Could 2020 be the best Cardinals' draft so far?

This question was posed in the comments section in a couple of weeks ago. (Apologies to whomever posed the question for not remembering who or when it was.) I was intrigued as well so I went to Baseball Reference’s draft section to find the best Cardinal drafts to date to see how difficult it would be for the 2020 to surpass all the prior drafts. Note: I used Baseball-Reference for all the WAR figures since their draft section made it very easy to review all the drafts. The figures quoted in the article are the careers numbers for each player since that’s what is listed. Limiting the figures to either the years of team control or the years played with St. Louis was an extra step of work that I didn’t have time to do. I also didn’t want to judge the impact of trades on the team’s results, just the draft. Obviously the more recent drafts are not accurately represented since the players drafted are still playing so it is only a current snapshot. Second Note: Through 1986 there were three supplemental drafts (January, January Secondary, and June Secondary) and players from all four drafts are included here. (The January draft was for players who graduated from high school or college in the winter, while the secondary drafts were for players who had been previously drafted, but not signed.)

Best drafts by WAR

The first way to assess a draft is the total value gained from the draft, in this case as measured by WAR. I am only counting players who signed with St. Louis, though they may have earned some or all of their career WAR with other teams.

#6 – 1982 (51.8 WAR)

The players from this draft played a major part in two NL championships (1985 and 1987). The only three players to make the majors - Terry Pendleton (7th round – 28.4 WAR), Vince Coleman (10th round – 12.5 WAR), and Todd Worrell (1st round – 10.9 WAR) - were all key players on those two teams. The three players became free agents in 1990 (Pendleton and Coleman) and 1992 (Worrell), but only Pendleton gained significant WAR after leavings St. Louis and even Pendleton had more than half his WAR with the Cardinals.

#5 – 1984 (55.2 WAR)

This draft delivered two good to very good players, but neither contributed much to the Cardinals. Lance Johnson (6th round – 30.2 WAR) was traded to the White Sox after his first season (63 PA) along with Ricky Horton for Jose Deleon who gave St. Louis 8.6 WAR over 5 years. Meanwhile Jeff Fassero (22nd round – 23.7 WAR) only pitched for St. Louis on the downside of his career (age 39-40) with negative WAR. He was drafted by the White Sox (again) in the minor league draft, but didn’t pitch for them either and was released twice before eventually catching on with the Expos (6 years, 16.1 WAR). This draft also had two minor contributors, Greg Mathews (10th round) and Mike Dunne (1st round), and three participants, i.e., negative WAR, Scott Arnold, Craig Wilson, and Mike Kinzer.

#4 – 1970 (56.1 WAR)

The 1970 draft was the story of two late picks who greatly exceeded expectations. John Denny (29th round – 32.2 WAR) and Bake McBride (37th round – 22.6 WAR) who outplayed all the draft picks from the 1st and 2nd rounds, excluding future-Cardinal Darrel Porter. Coincidentally both earned almost the same WAR with St. Louis (10.4 and 10.5 respectively), both later played for Philadelphia for 5 years and had even more WAR there (13.7 and 12.1), and both won major awards (McBride ROY in 1974 with StL and Denny CYA in 1983 with PHI). Two other players had small positive WAR contributions (Marc Hill and Greg Terlecky) and two had small negative WARs (Rudy Arroyo and Don Durham).

#3 – 2006 (60.6 WAR)

The most recent draft in the top 5 St. Louis drafts. It may add a small amount of additional WAR since two players (Tommy Pham and Adam Ottavino) are still active, but the gain is unlikely to be much. This seems like the pinnacle of the Cardinals drafts from 2006 to 2016, i.e., a lot of players reaching the majors, several good players, but no superstars. The 2006 draft had 11 players reach the majors (tied for the most with 1991 and 2007). Two-thirds of the total WAR was generated by three players, Tommy Pham (16th round – 16.4 WAR), Adam Ottavino (1st round – 13.7 WAR), and John Jay (2nd round – 12.7 WAR). The other positive contributors were: Luke Gregerson, Allen Craig, Chris Perez, David Carpenter, Shane Robinson, and Jon Edwards, while Mark Hamilton and PJ Walters made the majors, but had negative WAR. Many of these players didn’t play for St. Louis long, or at all, but Allen Craig and John Jay were key members of the 2011 World Series champions.

