In the last decade, the St. Louis Cardinals have whiffed on the 23rd overall pick in the draft three times. Who should they have selected instead?
The MLB Draft is unlike many of the other professional sports leagues. It’s length, immediate impact, and fanfare are all different than the NBA and the NFL. It’s closest relative is the NHL Draft, but in the MLB, not all draft picks can be traded. The success rate of many first-round drafts picks aren’t seen until years down the line, which is what makes it so fun. In the last two decades, the St. Louis Cardinals have been relatively stellar at picking players who eventually wind up as MLB contributors.
However, that fact could be attributed just as much to the minor league development staff of the Cards rather than the people drafting.
Either way, the Cardinals have long been one of the teams who rely most on their farm, and the farm has given back. Rarely does every pick go to plan though, even the first round of the draft can be a crapshoot.
In the 2010s, the Cardinals drafted at the 23rd overall pick three times. In 2012. They picked James Ramsey. Ramsey was a participant in the MLB Futures Game in 2014 but was traded to the Indians for Justin Masterson at the deadline. He never made it to the MLB.
In 2015, the Cards selected Nick Plummer who batted .176 with a .606 OPS at the age of 22 in High-A Palm Beach last season. In 2016, they selected Delvin Perez who is still just 20 at Low-A Peoria but no longer looks like a potential All-Star shortstop that the Cards thought they were getting.
Plummer and Delvin Perez aren’t total misses, but their stock price is way lower than the Cardinals bought at, if that makes more sense. Ramsey could definitely be called a miss. Hindsight is 20/20, but who could the Cardinals have picked in those years instead?
2012: Matt Olson
Thankfully for the Cardinals, Ramsey wasn’t their only first-rounder in 2012. After so many players left in 2011, the Cardinals had five draft picks inside of the top 60. Ramsey just happened to be their second pick. Other than Ramsey, the Cardinals drafted Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Patrick Wisdom, and Steve Bean before pick 60. However, there were guys still on the board at pick 23 that the Cardinals would’ve been lucky to get.
While Joey Gallo, Lance McCullers, and Jessie Winker were also available, Matt Olson would’ve been a fantastic pick to grab at 23. Olson was picked at #47 overall by the Oakland Athletics and is now widely regarded as the best defensive first baseman in the league. While Gallo has slightly more power, Olson can certainly hold his own.
In his age 25 season, Olson had an elite .277 ISO, 36 bombs, and an OPS just slightly south of .900. He walked at a 9.3% rate and struck out at a 25.2% rate (higher, but not dangerously high). Olson won the Gold Glove at first base in the American League for the second time in 2019.
He’d be a great asset to have right now at first base and would’ve negated the need for the Paul Goldschmidt deal. A strong argument could be made for Joey Gallo, I’m partial to Olson’s defense and the fact he didn’t strikeout 38% of the time in 2019 (hello Mr. Gallo).
2015: Walker Buehler
Ah, the infamous 2015 draft. At 23, the Cardinals went against their normal philosophy with Plummer, a high school outfielder from Michigan. It’s not surprising that the Cardinals haven’t gone back to a northern school hitter since then. Plummer could always turn things around, but it gets less likely each year he continues to struggle.
Right behind Plummer, the Dodgers selected Walker Buehler at number 24. There are lots of similarities between Buehler and the Cardinals’ first-rounder in 2019, Zack Thompson (college pitcher, injury question marks cause them to fall in the draft). The Dodgers did end up getting a gem.
Over 30 starts in 2019, Buehler had a 3. 26 ERA (3.01 FIP) while striking out 10.8 batters per nine and walking fewer than 2.0 per nine. Beuhler is quickly moving up the Dodgers pitching staff and is just 25 in 2020. While Ke’Bryan Hayes (#41 overall prospect in MLB with the Dodgers) and Braves’ up and coming star, Mike Soroka were both still on the board, Buehler would’ve been the most logical pick instead of Plummer.
2016: Carter Kieboom
2016 was a fantastic draft for the St. Louis Cardinals, even with a whiff on their first pick. Drafting Perez at 23 was a dream come true at the time, as he only fell to the Cardinals at #23 because of a PED report coming out just before the draft. However, the Cardinals also drafted some guy Dylan Carlson and another named Dakota Hudson in the first round of 2016, so if you know who those guys are, I guess they did okay.
If the Cardinals would’ve stayed away from Perez (it wouldn’t have been smart at the time), they could’ve instead drafted Carter Kieboom (#21 prospect in baseball). He was taken at pick #28 by the Washington Nationals. While guys like Taylor Trammel and Will Smith were still available, Kieboom would’ve been the smarter choice.
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Kieboom is a well-rounded shortstop whose bat has been getting steadily better. He played in 11 games for the Nats in 2019 (and looked overmatched) but had an OPS of over .900 at AAA in 2019 and his OPS over .800 each of the two subsequent years. He will get another shot in 2020 and likely be just fine. If the Cardinals wanted a shortstop, Kieboom (ON HIS CURRENT DEVELOPMENT PATH) would’ve been a better choice in 2016.
So, if the team had made these selections instead of the ones they did, what would be different? The starting rotation would be more fortified with Beuhler, Paul DeJong likely would have some competition below him, and the Cardinals probably wouldn’t have traded for Paul Goldschmidt with a stalwart like Olson at first base.
Of course, this is all Matt’s fantasy dreamland where everything works out just the way he wants them to. There are way too many variables that could’ve changed things along the way for any of these players.
As Kyle Reis frequently brings up, hypotheticals like this don’t hold much truth because each player’s journey would have been potentially drastically different had they been playing in a different organization’s minor leagues, that works both ways.
Ramsey, Plummer, and Perez all could’ve turned into stars in another team’s system while Beuhler, Kieboom, and Olson could’ve flopped here. However, it is fun to dream of what things would’ve been like had these players been drafted by the Cardinals and developed the same way.
In 2020, the Cardinals have the 21st pick in the draft, so they won’t be cursed. The 23rd pick just seems to have a weird history for them. In fact, of the five times the team has picked 23rd, only one player (Luis Alicea) made it to the MLB.