How Cards found free agents Popkins & Petrick

St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz explains how two top 2013 performers were identified and signed as free agents.

On consecutive days last June, while much of the baseball world was focused on which of the players taken in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft would sign quickly, the St. Louis Cardinals quietly signed a pair on non-drafted free agents.

On June 18, 2012, outfielder David Popkins of San Diego, Cal. became a Cardinal, followed the next day by right-handed pitcher Zach Petrick of Morris, Ill.

Just 13 months later, the two arguably have impressed as much as any of the drafted players not named Michael Wacha.

The reasons these and other free agents went undrafted vary, but one basic truth is that with a 40-round draft instead of 50 rounds, 20 percent fewer players are taken each year.

That does not mean organizations like the Cardinals do not have a number of promising prospects still on their board following the draft. They might like a player, but decide they can wait and not draft him.

Some of the non-drafted players were not as high on lists because they came from small schools (Petrick played for the University of Northwestern Ohio). Others had injury-checkered college campaigns, as did Popkins at the University of California-Davis.

This season, Petrick leads all Cardinals organization starters with a 0.95 ERA. As one would expect, he allows very few baserunners. His WHIP of 0.907 is second among system starters behind Cory Jones. Petrick has struck out 89 and walked just 16 in 77 2/3 innings at Peoria, Palm Beach and now, Springfield.

Playing in the pitching-friendly Florida State League does not seem to bother Popkins, who was named the TOPPS FSL Player of the Month for June. The switch-hitter leads all full-season players in the Cardinals system with a .329 batting average. His .386 on-base percentage is third among full-season players, behind Mike O'Neill and Chad Huffman. Popkins' .896 OPS is second only to Brock Peterson, now in St. Louis, among full-season Cardinals.

With Petrick having already reached Double-A and Popkins starring at the A-Advanced level, these two 23-year-olds (Petrick turns 24 on Monday, July 29) have justified the organization's faith in them.

In the second segment of his exclusive interview, Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz follows his description of how the organization identifies free agent targets to discussing Petrick and Popkins specifically. He mentions another contributing free agent, Jordan Walton, describes signability assessments and explains the benefits of getting these players on the field quickly.


Previous articles in this interview series:
"The Cardinals and non-drafted free agents"

Coming soon: In future installments, Kantrovitz will recap the draft from the perspective of the signing deadline, bonus pool management and target signing quantity.

The scouting director will take us inside the organization's strategy for the crucial rounds after 10, assessing player value versus bonus expectation, and the approach for selecting high schoolers. Kantrovitz will conclude with an explanation of how his scouts establish relationships with players and continue post-draft, how the scouts work with player development as draftees transition into the system and how the scouts are preparing for 2014.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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