#2 – 1971 (105.4 WAR)

This draft also featured a late-round pick who played first base, in this case Keith Hernandez. He was selected in the 42nd round and garnered 60.3 WAR. Of these, 34.4 came in 10 years with the Cardinals before he was traded to the Mets in 1983 for two players who both accumulated negative WAR with St. Louis. The two other players from this draft who had significant career WAR were Jerry Mumphrey (4th round – 22.3 WAR) and Larry Herndon (3rd round – 15.2 WAR). Jerry Mumphrey played four full years in St. Louis (5.6 WAR), but blossomed later after being traded to Cleveland for Bobby Bonds (another old, one-year, negative WAR player with St. Louis). Larry Herndon played in 12 games for the Cardinals in 1974 (20 years old) before being traded to the Giants in 1975 for Ron Bryant who pitched in just 10 games (negative 0.9 WAR) before being released. Jim Dwyer, Mike Vail, and Sam Hinds made the majors and had slightly positive WAR numbers, while Mike Potter had a negative WAR for his short career.

#1 – 1999 (135.6 WAR)

In hindsight the headline player in this draft for St. Louis was Albert Pujols (13th round), who accumulated 101.6 WAR in his career of which, fortunately, 88.8 came with the Cardinals. There were seven other players from this draft who played in MLB, but only one, Coco Crisp (7th round), earned more than 3 WAR. He was worth 28.9 WAR over 15 years, but none of these were with St. Louis. The Cardinals traded him to Cleveland in 2002 for Chuck Finley who pitched in 16 games for them (including two in the playoffs) in his final year. The other MLB players (in descending WAR rank) were Chris Duncan, Mike Crudale, Bo Hart, Ben Johnson, Josh Pearce, and Jimmy Journell (the last two had negative WAR).

Honorable Mentions:

Two of the next three best drafts, 1988 (48.5 WAR), and 1987 (41.4 WAR), should have set the stage for strong performance in the 90s due drafting two strong outfielders, Brian Jordan (1988 supplemental 1st round – 32.9 WAR) and Ray Lankford (1987 3rd round – 38.2 WAR). However, the rest of those drafts were weak and the next 6 drafts only contributed 30.4 WAR and one significant player (Dmitri Young, 1991 1st round – 12.2 WAR) which, in part, led to the poor performance in the 90s with just one playoff appearance.


There are two recent drafts that are moving up the rankings and could possibly crack the top 5.

#18 – 2015 (29.2 WAR)

The players from this draft will have to double their career to date WAR to make it into the top 5. There are six players who are still active (four with the Cardinals) so this is a possibility, though it may be tough. The six players are in descending WAR order are: Paul DeJong (4th round – 13.3 WAR), Harrison Bader (3rd round – 11.7 WAR), Ryan Helsley (4th round – 2.7 WAR), Jordan Hicks (3rd round - 0.8 WAR), Jake Woodford (1st round – 0.8 WAR), and Nick Plummer (1st round – negative 0.1 WAR).

#12 – 2016 (37.4 WAR)

This is the draft with a good chance to get as high as the third best draft (61 to 105 WAR). Three of the seven players that have made the majors seem likely to add significantly to their career WAR. The top performers so far are: Tommy Edman (5th round – 15.3 WAR), Zac Gallen (3rd round – 12.6 WAR), and Dylan Carlson (1st round 5.3 WAR). The other player with a chance to add to the total is Dakota Hudson (1st round – 3.5 WAR). Three other players are still active, but unlikely to add much WAR (Daniel Castano, Andrew Kinzer, Connor Jones in the minors) and Andrew Young didn’t play last year.

Too early to tell, but coming along

#41 – 2018 (7.7 WAR)

Three players from this draft have already reached the majors and made positive contributions, but it seems unlikely that any of the other players drafted will be significant contributors. The three graduates are: Brendan Donovan (7th round – 4.1 WAR), Lars Nootbar (8th round – 2.9 WAR) and Nolan Gorman (1st round – 0.7 WAR, but with age on his side). As a comparison, the 2016 draft class had 13.6 WAR in the first four years after their draft (through 2020) so this class has some catching up to do..

