Cards double up on lefties in first round of Draft
Gonzales could make quick rise; Kaminsky hints at forgoing UNC commitment
ST. LOUIS -- It had been 19 years since the Cardinals last selected a left-handed pitcher in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft. On Thursday, the organization took two.
The Cardinals used the 19th overall selection on college junior Marco Gonzales (Gonzaga University) before adding 18-year-old Robert Kaminsky at No. 28. Kaminsky, who has a college commitment to the University of North Carolina, attended St. Joseph Regional (N.J.) High School.
The club rounded out its Day 1 selections with high school shortstop Oscar Mercado, who was taken with the 57th overall pick.
"From a strategic standpoint, the approach of what we were trying to accomplish today, we feel it was a very successful day," general manager John Mozeliak said on Thursday night. "When you look at our system right now, we were able to address two areas that need to be addressed in terms of adding left-handed pitching and a shortstop."
Gonzales was ranked by MLB.com as the 14th best player available in the Draft. At the time of his selection, he became the first lefty to be drafted by the Cardinals in the first round since Bret Wagner was taken -- also with the 19th overall pick -- in 1994.
While Wagner never made it to the Majors, Gonzales would much prefer to follow in the footsteps of the organization's last two No. 19 picks -- Shelby Miller (2009) and Michael Wacha (2012). Both are currently members of the Cardinals' rotation, with Wacha making his Major League debut less than a year after wrapping up his college career at Texas A&M.
"To even be selected by a Major League team and be considered as a prospect that high is a huge honor for me and my family," Gonzales said from Washington, where he had gathered with family and friends for a Draft watch party. "Specifically the St. Louis Cardinals, it is one of the greatest organizations in the Major Leagues, and I've just been getting blown up by people telling me what an honor it is to go to this organization. And I've heard nothing but amazing things about the way they raise their pitchers and the way they treat players."
Before beginning his career at Gonzaga, Gonzales made his mark in Colorado high school baseball history by being the starting pitcher in four state championship games - and winning all four of them.
He was drafted out of high school in the 29th round of the 2010 Draft by the Rockies before deciding to instead head to Gonzaga.
"It was one of the greatest decisions I've ever made," said Gonzales, the son of Rockies short-season pitching coach Frank Gonzales. "Going to Gonzaga gave me a whole new sense of baseball and growing up and growing into the man I am today. It has definitely paid off, and I am very thankful."
As a junior, Gonzales, 21, led Gonzaga with 106 innings pitched in 2013. He finished 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA. He allowed 102 hits and walked 25, while striking out 96. Gonzales led the club in starts (16) and shutouts (two), as well as batting average with a .311 mark.
He was recently named one of 30 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, a yearly honor that recognizes the nation's top amateur player. He was also honored as the West Coast Conference Co-Player of the Year.
The Cardinals see the potential for Gonzales to rise quickly through the system, much in the way Wacha has over the past year. One of the biggest unknowns will be how he handles the adjustment from being a two-way player to solely a pitcher.
"We are all kind of curious to see what he looks like when he's just pitching," Mozeliak said. "It's maybe a fair bet to make that he might throw a little harder."
Gonzales already features an advanced changeup, a pitch he said he learned from his father when he was young. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he complements it with a slider.
"It's as advanced as you'll see at the amateur level," scouting director Dan Kantrovitz said of Gonzales' changeup. "It's a true plus-plus changeup. We took a guy last year with a pretty true plus-plus changeup. I really don't want to make a comparison to Wacha's, but they're both special pitches."
Gonzales stands at 6-foot-1 and weighs 195 pounds. Kaminsky, too, has a smaller build at 6 feet, 188 pounds. But what they may lack in stature, the Cardinals believe the pair of lefties make up in competitiveness.
"I think it takes a certain level of perseverance to succeed if you have things stacked against you your whole life," Kantrovitz said. "I wouldn't call either of these guys short, but they're maybe undersized for a Major League starting pitcher. They've had to do certain things in their career to compensate for that and do well. Both of them have had tremendous success at their respective levels."
Kaminsky entered the Draft considered to be one of the top high school lefties in this class. His fastball sits 90-94 mph and topped out this season at 95. Even if Kaminsky remains on the lower end of that range, his fastball would be considered above average for a Major League lefty.
In addition, the Cardinals believed Kaminsky had the best breaking ball of any high school player in the Draft.
Kaminsky used the visibility of playing in summer showcases to improve his Draft status after playing in a region of the country where it is tougher to get noticed. He then thrived as a high school senior, going 9-0 with 118 strikeouts and five walks in 58 innings.
At the time the New York Daily News profiled Kaminsky on April 20, he had already thrown seven no-hitters in his high school career.
"To be honest, I was hoping the Cardinals would pick me because [they] have developed as many good pitchers as anyone in baseball," Kaminsky said. "It's just such an honor to be drafted by [the Cardinals], and I can't thank [them] enough for giving me this opportunity."
Kaminsky was named to the Rawlings' All-America Northeast team and was tabbed as the Gatorade New Jersey High School Player of the Year as a junior and senior. He has committed to UNC, though he strongly hinted at forgoing that opportunity in order to jumpstart his professional career.
"My dad always said there are only about two things that could supersede a North Carolina degree, and professional baseball is the No. 1," Kaminsky said. "We're going to sit down tomorrow and discuss some things, but I look forward to getting signed with the Cardinals."
The Cardinals were able to draft Kaminsky with the 28th overall selection after having secured the extra pick for losing Kyle Lohse to free agency over the offseason.
With their top two picks made, the Cardinals now turn their attention to getting both left-handers signed. The slot value assigned to the 19th pick is $2.0558 million, while the 28th pick has a value of $1.7853 million. The Cardinals do not have to offer those precise signing bonuses to their top selections, but the club will be cognizant of its total Draft pool.
The Cardinals have $6.9079 million to spend on its first 11 picks. Clubs spending more than their respective allotments will be taxed, and if the overage is high enough, penalized future picks. The organization has no intention of extending itself enough to lose a Draft pick, but is willing to incur the added tax if it believes in the long-term payout.
Day 2 of the Draft continues with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 11:30 a.m. CT. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at noon.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.