July 21, 2024

The Cardinals are set to choose a special player with the seventh overall choice in the 2024 MLB Draft.

The MLB draft is just two weeks away, and the Cardinals are poised to make their highest draft pick since 1998. This year’s draft class is considered as particularly top-heavy, with approximately ten outstanding players, although overall depth is lacking. The Cardinals are in an excellent position to choose an outstanding player, which will undoubtedly fall to them with selection #7.

First, I’d want to mention a few names that I wouldn’t anticipate to be available:

No Chance

2B Travis Bazzana, Oregon State: Bazzana had an outstanding season, hitting.407/.568/.911. Bazzana possesses one of the most well-rounded offensive skill sets in the draft class. He makes a lot of contact, refuses to chase, smashes the ball hard and consistently, and has an excellent feel for striking the barrel. To top it off, Bazzana earned the 2023 Cape Cod League MVP award, demonstrating his ability to hit with wood bats.

OF/3B Charlie Condon of Georgia: In 2024, Condon set an NCAA BBCOR record with 37 home runs and a.433/.556/1.009 batting line. Condon’s main tool is definitely his tremendous power, but his profile is less swing-and-miss than you might anticipate, with a whiffed rate of only 19.1% this year. Condon’s performance at the plate is likewise exceptional. He possesses one of the best, most compact swings I’ve ever seen from a right-handed draft prospect.

Doubtful

RHP Chase Burns of Wake Forest: Burns has some of the loudest material in the whole draft class. Burns’ arsenal is highlighted by a cut-ride fastball that averages 97.8 mph (T100.9) and 20.3 inches of IVB. While Burns’ fastball receives the majority of the attention, I believe his slider is his finest pitch. The pitch averages 87.5″ with a great depth (-1.2″ IVB) and 8 inches of sweep. Burns throws from a high vertical release, thus the pitch performs even better low in the zone because to its steep vertical approach angle. Burns also throws a curveball and a changeup, which, despite minimal use in college, grade out highly.

1B/LHP Jac Caglianone of Florida: Caglianone is one of the most talented players in the draft class. At the dish, he has light-tower power and can make a lot of contact while pursuing about 40% of the time. Caglianone has 68 home runs in his last two seasons with Florida. On the mound, he throws a mid-90s fastball with a below-average ride and 15 inches of arm-side run. Caglianone’s most effective pitch is a 79 mph changeup, which produced a 48.7% whiff rate this season. Caglianone also throws a slider, but it’s still a work in progress, resting at 83 mph with terrible depth.

3. LHP Hagen Smith, Arkansas

Bullard's Smith named Golden Spikes Award finalist

 

Hagen Smith was completely dominant this year, with a 2.04 ERA in 84 innings pitched for the University of Arkansas. Smith generated swings-and-misses at an incredible rate and struck out a total of 161 batters this season. In 2024, opponents batted just.144 against him.

Hagen Smith’s primary pitch is a 95.5 mph fastball with 16.4 inches of IVB and 13 inches of arm-side run, delivered from a 5.6′ vertical release height. Smith increased his fastball velocity by about 3 mph in 2023, reaching 100.3 mph. In a vacuum, the pitch’s movement profile is unimpressive at best, but his low release and above-average velocity make it stand out. Smith’s four-seam fastball had a 41.8% whiff rate, ranking second best in Division 1 College Baseball in 2024 (minimum 500 pitches).

Smith’s strongest pitch is his 84 mph slider. The pitch features good depth (-1.3 inches IVB) and sweep (5 inches glove-side movement). Smith also has an excellent feel for turning the pitch. The pitch, like his fastball, plays up as he releases. Smith stands on the first base side of the rubber, and his lateral release results in an outstanding HAA on the pitch. He also commands the offering well, positioning it away from lefties and inside to righties to maximize HAA. This season, Smith’s slider had a whopping 56.4% whiff rate.

Smith’s third pitch is an 88.3 mph split-change, which has similar arm-side movement as his fastball but 8 inches less ride. Smith lacks feel for the pitch at the present, but I believe it will be a viable option against righties once he becomes more comfortable with it.

Smith is unquestionably a top two pitching prospect in this year’s draft class. He’s a tier below Chase Burns, but the Cardinals should still consider him if he’s available at pick seven. Smith carries some relief risk due to his cross-fire style and lack of feel for a third offering, but it’s difficult to argue with the body of work he delivered for Arkansas this season.

2. OF Braden Montgomery, Texas A&M

Braden Montgomery injury update: Texas A&M star expected to miss rest of  season

 

Braden Montgomery is among the most remarkable power hitters in this year’s draft class. Montgomery is a switch-hitter who is equally explosive and twitchy on both sides of the plate. Montgomery hit.322/.454/.733 in 61 games for Texas A&M this season, including 27 home runs.

