The St. Louis Cardinals have had success in the MLB draft over the years. They haven’t hit on everything, but more often than not they’ve picked well.
The Major League Baseball amateur draft was agreed upon during the Winter Meetings of 1964, although the St. Louis Cardinals were the only team to vote against it. After the majority ruled over the Redbirds, the first amateur draft took place on June 8-9 1965 in New York City. Being the defending champions, the Cards kicked off their draft with the 20th pick: taking right-handed pitcher Joe DiFabio from Delta State University in Cleveland, MS.
DiFabio had all the credentials one would expect from an elite Cardinals prospect. He went 7-0 with a 0.55 ERA in his 1965 junior year at Delta State, hurling three one-hitters and allowed only 28 hits all season. Unfortunately, he flamed out of the organization in 1970 when he moved to the Cleveland Indians, having never made it past triple-A with the Cards, and then stopped pitching altogether in 1971.
The St. Louis Cardinals have had better luck since then though. Over the last 55 years since the inception of the MLB amateur draft, the Cards have drafted an MLB-high 84 players in the first round. Of these 84 players, 50 have made it into the majors. The only teams to have produced more major league players from the first round of the draft have been the San Francisco Giants (56), Oakland Athletics (55), and Texas Rangers (53).
If we look at the total percentage of players drafted in the first round to make it to the major leagues, the Cardinals have converted 59.5% of their first-round draft players (50 of their 84 players).
Although this is better than the New York Yankees (51.7% – 30 of their 58 draft players), Los Angeles Dodgers (53.7% – 36 of their 67 draft players), and Houston Astros (56.7% – 38 of their 67 draft players), this falls far behind the Major League-leading Seattle Mariners (77.1%) who have had 37 of their 48 first-round picks make the majors. Overall, the Cards actually ranked in the bottom third of MLB for converting their first-round draft picks into major league talent.
Of the Cardinals’ 50 first-round picks that made it to the majors, they have amassed a total of 471.8 bWAR which is the fourth highest WAR of any team in the majors from their first-round picks which is standout.
Only the Milwaukee Brewers (567.6), Oakland Athletics (536.9), and Boston Red Sox (485.8) have amassed more bWAR from their first-round picks than the St. Louis Cardinals, with the vast majority of Bostons coming from Roger Clemens (139.2).
The Cardinals top-performing first-round picks have been catcher Ted Simmons, plus outfielders J.D Drew and Andy Van Slyke.
- Simmons finished with a 50.3 career bWAR in which 13 years of his career was spent in St. Louis Cardinals.
- J.D Drew spent his first six years in Missouri with the Cardinals after being selected with the 5th overall pick.
- Andy van Slyke left the organization after his first three years with the Cards and became a bigger name with the Pirates.
Most recently, the Cardinals have drafted some strong names in the first round including Jack Flaherty in 2014 (who had a total of 5.7 bWAR in 2019 alone), Dakota Hudson in 2016 who had a strong rookie year last season and then Dylan Carlson who was picked at 33rd in 2016, and Nolan Gorman who was picked at 19th in 2018. Both Carlson and Gorman are highly touted and should make an impact in the majors in the coming years.
Overall, the Cards have drafted well, hitting on nearly 60% of their first-round picks and averaging 9.4 bWAR for every player that has made it to the majors.
In 2020, the Cardinals are drafting at pick 21. They have drafted three players at position 21 over the lifetime of the amateur draft, all of whom have made it to the majors!
- Dan Larson was drafted in 1972 but didn’t progress past AA with the Cards before being moved to Houston.
- Allen Watson was drafted in 1991 and made his major league debut in 1993, following which he started 56 games in 3 years for the Cards before moving onto the Giants.
- Todd Worrell was selected at position 21 in 1982, he made his major league debut in 1985 and won the Rookie of the Year award in 1986. Worrell spent 6 years with the Cards, amassing a total of 10.9 bWAR which is the sixth-most WAR of all players selected with the 21st pick.
The best player ever to be picked at 21 is right-handed starter Rick Sutcliffe who was picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974. Sutcliffe spent his first five years with the Dodgers, before time with the Indians and Cubs before closing out his career with St. Louis. He amassed a total of 33.9 bWAR which is something for the redbirds to aspire to in this draft.
The Major League amateur draft starts at 6:00 central time on June 10, so be sure to tune in and see who could be gracing the Busch Stadium diamond sometime soon in the future!