What could have been.

Recently the Cardinals have done a great job signing the players they have drafted, but that wasn’t always the case. There are seven drafts where the unsigned players went on to careers that generated more than 30 WAR from the draft year. In four of these years the total WAR drafted, signed and unsigned, would have exceeded 100 WAR and one would have been the best Cardinals draft. They, plus one bonus draft, are:

Biggest miss – 2003 (88.2 WAR unsigned, 117.2 WAR total)

In addition to signing Brendan Ryan, Daric Barton, and Jason Motte, the Cardinals drafted Max Scherzer (43rd round – 71.7 WAR and counting) and Ian Kennedy (14th round – 17.3 WAR and maybe still playing). Signing these two players would have made the 2003 draft the 3rd best for St. Louis.

Missed the chance to be 1st – 1971 (38.8 WAR unsigned, 144.2 WAR)

The 1971 draft was already the second-best draft with Keith Hernandez, but signing Roy Smalley (June secondary 2nd round – 27.9 WAR), Rick Langford (Jan. 11th round – 10.8 WAR) and Jim Dwyer (June 11th round – 6 WAR) would have bumped this draft ahead of the 1999 draft for best overall.

Second biggest miss – 1974 (75.5 WAR unsigned, 115.3 WAR total)

Garry Templeton was the top player signed (1st round – 27.8 WAR), but his contribution is dwarfed by the unsigned Paul Molitor (28th round – 75.6 WAR).

Doubling WAR – 1984 (52.4 WAR unsigned, 107.6 WAR total)

Adding the two top unsigned players from this draft class, both of whom were in the January draft, Greg Vaughn (5th round – 30.9 WAR) and Jeff Blauser (1st round – 20.9 WAR), would have doubled the WAR from the draft. This would have helped the mid to late 1990s teams since they were in their prime then.

Complete miss – 1978 (75.3 WAR unsigned, 75.6 WAR total)

The two players drafted who delivered almost all of the draft’s value went unsigned by the Cardinals. Gary Gaetti (January 4th round – 42.1 WAR) and Mike Moore (June 3rd round – 27.9 WAR) would have made the 1985 and 1987 teams stronger and perhaps garnered St. Louis one or two more World Series championships.

Best drafts by the number of good players signed

The other way to judge a draft is to count the number of potential top performers a draft provides. This eliminates the contribution of the players who provide some value in filling out a roster, but not in delivering value beyond an average player. I would have liked to use WAA for this, but the draft database at Baseball-Reference doesn’t include this. Thus I categorized players into tiers based upon their career WAR and counted the number of players in each of the higher tiers. (No God tier, just Inner HOF as the top tier.) Here’s my arbitrary tiering along with player counts in the top tiers over the history of MLB.


Career WAR

# of MLB Players

Avg. WAR/Yr.

1 - Below Repl.

Below 0

2 - Above Repl.

0 to 10

3 - Decent

10 to 20

4 - Good

20 to 30

123 (27.6 to 30 WAR)


5 - Very Good

30 to 50



6 - HOF (> 70%)

50 to 100



7 - Inner HOF

above 100



Most Top Players from a draft (per my tiering)

Inner HOF – 1999

One player, Albert Pujols, achieved the top tier from the St. Louis drafts.

HOFs – 1967 and 1971

Ted Simmons (1967) and Keith Hernandez (1971) exceeded 50 WAR for their careers and probably deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

Very Good and better – 1967 – Two players

Only the 1967 draft provided the Cardinals with two players who exceed 30 WAR over their career, the aforementioned Ted Simmons and Jerry Reuss (2nd round – 35.1 WAR).

Good and better – 1967, 1970, 1971, 1984, 1998, and 1999 – Two each

The 1970 draft had John Denny and Bake McBride. The 1971 draft had Jerry Mumphrey in addition to Hernandez. 1984 had, as previously mentioned, Lance Johnson and Jeff Fassero. JD Drew and Jack Wilson were the two good players from 1998, while Coco Crisp joined Albert Pujols from the 1999 draft.