Power is unquestionably Montgomery’s most promising instrument. He not only has good raw power from both sides of the plate, but he also hits it consistently in games. Montgomery was one of only four Division College baseball players with a 90th percentile exit velocity of more than 110 mph, a hard hit percentage of more than 65%, and a barrel rate of more than 35%. Montgomery’s combination of raw and game power is among the finest in the class, and his ability to demonstrate power from both sides of the plate is exceptional.

Montgomery’s hitting ability is a source of contention among evaluators, but I feel he’ll hit enough to play with power. His contact rate easily ranks last among the top group of collegiate players in the class. This year, Montgomery made contact 85% of the time in the strike zone, which is acceptable, but that statistic dipped to 49% beyond the strike zone. The majority of the whiffs were against offspeed and breaking pitches. Montgomery will undoubtedly need to enhance his pitch identification in professional baseball, where the quality and command of offspeed and breaking pitches are significantly superior. Montgomery does an excellent job of avoiding mishits when he makes contact, so he has the potential to outperform his poor at-best contact rate.

Arm/Run/Defense: Montgomery began his collegiate career as a two-way player, with his fastball sitting in the mid-90s. His arm strength is a clear double-plus scouting grade. Montgomery is a close-to-average runner who fits a corner outfield profile on defense. He predominantly played right field during his collegiate career, and it’s where he fits best because of his exceptional arm strength.

Braden Montgomery’s batted ball data is on par with Charlie Condon’s as the finest in the draft class. Some have questioned his contact abilities, particularly his ability to recognize and hit offspeed and breaking pitches. Nonetheless, Montgomery improved his plate discipline this year, and I am confident in his ability to change his approach as needed.

1. SS JJ Wetherholt, West Virginia

2024 Draft: JJ Wetherholt, SS/2B | 04/15/2024 | MLB.com

 

JJ Wetherholt is an experienced left-handed hitter with excellent contact and plate discipline abilities. In 36 games this season with the West Virginia Mountaineers, he hit.331/.472/.589. Wetherholt missed seven weeks of the season due to a hamstring injury, which is the primary reason his draft value has dropped and is even a possibility at pick 7.

I briefly mentioned consensus top 2 draft prospect Travis Bazzana earlier in the article, stating that he “has one of the most well-rounded offensive skill sets in the draft class.” Wetherholt is right beside him, and it’s incredible how similar these two are in terms of batted ball data, contact rate, and plate discipline.

SS JJ Wetherholt
AvgEV: 95.4 mph
90thEV: 108.2 mph
HardHit%: 57.1%
Barrel%: 31.2%
Contact%: 84.7%
Chase%: 14.1%
Z-Swing% 69.0%

2B Travis Bazzana
AvgEV: 95.9 mph
90thEV: 108.7 mph
HardHit%: 68.5%
Barrel%: 41.5%
Contact%: 85.1%
Chase%: 14.0%
Z-Swing%: 61.0%

Bazzana expects to hit with more power than Wetherholt because he hits the barrel more consistently and pulls his aerial contact more frequently. Nonetheless, the offensive profiles are strikingly similar, and Wetherholt held his own at a higher-level defensive position.

Wetherholt is an exceptional hitter, making contact 88.5% of the time in the zone and 85.1% overall. In 432 plate appearances for West Virginia over the last two seasons, he has 39 strikeouts and 56 walks. Wetherholt rarely expands the zone, pursuing only 14.1% of the time and maintaining a reasonable zone swing rate. He truly possesses exceptional plate discipline skills rather than simply benefiting from a passive approach at the plate. When Wetherholt makes contact, he has a smooth left-handed swing that produces plenty of line drives to all fields.

Power: While Wetherholt’s power tool is not his calling card, he does have above-average raw power. His 90th percentile exit velocity of 108.1 mph is impressive. Wetherholt doesn’t barrel or pull the ball enough to match his sheer power, but his exit velocities are still encouraging. It’s currently average game power, with the potential to be above average if he gains more pull-side strength.

Defense/Arm/Run: For the third consecutive year, Wetherholt switched major positions. In 2022, he played most of his games at third base; in 2023, he primarily played second base; and this year, he was West Virginia’s starting shortstop. Wetherholt is an incredible gamer, regardless of where he plays on the diamond. Despite having a below-average throwing arm, he performed well at shortstop this season. He projects best at second base, but if he can play shortstop in pro ball, there is more potential there. Wetherholt has the athleticism to steal 30+ bases at the next level, but I’m curious how much the hamstring issue influenced his baserunning aggressiveness this season. Wetherholt stole only 6 bases last year, down from 36 in 2023.

Most draft boards ranked JJ Wetherholt as the best talent heading into the season. There is some risk with a player who has had two hamstring injuries in the last year. Soft tissue problems are more likely to reoccur, so I see why a team would be wary of picking Wetherholt. Regardless, acquiring a talent like Wetherholt at pick 7 would be a game changer for the Cardinals.

 

 

 

 

 

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