Fewer recent Cards top draft picks made the bigs

The St. Louis Cardinals media notes last week called attention to the fact that Colby Rasmus’ MLB debut marked the first first-round draft pick by the organization to reach the big leagues with the club since J.D. Drew (pictured) in 1998.

That is true, depending on how you classify the supplemental first round. Chris Duncan, taken 46th overall in 1999 in the supplemental first round also has been a major leaguer for the better part of four years.

That got me to thinking about how dry the top end of the Cardinals recent drafts have been. (When you have been following the team as long as I have, even 1998 seems fairly recent!)

In a series of articles called “Doctoring the Numbers” featured at Baseball Prospectus in 2006, writer Rany Jazayerli looked at 16 years of draft output across MLB. He determined that 49.3% of the top 100 players taken in the draft reached the major leagues – with any club.

Another study mentioned at Dugout Central last summer notes that 67% of first-round draft picks make the major leagues. That analysis covered 36 years worth of data, from 1965 until 2001.

With that backdrop, let’s look at how the Cardinals’ picks in the first round and in the top 100 have fared from when Drew was taken 1998 up until Rasmus’ selection in 2005.

First, I present the raw data, with future major leaguers’ names in bold. The highest level of play attained by all 21 players is noted, bookended by Drew on the front end and Rasmus on the back end. Drew and his 1998 class are included in the numbers that follow, but Rasmus and the 2005 draft are not, as the jury is still out on many of those players.

Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 5 J.D. Drew OF MLB
1s 32 Ben Diggins P MLB
2 48 Chad Hutchinson P MLB
2 55 Tim Lemon OF A+
3 78 Gabe Johnson IF AAA
Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 30 Chance Caple P A+
1s 36 Nick Stocks P AAA
1s 46 Chris Duncan IF MLB
2s 82 Josh Pearce P MLB
Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 13 Shaun Boyd IF AAA
1 24 Blake Williams P A+
2 53 Chris Narveson P MLB
3 83 Chase Voshell IF A+
Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 28 Justin Pope P AAA
2 72 Dan Haren P MLB
Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 28 Daric Barton C MLB
2 65 Stuart Pomeranz P AA
3 95 Dennis Dove P MLB
Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 19 Chris Lambert P MLB
2 60 Mike Ferris 1B AAA
3 90 Eric Haberer P AA
Rd Ov Name Pos High
1 28 Colby Rasmus OF MLB

First round

Rd 1 MLB Rd 1 MLB Rd 1 % Make
with StL Other club Miss MLB MLB
1998 1 0 0
1999 0 0 1
2000 0 0 2
2001 0 0 1
2002 0 0 0
2003 0 1 0
2004 0 1 0
total 1 2 4 43%
MLB avg 67%

As the table shows, during the seven years of 1998 through 2004, the Cardinals had seven picks in the first 30 selections, including two in 2000 and none in 2002. The Cardinals lost their first two picks in the latter year due to the free agent signings of Jason Isringhausen and Tino Martinez.

In addition to Drew, two others from this group of seven eventually made the major leagues, though neither Daric Barton (Oakland) nor Chris Lambert (Detroit) did it while still wearing a Cardinals uniform.

That 43% yield, albeit on a very small sample, is substantially lower than the 67% expected.

Though the study data referenced above does not further delineate the spot in the first round in which the picks are made, it is worth noting that Drew was the only one of the seven Cardinals picks taken in the first dozen in any given year and only three were in the top 20. In other words, four of the seven were in the back third of the first round. Still, 67 percent is 67 percent.

First round including supplemental picks

Rd 1+ MLB Rd 1+ MLB Rd 1+ % Make
with StL Other club Miss MLB MLB
1998 1 1 0
1999 1 0 2
2000 0 0 2
2001 0 0 1
2002 0 0 0
2003 0 1 0
2004 0 1 0
total 2 3 5 50%

I couldn’t locate any historical first round data that clearly delineated when supplemental picks were included. Therefore, I have no point of comparison for the 50% highlighted here, other than to note that while it isn’t all that great, it is slightly higher than the “pure” first round-only results of 43%. That seems counterintuitive, but perhaps it is an indication of the slightly larger population of players.

To go along with the three names mentioned just above plus Duncan, pitcher Ben Diggins, the number 32 pick overall in 1998, debuted with the 2002 Milwaukee Brewers.

Top 100 picks

Top 100 MLB Top 100 MLB Top 100 % Make
with StL Other club Miss MLB MLB
1998 2 1 2
1999 2 0 2
2000 1 0 3
2001 1 0 1
2002 0 0 0
2003 1 1 1
2004 0 1 2
total 7 3 11 47.6%
MLB avg 49.3%

Expanding the aperture to the top 100 players drafted each year adds five more MLB’ers, all of whom debuted with St. Louis. Of the five, only Dan Haren has been an impact player in the bigs, though.

Ten of the Cardinals’ 21 top 100 picks made starting with Drew and ending before the Rasmus selection reached the major leagues. That success rate of 47.6% is only slightly below Jazayerli’s 49.3% cross-MLB expectation.

Quantity vs. quality

Note that this article does not delineate between a “cup of coffee” player and a long-time major league contributor. To assess the longer term value of Cardinals draftees, please reference Dave Spitze’s pair of published articles at Scout.com.

The essence of the conclusion made is that the Cardinals are one of the top two clubs in MLB in terms of total player at-bats and innings pitched as well as key stats accrued by their draftees.

The catch is that many of those players had previously been traded away by the club. That reality was a by-product of the organizational strategy then in place – to swap top prospects for established major leaguers.