The 2023 MLB draft begins tonight and I’m more excited the draft this year than I have been in years past for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’ve watched a lot more college baseball this year than I have in the past, which I don’t know if you can relate to. But the second is because the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t playing great so it’s a lot more fun right now to look at prospects. That, I’m sure, you can relate to at least a little bit.
So with the draft approaching and mock drafts dropping like crazy, I thought it would be fun and helpful to look at prior draft trends under Randy Flores, who ran his first draft in 2016, to see if we can glean any information to help us know what to expect over the next three days.
I’m going to start by saying that this is somewhat of a fool’s errand because the draft is basically impossible to predict so that’s why I don’t want to predict what will happen, but rather look at past trends to see what could happen. In a few days we’ll see if the Cardinals stuck to previous patterns or not.
And that’s another thing. Patterns. Patterns are great but a sample size of 7 years isn’t that big all things considered and most teams take the draft as it comes. That means they take the best player available and if the best player available happens to fall into the same category for a few years in a row, then it can be easy to identify a “pattern” that isn’t really a pattern. So keep that in mind as we go through this exercise.
Let’s start with the first round, and by the first round, I mean the first pick.
Here’s who the Cardinals have taken with their first pick every year under Flores:
2016 - Delvin Perez
2017 - Scott Hurst (3rd round)
2018 - Nolan Gorman
2019 - Zack Thompson
2020 - Jordan Walker
2021 - Michael McGreevy
2022 - Cooper Hjerpe
We can identify some patterns here pretty quickly. You should notice that every player on this list is either a high school bat or a college arm. (Note: I’m disregarding Scott Hurst because he was a 3rd round pick and taken first in a year when the Cardinals had practically no bonus money so they couldn’t afford high school guys anyways.)
That’s notable. Now, again, keep in mind that teams often take the draft as it comes and select the best player available but I just wanted to point this out. This doesn’t mean that the Cardinals won’t take a college bat or a prep arm in the first round this year, it just means that they have yet to do it under Randy Flores.
But this could be the year that changes. Most mock drafts I’ve seen have connected the Cardinals to a group of college bats like Matt Shaw (Maryland), Chase Davis (Florida), and Nolan Schanuel (Florida Atlantic) that fit in nicely in the mid-to-back end of the first round. And as the Cardinals are likely to take the best player available on their board, that could mean they buck the trend this year and take a college bat (or a high school arm) instead of reaching for the next best prep bat or college arm on their board.
Before I move on, I’ll also add that the Cardinals had a bajillion first round picks in 2016 that we should look at because they lost John Lackey and Jason Heyward in free agency. Okay, so that’s only 3 first rounders but that’s still a lot. After Delvin Perez, those picks were used to take Dylan Carlson, another high school bat, and Dakota Hudson, another college arm.
I’ll refrain from saying the Cardinals have a bias or a preference or a type in the first round but there is a clear trend since 2016. We’ll find out soon enough if that trend lives on for another year.
Overslot vs Underslot
Here’s a list of the Cardinals second round picks under Randy Flores:
2022 - Brycen Mautz
2021 - Joshua Baez
2020 - Masyn Winn
2019 - Tre Fletcher
2018 - Griffin Roberts (CBA), Luken Baker (2C)
2017 - Kramer Robertson
2016 - Conner Jones
This is where we get into a bit of draft strategy. The amount of bonus pool money a team has is a big consideration. High schoolers tend to require more bonus pool money to sign because they need extra convincing to sign instead of going to college whereas some college players (notably seniors but also some juniors) are willing to sign for less money.
This isn’t exactly true in every case, though, as you may remember that Jordan Walker signed an underslot deal and Nolan Gorman signed for the full slot value and no more.
If a team goes over slot in round one they will sometimes try to find some savings with their next pick(s) to help make up the difference. The opposite is also true. Sometimes teams will go under slot in round one and then try to pick up a toolsy prep player with their next pick. Or teams can also play it pretty straightforward and draft and sign all or most of their players right around the assigned slot value.
What’s notable is that the Cardinals have never gone overslot in the first round under Flores. Perez, Gorman, and Hjerpe signed for full slot value while Thompson and Walker signed slightly underslot and McGreevy was under slot by about $750,000.
What this means is that the Cardinals haven’t shied away from going over slot with their second round picks. When the Cardinals saved money on McGreevy in 2021, they spent it on Joshua Baez, who signed for almost $1 million over the slot value.
Going underslot on Jordan Walker in 2020 cleared the way to give Masyn Winn almost $800,000 more than the assigned slot value. And then when the Cardinals took Zack Thompson in 2019, they followed up with Tre Fletcher who signed for about $300,000 over the slot value.
So that’s 3 straight years of going underslot in the first round and then overslot in the second, although 2022 snapped the streak. Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals revert back to that strategy this year, although, again, the way the draft falls will determine a lot of the Cardinals strategy.
Strike Gold in the Middle Rounds
We’ve looked at the first round and the second round already but now it’s time to look a little deeper than that. The Cardinals under Randy Flores’s draft direction have had some success in the early rounds with Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman and Masyn Winn and even Zack Thompson to an extent with some other prospects still looking promising but where the Cardinals win in the draft is in the middle rounds.
The team typically strikes gold somewhere between round 4-14ish. For instance, Tommy Edman was a 6th round pick in 2016 while Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar came out of the 7th and 8th rounds, respectively, in the 2018 draft. Even Andrew Knizner (who admittedly hasn’t lit the world on fire but has spent much more time in the majors than you would expect from a typical 7th rounder) was drafted in the 7th round in 2016.
It’s harder to find clear cut gems in the more recent drafts since many of the players have yet to reach or establish themselves at the major league level but there are some promising candidates.
Andre Pallante was a 4th rounder in 2019. Ian Bedell came out of the same round a year later and has been dominant in the minors this year after finally getting healthy.And then there’s Gordon Graceffo and Victor Scott II who were both 5th rounders. I’ll tack Andre Granillo’s name onto this list as a 14th rounder who looks like he has a real shot at becoming a quality MLB reliever.
That’s a lot of talent pulled from the middle rounds and it’s become something of a hallmark of Randy Flores’s tenure as scouting director.
So, what have we discovered? The Cardinals tend to take college pitchers or high school bats in the first round, they aren’t afraid to go underslot in the first round to target a toolsy high schooler in the second round, and they often pull gems and find value in the middle rounds of the draft.
What haven’t they done under Flores? Take a high school pitcher or a college hitter or sign an over.slot deal in the first round.
Keep this in mind as the picks start rolling in over the next 3 days.
I will again emphasize that the Cardinals, like pretty much any team, take what the draft gives them. They may draft an overslot college hitter in the first round this year and buck all the trends if they determine that’s the best way to draft given what’s available. But in the past that’s not what they have done.
It’s impossible to predict the draft but it is possible to identify trends and Randy Flores has a few of them through his first 7 drafts. Let’s see if they continue this year.
Thanks for reading, VEB.