The Cardinals have prided themselves on being able to build talent through their illustrious pipeline, developing raw talent into bona fide big leaguers, and in several cases, Hall of Famers.
So how has the team fared with its top overall pick from each season? Let’s dive into it, considering solely the team’s first pick from each year since the Rule 4 Draft was instilled in 1965.
2021: Michael McGreevy, RHP, UC Santa Barbara (No. 18)
McGreevy, a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd, was the Cardinals’ highest pick since 2008, when they took first baseman Brett Wallace 13th overall. As the Friday night starter for UCSB, McGreevy struck out 115 batters against 11 walks -- good enough for a 2.6 walk rate -- in 101 2/3 innings following the pandemic-canceled 2020 season.
2020: Jordan Walker, 3B, Decatur (Ga.) HS (No. 21)
Seen to be one of the highest-upside Cardinals draftees in recent memory, Walker was the eighth high schooler taken in his Draft.
2019: Zack Thompson, LHP, Kentucky (No. 19)
A lefty with a high talent floor, Thompson was given jersey No. 57 -- the first Cardinal to don it since the late Daryl Kile.
2018: Nolan Gorman, 3B, Sandra Day O'Connor (Ariz.) HS (No. 19)
Gorman may have a more potent power tool than any other top Cardinals draftee in recent memory.
2017: Scott Hurst, OF, Cal. State (No. 94)
Without a first- or second-round Draft pick, the Cardinals made Hurst their top selection in the third round of ’17. He made his big league debut in ’21 before ever having played in Triple-A.
2016: Delvin Pérez, SS, International Baseball Academy -- Puerto Rico (No. 23)
One of the Cardinals’ most hotly debated recent top picks, Pérez went through a rigmarole of experiences and struggles in his first several professional seasons. Dylan Carlson and Dakota Hudson were selected with the Cardinals’ other two first-round picks.
2015: Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice (Mich.) HS (No. 23)
Plummer struggled through his first several Minor League seasons before getting off to a hot start in 2021.
2014: Luke Weaver, RHP, Florida State (No. 27)
Weaver showed some flashes of brilliance before the Cardinals, in the Paul Goldschmidt trade, sent him to Arizona to do the same. Jack Flaherty was selected with the Cardinals’ other first-round pick (34th overall).
2013: Marco Gonzales, LHP, Gonzaga (No. 19)
A promising young lefty, Gonzales never found his form in St. Louis around his 2016 Tommy John surgery before turning into a solid pitcher in Seattle -- a trade that brought Tyler O’Neill eastward.
2012: Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M (No. 19)
Only one pitcher (Adam Wainwright) pitched more innings for the Cardinals than Wacha over his tenure with the club (2013-19), during which he was an All-Star and named the 2013 NLCS MVP.
2011: Kolten Wong, 2B, Hawaii (No. 22)
The Cardinals’ second Draft pick out of the University of Hawaii turned out to be the most fruitful in the school’s history, with Wong a two-time Gold Glover, a franchise favorite and the all-time bWAR leader by a Hawaii alumnus.
2010: Zack Cox, 3B, Arkansas (No. 25)
Cox is the only Cardinals top Draft pick of the decade to retire without making it to the Majors. He was traded to Miami in 2012 for future All-Star Edward Mujica.
2009: Shelby Miller, RHP, Brownwood (Texas) HS (No. 19)
Taking third place in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2013, Miller was a promising Cards farmhand before reaching All-Star status with the Braves in '15 and then watching his career derail due to injuries.
2008: Brett Wallace, 1B, Arizona State (No. 13)
Wallace’s most memorable contribution to the Cardinals is being part of the deal to Oakland that netted Matt Holliday, never breaking to the Majors in St. Louis. Lance Lynn was selected with the Cardinals’ other first-round pick (39th overall).**
2007: Pete Kozma, SS, Owasso (Okla.) HS (No. 18)**
A clutch hitter -- especially in the playoffs -- and a fan favorite, few players represent the blue-collar mid-2010s Cardinals teams better than Kozma.
2006: Adam Ottavino, RHP, Northeastern (No. 30)
Ottavino made three starts with St. Louis -- the only starts of his Major League career -- before being selected off waivers by Colorado and turning into a trusty reliever.
2005: Colby Rasmus, OF, Russell County (Ala.) HS (No. 28)
The advanced metrics love Rasmus, who owns the second-highest WAR among Cardinals first-round picks in the 2010s (the highest among top selections) before netting four players (Edwin Jackson included) for the stretch run in the 2011 championship team.
2004: Chris Lambert, RHP, Boston College (No. 19)
Lambert didn’t break in the Majors in St. Louis before being sent as the player to be named later in the Mike Maroth trade with Detroit.
