Last week we reviewed some of the St. Louis Cardinals biggest draft busts over the course of the last decade. A list of that variety does not exactly instill much confidence when it comes to this year’s draft class selection. But, for every 1 or 2 busts, it seems like there is always a mid to late round steal mixed in which is crucial to developing a complete roster. And luckily for the current and future construction of Cardinals teams they have been able to find a few impact players well after the first round of the draft in recent years.
1. Ryan Helsley - 2015 - Round 5 - Pick 161
2023 statistics - 3.24 ERA, 134 ERA+, 4 BB/9, 11.9 K/9, 7 SV
Helsley’s presence in this struggling Cardinals bullpen is sorely missed. The 2022 All Star who is currently on the I.L. due to a forearm injury, has certainly taken a step back this season, but he was still a well above average closer at the time of his injury. The main reason Helsley is such a big steal for St. Louis is because of his aforementioned 2022 All Star season. Last year he pitched to a 1.25 ERA across 54 games, struck out 94 batters, recorded 19 saves, posted an ERA+ of 313 and was 12th in the CY Young voting. For reference as to how dominant an ERA+ of that nature is, in Clayton Kershaw’s MVP season where he had an ERA of 1.77 his ERA+ was 197. So effectively in 2022 Helsley was 116 percent better than Kershaw’s MVP season which is regarded as one of the most dominant seasons by a starter this century.
2. Brendan Donovan - 2018 - Round 7 - Pick 213
2023 statistics - .284 AVG, .369 OBP, .407 SLG, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 113 OPS+
Donovan, who finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting last season, has been one of the few bright spots in an overall miserable season for the Cardinals. Like last season, Donovan has been incredibly versatile playing six different positions, including everywhere across the infield. That versatility saw him win the inaugural utility man Gold Glove last season and he is well on his way to winning it again this year. Fielding aside, Donovan is also able to make a massive impact at the dish for the Cardinals. His OPS+ this season has dipped 11 percent, and his OBP is down .025, but that is a fine tradeoff as he already has nine homers in 80 games this season compared to five in 126 games last season. Despite the power uptick his strikeout rate has importantly held firm this season. Donovan has all of the makings of a foundational piece for St. Louis which makes one of the biggest steals in the 2018 draft.
3. Tommy Edman - 2016 - Round 6 - Pick 196
2023 statistics - .237 AVG, .303 OBP, .391 SLG, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 88 OPS+
Based on the back of his baseball card, 2023 is on pace to be the worst season in Edman’s five-year career. When digging deeper than that though, there is a lot that points to the fact that Edman has been extremely unlucky this season. His xBA, xSLG, xwOBA and hard-hit rates are all better than his 2022 season where he posted a 4.3 offensive WAR compared to this seasons 0.9. All in all, over his five seasons with the Cardinals Edman has won a Gold Glove and amassed a 15.8 WAR, a number which would certainly be higher if he wasn’t hitting into so much bad luck this season. It is difficult to envision recent Cardinals playoff teams without Edman and if they are to turn it around this or next season, Edman will likely be at the forefront of it.
Honorable mentions - Lars Nootbaar, Luke Voit, Zac Gallen
Had Gallen and/or Voit stuck with the Cardinals rather than being traded they both likely would be on this list. Although, seeing as this is a Cardinals site, I did want to focus on active Red Bird players.