With the 2015 First-Year Player Draft still close behind in the rear view mirror as news comes in about players signing their first professional contracts, this is a good time to look back over what the St. Louis Cardinals did in the past and what they might have done differently.
The 2009 draft class is often regarded as the best group of players the Cardinals have taken in recent years. The class is highlighted by multiple late-round success stories. Arguably the Cardinals’ best player, Matt Carpenter, was taken in the 13th round. The team’s fireballing closer, Trevor Rosenthal, was selected in the 21st round. The everyday first baseman entering this year, Matt Adams, was drafted as a catcher in the 23rd round.
The Cardinals received strong contributions in the rotation from Shelby Miller (1st round) and Joe Kelly (3rd round) before the pair was traded within six months of each other. A couple of others, Ryan Jackson (5th round) and Keith Butler (24th round) have had cups of coffee in the majors.
But, could this draft actually been even better? Yes. In fact, emphatically yes. The Cardinals missed on several picks in the first 10 rounds that could have turned out much better had they taken a slightly different direction.
Naturally, this could be said about any team. Organizations are going to take the best player they feel comfortable drafting at each position based on the information they’ve collected. How many teams today are kicking themselves for not taking Carpenter in the first 398 selections before the Cardinals picked him?
With that disclaimer, let’s look at who the Cardinals took and who the Cardinals could have taken with each of their picks.
Round 1, Pick 19 St. Louis Cardinals select: Shelby Miller, RHP from Brownwood High School (TX)
Miller fell to the Cardinals, who expected he would be taken by the Texas Rangers at 14. When he dropped to the 19th pick, the Cardinals happily snapped up the hard-throwing right-hander. Miller went on to throw 78 games in the minor leagues over four seasons and striking out a ton of batters. Over 383 2/3 minor league innings, Miller struck out 472 batters (11.07 K/9) while walking 138 (3.24 BB/9).
Miller then ascended to the big league bullpen for the stretch drive in 2012, put up a strong rookie season in 2013, but then he struggled with command in 2014. He was traded to Atlanta for right fielder Jason Heyward and is on his way to his best year with a 1.99 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 14 starts. He has collectively put up 5.0 fWAR in his career and signed for $2.875 million.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Mike Trout, OF from Millville High School (NJ)
Believe it or not, the story goes that the Cardinals had Trout at the top of their draft list, but Miller falling to 19 forced the Cardinals’ hand. Trout was described as a toolsy outfielder with plus speed and the ability to stick in center. Many teams liked the potential in his bat and believed there would be power down the line. Trout immediately made a statement with his bat, and in 1312 minor league plate appearances, he hit .342/.425/.516.
In the majors, Trout has hit .305/.394/.553 with a Rookie of the Year, an MVP award, three Silver Sluggers, three All-Star selections, and two runner-up finishes for the American League MVP. He’s amassed 33.5 fWAR, and he signed for $1.215 million. In the real world, Trout was taken by the Angels at Pick 25.
Round 2, Pick 67 St. Louis Cardinals select: Robert Stock, C from USC
In the second round, the Cardinals took an exceptionally talented and young Stock. While the 19-year-old was drafted as a catcher, he had lots of potential on the mound. His desire was to catch, and the Cardinals granted that wish. Unfortunately, he only hit .241/.320/.347 over three years, so the Cardinals moved him to the mound. Stock topped out in Palm Beach due to his severe control problems. He originally signed for $525,000 and was released in 2014.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Steven Matz, LHP from Ward Melville High School (NY)
Matz did sign for more than Stock with an $895,000 bonus, but with the money saved from Trout, the Cardinals could have afforded Matz. Matz struggled with command in his professional debut, but in all, he has put up 372 strikeouts and 121 walks in 360 2/3 minor league innings. Prospect guru John Sickels rated him as a B+ prospect before the 2015 season, and Matz is poised to make his MLB debut. He has a 2.11 ERA and 1.11 WHIP at Triple-A for the Mets this year.