2003: Daric Barton, C, Marina (Calif.) HS (No. 28)
Like Lambert, Barton didn’t break the Majors with St. Louis, but, along with Dan Haren and Kiko Calero, netted two-time All-Star Mark Mulder from Oakland. He's one of only three catchers on this list.
2002: Calvin Hayes, SS, East Rowan (N.C.) HS (No. 102)
Without a first-round pick, St. Louis selected Hayes in the third round. He spent four seasons in the Minors, but he didn’t break into The Show.
2001: Justin Pope, RHP, Central Florida (No. 28)
Pope spent three years in the Cards organization before spending time in the Yankees' and Phillies’ farm systems.
2000: Shaun Boyd, OF, Vista (Calif.) HS (No. 13)
Boyd put up an .850 OPS season with Peoria in 2002 before later spending time in the Phillies’ Minor League system.
1999: Chance Caple, RHP, Texas A&M (No. 30)
One of three first-round picks in 1999, Caple and Nick Stocks failed to make the Majors. The only one who did was Chris Duncan, part of the 2006 World Series club.
1998: J.D. Drew, OF, Florida State (No. 5)
An incredibly underrated player, Drew is one of the Cardinals’ all-time best top Draft picks, though his best years came elsewhere. Only one Cards first-round pick on this list owns a higher career bWAR.
1997: Adam Kennedy, SS, Cal State (No. 20)
Part of the 2000 trade to the Angels that brought Cards Hall of Famer Jim Edmonds eastward, Kennedy later had a second stint with the Cardinals from 2007-08.
1996: Braden Looper, RHP, Wichita State (No. 3)
The highest overall Draft pick on this list, Looper, like Kennedy, made two stints with St. Louis -- the first prior to the trade that netted Edgar Renteria from the Marlins and later as a free agent from 2006-08.
1995: Matt Morris, RHP, Seton Hall (No. 12)
Departed from the club in the offseason prior to the 2006 World Series run, Morris owns the best campaign by a Cardinals pitcher not named Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright this millennium, with 22 wins (most by a Cards pitcher in a year since 2000) and a 3.16 ERA in 2001.
1994: Bret Wagner, LHP, Wake Forest (No. 19)
Wagner put together a respectable Minor League career with St. Louis before watching things unravel in the Athletics’ system as part of the Todd Stottlemyre trade in 1996 and was out of baseball by '98.
1993: Alan Benes, RHP, Creighton (No. 16)
A member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Benes was part of the late-1990s Cards rotations alongside his brother, Andy, the top overall pick by the Padres in 1988.
1992: Sean Lowe, RHP, Arizona State (No. 15)
The most fun tidbit about Lowe’s career is that, when he was a member of the White Sox in 2001, he was the pitcher for Albert Pujols' first and only sacrifice bunt to date.
1991: Dmitri Young, 3B, Rio Mesa (Calif.) HS (No. 4)
Another underrated player, before the boon of on-base notoriety, Young’s best years came elsewhere, a two-time All-Star with the Tigers and Nationals. He was part of a rare trade with the division-rival Reds in 1997.
1990: Donovan Osborne, LHP, UNLV (No. 13)
Osborne finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1992 before serving as the club’s Opening Day starter in 1999, as part of a nine-year career (seven in St. Louis).
1989: Paul Coleman, OF, Frankston (Texas) HS (No. 6)
The highest overall selection on this list to not make the Majors, Coleman needed three seasons to break past A-level ball and was out of the pros by 1994, with one later season spent in independent ball.
1988: John Ericks, RHP, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (No. 22)
Ericks’ career never materialized with St. Louis; he ultimately pitched three big league seasons in Pittsburgh. Brian Jordan was also selected in the first round of this Draft (30th overall).
1987: Cris Carpenter, RHP, Georgia (No. 14)
Likely not the right-handed Carpenter you’re thinking of. This Carpenter spent five seasons with St. Louis before being selected by the Marlins in the 1992 Expansion Draft.
1986: Luis Alicea, 2B, Florida State (No. 23)
Alicea appeared in 566 games for the Cardinals. He was traded to the Red Sox in 1994, then was selected back off waivers for the '96 season before journeying to three other franchises.
1985: Joe Magrane, LHP, Arizona (No. 18)
Magrane burst onto the scene in 1987, finishing third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and then capturing the MLB ERA title with a 2.18 mark in ’88. His only World Series performances -- in ’87 -- did not go smoothly.
1984: Mike Dunne, RHP, Bradley (No. 7)
Dunne blossomed into a solid big leaguer for a couple years in Pittsburgh, shipped there from St. Louis as part of the trade for Tony Peña.
