Jeff Luhnow the Vice-President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development didn't wake up on Thursday morning thinking the Cardinals were going to sign shortstop Peter Kozma in the first round, (he wasn't the only one, including me) as a matter of fact; Kozma was actually just one of 14 players on the Cardinals radar screen that they hope they would get a chance to draft in the first couple of rounds.
Three of the coveted 14 went before Cardinals had their shot at them, 3B Matt Dominquez, 3B Kenny Ahrens were both gone early and RHP Blake Blevan was taken at #17 by the Texas Rangers, just before the Cardinals had their chance to draft him.
The selection of Kozma sent shockwaves across Cardinal nation, especially considering perhaps the most highly touted pitching prospect, Rick Porcello from Seaton Hall was still on the board. After all Luhnow had promised fans that they could expect a home run on draft day, with most fans thinking, for at least for the five minutes between the 17th pick in the draft and the Cardinals first pick at 18, that the St. Louis Cardinals were going to draft highly coveted Porcello.
Sitting in a conference room in the inner sanctums of Busch Stadium just prior to the Cardinals first pick, I could sense the excitement and anticipation. It was as if you were waiting for one of Albert Pujols' monster home runs to win a ball game. Then it came, "the Cardinals take Peter Kozma" and the reaction in the room was more like Pujols taking a called strike three to end a game.
Immediately the "experts" from ESPN began bashing the Cardinals first pick.
I have to admit; initially I was embarrassed but not alone, when I heard the name Kozma as the first pick. My first thought was, who? Then it got worse when I was asked by reporters if I knew who Kozma was? To be honest I had to try to hide that "deer in the headlight look" I had on my face, as I scramble through my notes wondering how did I miss this kid?
It was about 10 minutes after the surprised announcement that the Cardinals media relations staff ushered Jeff Luhnow into the conference room where I was waiting with others to hear some type of rational for this first pick. Luhnow took a seat at head of the table and began;
"Despite what ESPN is saying, we're real excited about getting Pete at #18," said Jeff Luhnow the St. Louis Cardinals "We have been on him all year; he's a guy who came on a little bit late, so not a lot of teams knew him."
He hits, runs throws and fields but the most important thing is he hits," said Luhnow. "His bat stands out and he reminds me of Nomar Garciaparra at the same stage."
"We have sent a lot of people out to look at him to include a special hitting instructor recently and Kozma's most important tool is his hitting. He doesn't have a lot of power, but that can be developed in the minors."
Actually the Cardinals only made a decision over the past two weeks to potentially take Kozma as their first pick if the opportunity presented itself.
St. Louis Cardinals area scout, Steve Gossett who is very high on Kozma and instrumental in him being drafted by the Cardinals.
"The one thing that stuck in my mind about Pete is that you look in his eyes and you really get the feeling that he's going to play in the big leagues," Gossett said "He's got that look that you don't see in many guys."
Gossett went on and added;
"Pete played on one of the highest ranked team in the Nation. In the Area Code games, I saw him play and I fell in love with him. He was the best player in the Area Code games and he has the heart of a lion and is going to be a team leader.
When asked about his ability, Gossett said, Peter has good defensive skills and puts the ball in play to all fields. He reminds me of Jack Wilson who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. He has an advance approach at the plate, a plus arm and you can expect him to reach the majors in 4-5 years.
Before the day was over we would hear Kozma being compared from a wide range of players from; Normar Garciaparra to Skip Schumaker as the Cardinals spin machine was out in full force to justify the their first pick.
A three-year starter at Owasso, Kozma batted .532 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs this season. Named the Gatorade player of the year and to the Large School East all-state team, Kozma finished his high school career with a .491 average with 171 hits, 30 homers and 140 RBIs, so we know the kid can play.
Compared to other prep middle infielders, Kozma does have good instincts, outstanding makeup and good tools. He has some offensive skills that stand out. He's a very good hitter, heck it's hard to hit .532 in a church softball league let, alone one of the toughest high school conferences in the country.
He has some power that the Cardinals expect him to continue to develop as he progresses through the system. Initial scouting reports show that he may not be as flashy as an Ozzie Smith but that he can make all the routine plays as an everyday shortstop similar to a David Eckstein and over a 160 game schedule it's that consistent play in the field that makes a middle infielder very valuable.
Rick Porcello, a high school player being advised by Super Agent Scott Boras, slid from the projected #2 pick to the 27th overall pick, taken by the Detroit Tigers, because he was reportedly asking for $8 million to $10 million.
Of course Boras setting the stage for negotiations claims Porcello is a once-in-a-decade type of player of which, Boras always seems to have one or two of in every draft. The Cardinals at least in my opinion had already been burnt once by signing Boras' client, "the next Mickey Mantle", J.D. Drew.
Depending on who you talk to, the Tigers chances of signing Porcello before August 15 is about 50-50 and my take on the Cardinals is that their chances of getting a deal done was even going to be less than 50-50.
Given the option of trying to sign Porcello by August, when it looked like a deal that would create a win-win situation for both parties seemed very unlikely or taking a player like Kozma, when a good deal seems very possible, I'll take Kozma at #18.
A good ballplayer and a good kid, the jury will be out for some time on whether Kozma justified being a first round pick.
For the pundits and the frustrated fans over this pick, for Pete's sake, I say give the kid a break, my take is we'll all be singing his praises when he proves the Cardinals were right in taking him at #18.