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The Ghosts of Cardinal Drafts Past

paris ferris
paris ferris

Friends, I have a confession to make. I literally cannot think of a single thing to write about this team at the moment. Can't really muster the anger necessary for a rant about Kyle Lohse or either of the middle infielders. Can't think of anything nice to say about last night's game other than to compliment Clayton Kershaw on being really good at throwing a ball. Hell, I can't even muster the energy to write up the Matt Holliday/Chaos Theory Butterfly Effect fanfiction I was bouncing around in my head. No, this team has pretty much beaten me into submission this morning.

So what I'm going to do is write about the draft. No, I'm not getting a head start on my draft previews for 2012. (Not yet, anyway; just wait 'til mid-September and the team loses by eleven.) Rather, with the signing deadline having just recently passed (the Cards failed to sign a couple players I really liked, by the way, which was mildly frustrating), the draft has been on my mind. Specifically, past drafts and draftees, and how I would have done things differently, and that sort of thing. Plus, talking about the draft always cheers me up, and as I'm sure most of our longtime readers will recognise from the ferris wheel atop this post, ol' Aaron needs a bit of cheering up today.

But first, I have a quick bit of something that's been on my mind regarding Tyler Greene. There's been a bunch of talk lately here and over at Future Redbirds as well about the team really needing to look at Tyler in a serious way, to try and decide whether he's worth retaining or not. It's a somewhat pressing matter, since Greene is out of options.

There are two schools of thought on Tyler, one of which is play him and see, because he's never gotten an extended look. The other is that he's done absolutely nothing to grab hold of the job when he has been given a chance and he's just crap. It's that second point I would like to address, and see if I can't shed some light on what I think is a very widely held belief based on some incorrect facts.

I wrote a piece awhile back for the RFT focusing on Greene and his lack of playing time. A man named Fred apparently did not care for it. (Side note: if anyone would like to leave negative feedback on anything I write, that's perfectly fine. But please, at least specify why you think I'm a complete tool. "You're an idiot, and this is why:_____________!" gives plenty of room for debate. Just saying, "You suck!" in the comments doesn't really offer much opportunity for rebuttal. Thank you.) Anyway, in the course of looking for periods of concentrated playing time for Tyler, the three most consistent stretches I could find came in May of this season, July of 2010, and May of 2009.

This May, Tyler saw 59 plate appearances over 24 games. He posted a not-so-great .642 OPS.

In July of last year he received 45 plate appearances over 14 games. He posted an .828 OPS, which is rather nice compared to the rest of the detritus we've been watching play the position.

In May of 2009, he played in 12 games, went to the plate 36 times, and hit to the tune of an .860 OPS.

Those are the three most concentrated periods of playing time I could find for Tyler. You can go look for yourself if you like; I just did a fairly quick rundown of the game logs on B-Ref, and it's possible I missed a run of solid playing time. But two of the three times Tyler received something even resembling regular playing time he put up offensive numbers considerably better than what would be considered acceptable at the position.

Don't get me wrong; we can argue all day about Tyler Greene's positives and negatives. But the whole argument that he's done nothing but fail every time he's been given playing time doesn't really hold water when you really look at his track record.

Anyhow, enough of that.

So as I was saying before that rather sizable digression into TylerWorld, Cardinal drafts of the near past have been on my mind lately. It's helpful from time to time to look back, see where we are, and how we got here. With that in mind, I wanted to go back and look at the past five years (not counting 2011), the top picks from each year, what direction I would have preferred the club to go, and whether or not the Cards got sufficient bang for their buck. Without further ado, let us embark on our journey into the past, all the way back to the summer of 2006, to a time when the sound of T-Pain's painful story of a forbidden love for an exotic dancer could be heard far and wide throughout the land and Pete Wentz hadn't yet worn out his bass-licking welcome.


Who They Picked -- Adam Ottavino 

Ottavino was a curious representative of that curious demographic the Cardinals have plumbed time and again through the years, that of the raw college pitcher. With stuff that never quite translated into high quality results, Ottavino was very much a bet on the development guys being able to refine his stuff. This was also the last draft for the Cardinals drafting at the very tail end of the first round, so the value they could have come up with here was somewhat mitigated by the lateness of the pick. Five years later, Ottavino has proven nearly as frustrating as the previous raw college pitcher the Cards took out of a school from the Northeast, Chris Lambert. (Considered using the ghost, but decided against it.) Between injuries and plain old inconsistency, it doesn't look like the Cards are going to ever see a great return on their investment.