1983: Jim Lindeman, 3B, Bradley (No. 24)
Like Dunne, Lindeman was another first-round pick for the Cards out of Bradley University. Only this time, the utility player appeared in 184 games for the Cardinals.
1982: Todd Worrell, RHP, Biola (No. 21)
Only two full seasons separated Worrell from his drafting and the Majors, as he captured NL Rookie of the Year and Rolaids Relief honors in 1986 -- his first full season -- and the first of his three All-Star campaigns with St. Louis in '88 before finishing his career as a Dodger.
1981: Bob Meacham, SS, San Diego State (No. 8)
Part of a deal to the Yankees that netted three players (none of whom made the Majors with St. Louis), Meacham led the Majors in sac bunts twice in New York.
1980: Donald Collins, RHP, Ferguson (Va.) HS (No. 15)
Collins spent just three years in the Cardinals’ organization, never playing above A ball.
1979: Andy Van Slyke, OF, New Hartford (N.Y.) HS (No. 6)
One of the best entries on this list, Van Slyke’s best years came elsewhere, turning into an MVP candidate, All-Star and Gold Glover with the Pirates after appearing in the 1985 World Series with St. Louis.
1978: Bob Hicks, 1B, Gonzalez Tate (Fla.) HS (No. 15)
Hicks never advanced past Class A ball with St. Louis -- only reaching the Double-A level in the Rangers organization -- and didn’t play in the Majors.
1977: Terry Kennedy, C, Florida State (No. 6)
Like many on this list, Kennedy’s best years came elsewhere, a down-ballot MVP candidate with the Padres and an All-Star with the Orioles. He was part of the trade that brought Hall of Famer Rollie Finger to St. Louis … before Fingers was traded four days later.
1976: Leon Durham, 1B, Woodward (Ohio) HS (No. 15)
Durham blossomed into an All-Star with the Cubs, where he was sent in one of the most famous trades in Cardinals history, with Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter heading to St. Louis. Durham returned to St. Louis for the 1989 season.
1975: David Johnson, LHP, Gaylord (Mich.) HS (No. 16)
Johnson pitched to respectable stats in the Minors, but he never made it to the Majors, ultimately ending his career in the Astros organization.
1974: Garry Templeton, SS, Santa Ana Valley (Calif.) HS (No. 13)
A triples machine, Templeton earned two of his three All-Star nods in St. Louis, hitting .305 over six seasons for the club. He was shipped to San Diego in the 1981 trade that brought Ozzie Smith to the Cardinals.
1973: Joe Edelen, 3B, Gracemont (Okla.) HS (No. 12)
Drafted as a third baseman, Edelen made his only Major League appearances as a right-handed reliever, with a 6.75 ERA across 27 big league games with the Cards and Reds.
1972: Dan Larson, RHP, Alhambra (Calif.) HS (No. 21)
Larson was the player to be named later in an August 1974 trade with the Astros that brought Claude Osteen to St. Louis for the '74 stretch run.
1971: Ed Kurpiel, 1B, Archbishop Molloy (N.Y.) HS (No. 8)
Kurpiel was a quick riser through the Minor League ranks, but he never broke past Triple-A, playing with five organizations in his pro career.
1970: Jim Browning, RHP, Emma Sansom (Ala.) HS (No. 11)
Browning made only six appearances in the Cardinals’ Minor League system before stints with the Phillies and Giants, never making the Majors.
1969: Charles Minott, LHP, Royal Oak (Calif.) HS (No. 20)
Minott was great in his only full Minor League Season in 1971, before a reported battle with Hodgkin’s disease cut his career short, unfortunately passing away in '79.
1968: Butch Hairston, OF, Roth (Ohio) HS (No. 19)
Hairston was the first of four consecutive Cardinals top Draft picks who failed to reach the Majors, never rising above A-ball with St. Louis.
1967: Ted Simmons, C, Southfield (Mich.) HS (No. 10)
By pure metrics, no player the Cardinals selected with their first pick was more valuable than Simmons and his 50.3 career bWAR. Simba was a six-time All-Star in St. Louis, rewarded with a Hall of Fame nod in 2019.
1966: Leron Lee, INF, Grant Union (Calif.) HS (No. 7)
The first top Draft pick by the Cardinals to reach the Majors, Lee’s best years came in San Diego, highlighted by a 149 OPS+ campaign in 1972.
1965: Joe DiFabio, RHP, Delta State (No. 20)
The Cardinals’ first-ever Draft pick spent five years in the farm system, but he failed to reach the Majors. DiFabio posted a career-best 2.17 ERA at Double-A in 1968.