Cardinals Cultivate Cornhusker Crops

The St. Louis Cardinals have drafted 11 University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Walt Jocketty years, the most from any school, large or small, from warm weather or cold. Surprised?

If you were a St. Louis Cardinals fan as well as the parent of an extraordinary young teenage baseball player, where would you encourage your son to attend school to increase his likelihood of being drafted by your favorite Major League organization?

Let's start at the top. There are 327 colleges in NCAA Division I and almost 300 more in Division II. Everyone knows a more favorable climate leads to longer seasons of play, and ultimately better baseball is generally played in the Sun Belt as a result.

Another consideration is population. Why not go where there are larger concentrations of people, requiring more institutes of higher learning, along with more baseball teams and more professional scouts checking them out?

Not surprisingly, that combination is what the Cardinals have generally followed since Minnesota native Walt Jocketty took over as St. Louis' general manager during the 1994 strike that October. On his watch, the organization has drafted 639 players from 415 different schools in thirteen June First Year Player Drafts from the years 1995 through 2007.

Walt knows where to send his scouts to find players, but it wasn't his home state, where only one draftee during that period attended school.

From where do future Cardinals come?

No, the Cardinals have continued to compete for top talent in warm-weather, high-talent baseball hotbeds like California, ranked number one with 122 players taken, followed by Florida at 51 and Texas with 45 draftees.

As a result, one would think the top baseball factories in each state would rank highly on the individual school rankings, but surprisingly, they do not. In reality, the Cardinals have really spread their picks around.

Among the eight institutions from which the most Cardinals draftees were selected over the Jocketty years, only two are from California, one from Texas and none from the state of Florida.

As a result, name-brand baseball schools like the University of Miami, the University of Texas, University of Southern California and many more are not among the top potential suppliers of future Cardinals.

Instead, we see Cal Poly San Luis Obispo ranked second with ten players drafted, including this year's fifth-round pick, right-handed pitcher Thomas Eager and last year's third-rounder, fellow righty Gary Daley.

The other California Cardinals' hotbed is Fresno State University, at seven players taken. The most recent Fresno State pick was pitcher Michael Cooper in 2005's 17th round.

The ‘top eight' leader from the state of Texas is the Rice University Owls, tied for third with eight players drafted by the Cardinals since 1995. They include last year's fourth-rounder, right-handed starter Eddie Degerman.

Well then, what school is it that has supplied the largest complement of St. Louis Cardinals draftees in the Walt Jocketty era?

The surprise number one supplier of Cardinals draftees

No, it isn't a baseball hotbed from the Sun Belt. While this particular University has a fine baseball program, the school has historically been known first and foremost as a football-driven institution.

Yet, there are similarities even there. The school's fans are widely considered the best in their sport, as are St. Louis Cardinals' backers. Their flagship pigskin program has delivered the most consensus national champions in the sport, three, during the years coinciding with Jocketty's tenure in St. Louis, a level of excellence to which Cards fans can certainly relate.

The school's baseball program is hardly an also-ran, either. This season saw the institution reach the NCAA Regionals for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. From 2001 through 2005, the University advanced to the College World Series in Omaha three times.

I am talking about the Big 12 Conference's University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Since 1995, this institution has supplied the most Cardinals draftees of any school anywhere with 11. In case you are wondering that is a phenomenon of the past, it isn't the case. The Huskers are also number one in the more recent period of 2000 through 2007, with nine players taken by St. Louis, two more than the nearest competitor.

The seven Huskers most recently drafted by St. Louis all signed with the organization. Five of them are still active professionally, with four remaining in the Cardinals system today.

St. Louis Cardinals draftees from the University of Nebraska – 1995 thru 2007





Signed w/StL




Andrew Brown



Batavia SS-A



Luke Gorsett



Palm Beach A-Adv



Brandon Buckman



Palm Beach A-Adv



Jake Mullinax






Mike Sillman



Springfield AA



Quinton Robertson






Jason Burch



Baltimore A-Adv



Shane Komine


OAK 2002 9th

Oakland AAA



Kaulana Kuhaulua


MIN 2001 12th




Pat Driscoll


PHI 1997 24th




Steve Doherty


ARI 1997 45th


Several of the Cardinals' former Huskers draftees are active in the minors. For example, their 2003 21st rounder, Jason Burch, was traded to Colorado in the 2004 Larry Walker deal and is now pitching in the Baltimore Orioles system.

