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Best Cardinal draft picks in history with 2020 picks

Who was the best #21 pick in Cardinals history? And so on?

Todd Worrell 1988 All Star Game Photo by Owen Shaw/Getty Images

The Cardinals appear to have had a good draft last week, as far as we can judge such things this early in the process. Which we both can and can’t. With just five rounds, the Cardinals had seven picks, and the seven picks seemed to emphasize huge potential, which is great, but since the first four picks were all high schoolers, good chance that potential is never realized. Or even materializes into major leaguers. That’s just the way it works. Of course, in baseball, the process is everything, and from what we know, hard to argue that the results aren’t good from a process standpoint.

That’s about all I have to say about the 2020 MLB Draft, as I only become interested in prospects once they start compiling stats, which makes me especially unqualified to give my takes on the players the Cardinals draft. And as a person who likes to follow the top prospects at least weekly and sometimes daily, not having annual updates on what Nolan Gorman is doing is very disappointing.

But I still feel like I’m in that window of time where I should talk about something draft-related, hence my idea for this post. I was curious what the best players the Cardinals drafted at each pick was over the past 45 years of the MLB Draft. This was a bad idea. First off, take any individual pick and guess how many times the Cardinals happened to fall on that pick and then take the success rate of your average draft pick, especially past the 1st round, and you can probably figure out the odds of a good major league player being drafted at, oh, 152. But alas, let’s give it a shot.

#21 - Todd Worrell

Jordan Walker marks the fourth time the Cardinals have held the #21 pick in the draft, and it would not take a whole lot for him to jump into the most successful #21 pick in Cardinals history. Granted, Todd Worrell’s 10.9 bWAR is nothing to sneeze at, but if he can craft himself into the average player the Cards are so good at developing, he’ll blow by it easily. Of course we hope for more than that.

Also at #21 was the disappointing Allen Watson, although he was traded for Royce Clayton, who along with Todd Stottlemyre, led to Fernando Tatis and Darren Oliver, and well you get the idea. His prospect status was leveraged for some value. Lastly Dan Larson was drafted in the 1972 draft, but was traded in August of 1974 with another prospect for a 34-year-old Claude Osteen. Bad process, but Larson was below replacement for his career in parts of seven seasons.

Best overall #21 - Rick Sutcliffe

The 1982 pick of Worrell actually marks the 6th best bWAR of all time among #21 picks - which does not feel like a low enough part of the draft for that to be true, but does give you a good idea of what the success rate of even the 21st pick is. Sutcliffe is #1 with 33.9 bWAR in the 1974 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

#54 - Larry Herndon

The Cardinals have only drafted two people at the #54 spot in their history and luckily one of them had a very solid MLB career. Unfortunately, he was traded before he really did anything for the Cardinals. He got promoted for 12 games in 1974 at 20-years-old, he received one plate appearance - he singled - and he evidently pinch-ran in the other 11 games, because he scored 3 runs and appeared in a grand total of 3 innings in the outfield. He was traded for Ron Bryant the next year. Bryant placed 3rd in Cy Young voting two years prior, but by the time of the trade, his arm was done and pitched in just 10 games for the rest of his career. He was only 27 too.

In the Cards’ defense, Herndon didn’t really figure out how to hit until his last season with the San Francisco Giants, and thus wasn’t all that valuable until then. He then traded to the Tigers where he had a couple All-Star caliber years and then he settled into the fourth outfielder he was prior to his breakout. The Cardinals also drafted Brad Furnish, who was the compensation pick for losing Matt Morris, but his top level was AA.

Best Overall #54 - Scott Sanderson

I’m showing my age here, but I have never heard of this guy. He had a 19-year career! He had a couple great years, but he’s here because he was around forever. The bulk of his 29.9 career bWAR was from the eight seasons where he had 2+ bWAR. His career high bWAR was 4.3 and he only made the All-Star team once.

#70 - Connor Jones

Congratulations to Connor Jones on making it farther than anybody else the Cardinals drafted at #70. Josh Wilson - the pitcher - was drafted in 2005 as compensation for losing Matt Morris. He didn’t make it above A ball. Ron McCollum was drafted as a 17-year-old catcher and... didn’t make it above A ball either. Connor Jones, well he doesn’t seem particularly likely to contribute to the Cardinals either, but like I said, he made it farther than the other two so he wins.

