POSITION: Key Forward
DRAFT ANALYSIS: “Baldwin is a physical key forward with terrific contested marking and the ability to impact further afield.” – Michael Alvaro
One of the hard luck stories out of this year’s potential draft crop is Baldwin, a talent with first round potential who has been sidelined for two years due to repeat long-term knee injuries. The high-marking forward burst onto the scene having played an integral role in South Australia’s 2018 Under 16 National Championships triumph. He earned a Reserves berth to kick off the 2019 season, but tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. After a successful recovery and preseason testing stint in 2020, the youngster again partially tore the same ligament as his knee buckled in a tackle during a trial game on the eve of his top-age campaign. Despite his extended stints on the sidelines, Baldwin remains one of the brightest prospects available this year, and should have little trouble finding a home at the next level.
- Contested marking
- Ground coverage
- Post-injury durability
- Untapped versatility
Based on the limited vision and gametime attached to Baldwin, there is still a fair bit to unpack about how he plays. Although he measures up at slightly under the true key position height (193cm), the Glenelg product plays much like a modern day centre half-forward. While some of his most eye-catching plays occur as he crashes packs and clunks big marks closer to goal, Baldwin is also capable of floating further afield and racking up plenty of possessions as a key link into forward 50.
The way in which he attacks the ball in flight and holds onto contested marks with his vice-like grip is truly special, making him one of the top pure markers among his peers – if not, the best. Baldwin has trimmed his frame a touch from preseason – from 93kg to 90kg – but still possesses the right amount of strength and aggression to translate this side of his game to the next level.
But that slightly trimmed figure, Baldwin’s high-level endurance, and his own suggestion that midfield time may be in the offing all point towards plenty more stings to his bow. Fresh off his first ACL recovery, Baldwin recorded a 20.8 Yo-yo test score during preseason, so just imagine the level he could get to with an extended run and some gametime. He gathered 18 disposals and seven marks in his SANFL Under 18s debut, after averaging 21.8 disposals, 9.6 marks, and 2.8 goals throughout a dominant Under 16s campaign in 2018.
That kind of versatility, and the potential to truly dominate games by covering the ground and owning the airways makes Baldwin such an exciting prospect. It remains largely untapped, though, and clubs will need to provide the right support to help the youngster get pack to peak fitness while nurturing that positional transition. Still, the likes of Nick Riewoldt and Charlie Curnow measure up at the same height, so with a similar running capacity, Baldwin may well be able to stick to his roots and carve out an equally successful career up forward.
A knock on that kind of progress further afield could also be his speed and agility after two long-term knee injuries, the pace and pressure of AFL level will likely heighten anything lacking in that department. It obviously would have been handy to see him out there to properly gauge his true ability in those areas, and just how much he has improved. But Baldwin could be a surprise packet out of this draft yet, and turn his hard luck story into a feel-good one.
DRAFT PROJECTION: 20-60
Perhaps the most difficult player to place due to a lack of football over the past two years, Baldwin’s range is quite vast. As mentioned, he could well be a first round talent in this draft, but it would require a steely club to take the punt on securing his services that early. Akin to Port Adelaide snapping up Mitch Georgiades in the first round of last year’s draft with no top-age footy under his belt, a very keen club could select Baldwin late in the first round, but that is increasingly unlikely. Should he slide past his value due to durability concerns and the like, he would be a steal anywhere within the second or third rounds. A likely slider.