Others have done well as Cardinals. Infielder Jake Mullinax had two solid years in the organization, 2004 and 2005, before retiring to a career in the business world. Standout reliever Mike Sillman collected 57 saves between Quad Cities and Palm Beach in 2005 and 2006 before being slowed by a sore shoulder this season.

Some good players escaped, too. Pitcher Shane Komine, "The Hawaiian Punch-Out", did not sign with the Cardinals in 2001. Instead, he improved his draft position, joining the Oakland organization after moving up from the 19th to the ninth round the next season. The native of Hawaii made his Major League debut for the A's in 2006 and has shuttled between Oakland and Triple-A Sacramento since.

The other three Huskers that were taken by the Cardinals but did not sign with them came to terms with other organizations after being re-drafted the following June.

"Little" Big Red is still Cardinals Country

While highly-ranked in a number of collegiate sports, Nebraska is just plain small when compared to the big states. With approximately 1.8 million residents, the state ranks as the 38th most populous in the USA. Even if the entire state of 77,000 square miles was a single city, it would only be fifth-largest in population in the country.

Granted, like much of the Midwest and South, Nebraska was once unmistakably Cardinals country. One of my first recollections of the organization was due to their Triple-A affiliate being headquartered in Omaha during the late 1940's through the entire ‘50's. Back in the 1930's when farm teams were more prevalent, the Cardinals had affiliates in Lincoln, Grand Island and Norfolk.

From 1957 through 1959, the last three seasons the Omaha Cardinals were in existence, a home-town youngster from Creighton University demonstrated the early promise that led to a Hall of Fame career as the greatest St. Louis Cardinals pitcher of all time. In fact, Bob Gibson still lives in the Omaha metro area to this day.

Later, Alan Benes also joined the Cardinals from Creighton and in addition to the 11 Huskers noted above, seven other players were drafted by the Cards from Nebraska institutions since 1995, including three from tiny Bellevue College and two from other NU campuses. Yet, the Cornhuskers from Lincoln are the number one supplier to the Cardinals player pipeline.

Why do top players from all over the country now flock to this sparsely-inhabited, cold-weather locale in the center of the plains to play their collegiate baseball? And then, why do so many end up as Cardinals?

One reason is that University of Nebraska head coach and two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year Mike Anderson runs a top-flight program. His Huskers have done much more than just supply future Cardinals. They also nurtured Major Leaguers like Darin Erstad, Ken Harvey, Dan Johnson and Alex Gordon since Anderson first joined the program as an assistant coach in 1995.

The Cards on NU

Certainly, Cardinals scouting in the region is another important consideration. Assistant general manager John Mozeliak headed several of the organization's early-to-mid decade drafts and as a result, is very familiar with the Huskers' program as well as his team's success with their players. He is also high on Anderson as a developer of talent.

"I have known Mike Anderson for years, dating back to my Colorado coaching days when he was in Greeley... Overall, I feel we do a good job scouting in the region and I would say that Mike Anderson prepares his players not only for professional baseball but also for life. I admire his program," said Mo.

If short-season Class A coach Mike Shildt of the Batavia Muckdogs is typical of the Cardinals minor league staffers, there is a strong appreciation for those men from the Big Red Nation that reach their purview.

"The first point is that they all play hard. The Nebraska guys have an above-average feel and understanding for the game against their peer group entering professional baseball. They are low-maintenance guys in the clubhouse and on the field, which is also important," Shildt said.

The players still in red

The former NU players who are now Cardinals may be wearing a different shade of red these days with different uniforms and insignia, but they still stick together. Take three members of the 2006 Huskers squad.

Andrew Brown was first was named second team All-Big 12 as an outfielder/designated hitter his junior year in 2006, then moved up to the first team this past season after having taken over first base at NU from Brandon Buckman. The latter had been all-conference himself plus took home first-team ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America honors in 2006. Outfielder Luke Gorsett garnered All-America honors in 2006 before being selected in the seventh round that year.

The three ex-Husker stars remain in close touch.

Brown explains. "Brandon Buckman and I are really close and the same with Luke Gorsett. About every two weeks we talk and get caught up with each other's stats and how everybody is doing."

Like every player drafted and many more that aren't, these young men have much greater dreams. Brown would like nothing more than to again play alongside his former Nebraska teammates, perhaps at Busch Stadium – once he catches up with them in the Cards system, that is.

"Buckman and Gorsett are together now in high-A at Palm Beach. That would be great if we could get together again someday. That would be a great lineup," Brown said.

Mike Anderson and the entire state of Nebraska, for that matter, are bound to agree.

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