The St. Louis Cardinals have excelled for years at finding impactful players in the late rounds of drafts, but they haven’t always been as lucky with the glamorous first pick.
The St. Louis Cardinals have been on a historic run of success for over 20 years, but with that success comes a price: a low draft position. Players taken near the end of the first round make the major leagues far less often than those who are drafted near the top.
Despite the lower draft spot, the Cardinals have drafted very well in the later rounds for years and have unearthed many jewels. Some of their top picks have indeed panned out, and it’s too early to tell for others.
These are the Cardinals’ top picks from 2007 to 2016. The two most recent top picks, Nolan Gorman and Scott Hurst, have not been in professional baseball long enough to draw a reasonable conclusion on them.
2016: Delvin Pérez, SS
Pérez was considered a draft steal at his spot. The 23rd overall pick, Pérez fell because he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs shortly before the draft. He has certainly not lived up to expectations thus far. While he performed decently in the Gulf Coast League, his promotion to Rookie-level Johnson City was fraught with struggles, as he only hit .140 with the club before another demotion.
He didn’t fare much better upon his return, hitting only .203. He was demoted to Low-A and continued to struggle, and he batted an anemic .045 in 17 games in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
2015: Nick Plummer, OF
Plummer, like Pérez, was drafted 23rd overall, and also like Pérez, he has had trouble in the lower levels of the organization. In his first season with the GCL Cardinals, he hit only .228. 2016 was a lost season as he suffered a hand injury.
Despite his struggles with the Rookie-level team, Plummer was promoted to the Single-A Peoria Chiefs, where he hit .198 in 92 games. In 2018, Plummer continued to struggle, batting .205. His home runs did double from the previous year, going from four to eight in 12 more games than in 2017.
2014: Luke Weaver, RHP
Weaver arrived in St. Louis after two stellar seasons in the minor leagues, including a stint in July 2015 where he went 3-1 with an ERA of 0.94 and a 27/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made his Cardinals debut in 2016 and was underwhelming, going 1-4 with a 5.70 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched. He appeared to break out in 2017, fanning 72 in 60.1 innings and having an ERA of 3.88.
Weaver began 2018 in the Cardinals rotation, but he stumbled to a 6-11 record with an ERA of 4.67, and he was moved to the bullpen in August. On Dec. 5, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with catcher Carson Kelly for first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
2013: Marco Gonzales, LHP
Gonzales has had injury troubles throughout his career. In his debut season of 2014, Gonzales was solid if unspectacular with a 4.15 ERA and a 4-2 record. He struggled in 2015, going through much of it with a shoulder injury. He pitched 61 innings with Triple-A Memphis and had a 5.20 ERA and 81 hits allowed. Despite this poor showing, he was added to the Cardinals roster for September call-ups. He required Tommy John surgery in 2016, leading him to miss the entire season.
Gonzales was traded to the Seattle Mariners on July 21, 2017, for Tyler O’Neill, a trade that so far appears to have worked out for both teams. Gonzales stayed healthy for the entire 2018 season and broke out with a 4.00 ERA in 166.2 innings. He also drastically reduced his walk rate, allowing only 32 free passes.
2012: Michael Wacha, RHP
Wacha broke out as a phenom in his rookie year of 2013 with a 2.78 ERA in 64.2 innings and came one out shy of a no-hitter in his last regular-season game. He garnered national attention with his playoff performances, finally running of steam in Game 6 of the World Series. Since then, injuries have kept Wacha from reaching those heights again.
Wacha dealt with a shoulder injury in 2014 that lingered throughout the season. 2015 was his lone All-Star appearance. He had an ERA of 3.38 at season’s end and a solid 17-7 record. He had more injury troubles in 2016 with shoulder inflammation, leading to his worst year, when he accrued an ERA of 5.09. He was healthy in 2017 and had a good year, but broke down again in 2018 with a left oblique strain.
