The St. Louis Cardinals have become among the best in baseball at developing pitching. However, despite fostering the development of players like Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and Stephen Piscotty in recent years, there remains a stigma around the system having an inability to develop core offensive talent.
Last summer, the Cardinals focused on building the hitters in their system, spending four of their first six picks on hitters: Nick Plummer, Bryce Denton, Harrison Bader, and Paul DeJong. Bader and DeJong, both college picks known for their bat speed, have already reached Double-A less than a year after being selected.
When the Cardinals come up to the podium in June, they could be looking at another pick in the mold of Bader and DeJong. The Cardinals may see a lot of value in a college hitter who can fly through the system. Here are some players who would fall into that range for St. Louis with their first few picks.
University of Miami
6’2”, 210 lbs.
Collins is going to draw a lot of comparisons to the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber. Collins is a catcher for Miami, but scouts almost unanimously see him moving to first base or designated hitter for his career. The left-handed hitter has incredible bat speed which results in plus-plus power. Collins also has great plate discipline, drawing more walks than strikeouts in his junior year of college. He will be selected on his bat that teams will find a way to put in the middle of their lineup whether it is at first, DH, or attempting to play him in left field.
For all the comparisons, Collins may actually become a slightly better hitter than Schwarber. In his final year at Indiana, Schwarber hit .358/.464/.659 over 232 at-bats hitting 14 home runs, 16 doubles, 6 triples, drawing 44 walks, and striking out 30 times. This year, through 113 at-bats, Collins is hitting .422/.587/.726. He has 9 homers, 7 doubles, 48 walks, and 24 strikeouts.
Like Schwarber, Collins shouldn’t take long to develop in the minor leagues and could make his debut in late 2017. In his first full rookie year, he has the tools to go out and hit .260 with 30 home runs while drawing plenty of walks to keep his on-base percentage in .360-.380 range.
Wake Forest University
6’3”, 225 lbs.
With as many good things as I could say about Collins, Craig looks to have the potential to be an even better hitter than Collins. The Johnson City, Tennessee native led Wake Forest in home runs with eight his freshman year. He did the same his sophomore year, hitting 13 for the Demon Deacons. Not surprisingly, through 117 at-bats this year, Craig again leads the team in homers by a wide margin as he already has 13 with the next closest, sophomore Gavin Sheets, at 5. He is not just a grip-it-and-rip-it type of hitter, either. Craig is destroying college pitching, hitting .427/.557/.872 with 31 walks to 23 strikeouts. He has struck out at about a 15% clip, perfectly acceptable for a college hitter.
While he started his college career at third base, Craig has settled into more of a first baseman and designated hitter role for Wake Forest, which limits the upside teams see in him. The margin for error for first basemen is so much smaller being on the low end of the defensive spectrum. However, the bat may be more than enough for teams to take him. Scout’s Jeff Ellis called Craig “The most complete hitter in this class.” He has the upside of a Ryan Braun without the speed.
University of Florida
6’2”, 225 lbs.
Alonso is part of the loaded, number one-ranked Florida baseball team. The Gators should have four players selected on Day 1 of the Draft. Besides Alonso, LHP A.J. Puk, OF Buddy Reed, and RHP Logan Shore should all hear their names called in the first 77 picks, and Florida has a potential 1-1 selection for 2017 in C J.J. Schwarz.
Alonso is hitting behind Schwarz and cleaning up well hitting .345/.448/.588 in 165 at-bats with 9 home runs, 44 RBI, and nearly even ratio of strikeouts to walks. Alonso has walked 26 times while fanning 27 times. His 9 homers this year are as many as he hit in his freshman and sophomore years combined.
Alonso is confined defensively to first base due to his slow running speed, but he should put up the offense to make up for it. Unsurprisingly, he has plus bat speed, and with a shorter approach to his swing, Alonso has been able to tap into his raw power more and better contact rates including a better ability to go to the opposite field with authority.
With his improved plate discipline, continued development should turn Alonso into a right-handed Brandon Belt with better over-the-fence power. That should make him a consistent 4-fWAR type of hitter in the middle of a big league lineup.
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! Next time, we will highlight a few of the speedsters who should go in the first day of the Draft.
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.