ATLANTA -- With five of the first 59 picks in Monday's 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the Cardinals have a unique opportunity to infuse significant top talent into their farm system less than a year after winning the franchise's 11th World Series championship.
The plethora of early selections is the byproduct of offseason turnover, which saw Albert Pujols, Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson leave behind Draft picks when each departed during free agency. Compensation for Pujols includes the 19th and 36th overall picks. In between, the Cards will also select 23rd, a slot determined by their 2011 record.
The 52nd and 59th overall picks are the Cardinals, too. With those selections, the organization has the chance to reap long-term benefits in addition to the short-term boon of last July's Trade Deadline deal with the Blue Jays. Dotel and Jackson came over in that deal.
Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 5 p.m. CT on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following@MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
"Certainly from a scouting standpoint, our strategy has to be aggressive," said Dan Kantrovitz, who took over as the organization's director of scouting in January. "Because we have three picks in a span of 20 picks, we've been aggressive in terms of seeing players that might fit into that range multiple times. Right now, we're approaching each pick in terms of players' talents and then in terms of our budget constraints."
Budget constraints, determined not by the organization, but by Major League Baseball, provide a new twist to this year's Draft. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, passed in December, limits the amount that teams can hand out as Draft bonuses. The Cardinals' money pool for their first 14 picks -- which span 10 rounds -- will be just over $9.1 million. The organization will be penalized if it spends more.
Such a limit has increased the need to know signing bonus demands ahead of time. As a result, general manager John Mozeliak and Kantrovitz have been vetting players and their representatives extensively ahead of time to determine what the expectation of each is.
"Doing your due diligence on a player hasn't changed at all," Mozeliak said. "But now the critical point in decision making becomes understanding whether a player is signable. As we get closer to the Draft, I think that's where a lot of our energy and focus will then be on the signability issue."
Perception is that this year's Draft doesn't contain the type of elite top talent seen in recent years. That is not to suggest, however, that the Draft isn't set up to be a deep one.
The strength seems to be in high school players, with both pitching and position player prospects aplenty at that age. That said, a group of college pitchers could make up a substantial portion of the early picks. Deciphering who is likely to go in what spot, even at and near the top, has been tough.
With the benefit of five picks before the second round, the Cardinals are expected to take some chances. Said Mozeliak, of the team's positioning: "I think that does allow you to have a more diverse portfolio where you can be able to take some guys with higher upsides."
High school players are riskier picks than college ones, and pitchers are traditionally less likely to pan out than position players. The Cards can afford to take gambles on such high-upside, high-risk talent knowing that they have so many chances to strike gold.
Here's a glance at what the Cardinals have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words The Cardinals have quantity -- five first-round picks -- but they're looking to match that in quality. The Draft is likely to skew high school-heavy early, and St. Louis won't shy away from taking such high-upside, high-risk talent. While not viewed as a strong Draft near the top, it does have depth, which benefits the Cardinals.
"We've done a lot of planning internally, but I don't think anybody truly knows how it is going to play out. We'll line up our board in the Draft room based on everybody's opinion, and if the best player is high school player, we're not going to shy away based on risk." -- Kantrovitz
Though several college pitchers are likely to be taken near the top of the Draft, it does have more depth in the high school ranks. That's largely because the college talent pool has been diluted by so many high schoolers signing for above-slot money in recent years. There is a nice mix of top-talent position players and pitchers, meaning that with five picks, the Cardinals will likely take a diverse group.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Cardinals have included farm director John Vuch in some pre-Draft meetings, giving him the chance to provide an overview of the state of Minor League system. That does not mean, however, that the organization will choose players based on organizational need. Though signability will be a contributing factor, the Cards will take who they believe to be the most talented player available, regardless of position or age.
With a new scouting director in charge, some of the trends noticeable in the Cardinals' recent Drafts are no longer appropriate precedent. But it is worth keeping an eye on the club's first-round strategy. With five of the first 59 picks, St. Louis is prepared to take some players with higher upsides but greater risk. Balancing those selections with "safer" ones ensures that the Cardinals will reap rewards from the Draft and possibly come away with some steals.
Recent Draft History Rising fast
Taken with the organization's top pick in last year's Draft, second baseman Kolten Wong has spent all of 2012 in Double-A. He made the jump to that level after playing 47 games in low Class A following his signing. Wong has already earned Texas League Player of the Week honors this season and has hit .320 through his first 44 games with Springfield (Mo.). If Wong continues to excel, he could be playing in Triple-A by the end of the year and knocking at the Major League door in 2013.
Cardinals' recent top picks
Triple-A Oklahoma City (Astros)
A 21st-round pick in the 2009 Draft, right-hander Trevor Rosenthal has emerged as one of the most promising pitching prospects in the Cardinals' system. Ranked by MLB.com as the organization's seventh-best prospect, Rosenthal was invited to Major League Spring Training and has since been pitching for Springfield. He throws a fastball in the upper 90s, and this year has a 2.72 ERA through 10 starts.
In The Show
Partially due to injuries and partially on merit, first baseman Matt Adams finished his climb to the Majors two weeks ago. Taken two rounds after Rosenthal was in '09, Adams capped a 32-homer, 101-RBI season in Double-A last summer by being named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. There was hardly a noticeable learning curve when he moved up to Triple-A this year. In 37 games before being called up, Adams hit .340 with a team-high nine homers and 27 RBIs.