Flexibility key to Cards' winning Draft formula
Intense preparation readies club to respond decisively to unfolding events
ST. LOUIS -- It will be several years before the Cardinals can fully and appropriately evaluate how well their scouting team did in the first two years under scouting director Dan Kantrovitz, who rejoined the organization prior to the 2012 season. Nevertheless, the Cardinals already consider their selections of Michael Wacha and Marco Gonzales (both at No. 19 overall) as potential First-Year Player Draft steals in 2012 and '13.
This year, the organization knows it could be a bit tougher to pull off such a coup.
The Cardinals are wrapping up preparations for the 2014 Draft, which begins today with the first- and second-round selections. They have a high concentration of Day 1 picks, but also have to wait longer than almost every other team to make their first.
By virtue of tying for baseball's best record in 2013, the Cardinals' first Draft choice won't come until selection No. 27. They are one of six clubs to have two first-round picks, the other (No. 34) coming as compensation for Carlos Beltran's departure after declining the Cardinals' qualifying offer.
St. Louis' second-round pick falls at No. 68, and the team earned an additional one (No. 71) through the competitive-balance lottery. This is the second time in Kantrovitz's three years as scouting director that the Cardinals will make at least four selections before the third round.
"We've been fortunate, in the sense that we've had extra picks -- more than average -- the last couple years and again this year," Kantrovitz said. "That makes that process, that preparation, even more important. We feel like having a pool amount that is above average -- relative to other teams and the number of picks being above average -- that we have to be extremely prepared."
The 2014 Draft will take place today through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network at 5 p.m. CT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 6 p.m. CT, with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 11:30 a.m. CT on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and fans can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft and tagging tweets with #mlbdraft.
Having now gone through two Drafts under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement guidelines, the Cardinals believe they have a better grasp on other potential team strategies and trends. They intend to remain flexible with their pool of bonus money, which they are willing to allocate creatively in order to add players that are passed over by other teams, due to signability concerns.
In addition to all the hours of in-person scouting, the organization has also held multiple mock drafts, which allow it to simulate what other teams could do.
"We go through as many scenarios as we can see conceivably coming our way on Draft day, so we are not anchored to that slot value," Kantrovitz said. "That's the toughest thing, because the industry is anchored to it in some regards. But it is not for us. If you go into the Draft with sort of a firm set of expectations, you might limit your flexibility. I think the biggest thing we try to adhere to is to be flexible -- whether that's players who fall that we don't expect to fall, saving here to spend more there. I think that's the biggest tenet that we adhere to, is to be flexible."
Here's a glance at what the Cardinals have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
With four of the Draft's first 71 picks, the Cardinals have an opportunity to snag top talent -- despite not picking until the end of the first round. With those additional picks comes extra pool money, too, and St. Louis will use it to remain flexible with its allocation strategy.
The consensus last summer was that the Draft class was not as strong as the one from 2012. Kantrovitz said he sees the 2014 talent pool in much the same way. Believing they nabbed top talents with their first picks the last two seasons, the Cardinals are not necessarily expecting a player as advanced as Wacha or Gonzales to fall to them at No. 27.
The expectation is that the early picks in the Draft will be pitcher-heavy, a forecast that Kantrovitz said "may be a reflection of the strength of the Draft or may be just trends in the industry, in general." With the first of the Cards' two first-round picks not coming until so late, though, it's tough to predict whether pitchers will still be the top talents available when St. Louis makes its first choice.
Cardinals bonus pool
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has -- and the earlier it picks -- the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax, plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage, as well as the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax, plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Cardinals, who have 12 picks in the first 10 rounds, have been assigned a pool of $7.0872 million, which ranks 13th most in the Majors. The values assigned to the Cardinals' first-round picks are $1.843 million (27th) and $1.6504 million (34th).
The Cardinals, as most teams do, will fill out their Draft board with an eye on taking the best player available with each pick, rather than drafting specifically based on organizational need. Over the past two seasons, the Cards have used half of their picks on pitchers, and they'll likely do so again. St. Louis has had success building a Major League pitching staff through its development system and would like to keep that pipeline strong.
The Cardinals, in two Drafts under Kantrovitz's leadership, have used their first-round pick to take an advanced college pitcher. The success of Wacha and Gonzales could lead the club to go that route again. Such selections are often safer than taking a higher-upside high school player, but they also usually lead to a swifter rise to the big leagues.
St. Louis has also shown an ability to maximize its financial resources by spending more than its available pool of bonus money. It ensures that overage, though, does not get too high to cost it a future Draft pick. That extra money spent has allowed the Cardinals to sign a handful of players that required over-slot bonuses in order to pass on a college scholarship.
* RECENT DRAFT HISTORY *
Wacha represented the first member of the 2012 Draft class to reach the Majors, when he did so last May -- less than a year removed from being selected. The quickest riser thus far from the 2013 Draft class is Gonzales. The left-hander, whom the Cardinals drafted out of Gonzaga, was recently promoted to Double-A, where he pitched seven scoreless innings in his second start for Springfield.
Major League Baseball opted to reduce the number of Draft rounds from 50 to 40 in 2012 -- a move that, if done a few years earlier, would have kept lefty Kevin Siegrist from ever having been taken at all. Siegrist represents a rare 41st-round pick (2008) who has not only climbed to the Majors, but also had immediate success upon arriving.
Siegrist is one of five players on the Cards' active roster to be drafted after the 20th round. Closer Trevor Rosenthal (21st) and first baseman Matt Adams (23rd) were taken late in the 2009 Draft. St. Louis selected Tony Cruz, now its backup catcher, in round 26 in '07. Sam Freeman was a 32nd-round pick in 2008.
In The Show
The Cardinals' renewed focus over the last decade on building their Major League core through draft and development has been executed exceptionally well. A total of 17 players on the team's 25-man roster were drafted by St. Louis, in addition to another who was signed as a non-drafted free agent (Carlos Martinez) and one who was acquired as a Minor Leaguer (Adam Wainwright). Four-fifths of the team's current rotation is homegrown, as is three-fourths of the starting infield.
The Cardinals' recent top picks
2013: Gonzales, LHP, Double-A Springfield
2012: Wacha, RHP, St. Louis
2011: Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis
2010: Zack Cox, 3B, Triple-A New Orleans (Marlins)
2009: Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.