this breaking pitch. I can't recall ever seeing a good high school-age left-handed swinger look so bad against a looping pitch from a right handed pitcher:
That's filthy. When he learns to throw it with consistency, if he learns to throw it for consistency, he's going to be comically dominant.
What he struggles with: The major issue with Hankins is that his velocity has dipped substantially this season. Hankins had to take a month off in February because of shoulder fatigue/pain. Prior to that respite, his fastball was topping out at 93 MPH while generally staying at 90-91. As you might suspect, the fact that it's shoulder and not elbow related is part of the reason why his draft stock has fallen since the beginning of the season. He has since returned to action and his velocity is back to where it was, but shoulder injuries aren't to be taken lightly.
The rest of the criticisms will be obvious. He's 18, so that means that his breaking pitches aren't a finished product. Both his curve ball and his slider tend to flatten out, especially early in starts as he struggles to find the feel for them. Repeatability of his motion is a concern because of his height but, as I mentioned above, he does it well enough for his age and I don't foresee it becoming a problem in the long run. He has good command of the fastball, and he can do pretty much anything that he wants with it, but he has a tendency to over-throw it. Again, he's 18-years-old. Find me a teenager that wouldn't over throw a pitch that good and I'LL SLAP YOU IN YOUR FACE BECAUSE YOU LIE.
RHP, North Oconee High School in Georgia. Age on draft day: 18
What he does well: What Rocker does well can only be described as "hot, hot, heat." Rocker freaking brings it. It's pretty comparable to the sinker/Two-seamer that Jordan Hicks is currently pedaling out of the Cardinals bullpen:
Yes, that's 98+ MPH with incredible sink. It's beautiful.
One thing that I love about Rocker is that he is a well put together young man. He's built. He's 6'5" and he weighs right around 240-ish. I believe that bodes well for long term sustainability without arm issues. Most pitchers in their teens aren't build half as strong or half as big as Rocker is/has been. That extra muscle (and it's muscle because Rocker is a football player, as well) is sure to protect the shoulder when compared to skinnier pitchers of the same age. His father was an NFL lineman and he's definitely his father's son.
While his slider leaves a little to be desired in the way of devastation, it's still a pretty solid pitch for him. The gif below is of a two pitch sequence. First, you'll notice that the slider is a tick above-average. Second, you'll notice that it's primary focus at this stage in it's development is to set up the strike-um-out fastball:
From his mechanics to his makeup and build, there are many parallels to draw between Hicks and Rocker. Especially to the 19-year-old Jordan Hicks for 2016. That's a very exciting draft prospect, in my book.
What he struggles with: Before we get into this, I need to say that it'd be a stretch for the Cardinals to go with Rocker at 19. However, I really wanted to write about him and give you gif(s) of him so I decided to add him here.
What you'll notice about that first gif of Rocker above, other than the incredible movement of the pitch, is that Rocker misses his spot by a ton. You see this a lot with Rocker and any other teenage pitcher with that kind of gas. I watched an entire start of his and he might have hit the mitt 20% of the time. He doesn't have near the control/command that Hankins has.
Rocker doesn't have much in the way of a third offering, as well. I've been told that he also throws a change up and a curve, but I'll be damned if I've never seen either of those pitches more than a handful of times. More than likely, that's because he doesn't throw either of them consistently enough to be used. That means that there is still a tremendous amount of development needed out of both pitches.
The other issue with Rocker is that he doesn't hold velocity. Early in a start he'll be in the mid-90's. Eventually, he'll top out in the high-90's. However, he usually ends the start around the 92-94 MPH mark. I would never write off a high school kid, but right now Rocker seems like a perfect bullpen piece in the long run, to me.
Both Rocker and Hankins have committed to play baseball at Vanderbilt. For those that don't know, Vanderbilt is a premier program for pitchers. While Hankins commitment to the program isn't considered to be that strong, Rocker's commitment is consider to be, at least, a little more firm. His draft stock has slipped over the last few months and it wouldn't surprise me if he honors that commitment to Vandy if he falls out of the first round. I believe that is the best option for Rocker who would be given a great chance to work with an incredible program to develop his secondary offerings and command. We could very well be talking about him as the first overall pick in three years time.
Video courtesy of theamerican.org, Taiwan Pitching Notes, and the magnificent Pitching Ninja.