Still, the Redbirds were busy, plucking two during the minor league portion of the draft. Specifically, during the Triple-A phase, they selected catcher Omar Falcon from the Pittsburgh Pirates and shortstop Jose Contreras from the Washington Nationals.
Due to changes to draft qualifications implemented in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the player population was smaller than in previous years. Accordingly, the total number of selections across MLB dropped for at least the fourth consecutive season.
This year, 46 players changed hands, including 19 at the major league level, 24 at Triple-A (including the Cardinals' two picks) and three more at the Double-A level. Last year, only 12 players were taken in the Major League phase, 39 players were selected in the Triple-A phase and just six in the Double-A draft. That total of 56 was down from the 75 taken in 2004 and 80 in 2003.
Last year, the Cardinals selected pitcher Juan Mateo from the Cubs in the Major League phase, but returned him late in 2006 Spring Training, when it was clear he would not crack the 25-man roster.
St. Louis picked up two players in the Triple-A phase of the 2005 draft – catcher Iker Franco and infielder Vince Harrison. Neither is still in the organization. They lost infielder Tim Hummel in 2005.
Omar Falcon is well-traveled, having been taken in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft once before, back in 2003 by Seattle from San Diego. The 6'0", 190 pounder was originally a third-round draft choice (79th overall) by San Diego in the 2000 amateur draft. He is 24 years of age.
Falcon has yet to amass 200 at-bats in a season, despite having spent six seasons as a professional. He is a career .233 hitter, but performed better in A-ball the last two seasons, batting .272 and .264 in 2005 and 2006 in the Mariners system.
Falcon became a six-year minor league free agent at seasons-end, then signed with Pittsburgh for 2007. However, he was left unprotected and as a result of his selection by the Cardinals, Falcon's time as a Pirate was short-lived.
In April 2005, Falcon was among 38 minor leaguers suspended for steroid use. Among the others caught at the time were then-Cardinal outfielder Sal Frisella and two current Redbird farmhands, Troy Cate and Ryan Christianson, both of whom were also Seattle property then.
Jose Contreras has a famous name, but is not to be confused with the White Sox pitcher who hailed from Cuba. This is a 21-year old shortstop from Venezuela.
Contreras was originally signed by the Expos organization as an undrafted free-agent in July, 2001, when he was just 16. Scout.com ranked Contreras as the #39 prospect in the Washington Nationals system one year ago.
Here is what Scout said last December. "(Contreras) has already played four seasons in the farm system and has yet to play in a long-season league. He has one of the better eyes at the plate, but hasn't made enough consistent contact with the bat. Contreras has good speed and can also play second base. He has ability, but will need to show he can handle the low-A level."
The jury is still out, as the 6'1, 170 pounder batted just .201 for Savannah in the Sally League this past season. Contreras is a career .225 hitter, with just 22 of his career 198 hits having gone for extra bases.
One scout I reached Thursday succinctly expressed optimism, however. "Contreras has the potential to be a little bigger version of David Eckstein but with better range and a good arm." If he could achieve that, Cardinals fans would surely be pleased.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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