Round 3, Pick 98 St. Louis Cardinals select: Joe Kelly, RHP from University of California-Riverside
Kelly was touted as a pitcher with big-time velocity but far too hittable for how good his stuff is. The Cardinals converted him from the bullpen to the rotation to help him work on his delivery and secondary offerings. He ended up sticking in the rotation with strong groundball rates and good strikeout numbers. In his career, he has put up 2.5 fWAR between the rotation and the bullpen. Kelly was traded by the Cardinals for John Lackey during the 2014 season. He signed for $341,000.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Kelly
Leading up to the next round, there really isn’t anyone who jumps out as a better option for the Redbirds. Mark this one down as a win for the front office.
Round 4, Pick 129 St. Louis Cardinals select: Scott Bittle, RHP from University of Mississippi
Bittle, like Kelly, was touted as a player with big talent. However, Bittle struggled with shoulder issues during his time in college. Those injuries continued into his professional career as he threw just 5 1/3 professional innings before his shoulder couldn’t throw anymore. Bittle agreed to a $75,000 bonus.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Darrell Ceciliani, OF from Columbia Basin Community College
Ceciliani isn’t a world-beater. But, he has all the makings of a solid contributor at the big league level. Over 2081 career minor league plate appearances, basically 3.5 years, Ceciliani put up a .286/.350/.413 line with 27 homers and 115 steals. Ceciliani signed with the Mets for $204,300.
Round 5, Pick 159 St. Louis Cardinals select: Ryan Jackson, SS from University of Miami
Jackson was taken from Miami with the reputation of a strong defender with a weak bat. That reputation followed him through the minors as he hit .269/.341/.363. Jackson has bounced around the game, spending time with the Triple-A teams of the Padres, Royals, and Angels. Jackson signed for $157,500.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Michael Taylor, SS from Westminster Academy (FL)
Taylor was moved from the infield to the outfield and has displayed marvelous defense in center field. Sickels rated him as the Nationals’ second-best prospect as a B+ prospect. He’s put up 0.5 fWAR in 71 major league games thanks mostly to his fantastic defense, but he also possesses plus speed and plus raw power. Taylor signed for $125,000.
Round 6, Pick 189 St. Louis Cardinals select: Virgil Hill, OF from Los Angeles Mission College
Hill was taken as a toolsy outfielder out of junior college. Hill’s production never caught up to his talent, though. He topped out at the Low-A Midwest League through four professional years, amassing a .230/.303/.377 line.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Enrique Hernandez, SS from American Military Academy
Hernandez was originally taken by the Astros, but he was traded to the Marlins in 2014 in the deal that sent Jarred Cosart to Miami. Hernandez was then sent to the Dodgers in the Dan Haren trade. In just 215 major league plate appearances, Hernandez has hit .251/.313/.415 with strong defense leading to 1.7 fWAR.
Prospect geeks like myself loved the Conley pick at the time. He had just put up a 1.052 OPS for UW, his second straight year with an OPS over 1.000. He launched 19 homers in back-to-back years for the Huskies. Despite the talent, injuries took away Conley’s career. Even though he hit .254/.329/.490 in the minors, he could never stay healthy and failed to top 97 games in a year before retiring in 2012. Conley got a $100,000 bonus.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Dallas Keuchel, LHP from University of Arkansas-Fayetteville
The SEC product slipped under the radar until taken by the Astros. Keuchel struck out just 5.75 per 9 innings in his junior season, but his command was strong with a 2.67 BB/9 rate over 108 innings. The left-hander went on to put up underwhelming strikeout rates in the minors but had impeccable command and fantastic groundball rates. Keuchel has rounded into the staff ace for Houston and has 6.2 fWAR over 546 1/3 career innings. He received $150,000 for signing.
