What to know about Cards' intriguing '20 Draft

June 12th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in Draft history, the first high school player wasn’t taken until eighth overall, and of the 160 players selected in the Draft, 113 were college players.

The Cardinals, though, bucked that trend -- their three top picks were high school prospects.

On Wednesday, with the 21st overall pick, the Cardinals selected Georgia prep third baseman Jordan Walker, a right-handed hitter who has some of the best power potential in this Draft class. With their first pick on Thursday, at 54th overall, the Cards selected shortstop/right-handed pitcher Masyn Winn out of Kingwood High School in Texas. Shortly thereafter, at pick No. 63, the Cardinals drafted Tink Hence, a right-handed pitcher from Watson Chapel High School in Arkansas and, at 17 years old, one of the youngest players in the Draft.

From there, the Cardinals went the college route, with outfielder Alec Burleson out of East Carolina University at No. 70, a pick the Cards received for losing Marcell Ozuna in free agency. Oklahoma left-hander Levi Prater was selected in the third round, Mizzou right-hander Ian Bedell in the fourth round, and the Cardinals finished the Draft with Long Beach State outfielder LJ Jones IV in the fifth round.

The organization has spent the past 2 1/2 months evaluating players and analytics online, often via Zoom calls. That meant there was little of the classic Draft room chemistry on Wednesday and Thursday, as only scouting director Randy Flores and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak could be at Busch Stadium. Flores felt the familiarity of tension in the selections, but the post-pick feeling was the unusual part.

“You are feeling that decision is coming to a head,” Flores said. “What was unfamiliar was being able to make that selection, look at everybody, and not feel the energy of their physical presence in that room, to not be able to feel that warmth of your department as you congratulate them on that pick."

Now what?
The biggest hint at a player’s signability, especially with a shortened Draft, is that the Cardinals drafted them in the first place. St. Louis officials say they are “moving toward” agreements with their picks. Walker indicated Wednesday that he will forego his commitment to Duke, and, according to reports, Winn will do the same with his commitment to Arkansas. Bedell also said he will leave Mizzou and sign with St. Louis. The Cardinals have a $7.9 million bonus pool to spend on their picks, and Flores said that he’s been given the clearance to go 5 percent over the limit, if needed, with no financial restrictions.

The signing deadline this year is Aug. 1.

If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.

In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotments a total of 149 times but never by more than 5 percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pools last year.

But given that teams are technically allowed to sign for over slot, and with $7,901,100 in their bonus pool, the Cardinals' shift to college players in the later rounds could free bonus money to spend on earlier picks. These are the slot values for the Cards’ picks:

First round (Walker): $3,132,300
Second round (Winn): $1,338,500
Competitive Balance Round B (Hence): $1,076,300
Free-agent compensation pick (Burleson): $906,800
Third round (Prater): $627,900
Fourth round (Bedell): $469,000
Fifth round (Jones): $350,300

It’s unclear where the Cardinals’ signees will go afterward. Usually, they head to the club complex in Jupiter, Fla., for physicals, workouts and then Minor League assignments. But with the unknown of the baseball season, especially for the Minor Leagues, St. Louis has yet to determine what the next steps look like for its Draft class.

Trend wrap
With such a shortened Draft, the Cardinals wanted to take the best players available. It gave them a balance between prep stars and college-proven players, and all with high ceilings that they feel their player development system can find. They also got a nice balance of positions; including Winn’s two-way player classification, the Cardinals took four position players and four pitchers.

The Cardinals’ Draft class boasts balance and a lot of potential. From 1996 through 2015, St. Louis generally avoided high-risk and occasionally high-cost picks early in the Draft. But in five Drafts run by Flores, the Cardinals’ first pick has been an infielder three times. Walker follows Delvin Perez, the club's top pick in 2016, and 2018 top pick Nolan Gorman.

“I do think the process has evolved quite a bit,” Mozeliak said. “Our confidence in who we’re taking is derived from the preparation that this department puts into it. You think about the evolution of player evaluation. As you include all these modern technologies and all these modern analytics, it gives us a level of confidence that regardless of whether we’re going high school or college position player or pitcher, we feel like we’re able to take the best player available at the time.”

First-round fact
Walker is one of two first-round draftees who graduated from baseball’s diversity-geared Breakthrough Series. (The other is the Cubs’ first-round pick, Ed Howard.) The Cardinals’ third pick of the Draft, Hence, is also a Breakthrough Series alum.

Day 2 name to watch
Winn was the buzz name around the Cardinals because of his two-way player designation. Cards officials are eager to get him in their system and see how he develops, whether it’s as a hitter, pitcher or both. Some scouting reports say he has a higher ceiling on the mound, given the high spin rate on his fastball-curveball combo. But he’s talented defensively, can impact the ball from the right side of the plate and has good instincts on the bases.

“Because he’s young, it gives you opportunity to allow him to be experimental,” Mozeliak said. “Clearly, players are going to ultimately want to be moving as quickly as they can, and they’ll probably find a comfort zone that they enjoy doing. So we’re just going to have to strike that right balance. But he is, he’s clearly a very special player. The more you watch him -- candidly, I can’t wait to see him in real life. He’s going to be a fun player to watch.”

Non-drafted free agent strategy
The Cardinals’ Draft group doesn’t have a limit on how many non-drafted free agents they can sign, but they’ll be smart about who they target. Mozeliak speculated before the Draft that the industry might not see a huge group of players ready to sign with teams. Still, St. Louis could look to add depth to the middle infield through this process, as well as adding more pitching to the system. Non-drafted free agents can sign for $20,000 starting Sunday.

The last word
“I’ve still hit that wall. As far as the exhaustion level, it’s tough to place it on a scale. I don’t think there’s a 20-80 scale for being tired, but there is really just a great appreciation for the tremendous amount of work that went into this. ... I think that now with the Draft format now shifting to the $20,000 bucket, the work is not done. There also is a lot of uncertainty as far as the onboarding process and physical, etc., there are still some things to work through.” -- Flores