The offseason is rapidly coming to a close. The tantalizing allure of Spring Training sits just around the corner. As the weather warms and the St. Louis Cardinals start to prepare for the journey to Florida, there is another future event baseball followers are looking forward to: the 2016 First-Year Player Draft. It is never too early to prepare for the next wave of talent to join the Cardinals’ organization, and in the following months, I will be profiling some names who could be called by St. Louis on June 9th.
Before diving into some specific names, let’s look at where the Cardinals are drafting in the early going. Due to free agents with draft pick compensation signing with new teams, the draft order is still in flux. As of this writing, the Cardinals’ first-round selection is 25th overall. The Cardinals received two compensation picks for the departures of John Lackey and Jason Heyward. Those picks are currently 33rd and 34th overall. There are still four players who could net their previous teams compensation picks yet to sign: Ian Desmond, Yovani Gallardo, Howie Kendrick, and Dexter Fowler. No matter where they end up, the Cardinals will have the final two picks of the compensation choices. The Cardinals’ second round choice currently sits at 76, so unless the Cardinals sign one of the remaining free agents who received a qualifying offer, they will have four picks in the first 76 choices, an even better position than 2015 when they had four in the first 100 selections.
Another aspect of the draft to remember is the slot value attached to each pick in the top 10 rounds. While each slot value is not a hard cap, the collective total of slot values for a team is vitally important. Exceeding the combined slot value carries significant consequences from being taxed on the overage to draft pick forfeiture. The first 10 rounds have specific values attached to each pick, but all picks after the 10th round do not count toward the bonus pool unless they exceed $100,000. Furthermore, the first $100,000 for each of those picks does not count against the pool. Teams tend to select players who fall due to signability issues after the 10th and attempt to utilize some savings from previous picks to lure those late choices into signing, as the Cardinals did with Paul Salazar and Jacob Schlesener in 2015. For reference, the Cardinals had a $7,837,600 bonus pool in 2015 and spent $7,696,585.
In general, especially near the top, the 2016 First-Year Player Draft is pitching rich. The first overall pick is still up in the air but is widely considered to be between four pitchers: Oklahoma right-hander Alec Hansen, Florida left-hander A.J. Puk, prep right-hander Riley Pint, and high school left-hander Jason Groome. The pitching depth continues through the top prospects. MLB.com’s top draft prospect list has 31 pitchers in their top 50. Despite that pitching depth, my first look at draft prospects is going to focus on position players, specifically third base.
Why? First, the Cardinals’ organization is pitching rich already. That is not to say they will not add pitching early in this upcoming draft. In fact, I expect them to select at least one pitcher in their three first round choices. While teams do not draft for need in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the offense in the system is still lagging behind the arms, and I think Cardinals’ fans are ready for another exciting bat in the organization.
Specifically at third base, the Cardinals have big question marks in Jacob Wilson and Patrick Wisdom. Is Wilson a legitimate starter, or is he destined for a future utility role at best? Can Wisdom make enough contact to be a major league player? While 2015 draftee Paul DeJong had a fantastic start to his professional career last summer, he still only has 292 plate appearances and will most likely start the year at High-A Palm Beach.
In these previews, I will be ignoring the highest-rated draft prospects. Unless a monumental injury or signing issue occurs, the top players will not fall to the Cardinals. Instead, I will be focusing on some realistic options for St. Louis.
Lake Mineola High School, Florida
6’4”, 195 lbs.
Florida State commitment
Mendoza actually caught many scouts’ eyes during his junior year when he crushed a 93-mph fastball from eventual 2015 second-rounder Brady Singer.
Mendoza is currently a shortstop for his high school team, but scouts agree that the big teenager will move to the hot corner for his professional career. He is exceptionally athletic and plays basketball for his school as well. Scouts see no issues with him sticking at third base as he is a smooth and agile defender with a great arm. When Mendoza has been on the mound, he has routinely hit 93 mph.
Mendoza’s bat actually profiles similarly to the Cardinals’ current third baseman, Matt Carpenter. He doesn’t look like he will be a huge power threat, with a best case scenario of a 20-homer type in his prime, but he possesses strong bat speed that leads to plenty of doubles. Memdoza’s swing is quick and smooth and should allow him to hang in well against left-handed pitchers in the professional ranks. While he doesn’t have the plate discipline of Carpenter (few do), he profiles as a strong #2 or #6 hitter who will drive in plenty of runs via extra-base hits.
Holy Ghost Prep, Pennsylvania
6’4”, 185 lbs.
When you look at Jones, you’re going to see a lot of Mendoza. Both are athletic, 6-foot-4, lefty-swinging third basemen with a strong chance to stick at third base defensively. Offensively, Mendoza looks to have a bit more bat speed, but Jones possesses a bit more loft in his swing. The noticeable difference between the two comes in the arm strength. While both throw in the low-90s from the mound, Jones’s mechanics from the hot corner leave something to be desired, which causes a little less zip on his throws across the diamond. As such, some scouts think he should get used to second base as an offensive-minded second baseman in the vein of Ben Zobrist or Daniel Murphy.
Despite the throwing issues, Jones still has plus raw power, solid baserunning speed, and soft hands. If a team does have him settle at the keystone, he should not have issues transitioning to that side of the bag from his current home at shortstop.
Walton High School, Georgia
6’2”, 185 lbs.
Yes, you read that right. While a right-handed hitter, Kieboom has pitched with both hands. So, if all else fails, the Cardinals can at least fall back to that. Or, they can shift him to first where catching with the right hand is more advantageous defensively.
Kieboom has baseball in his blood. His brother Spencer is a catcher in the Washington Nationals’ organization, and his brother Trevor is a third baseman for Georgia. The youngest of the Kieboom brothers, though, is the best hitter of the bunch.
While Mendoza and Jones have the sweet, left-handed swings, Kieboom looks more of the part of a power hitter. With a higher leg kick than the other two prospects, he possesses excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination, so he is able to square up the ball over and over again. Case in point, he shot a 98-mph fastball from potential #1 overall choice Pint to right field in the 2015 Under Armour All-American Game last July. He has good throwing mechanics from the field and smooth actions when fielding, so he has every tool to stick at third base. With above-average power and impressive skills at third, Kieboom reminds me of what Evan Longoria currently is: a strong defender with a 110 wRC+ and roughly 20 home runs per year.
Next: Check back at The Cardinal Nation for Scott Schook’s next article in his series of previews leading up to the 2016 First-Year Player Draft, all exclusively for TCN members!
Follow Scott Schook on Twitter @scottschook.
© 2016 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.