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How many players drafted by the Cardinals make the big leagues?

Jeff Luhnow recently said he aimed to get four Big Leaguers and two average or above-average players from each draft. The Cardinals regularly exceed that.

League Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

MLB recently dropped a full season of a longform podcast called Full Account, with the first season focused on the historic 1999 MLB draft. There were a number of storylines to that draft, from Mike Trout to Paul Goldschmidt, but of particular note was the amazing haul of talent procured by the St. Louis Cardinals, led by scouting director Jeff Luhnow.

Much has been written about that draft, including here by our fearless leader Josey Curtis. But one small nugget that Luhnow dropped on the podcast caught my attention: He said that his goal was always to come away from a draft with four future major leaguers, one or two of whom would be average to above-average.

Grading how well teams perform in the draft is notoriously difficult. At what point do you begin and end measuring? How do you value players who were ultimately flipped for other assets? How do you assess quality vs. quantity? Two years ago, I cited a report which is sadly no longer available, which found that from 2008 - 2012, the Cardinals produced 75% more WAR from their draft picks than even the best other teams did (when correcting for the relative value of each pick).

But for those of us with no interest in doing that amount of math, Luhnow’s little rule-of-thumb gives us a starting point to see how the Cardinals have done. And they have done very well.

When it comes to getting four MLB players from each draft, the Cardinals have absolutely destroyed that mark. Here’s how many players they have drafted who have made an MLB appearance, from 2008-2015:

The taper in those later years is due at least in part to the fact that they were so recent. We could likely still see the overall numbers rise as more fringe players ultimately get their cup of coffee. From 2015, for example, the four players represented here are all relatively early risers likely to have solid careers: Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks, Paul DeJong and Ryan Helsley.

And that leads us into the 2nd part of Luhnow’s benchmark, how many average to above-average players do you get? From just the four names above, 2015 already looks like it will be a standout year. (Thank you Chris Correa and/or the databases of the Houston Astros.)

To take a bit more analytic approach, I used the Baseball Cube’s draft analysis tool, and I decided to define an “average” MLB player as one with 5 years or more MLB service. Service time is a reasonable, if clearly imperfect, measure of quality, and this extremely dated study showed the average MLB career lasts around 5 years, and that hasn’t changed much throughout history.

Obviously, players drafted since 2012 have had almost no chance to accrue 5 years of service time (although Marco Gonzalez has). But it’s pretty easy to see see at least two average players from each of the next three year’s drafts as well.

2013: Marco Gonzalez has already crossed the threshold. Luke Voit seems destined to. Oscar Mercado and Mike Mayers could yet rise to that level.

2014: Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty could pretty safely be called above-average already. Daniel Gomber and Daniel Poncedeleon still have the potential to be average MLB players.

2015: DeJong is already all-star calibre, and Hicks is in the upper echelon of relief pitchers. Bader has more or less been an MLB starter over the past season+, and while Helsley’s arrival was a bit slowed by injury, he still brings a lot of promise.

John LaRue is coming on Friday with an even more analytical view of the Cardinals past drafts, but even by this rough measure thrown out by Jeff Luhnow, it’s clear they’ve been extremely successful.

So who will the players from this year’s draft to make an MLB impact?