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What will the Cardinals do in the draft?

I actually think they’ll go best player available


I don’t really know what the Cardinals will do in the upcoming draft. On Sunday, the Cardinals will make their first selection 21st overall. That will be their only pick that day, as the first two rounds are on Sunday and the Cardinals do not have a second round pick due to signing Willson Contreras.

On Monday, they select 90th overall in the 3rd round and we’ll see rounds 3-10. Rounds 11-20 finish on Tuesday. Not that any of us will have any idea who anybody drafted in those rounds are. Well let’s be honest. We probably don’t know anyone drafted on Day 1 or 2 either. The excitement with the MLB Draft, if one has any, is in finding out the potential in the player they drafted. But even then, my excitement pretty much starts when they start compiling stats.

I’m oversimplifying, but you could probably attempt a guess at who the Cardinals would target given organizational needs in the past. When the Cardinals failed to re-sign Jason Heyward or sign David Price in free agency, the next draft saw them draft Delvin Perez and Dylan Carlson, two high upside picks. They couldn’t do much of anything in the 2017 draft, and when the 2018 draft rolled around, they selected Nolan Gorman.

They mostly went the college pitcher route in 2019, but also selected Tre Fletcher. And that was also they year they acquired another star player, Paul Goldschmidt. After his disappointing season made it seem like he wouldn’t be the star player they were looking for, the Cardinals went real high upside in Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn (and Tink Hence). In all likelihood, a lot of this was coincidence and just them selecting the best player available.

That said, it is kind of hard to think that about the last two drafts, which seemed a deliberate attempt to shore up an organizational weakness. When the 2021 minor league season started, nearly every pitcher in the organization was aggressively promoted and not very good. So they drafted a ton of pitchers, and the kind that could quickly provide organizational depth. There’s a trade-off. The trade-off was not a ton of upside. So last year, they went with riskier, potentially higher upside picks with a few weird delivery lefties.

This year? I don’t know. They’ve got position player depth, both in upside and quantity. If you think Ivan Herrera is getting traded, Leonardo Bernal is still here. I count five players on their 40 man right now who should only play 1B or DH if you’re attempting to put the best team on the field, so you can trade multiple of those guys. Between Gorman, Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, and Winn, not to mention if they plan to keep Paul DeJong, there’s a lot of team control for both 2B and SS. Arenado is locked up for several years.

So pitching then? Well, you can never have too much pitching, but it is far from a dire need. At least throughout the minor league system, obviously the MLB pitching will is a need, just up and down the system, there’s not a lack of pitching depth at this point: Michael McGreevy and Gordan Graceffo in AAA, Tink Hence in AA, Cooper Hjerpe, Max Rajcic and Ian Bedell in High A, Brycen Mautz and Pete Hansen in Low A.

My point is that to my eyes, the Cardinals seem to have essentially a blank slate on who they plan to draft. It could be anybody. In fact, if there’s a hole in the system, it’s probably that there’s really just about nobody aside from Victor Scott between the Low A youngsters Won-Bin Cho, Bernal, and Jonathan Mejia and AAA. And when I say nobody, I mean nobody. So theoretically, they could target position players who are expected to advance a little quicker than the three guys I just mentioned, namely a college bat. But they also don’t really need a fast riser either - there is just a ton of team control locked into the MLB club.

Which made me think of something potentially interesting, potentially scary, and potentially exciting - there may be a codependent relationship between the draft and future trades, either at the deadline or in the offseason. The Cardinals obviously do not know who will fall to them, but they have some basic idea of who they hope will be on the board when they draft.

It could work in two different ways: either the Cardinals have the best player available just so happen to be one of the top bats in the draft, which makes them feel a bit better when they trade position player depth. Or, knowing they will gut the position player depth to improve pitching, they are banking on drafting a position player in the 1st round.

To be clear, whoever they draft will be a significantly worse bet than who they would trade, but for example, the year after Nolan Gorman was drafted, he was the #2 prospect in the Cardinals system (in a weaker year), and Jordan Walker was #2 by midseason the year after he was drafted. It’s a potentially instant boost to the system if you draft the right guy and there’s no question that would make trading away a Nolan Gorman or Brendan Donovan or whoever easier.

In the best case scenario, they transfer the value of the guy they traded to the pitching staff, their lost value to the team is not felt too badly, because, say because Masyn Winn steps up, and they get another Winn or Walker or Gorman from the draft. You see how the draft and future trades could be connected right? Whereas if nobody’s traded, it makes just about zero sense to draft a position player.

This is all hypothetical. As I said above, I think the Cardinals’ farm system is in a good place to where they can just draft whatever player is in their top 10 who falls to them. That could be a pitcher, it could be a hitter, it could be a college player or a high school player. It doesn’t matter. You could always use more pitching and a bat helps make up for the position player depth you’re planning to utilize to improve your starting pitching.

Now these are mostly ramblings thoughts from a guy who has paid zero attention to any of the individual players who will be drafted tomorrow. I know not a single thing about anybody who will be taken off the board tomorrow. Consider this a draft preview without specifics.

Am I going to be reading way too much into who they draft on Sunday? If it’s a position player, absolutely. If it’s a pitcher, there’s nothing to read into. Not like they won’t trade players. They pretty much have to. Maybe it just means the Cards aren’t worried about losing position player depth. Depending on who they trade, they have at least three years under contract or under team control at every single position. Except maybe Goldschmidt, but I assume he’s either re-signing or the Cards have a guy they feel comfortable replacing him internally.

People who have actually paid attention to the mock drafts and the players themselves, please share who you think who the Cardinals will draft. And if you’re like me, predict the type that they will draft (college or high school, position player or pitcher).

And I’ll beat you to the joke: they are obviously selecting a left-handed pitcher in the 1st round.