Round 8, Pick 249 St. Louis Cardinals select: Jason Stidham, SS from Florida State University
The Cardinals looked to the middle infield with the eighth-round choice and took what looked like a very strong pick. Stidham had just completed a .363/.478/.650 season in the ACC for Florida State University. He signed for $100,000. Stidham spent about a year in the Cardinals’ system in Low-A Quad Cities. He put up a solid hitting profile after moving to second base. Over 511 plate appearances, Stidham produced a line of .266/.345/.403 with six homers and six stolen bases. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by a knee injury, and he never played after 2010.
While the real world Cardinals went to a big university for their middle infield needs, they could have gone just a bit northwest to Southern Mississippi’s shortstop. After hitting .391/.485/.587 in Conference USA, Dozier signed with the Twins for just $30,000. He didn’t take a long time in the minors as he debuted in 2012. Throughout nearly 2000 career plate appearances, Dozier has hit .245/.322/.419, spending nearly all his time at second base and totaling 9.7 fWAR.
Round 9, Pick 279 St. Louis Cardinals select: Nick McCully, RHP from Coastal Carolina University
McCully put up a solid junior season in the Big South, generating a lot of weak contact as evidenced by his 1.07 WHIP despite an underwhelming 3.21 BB/9 rate. McCully went on to appear in 30 games including 13 starts between the Quad Cities River Bandits of the Midwest League and the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League. He was released by the Cardinals and re-signed with the Chicago White Sox. After topping out at Double-A, the right-hander is now in independent ball. McCully picked up a $100,000 signing bonus.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Aaron Loup, LHP from Tulane University
In all honestly, Loup was pretty terrible in college, as evidenced by his ERA of 5.93 during his junior year. However, he had fantastic peripherals with a 6.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His issue was he was way too hittable, giving up more than a hit per inning. The Blue Jays placed him in the bullpen, and while he isn’t some dominant closer, he has become a solid left-handed relief option with a career 3.18 K/BB rate and an excellent 56.3% groundball rate. Loup signed for $100,000 as well and has put up 2.1 fWAR.
Round 10, Pick 309 St. Louis Cardinals select: Hector Hernandez, LHP from Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Hernandez had a lot of promise when he was drafted, and he immediately looked impressive for the GCL Cardinals with a 3.67 K/BB rate over 40 2/3 innings in his debut. However, as his career moved into full-season ball, he struggled more and more, and finally he was released in 2013. Hernandez is now in the Diamondbacks’ organization, topping out at High-A last year, and now he’s pitching for their Rookie level team as a 24-year-old. Hernandez commanded an $85,000 bonus.
Alternate-World Cardinals select: Yan Gomes, C from Barry University
Gomes transferred from the incredibly large University of Tennessee to the much tinier Barry University in Miami, Florida for his junior year. He destroyed the competition there with a .405/.480/.775 line with 21 home runs in 222 at-bats. Like Hernandez, Gomes signed for $85,000.
Gomes hit very well for a catcher throughout the minor leagues, never finishing a year with an OPS lower than .770. After a rough debut with the Blue Jays, Gomes was shipped to Cleveland in a deal for Esmil Rogers. Gomes quickly established himself as the Indians’ catcher, and over 1058 career plate appearances, he has hit .267/.307/.445 with 7.7 fWAR and a Silver Slugger Award on his mantle.
Again, hindsight is 20/20, and any idiot (including this one) could make a better draft six years after the fact. However, the Cardinals certainly appeared to have missed out on what could have been an historic draft class.
Collectively, the real first ten rounds of the Cardinals’ draft cost the team $4,508,500 in signing bonuses and have put up about 7.0 fWAR. The alternatives have put up 63.9 fWAR in the majors, and the Cardinals would also have a top prospect knocking on the door of their rotation in Matz.
Oh, and those picks signed for a total of $3,295,300, which means that even if Trout required an extra million dollars to sign at overall pick 19 instead of 25, the Cardinals would have still spent less overall than they did in reality.
Follow Scott Schook on Twitter @scottschook.
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