Draft day could bring pitcher for Cards
With farm system on rise, club leaning toward college hurler
With their highest Draft pick in eight years, the Cardinals have an exciting opportunity in front of them next month in the First-Year Player Draft. They also have a difficult decision: do they plug Major League needs with potentially fast-rising, experienced players? Or do they take some risks on less-developed but higher-ceiling youngsters?
Recent history has found the Redbirds more on the former side of that question, but an improving Minor League system could allow the club to take some more chances. After all, the Cardinals don't expect to pick 13th again any time soon, so if there's a potential superstar available, they'd hate to miss out on that opportunity.
MLB.com will carry every pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 5-6 at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. Day 1 coverage on BaseballChannel.TV begins at 1 p.m. ET with a special ceremonial draft of former Negro Leaguers who will be on hand at The Milk House.
The First-Year Player Draft follows at 2 p.m. with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively on BaseballChannel.TV, with live analysis on site from MLB.com Draft guru Jonathan Mayo and David Rawnsley of Perfect Game USA.
Several of the top amateur prospects are expected to be in attendance in Orlando for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League clubs will be represented by front office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend Day 1 of the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free with seating limited to a first-come, first-served basis.
Day 2 will get under way at 11:30 a.m. and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.
Here's a glance at what the Cardinals have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Cardinals' farm system has been on a strong upswing in recent years, and this year's Draft presents another chance to keep bolstering the Minors. This will be the first Draft with John Mozeliak as general manager, and could be a good barometer of some questions of organizational philosophy and direction.
"Our strategy right now going into it is we're going to take the best available player. Now that's subject to at least a close match between what they're asking for and what we think they're worth. If we think a guy legitimately should have been taken two or three and we value him there, and that's what they're asking, we'd probably take him at 13 and hope we can do something. That's a decision that Bill [DeWitt, principal owner] has to be involved in and Mo [Mozeliak] has to be involved in. Certainly we'll be prepared to make that decision." -- Jeff Luhnow, vice president of scouting and player development.
This year's Draft holds a little more intrigue for Cardinals fans, not only because of how high the club picks, but because of some local interest. A dream scenario would have University of Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow falling to 13, but he's unlikely to drop that far. Area prep pitchers Tim Melville and Jake Odorizzi hold some intrigue as well, and don't rule out the Cardinals taking a first baseman with the thought of moving him, a la Matt LaPorta with the Brewers last year. One player who could fit that plan would be University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso.
A once-threadbare system looks a lot more stout than it used to, but there are still some areas that could use shoring up. The Cardinals are rich in outfielders and relief pitchers, and first base looks pretty well stocked for a while. They're building in the middle infield but could still use impact players there, and they're always on the lookout for depth at starting pitcher and catcher.
History says the Cardinals love college pitchers, and Luhnow said that they could very well go that way again. Ten of the Cards' past 17 first-round picks have been college pitchers. That's not considered a particularly strong suit of this year's Draft, but Luhnow believes a quality college arm could fit well at 13.
"It's fairly thin once you get past the top two or three or four," he said. "I think we're OK where we sit. We've got a choice between four or five guys, and probably one of them will be there. Depending on how the board lines up, I think there's a real possibility that we go college pitcher."
Next most common have been the opposite -- high-school hitters, and that's a group they've leaned on a lot recently. Witness Colby Rasmus, Daric Barton and, most recently, Pete Kozma.
Recent top picks
Last year's first-rounder, shortstop Kozma, surprised a lot of people but has performed very well in his first year of full-season ball. Kozma is showing a nice all-around offensive game as a shortstop in the Midwest League. ... Adam Ottavino, the Cardinals' 2006 first-rounder, rocketed through the low levels but has found the going very difficult at Double-A this year. ... The organization's top prospect is Rasmus, taken first in 2005. Rasmus is off to a slow start at Triple-A Memphis but remains an exceptional prospect, one of the best in the game.
Right-hander Clayton Mortensen has gone from Gonzaga University in the West Coast Conference to the Double-A Texas League in less than a year. Mortensen, a supplemental first-rounder last year, started his first pro season in the short-season New York-Penn League before a late promotion to the Midwest League. He was sent to Double-A Springfield this year, and though his ERA doesn't look too good, his peripheral numbers tell the story of a pitcher who's giving the organization a lot to like.
Kyle McClellan, a hometown choice in 2002, burst onto the scene in 2007, his first year as a reliever. After never making it above low Class A as a starter, and dealing with injuries, the former 25th-round pick cracked the Opening Day roster with a big spring this year. He's become a key member of the bullpen.
In The Show
Though both the 2007 and 2005 Draft classes have some encouraging products in the Cardinals system, the only draftee from the past three years currently in the Majors is Chris Perez. The 2006 sandwich pick is widely considered the closer of the future and has impressed early in his first big league season.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.