Lost amid the furor of the controversial final play of last night’s walk off 5-4 Cardinals win was the fact that the final run was scored by homegrown star Allen Craig. That run came home thanks to a ground ball by Jon Jay, drafted in the second round in 2006, and in the game before, the pivotal run was scored by Daniel Descalso, drafted in the third round in 2007. In fact, with the exception of David Freese (who came up through the St. Louis system but was drafted by the Padres) and two free agents – Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday – every single member of the Cardinals starting World Series lineup was drafted by the team and brought up through their system. More amazingly, not a single one of the position players ever made a major top 100 prospect list, and only one of them – Pete Kozma, a career .232 hitter and the definitive worst hitter in the lineup – was a first round draft pick.
While most teams manage to only come up with just spare parts after the first 40 or so picks in the draft, GM John Mozeliak and his scouting team have somehow managed to turn their late rounds into a feeding ground for a World Series roster.
Allen Craig, the man who replaced Albert Pujols (he himself not drafted untill the tenth round), was picked up in the eighth round in 2006. He is one of only four players from that round to make the majors, and the only one to produce a WAR above 1.1. 2B Matt Carpenter, who led the league in hits, runs, and doubles this season, is the only big league starter from the 13th round in 2009. OF Jon Jay, despite being taken late with the 74th pick, has accumulated more WAR than all but one position player taken above him. 1B Matt Adams, a likely ROY candidate, was selected way back in the 23rd round, right after a player whose professional career ended after just 20 games. C Yadier Molina, the veteran of this ball club, was passed by 112 times before being drafted in the 4th round in 2000. Utility man Daniel Descalso was a third round pick in 2007, and the last productive big leaguer taken in that round. Even David Freese, admittedly not drafted by the Cardinals, was only a 9th round pick, and as a minor leaguer, was deemed by the Padres to be less valuable than a burnt out, 38 year old Jim Edmonds. These players were then all passed over time and time again, never reaching
The question remains, however, how did John Mozeliak, who has overseen every Cardinals draft since his promotion to Scouting Director in 1999, manage to turn this collection of unwanted prospects into a World Series caliber lineup? The answer, it seems, goes back to Moneyball and Mozeliak’s very first draft, when he took an oversized, positionless hitter named Albert Pujols.
Albert Pujols was not always the “Prince Albert” he is today. Heading into the 1999 amateur draft, he was a just another 19 year old hitter with a poor baseball build and without an obvious spot on the diamond – a traditional scout’s nightmare. “”We all saw Albert about the same way,” former Royals GM Allard Baird told Sports Illustrated, “We weren’t sure he had a position. He didn’t have a great baseball body.”
He was, however, the type of amatuer prospect that would one day become memorialized as the ideal talent in the book Moneyball. Unlike most other high school or even college kids, he was somewhat of a proven commodity, having put up monster stats – .461 average, 22 HR, monster walk rate, in his one college season. He fit into into the high OBP, big-bat, big-body mold that Paul Deposesta and Billy Beane would soon prize in the likes of the pudgy Jeremy Brown, except for one thing – he was better. Flash forward a couple of years, to when Beane and Deposesta would have full control of the draft, and Pujols might be an Athletic, but this was 1999 and Mozeliak was ahead of the curve. The Cardinals took Pujols way back in the thirteenth round and signed him, and haven’t looked back since.
This same valuation of high-on base college hitters can be seen in almost every member of the homegrown Cardinals lineup. Pete Kozma and Yadier Molina are the only players to be taken out of high school, while the rest went to college and generally reached first at an incredible rate while there. The Cardinals drafted Allen Craig despite the fact that most scouts thought he would outgrow his usefulness as he outgrew shortstop, because he had managed a 344/.403/.561 in his year. 6’3 and a bulbous 260 pounds, Matt Adams personified the Jeremy Brown physique scouts hated, but the Cardinals saw past his body to the .495 average he posted in his junior year. Jon Jay was prized for his .490 OBP in his junior season, David Freese got on at a .503 clip in his senior year, and Matt Carpenter broke the TCU record for career walks with 150. This is precisely the type of lineup Oakland sought to compile with their seven first round picks in 2002.
More important than the players the Cardinals draft, is what they do with them once they are in the organization. The prevailing philosophy in baseball is that college players are polished and close to the majors, but the Cardinals have treated their picks like high schol players, letting them garner years of experience in the minor leagues before advancing. Freese, Carpenter, and Craig all made their major league debuts at age 25 or older, and Descalso and Adams didn’t begin playing full time until they were 24 and had thoroughly dominated AAA.
Moneyball drafting may not have worked for the Athletics in 2002, but it has been incredibly effective for Mozeliak and the Cardinals. Its impact can even be seen on the pitching staff in late round college picks Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, and Jason Motte. World Series teams are not made solely by whoever Baseball America deems as having the best tools, or whichever high-schoolers MLB GMs think are are worthy of first round picks (although they certainly have their place), but by top to bottom organizational player development policy. The Cardinals, in their return to the decade old A’s, simply have the best one.