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choosing up sides

howdy gang; i'll be sitting in today and friday while danup takes his annual leave of the pixels. i got nothing to say about the team this morning that you don’t already know; start hitting soon, boys. please?

the amateur draft starts tonight with rounds 1 through 3, plus a couple of sandwich rounds; i’ll post a comment thread for that, and a concurrent one for the baseball game against florida. i won’t be on hand tonight to update the picks on the front page as they’re made, so if anybody with keys to the blog has a chance to do that, go for it. and thank you.

this will be the 5th luhnow-run draft; that’s a lot of drafts for one guy. according to Baseball America’s executive database, only three scouting directors have run more drafts for the cardinal franchise -- marty maier, fred mcalister (rip), and george silvey. and maier’s were non-consecutive, which leaves silvey and mcalister -- both franchise legends -- as the only two men with longer uninterrupted stints than luhnow at the head of the draft.

there’s still plenty of room for argument about how effectively luhnow has drafted. he’s already had 10 draftees get to the majors -- rasmus, greene, boggs, stavinoha, and garcia from the 2005 draft; perez, walters, luke gregerson, and sugar shane from ’06; todd from ’07 -- but none has been around long enough to establish how good a big-leaguer he will be. the pundits give luhnow good marks -- since he started drafting, the cardinals’ farm system ranking (according to the likes of baseball america, keith law, and kevin goldstein) has jumped from at or near the bottom in 2005 to the top 10 this year. but there are a lot of doubters too, as joe strauss documented in his p-d article on sunday:

.[N]umerous holdovers from Jocketty's regime remain skeptical of a process they believe has amassed plenty of complementary "bat guys" and bullpen arms but few starting pitchers or "impact" players.

Late to the organization's greater emphasis on quantitative analysis, manager Tony La Russa openly has questioned the level of "experimentation" within player development and scouting under Luhnow.

Said La Russa: "What you can look at is: Who did you take? Who did you have the chance to take? What guys get to the big leagues? And of the guys who reach the big leagues, who are impressive? They're fair questions to ask."

Another organization member is blunter still: "There is very little down there, very little. We haven't drafted players you build a team around. We draft guys who may one day help. That's not opinion; that's fact."

anybody want to guess who the anonymous speaker of the last quote is? i'll bet you a number-one draft pick it’s dave duncan . . . . whichever "jocketty holdover" did say it, that comment made me laugh. in the years immediately before luhnow took over, the cardinals didn’t draft players you could build a triple A team around, much less a big-league club. during the dying days of jocketty’s tenure, he’d look down at the memphis roster for a short-term fill-in and his best options would be washed-out 30ish hitters like scott seabol, brian daubach, or timo perez, or mound journeymen like brian falkenborg and kelvin jimenez. the top "prospects" drafted late on jocketty’s watch, such as travis hanson and reid gorecki, didn’t even rise to the level of replacement players.

so it’s a fact -- not an opinion -- that the farm system is stocked with vastly more promise than it was when luhnow took over. he’s been procuring players for four years now, and in that time he’s brought into the organization two likely major-league regulars (colby rasmus and brett wallace), several others who are possible regulars or semi-regulars (daryl jones, pete kozma, tyler greene, bryan anderson), a bunch of others who have bench-player potential (most notably allen craig, john jay, tyler henley, daniel descalso), and a passel of guys with a good chance to stick somewhere as a reliever or mid- to back-rotation starter (mitch boggs, jaime garcia, lance lynn, clay mortensen, chris perez, jess todd, luke gregerson, francisco samuel, fernando salas). that’s not including anybody who’s presently at class A or below (ie, nearly the entire 2008 draft class), nor toolsy caribbean signees like roberto de la cruz and eduardo sanchez and gerardo mannbel.

let’s place that haul alongside the production of previous four-year spans:

  2005-08 2001-04 1997-00 1993-96
STARS ???? dan haren albert pujols
jd drew
matt morris
REGULARS probably 3 to 5 skip schumaker adam kennedy
yadi molina
jack wilson
chris duncan
coco crisp
rick ankiel
placido polanco
alan benes
braden looper
PART-TIMERS possibly 8 to 10 kyle mclellan
joe mather
brad thompson
daric barton
brendan ryan
anthony reyes
jason motte
bud smith
mike crudale
pablo ozuna
eli marrero
jay witasick
cliff polite
britt reames
chris richard
kerry robinson
brent butler

in this chart, the "regulars" category includes starting pitchers who earne a regular rotation spot, plus closers; "part-timers" includes non-closers in the bullpen. i didn’t bother to list replacement-level players (such as stavinoha and shane robinson), who are legion in all the 4-year periods and of absolutely no interest.

what immediately jumps out at me is that the cardinals drafted their asses off in the late 1990s -- and thereby set up the dynasty of the 2000s. between 1997 and 2000 they brought 8 everyday players into the organization, or 2 per year. they drafted an entire up-the-middle core -- yadi behind the plate; kennedy and wilson in the middle infield; crisp in center -- plus a pitcher with ace potential (ankiel) and two mvp-type hitters (pujols and drew). even though they squandered some of the talent (crisp and wilson were both dealt for half-season rentals, and ankiel you know about), the cardinals added an extraordinary amount of value to their portfolio during those years. we don’t think of the 2000s dynasty as being draft-built, but it really was -- their good drafts in the last half of the 1990s yielded albert pujols and matt morris plus (via trade) edgar renteria, jim edmonds, and scott rolen.

could the 2005-08 draft cohort turn out to be as productive as 97-00? not likely, but not impossible. if we’re lucky, rasmus and/or wallace might eventually fit into the "star" category; they might be the two most promising position players the cardinals have drafted since pujols (although wallace’s early showing at memphis -- 4 walks, 21 strikeouts, .088 isolated power in 91 at-bats -- does give me slight pause). daryl jones could turn into coco crisp, and pete kozma could grow up to be jack wilson (a player he was compared to at the time he was drafted); so could tyler greene, for that matter. there might be a closer (perez) and/or a rotation regular or two in the group. . . . in an extremely lucky scenario, there might be 8 everyday players (including a star or two) to come out of luhnow’s first four drafts. more likely the group will produce 3 to 5 regulars plus some bench depth; a good, not great, haul.

will the cardinals be able to build a contending team around these guys? too soon to tell; ask me again when luhnow’s preparing for his 8th or 9th draft . . . . .


Red Baron Note: Hey, gang, Aaron here. I'm going to be covering the draft as it happens over at the RFT, and I'll try to keep the draft thread here updated too whenever a pick is made. I'll probably save the heavy analysis, but I will make sure at least the names and maybe a link or a couple of sentences is put up.

Also, I know Erik is doing a liveblog over at FR via the CoverItLive software, so be sure to check that out as well. Lord, I love draft day.