With the 2014 draft in the books, the Cards find themselves with a stockpile of young arms to sign and ship off to the minor leagues to get their pro careers started. Of the 42 players the Redbirds drafted, there were 23 pitchers, 11 infielders, five outfielders, and three catchers. 20 of the pitchers drafted are right-handed hurlers and three are southpaws. Nine of the players drafted were high schoolers, with the other 33 being college or junior college players. With four picks in the first two rounds, the Cards were able to load up on some very promising arms in hopes of continuing their succession of talented home-grown pitching. While predicting the next Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha may be a stretch, here are the lowdowns and career projections of the Cardinals top four picks.
Luke Weaver (RHP—Florida State University; 27th pick)
The Seminoles ace and First Team All-ACC pick from Deland, Florida was previously drafted in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school. Weaver has a slim 6’2”, 170-pound frame and a somewhat jerky motion, but his arm speed and natural movement on the ball more than compensate for his so-so command. Weaver’s fastball sits in the low 90’s, but has touched as high as 97, giving scouts reason to expect more velocity as he matures and develops. Of his two secondary pitches—a changeup and a slider—the changeup is the more effective with a 10 mph drop in velocity from his fastball and some fading movement. His slider is a work in progress with inconsistent movement, but should become a solid change of pace pitch in the minor leagues. Overall, Weaver’s body of work shows more about his potential than his raw pitching ability as he has had a solid season (8-4, 2.62 ERA) without truly exceptional stuff.
Career Projection: No.3 or 4 starter or possibly a long-relief arm from the bullpen. A Shelby Miller type of pitcher based on his fastball velocity, and he has plenty of upside if he can develop his slider into a swing-and-miss pitch.
Jack Flaherty (RHP—Harvard-Westlake HS [San Diego, CA]; 34th pick)
With a pick the Cards received as compensation for losing Carlos Beltran, they made the bold decision of choosing a high-risk, high-reward high school arm in Flaherty. While projected as a difficult sign by many, Flaherty may forgo his college years at North Carolina if the Cardinals offer him above slot money. As 2014’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Flaherty has a lot of upside with a low 90’s fastball and three quality secondary pitches. Flaherty is large for a high schooler with a 6’3”, 190-pound frame at only 18 years of age, and this maturity reflected in his senior season during which he went an undefeated 10-0 while posting a 0.62 ERA. An enormous part of this success comes from Flaherty’s quality off speed pitches. While Flaherty’s changeup is probably his most developed pitch so far, his slider has strikeout potential with its exaggerated side-to-side movement. As he develops through the system and learns consistency with the pitch, it could turn into an oft-used weapon for him.
Career Projection: While Flaherty won’t be in the bigs for a few years at least, if he grows into his potential, he could easily be an exceptional No. 2 starter for a contender and an ace for a lesser team.
Ronnie Williams (RHP—American Senior HS [Hialeah, Fl]; 68th pick]
As a high school senior, Williams led his school to its first state championship while posting an 8-2 record with a 0.97 ERA. Williams possesses an average fastball that tops out at 92 but should gain velocity as he progresses through the minor leagues. A devastating curveball, however, is Williams’ claim to fame, as the hammer sits in the low 70’s with a sharp 12-to-6 breaking action. Williams’ athleticism alone makes him a quality prospect, but if he continues to mature and gain velocity, he could become an integral part of this organization.
Career Projection: I find it hard to project Williams as a starting pitcher and see him more as a quality set-up man or closer. However, if he develops a third pitch, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm.
Andrew Morales (RHP—UC-Irvine, 71st pick)
By far my favorite pick of the draft for the Redbirds, Morales is the ace of an UC-Irvine staff that just swept Oklahoma St. in the Stillwater Super Regional. Morales, a senior, is a high probability sign and has put up excellent numbers this season with a 10-2 record and 1.64 ERA. However, the most telling statistic for Morales this season has been his .182 batting average against; an indicator of swing-and-miss stuff. Morales has an 89-91 mph fastball, but his out-pitch is a wipeout slider sitting in the low 80’s. With a small stature and no signs of any continuing growth, Morales was definitely a reach for the Cards at the 71st pick, but he will be an easy sign and will likely save the team money that can be used on Flaherty instead.
Career Projection: Morales has no chance as a starter in the Majors, but if he adds a couple of miles per hour to his fastball, he could be a devastating closer or back-of-the bullpen guy.
Overall, the Cards true gem of the draft was Jack Flaherty at the 34th pick and it will take a significant portion of their draft money to sign him, but his potential is worth it. Weaver and Morales are both reach picks made for signability, but both have a lot of upside if their development goes smoothly from here on out. In the end, the Cards system has proven time and again that they know how to train pitchers, so don’t be surprised if all four of these guys find themselves on the big club eventually.