2011: Kolten Wong, 2B
Wong tore through the minor leagues, accomplishing feats such as a 20-game hitting streak with Triple-A Memphis. He arrived in St. Louis as one people thought of as a speed threat, but his stolen bases have dwindled over the years. Despite that, he remains a good lineup piece, especially with his excellent defense.
Wong received an extension in 2016 after a stellar year in 2015, but it didn’t go as planned, as Wong only hit .240, but he rebounded in 2017 to hit .285. 2018 was a defensive breakout for Wong. Although he scuffled at the plate, hitting .249, he shone at the keystone and was nominated for his first Gold Glove award.
2010: Zack Cox, 3B
Cox’s career started out well, as he hit .306 across two levels with Single-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. After his promotion to Memphis, he hit a more pedestrian .254 and was traded to the Miami Marlins at the 2012 trade deadline for reliever Edward Mujica. He hit .253 with Double-A Jacksonville.
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Cox’s request for an MLB contract after he was drafted limited his teams’ options on what to do with him, so despite numbers that weren’t terrible, if they had no place for him, their minor-league options for him were limited.
Cox continued to produce average results in Double-A, and he was later claimed by the Washington Nationals in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. He was released a few months later and signed with the independent league Wichita Wingnuts. The Detroit Tigers signed him in December 2016, and he later elected free agency. Cox is no longer in professional baseball.
2009: Shelby Miller, RHP
Miller, who was the Cardinals’ 2009 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has had an up-and-down career. He pitched one of the best games by a Cardinals rookie ever on May 10, 2013, allowing a single to start the game, then recording 27 consecutive outs with 13 strikeouts. He ended up finished third in voting for Rookie of the Year.
On November 17, 2014, Miller and Tyrell Jenkins were traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. He was elected to his first All-Star Game in 2015 despite leading the league with 17 losses because of woeful run support. Miller and Gabe Speier were traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of the year for Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair.
Miller struggled mightily in 2016, finishing with a 3-12 record and a 6.15 ERA. He pitched only 38 innings over the next two seasons because of injuries. He signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers on January 9, 2019.
2008: Brett Wallace, 1B
Wallace was expected to be a power producer, but his defense was suspect. He performed well at the plate in the minor leagues after being drafted by the Cardinals 13th overall, hitting .337 with the Cardinals’ Single- and Double-A teams.
He was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 2009 as one of the pieces for Matt Holliday. In December 2009, Wallace was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Taylor in the Roy Halladay deal, and he was traded to the Houston Astros in 2010 for Anthony Gose in the Roy Oswalt trade.
Often serving as the designated hitter, Wallace hit .222 in 144 at-bats with the Astros in 2010 and hit only two home runs. He spent most of 2011 through 2013 as a semi-regular in the Astros’ lineup and was released in March 2014. He signed a minor-league deal with the San Diego Padres in December of that year but hit only .189 before his release.
2007: Pete Kozma, SS
Kozma was praised in high school for both his bat and his glove, but his hitting never carried over to the professional ranks. His highest average was with the Low-A Quad Cities River Bandits and the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals, where he hit .258. He hit .231 in 2009 between Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield.
Kozma’s biggest moments came in the 2012 National League Division Series, where he drove in five runs in the games and singled in the go-ahead score that would decide the final game. He received extended playing time in 2013, hitting .217 in 410 at-bats. Kozma signed with the New York Yankees in 2016, where he amassed a total of nine at-bats and spent most of the season in the minors. He was claimed off waivers by the Rangers and was later designated for assignment.
Kozma received a minor-league deal with the Detroit Tigers in January 2018. He was promoted to the Tigers in May and was designated for assignment a month later. The Tigers later promoted him again, and he hit .217 in 69 at-bats.
The St. Louis Cardinals have not hit on every draft pick, but they have had a respectable showing, especially in later rounds. Gorman and Hurst represent the latest in the team’s efforts to draft major-league talent, and only time will tell if they can live up to expectations.