It’s too bad that from the last stretch of good draftees (1998-2001) only two (Pujols and Molina) of the 6 signed players who exceeded 20 WAR played a significant part of their careers for St. Louis. The other four (Drew, Haren, Crisp, and Wilson) were traded quickly and only one (Drew) brought back a key contributor to St. Louis. The 2004-2006 teams could have been even stronger and the years of excelling might have lasted longer.


The 2016 draft is likely to count two or more players that exceed 20 WAR for their career. Tommy Edman already has 15.3 WAR, Zac Gallen has 12.6, and Dylan Carlson has 5.3, which seems far from 20 WAR, but he is still very young.

The 2018 draft also has three players who could reasonably hit 20 WAR over their careers – Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbar, and Nolan Gorman. 2023 will gives us a better idea about the pace of this group.

What could have been

The Cardinals drafted, but didn’t sign two other players who are or will be Hall of Famers. Paul Molitor in 1974 and Max Scherzer in 2003. Still no draft would have had more than one HOFer. While Yadier Molina may eventually make it into the Hall of Fame, per bWAR he falls into the Very Good tier at 42.2 WAR.

Including unsigned draftees the 1984 draft would have contributed 4 players that accumulated more than 20 WAR in their careers. This was the best of the drafts and only the 1971 draft had three such players.

Pictorial History of Cardinal drafts

This graph shows the yearly trend of the number of players the Cardinals drafted and signed that made it to the majors and the total WAR they achieved over their careers. The increase of players reaching the majors from recent drafts is evident, but the total WAR contributed doesn’t seem to have increased much and still displays the randomness from year to year, though the drafts since 2011 seem more promising.

Cardinal draft results 1965-2022

What will it take for 2020?

What is the chance that the 2020 draft will go down as the best in St. Louis history? To do so on the basis of total WAR the seven players drafted would have to exceed the 135.6 bWAR the 1999 accomplished. That’s only 18 WAR per player, which is not a high total, but expecting all seven players to do this is way too optimistic. Most likely the bulk of the WAR from this draft will come from the four players currently ranked in the top 100 MLB prospects (Walker, Winn, Hence, and Burleson). Let’s see what a more reasonable distribution of WAR might look like.

Side note: For the bulk of this section, I will be comparing the prospects to former Cardinal players for two reasons. One, I have data on all the players the Cardinals drafted, but not for other teams so finding comparable players is easier. Two, these are these players are the ones the readers of this blog are most likely to remember making them more vivid comparisons. None of these are meant to be comps in the traditional sense, i.e., players whose careers might be similar to the prospects though sometimes it seems that way.

Let’s start with the three players not ranked in the top 100, Levi Prater, L.J. Jones, and Ian Bedell. The first two are longshots to contribute any significant amount of WAR (or make the majors other than for brief appearances) so I will project 0 WAR for the two of them. Ian Bedell is a tougher challenge to project. He was drafted with a promising background, but his early injuries have limited his track record in the minors. If he can overcome the injuries and return to his previous development path, then he seems likely to make it to the majors in at least some capacity. For purposes of this exercise, I will assume he earns 10 WAR over his career. This is the level achieved by decent starters for a few years or good relievers that the Cardinals have drafted. In the 8-12 career WAR range we find Danny Cox, Todd Worrell, Joe Magrane, Rheal Cormier, Braden Looper, and Jamie Garcia.

Next up is Alec Burleson, currently the 91st rated prospect on and 5th or 6th Cardinals prospect this year. The view on Burleson is mixed, in part because his defensive position on the Cardinals is uncertain. With another team I think he would have a career with more WAR, but I am penciling him in for 20 WAR. This is the career that Colby Rasmus had (20 WAR) and similar to the trajectory Tommy Pham is on (currently 16.4 WAR). As supporting evidence, I give you Burleson’s top three hitting comps per ZIPs: Tony Oliva (43 WAR), Warren Cromartie (16 WAR with 8 years missing while in Japan, age 30-36), and Jimmy Welsh (8 WAR – not so good). The average for these three players is 22+ WAR so 20 might be considered conservative, although the spread is large.

