Cards finish up Draft with question marks
St. Louis takes risks with overall strategy in '09
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals went away from their recent pattern of taking proven players with good numbers, instead making several risky picks with potentially big upsides in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Each of their top five picks comes with question marks including top pick Shelby Miller, a Texas high-schooler with a mid-90s fastball, whom the Cardinals have acknowledged will be tough to sign.
"That's what we were looking at this year, taking some guys that had higher ceilings," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development. "But oftentimes that comes with correspondingly higher risks, whether it's on development, signability or health."
Miller, taken 19th overall in the first round, was the first high school pitcher the Cardinals have selected with their top pick since Brian Barber in 1991. Usually a fan of college pitchers, the Cardinals broke from their mold to take the top overall player left on the board when they picked at 19, but will probably have to break slot money to sign him.
The question marks don't stop with Miller. The Cardinals' second-round pick, Robert Stock, was both a catcher and a pitcher at USC -- he sometimes would do both in the same weekend. Their third-round pick, pitcher Joe Kelly from UC-Riverside, has a 98-mph fastball, but also carried a 5.65 ERA.
Their fourth-round pick, Mississippi ace Scott Bittle, was drafted by the Yankees in the second round a year ago, but didn't sign after the Yankees had concerns over an injured right shoulder. The injury problems returned this year as Bittle went 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 45 2/3 innings before being shut down for the last month of the season with more arm troubles.
But the biggest question mark of them all may have been the Cardinals' fifth-round pick, University of Miami shortstop Ryan Jackson. The junior was widely regarded as one of the top defense shortstops in the Draft, with some scouts going as far as saying that he was good enough defensively to play in the Major Leagues today.
Cardinals -- Top five selections
|19||RHP||Shelby Miller||Brownwood HS|
|67||C||Robert Stock||U Southern California|
|98||RHP||Joseph Kelly||UC Riverside|
|129||RHP||Joseph Bittle||U Mississippi|
|159||SS||Ryan Jackson||U Miami|
|Complete Cardinals Draft results >|
But the issue isn't with his glove, it's with his bat. Jackson hit just .263 with four homers for Miami this spring. He did hit .360 as a sophomore but only .236 as a freshman in 2007. The Cardinals believe that getting Jackson into their system will help improve his offensive numbers, but it's a question mark at this point to say the least.
To top it off, the Cardinals' 11th-round pick, first baseman Alan Ahmady of Fresno State, was suspended for undisclosed reasons and missed the WAC Tournament and NCAA Regional.
"Stock is playing a position where he hasn't necessarily been successful offensively, Kelly didn't throw a lot of strikes last year, Bittle was banged up a little bit and Jackson is a great defensive player, but not a proven hitter yet," Luhnow said. "Those are four guys that if they pull it together and if their development goes the way that we believe it will go, those are four guys who could be impact big leaguers. And then you add Shelby Miller, who if we had him signed and out playing and he stays healthy, he should be a top of the rotation starter for us. So that's five guys that you could see playing in the big leagues and that's a very good yield for the Draft."
The Cardinals also sent a message to some of their struggling righties within the system when they used 21 of their 50 picks on right-handed pitchers. They took eight left-handed pitchers, 11 infielders, five outfielders and five catchers with their remaining picks.
Forty-three of the Cardinals' 50 selections were used on college players and five had local ties.
"Our biggest organizational need was to bring in more prospects, more players that properly develop and can make it to the big leagues," Luhnow said. "That was our goal, to find guys that we believe might have an impact in the big leagues and that's what we focused on.
"We feel the majority of the guys that we took on Day 1 and the first part of Day 2 have a nice chance of making it to the big leagues. We feel pretty good with how we ended up."
In an odd occurrence, the Cardinals selected two players that were both pitchers and catchers while in college. In addition to Stock, Southeast Missouri State University's Jim Klocke -- taken in the 46th round -- spent time both on the mound and behind the plate in 2009. Klocke hit .394 with 20 doubles, nine home runs and 46 RBIs as the team's starting catcher and had a 5.70 ERA and a 2-4 record in 17 appearances out of the bullpen. The Cardinals drafted both Stock and Klocke as catchers.
B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.