The Cardinals’ first round selection feels like an old song on the radio.
With their first pick in the 2021 MLB draft, the Cardinals went back to the old well, and they selected a college pitcher whose best quality is his current polish, and whose stuff probably doesn’t get the credit it should. Yes, that should sound familiar, because this is basically the Dan Kantrovitz draft model, who ran the Cards’ drafts from 2012-’14, when their first-round picks were Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, and Luke Weaver, respectively.
In this case, the player in question is Michael McGreevy, a right-hander out of the University of California Santa Barbara, the alma mater of fellow righty Shane Bieber. Bieber was the last really premium draft pick the Gauchos had, and he went in the mid fourth round. McGreevy, through a combination of steadily improving stuff and a feel for the strike zone that really had no equal in this year’s draft, earned his spot in the first round.
Personally, I’m a big fan of this pick, even if McGreevy ended up something like my second or third favourite pitcher among the college ranks this year. This kind of high-floor but sneaky upside player is exactly the kind of pick the Cardinals used to excel at developing, and it was exactly what they needed in this place, at this time, I think. To be fair, there were players on the board still who might have been slightly more exciting in one way or another (I admit I got pretty excited digging into Trey Sweeney when his name popped up connected to the Cards; I hadn’t honestly looked at him much prior to that point), but Michael McGreevy had maybe the highest chance of any player available of being at least pretty good, I think, and a decent chance of being better than that. And a guy you’re certain is going to be at least pretty good is not a bad thing to have, at all.
So let’s talk about the positives. I am, as I’ve said so many times over the years that I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing it, a fan of athletes who pitch. That is, of course, a slightly silly thing to say, because all these guys are athletes, but what I mean is that given two pitchers with roughly equivalent stuff or other qualities, I’m always going to prefer the one who is the more premium athlete. I tend to believe that athleticism, including things like body control and footwork, translate directly into better performance down the road for pitchers. McGreevy is a high-level athlete, having formerly been a two-way player who was a fairly solid shortstop before dropping that to focus on pitching only in college. (His defense at short was quite good, I’ve been told, but the bat just didn’t really have long-term potential. Totally secondhand information there, though, so take that for whatever it’s worth.) His body control and balance in his delivery are borderline elite, which helps him throw strikes now, and should translate into high quality strikes down the road.
The stuff is solid for McGreevy, with a sinking fastball in the 92-94 range and a full complement of secondary pitches. He used to pitch at 90-92 prior to this season, but he came back from lockdown with ten extra pounds of muscle and a bump in velocity. He’s been up to 96, and could maybe push his average fastball closer to 94 or even 95 as he gets into a pro development program. Even if he doesn’t, though, there’s more than enough velocity to work with here, and solid movement as well. So far as I know, McGreevy only throws one fastball, and it looks like a two-seamer. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals attempt to add a four-seam fastball to his repertoire to give him a better chance of working north and south with his pitches. The organisation has not been overly aggressive with pushing the four-seam paradigm on pitchers, obviously, but it would seem a natural fit for McGreevy if he could add a higher-spin four-seamer to give him even a further weapon.
As for the secondary stuff, everything McGreevy throws is at least average, and there’s a chance for three 55+ offspeed pitches here. His slider is the most advanced offering for now, with mid-80s velocity and pretty good bite, but the curveball looks like the more exciting long-term weapon to me. When he throws the curve with conviction, it looks like a future 60 to my eye; it’s just a matter of him not babying it overmuch to keep it in the zone.
McGreevy’s changeup is probably the pitch I’ve seen the least of, and consequently have the least to say about. However, it’s an average pitch for now, he locates it well, and doesn’t telegraph the pitch by dropping his arm speed too much. I think the curve has room to develop still, but the changeup is the pitch I think has the most room for real growth, either by McGreevy fiddling with the grip, or improving his arm speed with the pitch, or someone in the organisation even suggesting he should talk to Bruce Sutter sometime when he’s hanging around during spring training.
By far, McGreevy’s best quality is his ability to throw strikes, with a strong second being his delivery. In the college season just completed, McGreevy walked only eleven batters in just over 100 innings, and he ultimately racked up a 115:11 strikeout to walk ratio. He was probably college baseball’s most accomplished strike-thrower this year, but did it with a fastball that touches 96, whereas your typical control artist is the upper-80s soft tosser who probably gets drafted in the seventh round, beats up on nineteen year old kids in Low A ball, and then hits the wall, hard, once he starts moving up the ladder into High A and, especially, Double A. That’s not McGreevy, who has plus-plus control already, and should end up with at least plus command down the line as he continues to hone his craft.
The delivery is a huge strength as well. It’s extremely simple, almost to the degree I wish there was something more going on with it, but it is also eminently repeatable, and I believe gives McGreevy a very good chance of staying healthy over the long haul. I try not to make predictions of health based on mechanics very often; pitching mechanics make a huge difference in chance of injury, I believe, but using them diagnostically just doesn’t seem to work all that well, as there are too many factors playing together. However, in the case of McGreevy, I really do think this is about as low-stress a delivery as you’re going to find. His timing at footstrike is excellent, he works everything in sequence beautifully, and he decelerates his arm down and around his body quite well to boot. If I needed to find a mechanical issue with which to quibble, I might wish for him to finish his delivery lower, with a flatter back and even less recoil of his arm — think of the way Max Scherzer finishes his pitches — but that is very much me looking for things, and not something I actually worry about.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that the Cardinals took McGreevy eighteenth overall, while he was ranked 28th by MLB Pipeline and all the way down at 48th by FanGraphs. Now, I disagree with that FanGraphs ranking very strongly, but what I’m getting at is that McGreevy was ranked a little lower than where he was taken, and it would seem like a pretty good bet if the Cardinals hadn’t grabbed him when they did he might have been sitting for another half-dozen picks at least. That suggests to me there may have been a conversation already, either prior to the draft entirely or even just in the few minutes leading up to the pick, between team and player — or rather, player’s representation — about a bonus number. McGreevy should probably save the Cardinals a reasonable amount relative to the bonus slot at eighteen, meaning they will have some extra space they can use over the next few rounds to try and lure in some high-ceiling player who falls unexpectedly or is simply seen as a tough sign. Who that might be we will not know until the time comes, and it’s even possible an opportunity does not really present itself. In all likelihood, though, one of the next two picks the Cardinals make will be a high school kid who will need a little extra juice to get his name on a contract, and this pick gives them that flexibility.
Finally, it’s worth noting McGreevy is very young for his draft class, having turned 21 just three days ago. The Cardinals have long put an emphasis on players who are young for their demographic, and McGreevy absolutely fits that rubric. Look for him to overachieve long term.
If I sound excited, it’s because I am. McGreevy may not seem like a player with the highest ceiling possible, but he’s a damned fine pitcher already, has the potential for four 55 or better pitches and plus command down the road, and should save the organisation a little bit of pool space to make some other interesting move over the next couple rounds. I’m having a very hard time thinking of anything not to like about this pick.
Here is my original scouting report on McGreevy from back in May.