I’ll place Tink Hence next, just due to the uncertainty surrounding pitching prospects (no such thing) especially those in the low minors. The Cardinals’ 3rd ranked prospect, and #77 on, has probably the widest range of possible outcomes of this group. Without getting our hopes too high we can look at some of the better starting pitchers the Cardinals drafted and see what would be a reasonable outcome. The list starts with Dan Haren (35 WAR), Lance Lynn (31 WAR and counting), Bob Forsch (25 WAR) and ends with Matt Morris (20 WAR). This is an average of 28 WAR so that’s where my projection will be and this certainly seems attainable if he develops and his arm holds up.

The Cardinals 2nd best prospect is Masyn Winn (#50 on, an athletic infielder with developing hitting skills. There haven’t been too many comparable players that the Cardinals have drafted who have reached the level of contribution we dream of with Masyn Winn. There are two though that match up well and provide benchmarks for his career achievement. Garry Templeton was a similar player (though seemingly with a different attitude) who accumulated 28 WAR. A more positive upside is Placido Polanco who was not a highly rated prospect (not in Baseball America’s top 100 in 1997 the year before he made the majors), but turned into a good hitting infielder and generated 42 WAR overall. If Masyn Winn accomplishes the mid-point of these two careers, then he’ll end up with 35 WAR.

Last, and certainly not least, is Jordan Walker, #4 on, who is St. Louis’ highest rated prospect since Oscar Taveras was #2 prior to the 2014 season and Colby Rasmus was #3 in 2009. Walker is the prospect who could put this class over the top, but this is far from certain. While he has achieved good results so far and gets raves about his future, his actual results have not been Wow! except for his first season. This is reflected in his ZIPs comps which include the good (Bobby Murcer - 32 WAR), and not so good (Nick Senzel minus 2 WAR and Dilson Herrerra? minus 0.2 WAR). To achieve his potential he’ll need to continue to develop (as do all prospects). Can he reach the upper levels of baseball performance? If he can, it might look like JD Drew (#416 all-time in WAR at 44.9) or even Keith Hernandez (#184 all-time at 60.3 WAR). (By the way, Jim Edmonds, though not drafted by St. Louis, is another possible comp also at 60.3 WAR and #183 just ahead of Hernandez.) An average of Drew and Hernandez/Edmonds comes in at 53 WAR so Walker goes there for this exercise.

Adding this all together we end up with a draft that might bring 148 WAR to St. Louis, which would top the 1999 draft by 12 WAR (9%). This is, of course, just one way that the draft class could top the 1999 class. It would also mean that the Cardinals chose 4 good or better players (20+ WAR) from the draft, doubling the current best of 2 players accomplished 6 times (1967, 1970, 1971, 1984, 1998, and 1999), which is outstanding considering that this would be a hit rate of over 50%.


Career WAR Proj.

Value Tier

Jordan Walker


6 - HOF (> 70%)

Masyn Winn


5 - Very Good

Tink Hence


4 - Good

Alec Burleson


4 - Good

Ian Bedell


3 - Decent

Levi Prater



L.J. Jones



Draft Total


While this is an optimistic view, considering that the top four players need to remain healthy and achieve what are good to great results for any player, it doesn’t require any of the players to become Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith or Bob Gibson. (That would be another way for this draft class to excel.) It does show that the ability to get a handful of impactful players from one draft is very rare and positions the team well. But exactly how rare would this be? To judge that let’s look at how the best drafts from all teams stack up.

Best drafts by other teams

So, if the 2020 draft has a chance to be the best Cardinal draft ever, could it also be the best draft in MLB history? Unfortunately, that’s not likely, though given the huge disadvantage of only drafting 7 plyers in total that was always unlikely. As a comparison, in the best draft of all-time so far, the drafting team selected a total of 101 players! This was pre-1987 when there were four drafts in a year and 20 teams picked in the first three rounds and 24 in later rounds (expansion year). I didn’t check every draft year and team (way too much research), but relied on two articles to come up with a subset to check, thus there could be a top draft class or two I missed. The two articles were:

Without further ado here are the five best drafts in MLB history based upon total signed WAR along with the number of players in the tiers I set out earlier.

