Under the leadership of former General Manager Walt Jocketty, the team enjoyed enormous success on the field although it neglected its farm system. Enter successful businessman Jeff Luhnow.
Since taking the lead in the Cardinals draft proceedings in 2005, Luhnow has positioned the Cardinals from one of the worst farm systems in baseball to one of the best. With ownership's emphasis on player development and scouting, Luhnow is being counted on to change history and put the organization in a position to keep a constant flow of players from the farm system to the big league team.
Starting with his inaugural draft, Luhnow has made 50 picks in the first 10 rounds. Of those 50 picks, 39 have come from the college level with the remaining 11 coming from the prep ranks.
Of the 39 college picks, the Cardinals have focused on the power baseball conferences. Under Luhnow's watch, the organization has preyed heavily on the warm weather teams of the Big West Conference, choosing six of its players. The team has selected five from both the Atlantic Coast Conference and Conference USA. Next, the Southeastern Conference and Pac-10 have been raided for four selections with the Big-12 losing three of its best prospects to the Cardinals.
Though the team has only chosen two junior college players in this phase of the draft, it seems that this is an area the team is beginning to focus on. In each of the past two seasons, the Cardinals have selected a player from the JUCO ranks in the top 10 rounds.
Impressive to me is that of the 50 picks during this time frame only three have not come to an agreement with the club. Blair Erickson was selected by the Cardinals in the 10th round of the 2006 draft out of University of California-Irvine. He would return to the school and become the NCAA's career saves leader before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins, once again in the tenth round.
The Cardinals failed to sign two of its top picks in 2007. Fourth round choice Kyle Russell was coming off a 26 home run season and expected a seven-figure signing bonus. After the team followed him through the summer, it did not agree. Russell returned to Texas and eventually would be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third round in 2008. Mike Stutes, the team's ninth round selection, was coming off back-to-back College World Series Championships with Oregon State. The Beaver returned to school only to fail to make it back to Omaha and fall to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 11th round.
Luhnow's very first draft pick came from the high school ranks of Alabama for a kid named Colby Rasmus. Of the remaining 10 high school selections, the organization has dipped into the wealth of talent in California three times. Twice it has drafted preps from Florida and Texas. In 2005, the team drafted a Missouri kid, Wilfredo Pujols. Over the last two drafts, Pete Kozma was selected out of Oklahoma and Niko Vasquez was selected out of Nevada.
Twenty of the 50 selections being discussed made up half of the Birdhouse's 2009 Top 40 prospects and seven of the top 10. Including the players that were not signed, 20% of the 50 selections in the first 10 rounds of the draft are no longer with the organization.
2005 selections Mitchell Boggs and Nick Stavinoha along with 2006 pick Chris Perez are the only three of this group to make the big leagues. But members of the 2005 draft Rasmus and Tyler Greene are knocking on the door. Two players drafted in 2006, Allen Craig and Jon Jay are two of the best performers in the Cardinals' spring training camp.
Being a prospect watcher, the influx of talent since Luhnow has taken over is truly exciting. In the past, one might struggle to find 20 interesting prospects in the system. This past winter when ranking my top 40 for our annual prospect countdown, I had a list that was 50-60 deep. With ownership's emphasis on player development, Luhnow and his staff have the organization going in the right direction.
The following is the breakdown by conference of the college players picked followed by the high school selections by state. In parenthesis is the year drafted followed by the round.
College Players by Conference
Josh Wilson (2005-2)
Daryl Jones (2005-3)
Wilfredo Pujols (2005-6)
Niko Vasquez (2008-3)
Pete Kozma (2007-1)
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