Do the Cardinals approach the first round differently than the rest of MLB?

The 2013 Cardinals Debate team meets to discuss their next move. - Rob Carr

Talking head wisdom would have us believe that the Cardinal organization focuses on college talent in the first round of the amateur draft. This post takes a closer look to see if that claim holds up.

The Cardinals organization under the tutelage of John Mozeliak have been among the best franchises in baseball in terms of selecting players in the June draft and developing that talent within the farm system. In advance of RB's 2014 draft post later today, I wanted take a look back at the first round picks (including supplemental selections) since Mozeliak took over as GM in January 2007, and, more specifically, the distribution of said players between high school graduates and those with two or four year college experience:

Total Picks: 16

College: 11

High School: 5

Since Mo's reign began, the Cardinals have primarily focused on college players in the first round, taking them over half the time. Now lets look and see how that compares with the MLB as a whole in terms of selections over that time:

Total Picks: 368

College: 190

High School: 178

When I started this exercise I expected to find a preponderance of high school talent in the first round. These are the best players, after all, and conventional wisdom would suggest that most of the top talent would forgo the college route for millions of dollars right away. I was surprised to see more college players picked when I finished up my totals, even if the difference between the totals was relatively small.
Compared to the rest of baseball, the Cardinal brass would seem to favor college players, even though the difference is not as significant as one might expect. That said, there's a couple of factors that could shed some light on the Cardinals predilection towards college talent:

  • Mozeliak and company are nearly always picking in the back of the first round and in the middle of the supplemental rounds. So they might very well be taking the best player available anyway rather than selecting the best college player. Kolten Wong, Brett Wallace, and Michael Wacha were, arguably, the best players available when the Cardinals selected. Same could be said for Lance Lynn, Steven Piscotty, and Patrick Wisdom in the supplemental round.
  • The Cardinal organization, from a scouting perspective, value player skills over tools as a means of selecting talent in the draft. Rather than rolling the dice on a 4 or 5 tool player with lots of upside but few real refined skills, the Cardinals prefer to select players with refined skills (Wong and Wallace's hit tools, Wacha's excellent change-up and command) and try to develop other tools in the minors. This method lends itself towards players who move quickly through the minor leagues as well as making them easier to project.
I think there's something to the latter theory and will explore it further Thursday morning.

Until then, Adios Los Birdos!

*UPDATE: Holy format problems, Batman. Still getting used to SB's WISYWIG editor, so hopefully this reads better now.

 



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