#5 – Chicago Cubs 1984 (159.1 WAR – 1 Very Good player and 1 HOF)

This draft brought Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer to the Cubs.

#4 – Pittsburgh Pirates 1985 (162.8 WAR – 1 HOF)

Barry Bonds alone was enough to make this a top-4 draft.

#3 – Boston Red Sox 1976 (166.5 WAR – 2 Very Good players and 1 HOF)

The Hall of Famer was Wade Bogg and the two other top players were John Tudor and Bruce Hurst.

#2 – Boston Red Sox 1983 (187.8 WAR – 1 Very Good player and 1 HOF)

Roger Clemens and Ellis Burks headlined this draft’s selection. It is amazing that with the 2nd and 3rd best drafts of all time within 8 years of each other the Red Sox still couldn’t win the World Series.

#1 – Los Angeles Dodgers 1968 (234.8 WAR – 2 Good players, 3 Very Good players and 1 possible HOF)

This was not only the top draft by WAR it is also the only draft class from the ones I looked at to include more than 3 players that earned 20 or more WAR in their careers. The six players, in order of decreasing career WAR were: Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Doyle Alexander, Joe Ferguson, and Geoff Zahn. That was 3/4ths of their starting infield and their catcher from one draft. The two pitchers only pitched 1 and 2 years with the Dodgers respectively before being traded, though Goeff Zhan was traded for Burt Hooten who was a key player for the Dodgers. This draft was largely responsible for the Dodgers making the World Series in 4 out of 8 years and winning one of them.

Honorable Mentions

The Cardinals 1999 draft class (Pujols and Crisp) comes in at #9 all-time.

The Detroit Tigers draft of 1976 was the 6th best (155.6 WAR), but the only team’s draft so far that included two players selected to the Hall of Fame, Alan Trammel and Jack Morris, though Morris only falls into the Very Good tier in my listing.

The only recent draft that could reasonably move into the top 10 is the Los Angeles Angels 2009 draft which included Mike Trout. It is at 120 WAR and counting. Patrick Corbin, Randall Grichuk, and Garrett Richards are still playing, but their recent contributions have been negative so the final output of this class will come down to Mike Trout.

The runner-up booby prize goes to the San Francisco Giants who had their best draft in 1968 (110.9 WAR from George Foster, Garry Maddox, and Gary Matthews). This could have been their starting outfield for years, but none of them played more than 5 years with the Giants and they never made the World Series during this period. (Thanks in part to the Dodgers all-time #1 draft the same year.)

The 2020 St. Louis draft

If this draft class did achieve 148 WAR it would place them in 8th place, behind the top 5 above and the 1976 Detroit Tigers (155.6 WAR) and the 1989 Cleveland Guardians (150.8 WAR with Jim Thome and Brian Giles). To reach the #2 spot would mean that the top four players averaged just under 50 WAR apiece which likely comes from one or two of them becoming Hall of Famers. We can only dream!

Bonus Section: Is that enough hall of famers?

As I was going through this, I realized that the Cardinals had only drafted and signed two Hall of Famers and two more players that have a chance to make it. Ted Simmons finally made it in 2020 and Albert Pujols will certainly be elected in five years. Keith Hernandez may eventually get in through the veterans committee (or whatever it’s called now), though he is at the margin (60 WAR like Jim Edmonds). The last of the four players is Yadier Molina and we’ll find out in 5-15 years how well he is viewed. My final question is this, what would be the expected number of Hall of Famers for a team to draft over 40 years (1968 to 2012)? I stopped at 2012, because after that it is more challenging to determine if a player is likely to make the Hall of Fame and it gives me 45 years of drafts. On average over the last 30 years 1.7 drafted players have been elected to the Hall of Fame each year. Thus over 45 years we would expect 77 drafted players to eventually make the Hall of Fame. Allocating these 7 players across the teams drafting each year leads to us expect the Cardinals to have drafted 2.9 Hall of Famers (or one every 15 years), which is a very likely result assuming one of either Yadier Molina or Keith Hernandez eventually gets in.