Who I Wanted

Actually, it's a little tough for me to say who I would have preferred here. I followed the draft, yes, but not with the level of detail I do nowadays due to writing scouting reports. Daniel Bard was the guy I really wanted going into this draft who I thought would still be there, but the Red Sox popped him two spots ahead of the Cards. My interest in him at the time was mostly predicated on the belief he would remain a starter in pro ball; we've obviously seen that didn't happen, but he's still a very valuable pitcher at the back of the Sawx bullpen currently.

Looking at the list of players drafted immediately after Ottavino,  Chris Tillman's name pops out, along with Brett Anderson. Anderson hurts more than a little, because the Cards passed on him thrice, taking Brad Furnish just ahead of him. Joba Chamberlain also went in the supplemental, and while he looks now like a legendary lost arm just rewind a couple seasons to when he was being compared to Roger Clemens and just think of what you could have traded him for.

Who Did Better

Like I said, I didn't have a strong enough opinion to really decide on this one.

Other Notable Picks

The Cards actually did pretty well for themselves in 2006. Chris Perez (1S), helped bring over Mark DeRosa. (In hindsight a bad deal, but that doesn't diminish the value Perez brought to the table.) The Cards pulled Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and Luke Gregerson out of their hat. Nick Additon continues to baffle hitters and prospect watchers alike. Mark Hamilton is probably nothing more than organisational filler at this point, but he made it to the big leagues, which is nothing to sneeze at. All in all, 2006 was a very solid draft.


Who They Picked -- Pete Kozma 

Let's face it; Pete Kozma has been discussed enough here and everywhere else throughout Cardinaldom that we all know the story by now. Kozma made it to the big leagues this year for a brief time, but remains a real black mark on  Jeff Luhnow's drafting record.

Who I Wanted

Just as well-trod as the ground around Kozma himself is the player many of us thought should have been picked instead, one Rick Porcello. Porcello, you'll remember, was the bonus baby represented by Scott Boras who wanted a big-league contract right out of high school. He made it to the big leagues before his 21st birthday (without adequate time in the minors to develop his secondary stuff, in my ever so humble, but I suppose that's the danger of giving an 18 year old a major league contract), and has since struggled mightily to find consistent success. His strikeout rate has never risen to anything resembling ace levels, and his inability to miss bats has made him largely ineffective.

Aside from Porcello, the guys I really wanted were Tim Alderson or Michael Main, both HS right-handers. Alderson went to the Giants, showed brilliantly to begin his career (he was ranked ahead of Madison Bumgarner to begin 2009, in fact), was traded to the Pirates as part of the Freddy Sanchez deal, and was never heard from again. He's currently in Double A and has never been the same pitcher since his initial taste of pro ball, with stuff that's basically just disappeared. Main injured his shoulder a couple years back and hasn't been good since. He's in the Giants system now.

The 2007 draft was, quite frankly, terrible. Not just for the Cards. For pretty much everybody, at least in the early rounds. There are some good names in the top ten, but overall it was just an horrific year.

Who Did Better

Really, neither the Cardinals nor I would have gotten much of anything good from our selections, though I still believe Porcello could have been a much better pitcher if the Tigers hadn't pushed him through the minors quite so quickly. So call it a wash, with me vainly claiming a hypothetical edge.

The Lesson

Pitchers get hurt. Pitchers are unpredictable, especially high schoolers. Even so, going cheap isn't going to get you anything good either.

Other Notable Picks

It was kind of an ugly year for the Cards in '07, but not completely a waste. They netted Dan Descalso with a third round pick, and Clayton Mortensen in the supplemental, who helped bring in Matt Holliday. Jess Todd and David Kopp have both failed to make an impact so far, with Kopp struggling to stay healthy and Todd doing his second tour of duty with the club. (Todd was also a part of the DeRosa deal.) Deryk Hooker has been disappointing the last two seasons. Andrew Brown made it to the majors. Adam Reifer should be the next reliever to hyperventilate over if his knee is healthy in 2012. Tony Cruz may be the Cards' backup catcher next year, and Adron Chambers looks close to being ready for the big time.


Who They Picked -- Brett Wallace

 A much better pick than those of the previous two years, Wallace came pretty much as advertised into the system as an all-bat, no-real-position hitter with a major college pedigree. He contributed almost immediately as the centerpiece of the Matt Holliday trade and has since moved through two other organisations, ending up at first base for the Astros. Hasn't hit as much as hoped, but it doesn't matter to the Cards any more. Very good value pick.

Who I Wanted

The guy I was most hoping for in '08 was Jake Odorizzi, a high school righty from Highland, Illinois. (Cardinal country, that. For the most part, anyway.) Interestingly, Odorizzi and Wallace have both been traded in their minor league careers for big-time major league talent, with Odorizzi going as part of the Zack Greinke deal from Milwaukee to KC. He is currently pitching in the Texas League at 21 and taking some lumps in the hitter-friendly parks.

