Before I go any further, I need to admit something: I don’t know anything about the Major League Baseball first-year player draft. I do not follow non-professional baseball and only have a vague idea of which colleges produce a disproportionately high number of big leaguers. I certainly don’t know any information about the particular players.
The St. Louis Cardinals did not get started in the 2017 draft until later than normal: they lost their first two draft picks to the Houston Astros for the Chris Correa hacking fiasco and to the Chicago Cubs for signing Dexter Fowler. And while the Cardinals are (correctly) praised for their success in finding viable MLB players in the later rounds of the draft, it is still easier to find strong talent with more picks, particularly with those picks coming earlier in the draft.
The Cardinals did not draft a player as acclaimed as an amateur as, say, Mike Trout, or that player would have been drafted somewhere closer to the 25th overall pick, where the Angels took Trout in 2009 (it is a little-known fact that Randal Grichuk was actually drafted one spot ahead of Mike Trout!). But there are gems to be found throughout the draft. Here are the most successful players by Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement for some of the Cardinals’ pick slots in the draft.
#94: Scott Hurst, CF, Cal-State Fullerton: In 1985, the Atlanta Braves drafted a young first baseman out of Thomas More College with this pick. David Justice accumulated 40.5 WAR, hitting 305 home runs while making three All-Star Games, winning two Silver Sluggers, and even cracking the Hall of Fame ballot.
#124: Kramer Robertson, SS, LSU: 1981 Milwaukee Brewers draft pick Bill Wegman accumulated 18.1 WAR and was a respectable member of the Milwaukee rotation for nearly a decade. In 1991, Wegman finished 3rd in the AL (yes, kids, Milwaukee once played in the American League) in ERA.
#154: Zach Kirtley, 2B, St. Mary’s: The year before Bill Wegman, the Brewers drafted second baseman Randy Ready. He was a bit of a journeyman but he was versatile, starting over 125 career games at second base, third base, and left field. In 1987, with the Padre, Ready posted 5.8 WAR, good for 8th in the NL.
#184: Zach Jackson, C, Winter Haven HS: In 2004, the Houston Astros drafted a second baseman out of Dallas Baptist who was later sent to the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays as part of a package to acquire Aubrey Huff. But the acquisition of Ben Zobrist, who led the 2011 American League in WAR and was last year’s World Series MVP as an extremely useful and versatile infielder, turned out to be a great coup for Joe Maddon, twice.
#214: Chase Pinder, CF, Clemson: In 1991, the Mariners took a flier on Derek Lowe, whom they for some reason later traded to the Boston Red Sox with Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb. Lowe eventually threw a no-hitter, finishing in 3rd in AL Cy Young voting in 2002. While he didn’t maintain that level of quality in his later years, he led the NL in starts four times and while he will not make it, he will eventually be on the Hall of Fame ballot.
#244: Wilberto Rivera, RHP, Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy: First of all, no I don’t feel old that guys are being drafted from the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, I actually feel extremely young shut up already. Second, the only non-bad MLB player drafted in this spot was Nick Masset, in 2000 by the Rangers. He was a competent reliever primarily for the Cincinnati Reds, finishing in the top ten in the NL in games played in 2010 and 2011 pitching in middle relief.
#274: Evan Kruczynski, LHP, East Carolina: Although it took him over a decade to emerge in Major League Baseball, 2000 draft pick Edwin Encarnacion has been worth the wait, making three All-Star Games and earning MVP votes in four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays before making All Of The Money (citation needed) with the Cleveland Indians.
#304: Brett Seeburger, LHP, San Diego State: Future Cardinal Scott Terry was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1980 and peaked in the Majors in 1988, when he had a 2.92 ERA in 129 1⁄3 innings in St. Louis, alternating between the bullpen and the rotation.
#334: Evan Mendoza, RHP, N.C. State: Drafted by the Cubs out of high school, Michael Wuertz pitched in middle relief from 2004 through 2011 for the Cubs and Athletics, appearing in 74 games with a 2.86 ERA in 2009.
#364: Andrew Summerville, LHP, Stanford: The first #364 pick, Astros pitcher Tom Murphy, was an above-average reliever in the pre-closer 1970s, receiving MVP votes in 1974 with the Brewers.
#394: Jacob Patterson, LHP, Texas Tech: After breaking through towards the end of his time with the New York Mets, the team that drafted him, Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy has become one of baseball’s most valuable players, finishing in second in NL MVP balloting to Kris Bryant last season.
#424: Donivan Williams, 3B, Harold Richards HS: Drafted by the Tigers, second baseman Devon Travis has emerged as an above-average player with the Toronto Blue Jays. Only 26, he has already surpassed the career WAR of fellow #424 pick Dante Bichette.
#454: Terry Fuller, LF, Griffin HS: Six years after being drafted by the Reds, pitcher Pat Zachry was named Rookie of the Year. Two years later, with the Mets, Zachry was an All-Star.
#484: Jake Walsh, RHP, Florida Southern: He was a good starter throughout the 1980s, but John Tudor was best known for his 1985 season in St. Louis, in which he went 21-8, had an ERA of 1.93, and in almost any other season, one without the greatest single-season WAR season since Babe Ruth courtesy of Dwight Gooden, would have been a deserving Cy Young winner.
#514: Will Latcham, RHP, Coastal Carolina: Arguably better known now as a Washington Nationals announcer, F.P. Santangelo was best known for a 1996 in which he played six different positions and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.
#544: Shane McCarthy, RHP, Seton Hall: Catcher Damian Miller spent a decade playing for five different teams, and was best known as the original starting catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting for their first World Series champion in 2001.
#574: Irving Lopez, 2B, Florida International: In 1985, the Detroit Tigers drafted a semi-local pitching prospect out of Lansing, whom they later dealt to the Atlanta Braves for 36 year-old veteran Doyle Alexander. That prospect became first-ballot Hall of Famer John Smoltz.
For the sake of your sanity and mine, let’s cut this off at the top 600 picks.
The odds that a given Cardinals draft pick will reach high-end status is relatively low. But it can happen. And the odds are very good that some players, from some organizations, will greatly exceed the general expectations of their relatively lackluster draft positions. And given the relative success of the Cardinals organization in drafting and developing, their odds of coming out ahead in the draft are higher than average.