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Checking Cardinals early draft pick return

One of the many possible explanations suggested for the downturn in fortunes across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system in 2009 was a dearth of extra draft selections in the early rounds of the most recent drafts.

With fewer elite players, the logic goes, there is no surprise the system did not perform as well as expected.

I decided to probe this. While there is no way to directly tie results on the field to players drafted, we can compare the Cardinals recent compensation picks to their overall early-round selections.

First, a bit of background. These extra or compensatory selections are awarded to a club in return for having lost a player due to free agency. They can either be extra selections, tacked onto the end of a round, called a supplemental round, or they can be picks taken away from another organization.

Because comp picks are in the first two rounds of the draft, that will be the comparison population. I have gone back over the last six drafts, to 2005. The club received no extra picks between 2001 and 2004, anyway.

The table that follows shows the Cardinals’ 20 picks over the initial two rounds during this time period, in what turns out to have been a very symmetrical ten and ten, respectively. On the left are the regular selections and on the right are the compensatory picks.

In the “Comp” column, when the pick was an extra one, the departing player’s name is noted in parentheses. When the pick was taken from another club, that team’s name is listed.

Year Rd Pick Score Departed Rd Comp Pick Score Departed
2009 1 Shelby Miller flat
2 Robert Stock flat
2008 1 Brett Wallace boom trade 1s (Percival) Lance Lynn boom
2 Shane Peterson flat trade
2007 1 Pete Kozma flat 1s (Suppan) Clayton Mortensen boom trade
2 Jess Todd boom trade 2 Milwaukee David Kopp bust
2006 1 Adam Ottavino flat 1s (Morris) Chris Perez boom trade
2 Jon Jay flat 2 Giants Brad Furnish bust
2s (Nunez) Mark Hamilton flat
2005 1 Tyler Greene flat 1 Red Sox Colby Rasmus boom
2 Nick Webber bust release 1s (Renteria) Mark McCormick bust
1s (Matheny) Tyler Herron bust release
2 Giants Josh Wilson bust retire

The first thing to note is how the number of comp picks dropped each year from 2005 through 2009 in a linear manner, from four to three to two to one to none this past summer.

The number of comp picks each year is in direct result to the rate at which the Cardinals either offer or do not offer arbitration to departing free agents. This is a subject to which I will return in a future post.

Another point that stands out is that eight of the Cardinals 20 top picks from the last five years are no longer in the organization. Five are gone due to trades, two of whom were originally comp picks, while the other three departees represent picks that did not pan out.

You have noted I devised a very simple and subjective measurement system to score each pick. As such, my scores are both debatable and changeable over time. They are:

Boom – player has either reached the majors or is ahead of pace to do so

Flat – player has neither excelled nor failed – jury is still out

Bust – player has not achieved his potential

Here is a scorecard of the picks by category. Note that there have been both more “booms” and “busts” from the extra picks, while the regular selections are mostly still in limbo.

Reg picks Extra picks Total Departed Remaining
boom 2 4 6 4 2
flat 7 1 8 1 7
bust 1 5 6 3 3

A quick summary by year:

2009 – The top two picks have not played enough professional ball to assess their futures.

2008 – Lance Lynn and Brett Wallace have been solid and advanced quickly, while Shane Peterson leveled off in Double-A this year. Of course, the latter two are now part of the Oakland A’s system due to the Matt Holliday trade.

2007 – Both Jess Todd and Clayton Mortensen reached the majors rapidly, though both have been since dealt away. Pete Kozma’s breakout has yet to occur while David Kopp cannot remain healthy and finished the season back in A ball. The latter two still can raise their scores, though.

2006 – Chris Perez was a boom, but is also gone. College draftees Adam Ottavino, Jon Jay and Mark Hamilton did make Triple-A in their fourth seasons, but the jury remains out on their major league futures. Brad Furnish hasn’t mastered Double-A.

2005 – Colby Rasmus is obviously the cream of the crop. Tyler Greene reached the majors briefly in his fifth season, but has been a disappointment overall. The other four picks have not delivered, with three already gone from the organization and the fourth, Mark McCormick, perpetually injured.

As I have noted in other posts, I firmly believe the 2005 draft has been the overriding difference-maker for the rise in stature of the Cardinals system. This data reaffirms that other than Rasmus, the keys from 2005 were players taken in later rounds, not the extra picks they had that draft year.

boom flat bust
2009 0 2 0
2008 2 1 0
2007 2 1 1
2006 1 3 1
2005 1 1 4
total 6 8 6

In closing, certainly the extra picks the Cardinals enjoyed in recent years gave them a larger population of top players. So far, it has equated to additional trade fodder more than anything else.

It remains to be seen if the regular picks turn out to be a better group of players overall compared to the comp picks, but there seems to be considerably more remaining potential there.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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