My other wish list guy this year was Aaron Hicks, the hyper-athletic outfielder taken by the Twins just a few picks after Wallace. Hicks started off his minor league career with a bang but has since been a bit underwhelming. He has outstanding plate discipline and the athleticism is still there, but he's been very slow to develop power. There's still time, as he's just 21, but Hicks isn't exactly blowing the doors off.

Who Did Better

It's tough to really rate this one, as the Cardinals and my hypothetical drafting department both came up with excellent minor leaguers who became excellent value in the form of trading chips. If you ask me now, I would still love to have either of my guys in the system right now, but you can't argue with flipping Wallace for a star like Holliday the year after he was drafted.

The Lesson

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Sure, either of the players I wanted could have easily done as well or even better in the Cards' system, but the value Wallace presented as a near-finished product was too good to pass up.

Other Notable Picks

We're getting close enough to the present now that it's a little harder to say how well the Cards did in this draft, but it's an intriguing group of players at least. Lance Lynn we all know about and are hoping he's healed and ready to contribute in 2012 in whatever capacity. Shane Peterson went as part of the Holliday deal along with Wallace. Eric Fornataro and Anthony Ferrara are both interesting pitching prospects still kicking around the lower levels of the system, and Scott Gorgen was coming on strong before an injury. Alex Castellanos netted the club Rafael Furcal. Sam Freeman and Kevin Siegrist give the club a pair of intriguing lefties. Overall a pretty good group heavy on arms with some upside.


Who They Picked -- Shelby Miller

We all know about Shelby. He wasn't supposed to be available when the Cards picked, but he was, and they pounced. Paid him significantly overslot to sign, and he's been worth pretty much every penny so far. He should rank in the top ten of pretty much every prospect publication this offseason; the only question is whether he'll take his recent suspension to heart and curb his off the field behaviour. It's easy to forget he's only 20 years old, so there's plenty of reason to believe he can do the necessary growing up.

Who I Wanted

When Shelby was still on the board, he immediately became my guy. Oddly enough, most of my favourite players from this draft were already off the board, as both Jacob Turner and Chad James went before the Cards picked. I also liked Randal Grichuk, who's shown good power for the Angels, and Slade Heathcott, an athletic outfielder who has been slow to develop in the Yankee system. I also really liked James Paxton out of Kentucky. I wish I could tell you I was on Mike Trout, but I would be lying. Thought he had a chance to be good, but certainly didn't see this coming.

Who Did Better 

Tied, since we would have picked the same guy. However, I will claim victory because I write for this blog and Jeff Luhnow does not. So there.

The Lesson

Talent doesn't lie. Shelby had the arm to go top five or ten, and just happened to still be there at 19. Outstanding value and (hopefully), a big part of the Cards' future.

Other Notable Picks

I still believe in Robert Stock, despite many indications to the contrary. Joe Kelly has unreal stuff but has yet to really harness it fully. Ryan Jackson could very well be the Cards' shortstop of the future and looks quite a bit like Brendan Ryan in terms of skillset. Matt Carpenter once drew a walk on a throw to first. Kyle Conley has hit when he's been healthy, and Matt Adams has just hit period. (He's also driven traffic to FR in a big way.) Trevor Rosenthal might be the team's third best pitching prospect, and Keith Butler is putting up incredible numbers closing games out. Hector Hernandez, the lefty out of Puerto Rico, is interesting. This is a very, very intriguing group, with more upside than any of the other draft classes we've discussed here.


Who They Drafted -- Zack Cox

For the second year in a row, the Cardinals found themselves staring at a player who, much like Dante, wasn't supposed to be there, and for the second year in a row they took him. While Cox still wouldn't have been my choice, as I was a little more doubtful about his ceiling than most, I had absolutely no problem with the Cards snatching him up. He was projected going into the draft as perhaps the best overall hitter in the class and a top ten talent, so to nab him at 25 was quite a coup.

To date, Cox has really been almost exactly what you would expect him to be, but the way he's done it has been a little unorthodox. At each level he's gotten off to an horrendous start, then begun to adjust gradually. First, he takes a few walks. Then, he slowly starts collecting some hits, singles mostly. Then, a stray double here and there creeps in as he begins to drive the ball. Finally, the line drives start to elevate a bit and he turns them into home runs.

