ST. LOUIS -- Randy Flores is no stranger to unusual circumstances with the MLB Draft. Hired as the Cardinals' director of scouting in 2016, his first Draft featured three of the first 34 picks -- which he used on Delvin Perez, Dakota Hudson and Dylan Carlson. The latter two will appear in the Majors when baseball returns. In '17, Flores dealt with the penalties from the Cardinals' hacking scandal and didn’t have the first pick until No. 94.
This year’s Draft resembles 2016, as the Cardinals have five picks in the first 100. But Flores and his team are dealing with a shortened Draft -- five rounds instead of the usual 40 -- after MLB shortened it due to the coronavirus pandemic. There is less recent information on prospects with college and high school seasons being cancelled.
“Obviously, the evaluating landscape was much different in 2016 than 2020, but also, 2016 was my first year as the scouting director,” said Flores, who pitched for the Cardinals from '04-08. “So there was just a ton of newness. And that’s where I say that every year gives its own challenges. There’s new stuff every year in the Draft.”
Flores and his staff have moved online, using group chats and Zoom to communicate. Their evaluations will rely on what they saw live in the first month of scouting this year, lots of video and even more data. But the process, Flores stressed, is still the same; the principles the Cardinals lean on haven’t changed.
“It’s the same for everyone,” Flores said. “There’s no team operating under different rules or different landscapes. All 30 clubs are marching to their ultimate selections in their unique way, and we’re doing the same.”
Day 1 of the 2020 Draft airs tonight on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, and includes the first 37 picks. Day 2 begins at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday on MLB Network and ESPN2, and spans the remainder of the 160 picks.
Comprehensive coverage will be available on MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, which will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast. Go to MLB.com/Draft to see when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, mock drafts from analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, scouting video and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying and to get each pick as it’s made.
Here’s how the Draft is shaping up for the Cardinals, whose first selection is the 21st overall pick:
State of the system: The Cardinals have the depth to field a Major League roster fueled by their pipeline. Their top three prospects are in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 -- Carlson (No. 17), Nolan Gorman (No. 47) and Matthew Liberatore (No. 58) -- are impact talents, and St. Louis’ top Draft pick from last year, Zack Thompson, is viewed as a fast-rising pitcher who could be in the big league rotation soon. Eighteen of the Cardinals' Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, have reached Double-A or higher. The system stands out for its depth, and the Cardinals are always looking for more of that impact potential you see in their top three prospects.
What they’re saying: “Really, it’s about trying to navigate the new normal these last few months across our whole department. For our scouts, that’s trying to be respectful and cognizant of the new demands on their lives as they are balancing work, life, family, home schooling, stay-at-home orders. So just trying to be intentional and acknowledging that it is a different landscape out there. Going through our process as best as possible in an intentional way to map out a road map for our selections.” -- Flores
Who might they take? The top talent available fits well into the Cardinals’ Draft profile -- college pitching. Here’s who has been linked to the Cardinals in this Draft class:
Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP: No. 21 on the Top 200 Draft Prospect list, Mlodzinski broke out in the Cape Cod League last summer, a performance which scouts will lean heavily on. At the University of South Carolina, he pounded the strike zone with a solid fastball, and he features a low-80s slider that sometimes morphs into a cutter.
Cade Cavalli, RHP: There’s not as much track record with Cavalli -- and there are injury concerns -- as he spent most of his freshman season at the University of Oklahoma at first base, but he showed a lot of upside during his sophomore season with easy velocity on his fastball and a powerful curve.
Justin Foscue, 2B: An All-American as a sophomore at Mississippi State, Foscue has a pull-heavy approach and provides more offense than most at his position. He has good hands and instincts to make him a solid defender, pairing with Jordan Westburg as the best double-play combination in college baseball.
Ed Howard, SS: The Mount Carmel (Ill.) High School product has blossomed into one of the best true shortstops in the Draft, noted for his simple right-handed swing with power and a calm approach. He’s an athletic player and smooth defender, so he’ll be able to stay at the position.
Money matters: Each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of its selections in the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. This year, with a five-round Draft, all signing bonuses of drafted players will apply toward the bonus pool total.
For 2020, there is a $20,000 limit on bonuses for non-drafted free agents. There is no limit to the number of undrafted players teams may sign, but they cannot go over $20,000 per player. These bonuses do not count toward the pool total.
The Cardinals have a pool of $7,901,100 to spend, including $3,132,300 to spend on their first selection.
Shopping list: The epicenter of need in the Cardinals’ system is the middle infield. Brendan Ryan (2007-10) and current shortstop Paul DeJong -- who was drafted as a third baseman and didn’t play shortstop until Double-A -- are the only Cardinals Draft picks to have consecutive 100-game seasons at shortstop since Garry Templeton from 1977-80. The Cardinals also have little depth at second base, so they can use this Draft, as well as the free-agent signings, to address that hole by finding players they can develop over time.
The Cardinals always have a desire for pitching, and last year’s moves -- particularly drafting Thompson in the first round and acquiring Liberatore in a trade with the Rays -- closed the gap in left-handed pitching. But they will still look to fill their farm system with pitchers who have a lot of upside and can develop into homegrown talent that the Cardinals often highlight on their Major League mound.
Trend watch: The impact of a five-round Draft could see more college players staying for their senior years and more high school players head to college. Trends could be broken based on how the prospect pool looks. But as a whole, the Cardinals tend to lean toward college players and, specifically, college pitching, even though three of their last four top picks were from the high school ranks. That’s where the depth is this year.
“The Draft is a living, breathing thing, and so much of how the Draft unfolds is dependent on what happens by the pick in front of you or by the 29 picks after you,” Flores said. “There’s depth in this Draft with college pitching. The question is, where does depth end? The top of the Draft is looking strong, but does that mean two picks, does that mean five picks, does that mean 20 picks? … There are going to be some very good opportunities for us to procure talent at multiple spots in this year’s Draft.”