I wish the Cardinals had the #72 pick in 2020, because that would have been a stacked class. The Cardinals have had four picks land at exactly #72, and three of them are named Ray Lankford, Rick Ankiel, and Dan Haren. Sorry to Mike Henry for being grouped with them here. And for the record, Lankford would win out, Haren would be 2nd, and Ankiel is 7th all-time among #72 picks.

Best Overall #70 - Andrelton Simmons

It’s not even close either. Simmons has over double the next highest player drafted here and his career isn’t even over. If Ankiel had been drafted at 70 instead of 72, he’d be in fourth place here.

#93 - Ricky Horton

Baseball-Almanac and Baseball-Reference have a disagreement over when Horton was drafted. BA says 93rd, B-R says 92nd. I don’t know why, but since the alternative was George Bjorkman, which sounds like Lance Berkman trying to badly come up with a fake name on the spot, I’m going with BA. The Cardinals also drafted Mike Mayers here, who has below replacement WAR for his career, so again, I’d prefer the guy who actually pitched well.

Well sort of anyway. Horton was a solid pitcher for the first four years of his career, but then teams continued to give him shots for the next five years, all of which he was below replacement for, which is why he’s at 4.9 bWAR for his career and not 6.9. Yes, he lost a full two wins of bWAR in his last five seasons amazingly.

Best Overall #93 - Paul O’Neill

Again, not a contest here. Somebody named Wayne Garland is 2nd and he has less than 10 bWAR for his career, so clearly O’Neill was the only one of much value drafted here. He had a career 38.8 bWAR, drafted by the Reds, but he’s certainly more well-known as a Yankee.

#122 - N/A

The Cardinals have never had the #122 pick in the MLB draft. They never had the #121 pick in the draft either. Until Steven Gingery, they hadn’t ever had the #123 pick either. However, in the early stages of the draft, the MLB decided to be as confusing as possible and they held a June amateur draft, a January amateur draft, the January secondary draft, the June secondary draft, and the August Legion draft. That is not a joke, they really had that many drafts at one time. The August draft left after just two years, but the January drafts and June secondary drafted stayed until 1986.

Anyway, with the #121 pick of the January draft “regular phase,” the Cardinals drafted Rick Langford, whose career can best be summed up by noting that he led the league in losses one year and led the league in innings pitched in another year. Slightly misleading, as he was a 2.2 bWAR pitcher when he led the league in losses, but he did have a few terrible seasons, which helped contribute to a 10.8 career bWAR. Langford never actually signed with the Cardinals, going in the 36th round in next year’s June draft.

Best Overall #122 - Steve Buechele

All things considered, he’s on the weaker side of the leaders for the numbers today - just 16.5 bWAR for his career. He has the odd distinction of being drafted 9th overall in the 1st round - and not signing. Three years later, he falls to the 5th round, but basically has a MLB career that shows why he was drafted in the 1st round in the first place.

#152 - N/A

Yay for history? The Cardinals have also never had the #152 pick in the history of the draft. With the #151 pick, the Cardinals drafted Tom Heintzelman, who was a bench player for two years and managed 0.7 bWAR while having barely over 100 PAs combined in those two years. That’s pretty much it though.

But this is not all for naught, because we have a Cardinals relevant player as the leader in WAR for the 152nd pick: Willie McGee! With 34.2 career bWAR, he narrowly beats out Mike Boddicker. I don’t think he’ll rise up to either level, but I’d expect Tyler Glasnow to easily rise up to 3rd and separate himself as well.

So the last two picks were a struggle, but I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect nobody to have been drafted at either pick, so that was a surprise. I certainly expected nobody to make the major leagues, so not a huge difference. But I did manage to get three actual MLBers who were drafted at that specific spot, so that seems like an upset? I don’t know.

As for my last point, here are some quick thoughts on Long Gone Summer, the 30 for 30 documentary on the 1998 home run chase that aired last night. I am glad that I am a Cardinal fan, since the documentary was basically a Mark McGwire documentary, and I’m sure Cubs fans were mighty disappointed. A Cardinal fan made it so you know fair enough. Didn’t care for Bob Costas being sanctimonious about the steroids, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect something like that before I watched it. But I liked it for the most part!