Cox began the season at High A Palm Beach and, after the aforementioned slow start, got his OPS all the way up to .817 before the Cards promoted him to Springfield. Another slow start ensued, but as of right now his Double A OPS is .816 and he's hit four homers in his last three games. He does have elevated BABIP numbers, but his line drive rate is a robust 23%, so I don't think he's a candidate to suddenly drop off too very badly. The defense has to be a definite concern, and you would like to see a higher walk rate, but at 22 years old and in his first full pro season he's playing in Double A and beginning to thrive. He isn't a wow kind of guy, but he's a pretty damned fine draft pick.

Who I Wanted

My guy last year was Kevin Gausman, a high school right-hander who was drafted in the sixth round and chose to attend LSU rather than sign. He was clocked at 100 mph several times this spring and should be a very, very high pick in 2013.

Christian Yelich was one of my favourite position picks, but he was already off the board when the Cards made their pick, going to the Marlins a couple spots earlier. Yelich was a high school first basemen slash outfield (read: hitter), and I'm not exactly sure why I liked him so much. Just one of those weird gut feeling things, I suppose. He's done well for himself so far in pro ball, with an .845 OPS this season in Low A and has stolen 28 bases. I had no idea he had that sort of speed.

Austin Wilson was probably the guy I wanted most as a position player, and the Cards actually got him. Sadly, we all know how that worked out, as Wilson went to Stanford and had a very blah season playing with that stupid tree as a mascot when he could have been getting actual, useful coaching in the wilds of Tennessee. That's just the bitterness talking, though.

I also liked Bryce Brentz, a college outfielder who profiled as a pure hitter in the same sort of way as Brett Wallace. Brentz went to the Red Sox in the supplemental round  and has shown excellent power so far in his pro career.

 Who Did Better 

The Cardinals clearly did better here, as my favourite pick is in college right now. Brentz has shown tons of power, but Cox has a chance to stick at a harder defensive position long term and has a more developed approach at the plate. Yelich I would say would have been at least as good a pick but there's really no point in even discussing him. So I would have gone for flash and gotten nothing, while the Cards went for the value and performance and ended up with a top 100 prospect. They win this round.

The Lesson

Don't get cute. When a guy drops in your lap who should have been long gone, if you believe you can sign him you take him. At the very least he should offer plenty of value to someone else down the road.

Other Notable Picks

There's a lot to like about the Cards' draft in 2010, beginning with Tyrell Jenkins, a super high-upside pitching prospect. He's in Johnson City right now and just starting to scratch the surface. Even so, he's already shown enough for national prospect types to take notice. Keith Law and John Sickels I know are both huge fans. Jordan Swagerty was drafted as a reliever, but showed enough starting this season before being put back in the bullpen to limit his workload that you have to consider him a real starting prospect.  Cody Stanley has shown a solid bat and the ability to stick behind the plate. John Gast and Tyler Lyons, a pair of lefties, have both shown well for themselves early in their pro careers. Gast is already at Double A in his first full season and is surviving. He's also shown a pickoff move that looks like a magic trick. Tyler Lyons threw a no-hitter. Boone Whiting looks like he just may win the Cards' Pitcher of the Year award for the minors and might prove to be one hell of a steal. Ryan Copeland has put up excellent numbers and could move through the system quickly as a polish lefty.

So what can we glean from all this? Well, first off we can see I would be a terrible scouting director. In five years I would have drafted  five high school pitchers, or maybe four pitchers and one unsignable high school outfielder. Like most amateur prospect watchers, I go for pure upside without considering the risk nearly enough because, hey, it's not my money. Sure, my drafts would always be exciting, but my team would almost surely end up the Oakland Raiders of MLB.

Second, we can hopefully believe the Cardinals have learned from their disastrous 2007 draft and have taken a much healthier profile of upside in subsequent drafts. They also pulled solid value from first-round picks relative to slot three years in a row and used that value from Brett Wallace to go out and acquire a franchise cornerstone.  Where the team used to go overly heavy on predictable college players, they've struck much more of a balance the last couple years and have managed to acquire some real upside in the process.

You know, for not having much of anything to say this morning I think I managed to drone on for quite a while. So let's just cut this off here before it goes on any longer.

The Baron's Playlist for the 24th of August, 2011 (click for 8tracks link)

"Make It Up" - Ganglians

"Candy Girl" - Ganglians

"Don't Get Cute" - Kurt Vile

"Runner Ups" - Kurt Vile

"Arms Like Boulders" - The War on Drugs

"Baby Missile" - The War on Drugs (Sweet jesus I love this song. It sounds like the Arcade Fire covering Electrelane's cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire".)  

"Il Triello" (Full Version) - Ennio Morricone

"Il Mercenario (L'Arena)" - Ennio Morricone